What (Exactly) Is A Research Proposal?
A simple explainer with examples + free template.
By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewed By: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | June 2020
If you’re nearing the end of your degree program and your dissertation or thesis is on the horizon, or you’re planning to apply for a PhD program, chances are you’re going to need to craft a convincing research proposal . If you’re on this page, you’re probably unsure exactly what the research proposal is all about. Well, you’ve come to the right place.
Overview: Research Proposal Basics
- What a dissertation or thesis research proposal is
- What things a research proposal needs to cover
- How long a research proposal needs to be
- How to structure and write up a proposal
What is a research proposal?
A research proposal is a simply a structured, formal document that explains what you plan to research (i.e. your research topic), why it’s worth researching (i.e. your justification), and how you plan to investigate it (i.e. your practical approach).
The purpose of the research proposal (it’s job, so to speak) is to convince your research supervisor, committee or university that your research is suitable (for the requirements of the degree program) and manageable (given the time and resource constraints you will face).
The most important word here is “ convince ” – in other words, your research proposal needs to sell your research idea (to whoever is going to approve it). If it doesn’t convince them (of its suitability and manageability), you’ll need to revise and resubmit . This will cost you valuable time, which will either delay the start of your research or eat into its time allowance (which is bad news).
What goes into a research proposal?
As we mentioned earlier, a good dissertation or thesis proposal needs to cover the “what”, the “why” and the “how” of the research. Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail:
Your proposal needs to clearly articulate your research topic. This needs to be specific and unambiguous . Your research topic should make it clear exactly what you plan to research and in what context. Here’s an example:
Topic: An investigation into the factors which impact female Generation Y consumer’s likelihood to promote a specific makeup brand to their peers: a British context
As you can see, this topic is extremely clear. From this one line we can see exactly:
- What’s being investigated – factors that make people promote a brand of makeup
- Who it involves – female Gen-Y consumers
- In what context – the United Kingdom
So, make sure that your research proposal provides a detailed explanation of your research topic. It should go without saying, but don’t start writing your proposal until you have a crystal-clear topic in mind, or you’ll end up waffling away a few thousand words.
Need a helping hand?
As we touched on earlier, it’s not good enough to simply propose a research topic – you need to justify why your topic is original . In other words, what makes it unique ? What gap in the current literature does it fill? If it’s simply a rehash of the existing research, it’s probably not going to get approval – it needs to be fresh.
But, originality alone is not enough. Once you’ve ticked that box, you also need to justify why your proposed topic is important . In other words, what value will it add to the world if you manage to find answers to your research questions ?
For example, let’s look at the sample research topic we mentioned earlier (factors impacting brand advocacy). In this case, if the research could uncover relevant factors, these findings would be very useful to marketers in the cosmetics industry, and would, therefore, have commercial value . That is a clear justification for the research.
So, when you’re crafting your research proposal, remember that it’s not enough for a topic to simply be unique. It needs to be useful and value-creating – and you need to convey that value in your proposal. If you’re struggling to find a research topic that makes the cut, watch our video covering how to find a research topic .
It’s all good and well to have a great topic that’s original and important, but you’re not going to convince anyone to approve it without discussing the practicalities – in other words:
- How will you undertake your research?
- Is your research design appropriate for your topic?
- Is your plan manageable given your constraints (time, money, expertise)?
While it’s generally not expected that you’ll have a fully fleshed out research strategy at the proposal stage, you will need to provide a high-level view of your research methodology and some key design decisions. Here are some important questions you’ll need to address in your proposal:
- Will you take a qualitative or quantitative approach ?
- Will your design be cross-sectional or longitudinal ?
- How will you collect your data ( interviews , surveys , etc)?
- How will you analyse your data (e.g. statistical analysis, qualitative data analysis , etc)?
So, make sure you give some thought to the practicalities of your research and have at least a basic understanding of research methodologies before you start writing up your proposal. The video below provides a good introduction to methodology.
How long is a research proposal?
This varies tremendously, depending on the university, the field of study (e.g., social sciences vs natural sciences), and the level of the degree (e.g. undergraduate, Masters or PhD) – so it’s always best to check with your university what their specific requirements are before you start planning your proposal.
As a rough guide, a formal research proposal at Masters-level often ranges between 2000-3000 words , while a PhD-level proposal can be far more detailed, ranging from 5000-8000 words . In some cases, a rough outline of the topic is all that’s needed, while in other cases, universities expect a very detailed proposal that essentially forms the first three chapters of the dissertation or thesis.
The takeaway – be sure to check with your institution before you start writing.
How is a research proposal structured?
While the exact structure and format required for a dissertation or thesis research proposal differs from university to university, there are five “ essential ingredients ” that typically make up the structure of a research proposal:
- A descriptive title or title page
- A rich introduction and background to the proposed research
- A discussion of the scope/delimitations of the research
- An initial literature review covering the key research in the area
- A discussion of the proposed research design (methodology)
For a detailed explanation of each of these, and step by step guidance covering how to write a research proposal, have a look at this video post . You might also consider using our free research proposal template here .
As you write up your research proposal, remember the all-important core purpose: to convince . Your research proposal needs to sell your research idea in terms of suitability and viability. So, focus on crafting a convincing narrative and you’ll have won half the battle.
Psst… there’s more (for free)
This post is part of our research writing mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.
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You’re most welcome. We don’t have any research proposals that we can share (the students own the intellectual property), but you might find our research proposal template useful: https://gradcoach.com/research-proposal-template/
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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper
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Before beginning your paper, you need to decide how you plan to design the study .
The research design refers to the overall strategy and analytical approach that you have chosen in order to integrate, in a coherent and logical way, the different components of the study, thus ensuring that the research problem will be thoroughly investigated. It constitutes the blueprint for the collection, measurement, and interpretation of information and data. Note that the research problem determines the type of design you choose, not the other way around!
De Vaus, D. A. Research Design in Social Research . London: SAGE, 2001; Trochim, William M.K. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006.
General Structure and Writing Style
The function of a research design is to ensure that the evidence obtained enables you to effectively address the research problem logically and as unambiguously as possible . In social sciences research, obtaining information relevant to the research problem generally entails specifying the type of evidence needed to test the underlying assumptions of a theory, to evaluate a program, or to accurately describe and assess meaning related to an observable phenomenon.
With this in mind, a common mistake made by researchers is that they begin their investigations before they have thought critically about what information is required to address the research problem. Without attending to these design issues beforehand, the overall research problem will not be adequately addressed and any conclusions drawn will run the risk of being weak and unconvincing. As a consequence, the overall validity of the study will be undermined.
The length and complexity of describing the research design in your paper can vary considerably, but any well-developed description will achieve the following :
- Identify the research problem clearly and justify its selection, particularly in relation to any valid alternative designs that could have been used,
- Review and synthesize previously published literature associated with the research problem,
- Clearly and explicitly specify hypotheses [i.e., research questions] central to the problem,
- Effectively describe the information and/or data which will be necessary for an adequate testing of the hypotheses and explain how such information and/or data will be obtained, and
- Describe the methods of analysis to be applied to the data in determining whether or not the hypotheses are true or false.
The research design is usually incorporated into the introduction of your paper . You can obtain an overall sense of what to do by reviewing studies that have utilized the same research design [e.g., using a case study approach]. This can help you develop an outline to follow for your own paper.
NOTE : Use the SAGE Research Methods Online and Cases and the SAGE Research Methods Videos databases to search for scholarly resources on how to apply specific research designs and methods . The Research Methods Online database contains links to more than 175,000 pages of SAGE publisher's book, journal, and reference content on quantitative, qualitative, and mixed research methodologies. Also included is a collection of case studies of social research projects that can be used to help you better understand abstract or complex methodological concepts. The Research Methods Videos database contains hours of tutorials, interviews, video case studies, and mini-documentaries covering the entire research process.
Creswell, John W. and J. David Creswell. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches . 5th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2018; De Vaus, D. A. Research Design in Social Research . London: SAGE, 2001; Gorard, Stephen. Research Design: Creating Robust Approaches for the Social Sciences . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2013; Leedy, Paul D. and Jeanne Ellis Ormrod. Practical Research: Planning and Design . Tenth edition. Boston, MA: Pearson, 2013; Vogt, W. Paul, Dianna C. Gardner, and Lynne M. Haeffele. When to Use What Research Design . New York: Guilford, 2012.
Action Research Design
Definition and Purpose
The essentials of action research design follow a characteristic cycle whereby initially an exploratory stance is adopted, where an understanding of a problem is developed and plans are made for some form of interventionary strategy. Then the intervention is carried out [the "action" in action research] during which time, pertinent observations are collected in various forms. The new interventional strategies are carried out, and this cyclic process repeats, continuing until a sufficient understanding of [or a valid implementation solution for] the problem is achieved. The protocol is iterative or cyclical in nature and is intended to foster deeper understanding of a given situation, starting with conceptualizing and particularizing the problem and moving through several interventions and evaluations.
What do these studies tell you ?
- This is a collaborative and adaptive research design that lends itself to use in work or community situations.
- Design focuses on pragmatic and solution-driven research outcomes rather than testing theories.
- When practitioners use action research, it has the potential to increase the amount they learn consciously from their experience; the action research cycle can be regarded as a learning cycle.
- Action research studies often have direct and obvious relevance to improving practice and advocating for change.
- There are no hidden controls or preemption of direction by the researcher.
What these studies don't tell you ?
- It is harder to do than conducting conventional research because the researcher takes on responsibilities of advocating for change as well as for researching the topic.
- Action research is much harder to write up because it is less likely that you can use a standard format to report your findings effectively [i.e., data is often in the form of stories or observation].
- Personal over-involvement of the researcher may bias research results.
- The cyclic nature of action research to achieve its twin outcomes of action [e.g. change] and research [e.g. understanding] is time-consuming and complex to conduct.
- Advocating for change usually requires buy-in from study participants.
Coghlan, David and Mary Brydon-Miller. The Sage Encyclopedia of Action Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2014; Efron, Sara Efrat and Ruth Ravid. Action Research in Education: A Practical Guide . New York: Guilford, 2013; Gall, Meredith. Educational Research: An Introduction . Chapter 18, Action Research. 8th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2007; Gorard, Stephen. Research Design: Creating Robust Approaches for the Social Sciences . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2013; Kemmis, Stephen and Robin McTaggart. “Participatory Action Research.” In Handbook of Qualitative Research . Norman Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, eds. 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2000), pp. 567-605; McNiff, Jean. Writing and Doing Action Research . London: Sage, 2014; Reason, Peter and Hilary Bradbury. Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2001.
Case Study Design
A case study is an in-depth study of a particular research problem rather than a sweeping statistical survey or comprehensive comparative inquiry. It is often used to narrow down a very broad field of research into one or a few easily researchable examples. The case study research design is also useful for testing whether a specific theory and model actually applies to phenomena in the real world. It is a useful design when not much is known about an issue or phenomenon.
- Approach excels at bringing us to an understanding of a complex issue through detailed contextual analysis of a limited number of events or conditions and their relationships.
- A researcher using a case study design can apply a variety of methodologies and rely on a variety of sources to investigate a research problem.
- Design can extend experience or add strength to what is already known through previous research.
- Social scientists, in particular, make wide use of this research design to examine contemporary real-life situations and provide the basis for the application of concepts and theories and the extension of methodologies.
- The design can provide detailed descriptions of specific and rare cases.
- A single or small number of cases offers little basis for establishing reliability or to generalize the findings to a wider population of people, places, or things.
- Intense exposure to the study of a case may bias a researcher's interpretation of the findings.
- Design does not facilitate assessment of cause and effect relationships.
- Vital information may be missing, making the case hard to interpret.
- The case may not be representative or typical of the larger problem being investigated.
- If the criteria for selecting a case is because it represents a very unusual or unique phenomenon or problem for study, then your interpretation of the findings can only apply to that particular case.
Case Studies. [email protected] Colorado State University; Anastas, Jeane W. Research Design for Social Work and the Human Services . Chapter 4, Flexible Methods: Case Study Design. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999; Gerring, John. “What Is a Case Study and What Is It Good for?” American Political Science Review 98 (May 2004): 341-354; Greenhalgh, Trisha, editor. Case Study Evaluation: Past, Present and Future Challenges . Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing, 2015; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Stake, Robert E. The Art of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 1995; Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research: Design and Theory . Applied Social Research Methods Series, no. 5. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2003.
Causality studies may be thought of as understanding a phenomenon in terms of conditional statements in the form, “If X, then Y.” This type of research is used to measure what impact a specific change will have on existing norms and assumptions. Most social scientists seek causal explanations that reflect tests of hypotheses. Causal effect (nomothetic perspective) occurs when variation in one phenomenon, an independent variable, leads to or results, on average, in variation in another phenomenon, the dependent variable.
Conditions necessary for determining causality:
- Empirical association -- a valid conclusion is based on finding an association between the independent variable and the dependent variable.
- Appropriate time order -- to conclude that causation was involved, one must see that cases were exposed to variation in the independent variable before variation in the dependent variable.
- Nonspuriousness -- a relationship between two variables that is not due to variation in a third variable.
- Causality research designs assist researchers in understanding why the world works the way it does through the process of proving a causal link between variables and by the process of eliminating other possibilities.
- Replication is possible.
- There is greater confidence the study has internal validity due to the systematic subject selection and equity of groups being compared.
- Not all relationships are causal! The possibility always exists that, by sheer coincidence, two unrelated events appear to be related [e.g., Punxatawney Phil could accurately predict the duration of Winter for five consecutive years but, the fact remains, he's just a big, furry rodent].
- Conclusions about causal relationships are difficult to determine due to a variety of extraneous and confounding variables that exist in a social environment. This means causality can only be inferred, never proven.
- If two variables are correlated, the cause must come before the effect. However, even though two variables might be causally related, it can sometimes be difficult to determine which variable comes first and, therefore, to establish which variable is the actual cause and which is the actual effect.
Beach, Derek and Rasmus Brun Pedersen. Causal Case Study Methods: Foundations and Guidelines for Comparing, Matching, and Tracing . Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2016; Bachman, Ronet. The Practice of Research in Criminology and Criminal Justice . Chapter 5, Causation and Research Designs. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press, 2007; Brewer, Ernest W. and Jennifer Kubn. “Causal-Comparative Design.” In Encyclopedia of Research Design . Neil J. Salkind, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2010), pp. 125-132; Causal Research Design: Experimentation. Anonymous SlideShare Presentation; Gall, Meredith. Educational Research: An Introduction . Chapter 11, Nonexperimental Research: Correlational Designs. 8th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2007; Trochim, William M.K. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006.
Often used in the medical sciences, but also found in the applied social sciences, a cohort study generally refers to a study conducted over a period of time involving members of a population which the subject or representative member comes from, and who are united by some commonality or similarity. Using a quantitative framework, a cohort study makes note of statistical occurrence within a specialized subgroup, united by same or similar characteristics that are relevant to the research problem being investigated, rather than studying statistical occurrence within the general population. Using a qualitative framework, cohort studies generally gather data using methods of observation. Cohorts can be either "open" or "closed."
- Open Cohort Studies [dynamic populations, such as the population of Los Angeles] involve a population that is defined just by the state of being a part of the study in question (and being monitored for the outcome). Date of entry and exit from the study is individually defined, therefore, the size of the study population is not constant. In open cohort studies, researchers can only calculate rate based data, such as, incidence rates and variants thereof.
- Closed Cohort Studies [static populations, such as patients entered into a clinical trial] involve participants who enter into the study at one defining point in time and where it is presumed that no new participants can enter the cohort. Given this, the number of study participants remains constant (or can only decrease).
- The use of cohorts is often mandatory because a randomized control study may be unethical. For example, you cannot deliberately expose people to asbestos, you can only study its effects on those who have already been exposed. Research that measures risk factors often relies upon cohort designs.
- Because cohort studies measure potential causes before the outcome has occurred, they can demonstrate that these “causes” preceded the outcome, thereby avoiding the debate as to which is the cause and which is the effect.
- Cohort analysis is highly flexible and can provide insight into effects over time and related to a variety of different types of changes [e.g., social, cultural, political, economic, etc.].
- Either original data or secondary data can be used in this design.
- In cases where a comparative analysis of two cohorts is made [e.g., studying the effects of one group exposed to asbestos and one that has not], a researcher cannot control for all other factors that might differ between the two groups. These factors are known as confounding variables.
- Cohort studies can end up taking a long time to complete if the researcher must wait for the conditions of interest to develop within the group. This also increases the chance that key variables change during the course of the study, potentially impacting the validity of the findings.
- Due to the lack of randominization in the cohort design, its external validity is lower than that of study designs where the researcher randomly assigns participants.
Healy P, Devane D. “Methodological Considerations in Cohort Study Designs.” Nurse Researcher 18 (2011): 32-36; Glenn, Norval D, editor. Cohort Analysis . 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Levin, Kate Ann. Study Design IV: Cohort Studies. Evidence-Based Dentistry 7 (2003): 51–52; Payne, Geoff. “Cohort Study.” In The SAGE Dictionary of Social Research Methods . Victor Jupp, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2006), pp. 31-33; Study Design 101. Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library. George Washington University, November 2011; Cohort Study. Wikipedia.
Cross-sectional research designs have three distinctive features: no time dimension; a reliance on existing differences rather than change following intervention; and, groups are selected based on existing differences rather than random allocation. The cross-sectional design can only measure differences between or from among a variety of people, subjects, or phenomena rather than a process of change. As such, researchers using this design can only employ a relatively passive approach to making causal inferences based on findings.
- Cross-sectional studies provide a clear 'snapshot' of the outcome and the characteristics associated with it, at a specific point in time.
- Unlike an experimental design, where there is an active intervention by the researcher to produce and measure change or to create differences, cross-sectional designs focus on studying and drawing inferences from existing differences between people, subjects, or phenomena.
- Entails collecting data at and concerning one point in time. While longitudinal studies involve taking multiple measures over an extended period of time, cross-sectional research is focused on finding relationships between variables at one moment in time.
- Groups identified for study are purposely selected based upon existing differences in the sample rather than seeking random sampling.
- Cross-section studies are capable of using data from a large number of subjects and, unlike observational studies, is not geographically bound.
- Can estimate prevalence of an outcome of interest because the sample is usually taken from the whole population.
- Because cross-sectional designs generally use survey techniques to gather data, they are relatively inexpensive and take up little time to conduct.
- Finding people, subjects, or phenomena to study that are very similar except in one specific variable can be difficult.
- Results are static and time bound and, therefore, give no indication of a sequence of events or reveal historical or temporal contexts.
- Studies cannot be utilized to establish cause and effect relationships.
- This design only provides a snapshot of analysis so there is always the possibility that a study could have differing results if another time-frame had been chosen.
- There is no follow up to the findings.
Bethlehem, Jelke. "7: Cross-sectional Research." In Research Methodology in the Social, Behavioural and Life Sciences . Herman J Adèr and Gideon J Mellenbergh, editors. (London, England: Sage, 1999), pp. 110-43; Bourque, Linda B. “Cross-Sectional Design.” In The SAGE Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods . Michael S. Lewis-Beck, Alan Bryman, and Tim Futing Liao. (Thousand Oaks, CA: 2004), pp. 230-231; Hall, John. “Cross-Sectional Survey Design.” In Encyclopedia of Survey Research Methods . Paul J. Lavrakas, ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), pp. 173-174; Helen Barratt, Maria Kirwan. Cross-Sectional Studies: Design Application, Strengths and Weaknesses of Cross-Sectional Studies. Healthknowledge, 2009. Cross-Sectional Study. Wikipedia.
Descriptive research designs help provide answers to the questions of who, what, when, where, and how associated with a particular research problem; a descriptive study cannot conclusively ascertain answers to why. Descriptive research is used to obtain information concerning the current status of the phenomena and to describe "what exists" with respect to variables or conditions in a situation.
- The subject is being observed in a completely natural and unchanged natural environment. True experiments, whilst giving analyzable data, often adversely influence the normal behavior of the subject [a.k.a., the Heisenberg effect whereby measurements of certain systems cannot be made without affecting the systems].
- Descriptive research is often used as a pre-cursor to more quantitative research designs with the general overview giving some valuable pointers as to what variables are worth testing quantitatively.
- If the limitations are understood, they can be a useful tool in developing a more focused study.
- Descriptive studies can yield rich data that lead to important recommendations in practice.
- Appoach collects a large amount of data for detailed analysis.
- The results from a descriptive research cannot be used to discover a definitive answer or to disprove a hypothesis.
- Because descriptive designs often utilize observational methods [as opposed to quantitative methods], the results cannot be replicated.
- The descriptive function of research is heavily dependent on instrumentation for measurement and observation.
Anastas, Jeane W. Research Design for Social Work and the Human Services . Chapter 5, Flexible Methods: Descriptive Research. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999; Given, Lisa M. "Descriptive Research." In Encyclopedia of Measurement and Statistics . Neil J. Salkind and Kristin Rasmussen, editors. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2007), pp. 251-254; McNabb, Connie. Descriptive Research Methodologies. Powerpoint Presentation; Shuttleworth, Martyn. Descriptive Research Design, September 26, 2008; Erickson, G. Scott. "Descriptive Research Design." In New Methods of Market Research and Analysis . (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2017), pp. 51-77; Sahin, Sagufta, and Jayanta Mete. "A Brief Study on Descriptive Research: Its Nature and Application in Social Science." International Journal of Research and Analysis in Humanities 1 (2021): 11; K. Swatzell and P. Jennings. “Descriptive Research: The Nuts and Bolts.” Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants 20 (2007), pp. 55-56; Kane, E. Doing Your Own Research: Basic Descriptive Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities . London: Marion Boyars, 1985.
A blueprint of the procedure that enables the researcher to maintain control over all factors that may affect the result of an experiment. In doing this, the researcher attempts to determine or predict what may occur. Experimental research is often used where there is time priority in a causal relationship (cause precedes effect), there is consistency in a causal relationship (a cause will always lead to the same effect), and the magnitude of the correlation is great. The classic experimental design specifies an experimental group and a control group. The independent variable is administered to the experimental group and not to the control group, and both groups are measured on the same dependent variable. Subsequent experimental designs have used more groups and more measurements over longer periods. True experiments must have control, randomization, and manipulation.
- Experimental research allows the researcher to control the situation. In so doing, it allows researchers to answer the question, “What causes something to occur?”
- Permits the researcher to identify cause and effect relationships between variables and to distinguish placebo effects from treatment effects.
- Experimental research designs support the ability to limit alternative explanations and to infer direct causal relationships in the study.
- Approach provides the highest level of evidence for single studies.
- The design is artificial, and results may not generalize well to the real world.
- The artificial settings of experiments may alter the behaviors or responses of participants.
- Experimental designs can be costly if special equipment or facilities are needed.
- Some research problems cannot be studied using an experiment because of ethical or technical reasons.
- Difficult to apply ethnographic and other qualitative methods to experimentally designed studies.
Anastas, Jeane W. Research Design for Social Work and the Human Services . Chapter 7, Flexible Methods: Experimental Research. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999; Chapter 2: Research Design, Experimental Designs. School of Psychology, University of New England, 2000; Chow, Siu L. "Experimental Design." In Encyclopedia of Research Design . Neil J. Salkind, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2010), pp. 448-453; "Experimental Design." In Social Research Methods . Nicholas Walliman, editor. (London, England: Sage, 2006), pp, 101-110; Experimental Research. Research Methods by Dummies. Department of Psychology. California State University, Fresno, 2006; Kirk, Roger E. Experimental Design: Procedures for the Behavioral Sciences . 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2013; Trochim, William M.K. Experimental Design. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006; Rasool, Shafqat. Experimental Research. Slideshare presentation.
An exploratory design is conducted about a research problem when there are few or no earlier studies to refer to or rely upon to predict an outcome . The focus is on gaining insights and familiarity for later investigation or undertaken when research problems are in a preliminary stage of investigation. Exploratory designs are often used to establish an understanding of how best to proceed in studying an issue or what methodology would effectively apply to gathering information about the issue.
The goals of exploratory research are intended to produce the following possible insights:
- Familiarity with basic details, settings, and concerns.
- Well grounded picture of the situation being developed.
- Generation of new ideas and assumptions.
- Development of tentative theories or hypotheses.
- Determination about whether a study is feasible in the future.
- Issues get refined for more systematic investigation and formulation of new research questions.
- Direction for future research and techniques get developed.
- Design is a useful approach for gaining background information on a particular topic.
- Exploratory research is flexible and can address research questions of all types (what, why, how).
- Provides an opportunity to define new terms and clarify existing concepts.
- Exploratory research is often used to generate formal hypotheses and develop more precise research problems.
- In the policy arena or applied to practice, exploratory studies help establish research priorities and where resources should be allocated.
- Exploratory research generally utilizes small sample sizes and, thus, findings are typically not generalizable to the population at large.
- The exploratory nature of the research inhibits an ability to make definitive conclusions about the findings. They provide insight but not definitive conclusions.
- The research process underpinning exploratory studies is flexible but often unstructured, leading to only tentative results that have limited value to decision-makers.
- Design lacks rigorous standards applied to methods of data gathering and analysis because one of the areas for exploration could be to determine what method or methodologies could best fit the research problem.
Cuthill, Michael. “Exploratory Research: Citizen Participation, Local Government, and Sustainable Development in Australia.” Sustainable Development 10 (2002): 79-89; Streb, Christoph K. "Exploratory Case Study." In Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Albert J. Mills, Gabrielle Durepos and Eiden Wiebe, editors. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2010), pp. 372-374; Taylor, P. J., G. Catalano, and D.R.F. Walker. “Exploratory Analysis of the World City Network.” Urban Studies 39 (December 2002): 2377-2394; Exploratory Research. Wikipedia.
Field Research Design
Sometimes referred to as ethnography or participant observation, designs around field research encompass a variety of interpretative procedures [e.g., observation and interviews] rooted in qualitative approaches to studying people individually or in groups while inhabiting their natural environment as opposed to using survey instruments or other forms of impersonal methods of data gathering. Information acquired from observational research takes the form of “ field notes ” that involves documenting what the researcher actually sees and hears while in the field. Findings do not consist of conclusive statements derived from numbers and statistics because field research involves analysis of words and observations of behavior. Conclusions, therefore, are developed from an interpretation of findings that reveal overriding themes, concepts, and ideas. More information can be found HERE .
- Field research is often necessary to fill gaps in understanding the research problem applied to local conditions or to specific groups of people that cannot be ascertained from existing data.
- The research helps contextualize already known information about a research problem, thereby facilitating ways to assess the origins, scope, and scale of a problem and to gage the causes, consequences, and means to resolve an issue based on deliberate interaction with people in their natural inhabited spaces.
- Enables the researcher to corroborate or confirm data by gathering additional information that supports or refutes findings reported in prior studies of the topic.
- Because the researcher in embedded in the field, they are better able to make observations or ask questions that reflect the specific cultural context of the setting being investigated.
- Observing the local reality offers the opportunity to gain new perspectives or obtain unique data that challenges existing theoretical propositions or long-standing assumptions found in the literature.
What these studies don't tell you
- A field research study requires extensive time and resources to carry out the multiple steps involved with preparing for the gathering of information, including for example, examining background information about the study site, obtaining permission to access the study site, and building trust and rapport with subjects.
- Requires a commitment to staying engaged in the field to ensure that you can adequately document events and behaviors as they unfold.
- The unpredictable nature of fieldwork means that researchers can never fully control the process of data gathering. They must maintain a flexible approach to studying the setting because events and circumstances can change quickly or unexpectedly.
- Findings can be difficult to interpret and verify without access to documents and other source materials that help to enhance the credibility of information obtained from the field [i.e., the act of triangulating the data].
- Linking the research problem to the selection of study participants inhabiting their natural environment is critical. However, this specificity limits the ability to generalize findings to different situations or in other contexts or to infer courses of action applied to other settings or groups of people.
- The reporting of findings must take into account how the researcher themselves may have inadvertently affected respondents and their behaviors.
The purpose of a historical research design is to collect, verify, and synthesize evidence from the past to establish facts that defend or refute a hypothesis. It uses secondary sources and a variety of primary documentary evidence, such as, diaries, official records, reports, archives, and non-textual information [maps, pictures, audio and visual recordings]. The limitation is that the sources must be both authentic and valid.
- The historical research design is unobtrusive; the act of research does not affect the results of the study.
- The historical approach is well suited for trend analysis.
- Historical records can add important contextual background required to more fully understand and interpret a research problem.
- There is often no possibility of researcher-subject interaction that could affect the findings.
- Historical sources can be used over and over to study different research problems or to replicate a previous study.
- The ability to fulfill the aims of your research are directly related to the amount and quality of documentation available to understand the research problem.
- Since historical research relies on data from the past, there is no way to manipulate it to control for contemporary contexts.
- Interpreting historical sources can be very time consuming.
- The sources of historical materials must be archived consistently to ensure access. This may especially challenging for digital or online-only sources.
- Original authors bring their own perspectives and biases to the interpretation of past events and these biases are more difficult to ascertain in historical resources.
- Due to the lack of control over external variables, historical research is very weak with regard to the demands of internal validity.
- It is rare that the entirety of historical documentation needed to fully address a research problem is available for interpretation, therefore, gaps need to be acknowledged.
Howell, Martha C. and Walter Prevenier. From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods . Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001; Lundy, Karen Saucier. "Historical Research." In The Sage Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods . Lisa M. Given, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), pp. 396-400; Marius, Richard. and Melvin E. Page. A Short Guide to Writing about History . 9th edition. Boston, MA: Pearson, 2015; Savitt, Ronald. “Historical Research in Marketing.” Journal of Marketing 44 (Autumn, 1980): 52-58; Gall, Meredith. Educational Research: An Introduction . Chapter 16, Historical Research. 8th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2007.
A longitudinal study follows the same sample over time and makes repeated observations. For example, with longitudinal surveys, the same group of people is interviewed at regular intervals, enabling researchers to track changes over time and to relate them to variables that might explain why the changes occur. Longitudinal research designs describe patterns of change and help establish the direction and magnitude of causal relationships. Measurements are taken on each variable over two or more distinct time periods. This allows the researcher to measure change in variables over time. It is a type of observational study sometimes referred to as a panel study.
- Longitudinal data facilitate the analysis of the duration of a particular phenomenon.
- Enables survey researchers to get close to the kinds of causal explanations usually attainable only with experiments.
- The design permits the measurement of differences or change in a variable from one period to another [i.e., the description of patterns of change over time].
- Longitudinal studies facilitate the prediction of future outcomes based upon earlier factors.
- The data collection method may change over time.
- Maintaining the integrity of the original sample can be difficult over an extended period of time.
- It can be difficult to show more than one variable at a time.
- This design often needs qualitative research data to explain fluctuations in the results.
- A longitudinal research design assumes present trends will continue unchanged.
- It can take a long period of time to gather results.
- There is a need to have a large sample size and accurate sampling to reach representativness.
Anastas, Jeane W. Research Design for Social Work and the Human Services . Chapter 6, Flexible Methods: Relational and Longitudinal Research. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999; Forgues, Bernard, and Isabelle Vandangeon-Derumez. "Longitudinal Analyses." In Doing Management Research . Raymond-Alain Thiétart and Samantha Wauchope, editors. (London, England: Sage, 2001), pp. 332-351; Kalaian, Sema A. and Rafa M. Kasim. "Longitudinal Studies." In Encyclopedia of Survey Research Methods . Paul J. Lavrakas, ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), pp. 440-441; Menard, Scott, editor. Longitudinal Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002; Ployhart, Robert E. and Robert J. Vandenberg. "Longitudinal Research: The Theory, Design, and Analysis of Change.” Journal of Management 36 (January 2010): 94-120; Longitudinal Study. Wikipedia.
Meta-analysis is an analytical methodology designed to systematically evaluate and summarize the results from a number of individual studies, thereby, increasing the overall sample size and the ability of the researcher to study effects of interest. The purpose is to not simply summarize existing knowledge, but to develop a new understanding of a research problem using synoptic reasoning. The main objectives of meta-analysis include analyzing differences in the results among studies and increasing the precision by which effects are estimated. A well-designed meta-analysis depends upon strict adherence to the criteria used for selecting studies and the availability of information in each study to properly analyze their findings. Lack of information can severely limit the type of analyzes and conclusions that can be reached. In addition, the more dissimilarity there is in the results among individual studies [heterogeneity], the more difficult it is to justify interpretations that govern a valid synopsis of results. A meta-analysis needs to fulfill the following requirements to ensure the validity of your findings:
- Clearly defined description of objectives, including precise definitions of the variables and outcomes that are being evaluated;
- A well-reasoned and well-documented justification for identification and selection of the studies;
- Assessment and explicit acknowledgment of any researcher bias in the identification and selection of those studies;
- Description and evaluation of the degree of heterogeneity among the sample size of studies reviewed; and,
- Justification of the techniques used to evaluate the studies.
- Can be an effective strategy for determining gaps in the literature.
- Provides a means of reviewing research published about a particular topic over an extended period of time and from a variety of sources.
- Is useful in clarifying what policy or programmatic actions can be justified on the basis of analyzing research results from multiple studies.
- Provides a method for overcoming small sample sizes in individual studies that previously may have had little relationship to each other.
- Can be used to generate new hypotheses or highlight research problems for future studies.
- Small violations in defining the criteria used for content analysis can lead to difficult to interpret and/or meaningless findings.
- A large sample size can yield reliable, but not necessarily valid, results.
- A lack of uniformity regarding, for example, the type of literature reviewed, how methods are applied, and how findings are measured within the sample of studies you are analyzing, can make the process of synthesis difficult to perform.
- Depending on the sample size, the process of reviewing and synthesizing multiple studies can be very time consuming.
Beck, Lewis W. "The Synoptic Method." The Journal of Philosophy 36 (1939): 337-345; Cooper, Harris, Larry V. Hedges, and Jeffrey C. Valentine, eds. The Handbook of Research Synthesis and Meta-Analysis . 2nd edition. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2009; Guzzo, Richard A., Susan E. Jackson and Raymond A. Katzell. “Meta-Analysis Analysis.” In Research in Organizational Behavior , Volume 9. (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1987), pp 407-442; Lipsey, Mark W. and David B. Wilson. Practical Meta-Analysis . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2001; Study Design 101. Meta-Analysis. The Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library, George Washington University; Timulak, Ladislav. “Qualitative Meta-Analysis.” In The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Data Analysis . Uwe Flick, editor. (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2013), pp. 481-495; Walker, Esteban, Adrian V. Hernandez, and Micheal W. Kattan. "Meta-Analysis: It's Strengths and Limitations." Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine 75 (June 2008): 431-439.
- Narrative and non-textual information can add meaning to numeric data, while numeric data can add precision to narrative and non-textual information.
- Can utilize existing data while at the same time generating and testing a grounded theory approach to describe and explain the phenomenon under study.
- A broader, more complex research problem can be investigated because the researcher is not constrained by using only one method.
- The strengths of one method can be used to overcome the inherent weaknesses of another method.
- Can provide stronger, more robust evidence to support a conclusion or set of recommendations.
- May generate new knowledge new insights or uncover hidden insights, patterns, or relationships that a single methodological approach might not reveal.
- Produces more complete knowledge and understanding of the research problem that can be used to increase the generalizability of findings applied to theory or practice.
- A researcher must be proficient in understanding how to apply multiple methods to investigating a research problem as well as be proficient in optimizing how to design a study that coherently melds them together.
- Can increase the likelihood of conflicting results or ambiguous findings that inhibit drawing a valid conclusion or setting forth a recommended course of action [e.g., sample interview responses do not support existing statistical data].
- Because the research design can be very complex, reporting the findings requires a well-organized narrative, clear writing style, and precise word choice.
- Design invites collaboration among experts. However, merging different investigative approaches and writing styles requires more attention to the overall research process than studies conducted using only one methodological paradigm.
- Concurrent merging of quantitative and qualitative research requires greater attention to having adequate sample sizes, using comparable samples, and applying a consistent unit of analysis. For sequential designs where one phase of qualitative research builds on the quantitative phase or vice versa, decisions about what results from the first phase to use in the next phase, the choice of samples and estimating reasonable sample sizes for both phases, and the interpretation of results from both phases can be difficult.
- Due to multiple forms of data being collected and analyzed, this design requires extensive time and resources to carry out the multiple steps involved in data gathering and interpretation.
Burch, Patricia and Carolyn J. Heinrich. Mixed Methods for Policy Research and Program Evaluation . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2016; Creswell, John w. et al. Best Practices for Mixed Methods Research in the Health Sciences . Bethesda, MD: Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, National Institutes of Health, 2010Creswell, John W. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches . 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2014; Domínguez, Silvia, editor. Mixed Methods Social Networks Research . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014; Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy. Mixed Methods Research: Merging Theory with Practice . New York: Guilford Press, 2010; Niglas, Katrin. “How the Novice Researcher Can Make Sense of Mixed Methods Designs.” International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches 3 (2009): 34-46; Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Nancy L. Leech. “Linking Research Questions to Mixed Methods Data Analysis Procedures.” The Qualitative Report 11 (September 2006): 474-498; Tashakorri, Abbas and John W. Creswell. “The New Era of Mixed Methods.” Journal of Mixed Methods Research 1 (January 2007): 3-7; Zhanga, Wanqing. “Mixed Methods Application in Health Intervention Research: A Multiple Case Study.” International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches 8 (2014): 24-35 .
This type of research design draws a conclusion by comparing subjects against a control group, in cases where the researcher has no control over the experiment. There are two general types of observational designs. In direct observations, people know that you are watching them. Unobtrusive measures involve any method for studying behavior where individuals do not know they are being observed. An observational study allows a useful insight into a phenomenon and avoids the ethical and practical difficulties of setting up a large and cumbersome research project.
- Observational studies are usually flexible and do not necessarily need to be structured around a hypothesis about what you expect to observe [data is emergent rather than pre-existing].
- The researcher is able to collect in-depth information about a particular behavior.
- Can reveal interrelationships among multifaceted dimensions of group interactions.
- You can generalize your results to real life situations.
- Observational research is useful for discovering what variables may be important before applying other methods like experiments.
- Observation research designs account for the complexity of group behaviors.
- Reliability of data is low because seeing behaviors occur over and over again may be a time consuming task and are difficult to replicate.
- In observational research, findings may only reflect a unique sample population and, thus, cannot be generalized to other groups.
- There can be problems with bias as the researcher may only "see what they want to see."
- There is no possibility to determine "cause and effect" relationships since nothing is manipulated.
- Sources or subjects may not all be equally credible.
- Any group that is knowingly studied is altered to some degree by the presence of the researcher, therefore, potentially skewing any data collected.
Atkinson, Paul and Martyn Hammersley. “Ethnography and Participant Observation.” In Handbook of Qualitative Research . Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, eds. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994), pp. 248-261; Observational Research. Research Methods by Dummies. Department of Psychology. California State University, Fresno, 2006; Patton Michael Quinn. Qualitiative Research and Evaluation Methods . Chapter 6, Fieldwork Strategies and Observational Methods. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002; Payne, Geoff and Judy Payne. "Observation." In Key Concepts in Social Research . The SAGE Key Concepts series. (London, England: Sage, 2004), pp. 158-162; Rosenbaum, Paul R. Design of Observational Studies . New York: Springer, 2010;Williams, J. Patrick. "Nonparticipant Observation." In The Sage Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods . Lisa M. Given, editor.(Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), pp. 562-563.
Understood more as an broad approach to examining a research problem than a methodological design, philosophical analysis and argumentation is intended to challenge deeply embedded, often intractable, assumptions underpinning an area of study. This approach uses the tools of argumentation derived from philosophical traditions, concepts, models, and theories to critically explore and challenge, for example, the relevance of logic and evidence in academic debates, to analyze arguments about fundamental issues, or to discuss the root of existing discourse about a research problem. These overarching tools of analysis can be framed in three ways:
- Ontology -- the study that describes the nature of reality; for example, what is real and what is not, what is fundamental and what is derivative?
- Epistemology -- the study that explores the nature of knowledge; for example, by what means does knowledge and understanding depend upon and how can we be certain of what we know?
- Axiology -- the study of values; for example, what values does an individual or group hold and why? How are values related to interest, desire, will, experience, and means-to-end? And, what is the difference between a matter of fact and a matter of value?
- Can provide a basis for applying ethical decision-making to practice.
- Functions as a means of gaining greater self-understanding and self-knowledge about the purposes of research.
- Brings clarity to general guiding practices and principles of an individual or group.
- Philosophy informs methodology.
- Refine concepts and theories that are invoked in relatively unreflective modes of thought and discourse.
- Beyond methodology, philosophy also informs critical thinking about epistemology and the structure of reality (metaphysics).
- Offers clarity and definition to the practical and theoretical uses of terms, concepts, and ideas.
- Limited application to specific research problems [answering the "So What?" question in social science research].
- Analysis can be abstract, argumentative, and limited in its practical application to real-life issues.
- While a philosophical analysis may render problematic that which was once simple or taken-for-granted, the writing can be dense and subject to unnecessary jargon, overstatement, and/or excessive quotation and documentation.
- There are limitations in the use of metaphor as a vehicle of philosophical analysis.
- There can be analytical difficulties in moving from philosophy to advocacy and between abstract thought and application to the phenomenal world.
Burton, Dawn. "Part I, Philosophy of the Social Sciences." In Research Training for Social Scientists . (London, England: Sage, 2000), pp. 1-5; Chapter 4, Research Methodology and Design. Unisa Institutional Repository (UnisaIR), University of South Africa; Jarvie, Ian C., and Jesús Zamora-Bonilla, editors. The SAGE Handbook of the Philosophy of Social Sciences . London: Sage, 2011; Labaree, Robert V. and Ross Scimeca. “The Philosophical Problem of Truth in Librarianship.” The Library Quarterly 78 (January 2008): 43-70; Maykut, Pamela S. Beginning Qualitative Research: A Philosophic and Practical Guide . Washington, DC: Falmer Press, 1994; McLaughlin, Hugh. "The Philosophy of Social Research." In Understanding Social Work Research . 2nd edition. (London: SAGE Publications Ltd., 2012), pp. 24-47; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Metaphysics Research Lab, CSLI, Stanford University, 2013.
- The researcher has a limitless option when it comes to sample size and the sampling schedule.
- Due to the repetitive nature of this research design, minor changes and adjustments can be done during the initial parts of the study to correct and hone the research method.
- This is a useful design for exploratory studies.
- There is very little effort on the part of the researcher when performing this technique. It is generally not expensive, time consuming, or workforce intensive.
- Because the study is conducted serially, the results of one sample are known before the next sample is taken and analyzed. This provides opportunities for continuous improvement of sampling and methods of analysis.
- The sampling method is not representative of the entire population. The only possibility of approaching representativeness is when the researcher chooses to use a very large sample size significant enough to represent a significant portion of the entire population. In this case, moving on to study a second or more specific sample can be difficult.
- The design cannot be used to create conclusions and interpretations that pertain to an entire population because the sampling technique is not randomized. Generalizability from findings is, therefore, limited.
- Difficult to account for and interpret variation from one sample to another over time, particularly when using qualitative methods of data collection.
Betensky, Rebecca. Harvard University, Course Lecture Note slides; Bovaird, James A. and Kevin A. Kupzyk. "Sequential Design." In Encyclopedia of Research Design . Neil J. Salkind, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2010), pp. 1347-1352; Cresswell, John W. Et al. “Advanced Mixed-Methods Research Designs.” In Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social and Behavioral Research . Abbas Tashakkori and Charles Teddle, eds. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2003), pp. 209-240; Henry, Gary T. "Sequential Sampling." In The SAGE Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods . Michael S. Lewis-Beck, Alan Bryman and Tim Futing Liao, editors. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2004), pp. 1027-1028; Nataliya V. Ivankova. “Using Mixed-Methods Sequential Explanatory Design: From Theory to Practice.” Field Methods 18 (February 2006): 3-20; Bovaird, James A. and Kevin A. Kupzyk. “Sequential Design.” In Encyclopedia of Research Design . Neil J. Salkind, ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2010; Sequential Analysis. Wikipedia.
- A systematic review synthesizes the findings of multiple studies related to each other by incorporating strategies of analysis and interpretation intended to reduce biases and random errors.
- The application of critical exploration, evaluation, and synthesis methods separates insignificant, unsound, or redundant research from the most salient and relevant studies worthy of reflection.
- They can be use to identify, justify, and refine hypotheses, recognize and avoid hidden problems in prior studies, and explain data inconsistencies and conflicts in data.
- Systematic reviews can be used to help policy makers formulate evidence-based guidelines and regulations.
- The use of strict, explicit, and pre-determined methods of synthesis, when applied appropriately, provide reliable estimates about the effects of interventions, evaluations, and effects related to the overarching research problem investigated by each study under review.
- Systematic reviews illuminate where knowledge or thorough understanding of a research problem is lacking and, therefore, can then be used to guide future research.
- The accepted inclusion of unpublished studies [i.e., grey literature] ensures the broadest possible way to analyze and interpret research on a topic.
- Results of the synthesis can be generalized and the findings extrapolated into the general population with more validity than most other types of studies .
- Systematic reviews do not create new knowledge per se; they are a method for synthesizing existing studies about a research problem in order to gain new insights and determine gaps in the literature.
- The way researchers have carried out their investigations [e.g., the period of time covered, number of participants, sources of data analyzed, etc.] can make it difficult to effectively synthesize studies.
- The inclusion of unpublished studies can introduce bias into the review because they may not have undergone a rigorous peer-review process prior to publication. Examples may include conference presentations or proceedings, publications from government agencies, white papers, working papers, and internal documents from organizations, and doctoral dissertations and Master's theses.
Denyer, David and David Tranfield. "Producing a Systematic Review." In The Sage Handbook of Organizational Research Methods . David A. Buchanan and Alan Bryman, editors. ( Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2009), pp. 671-689; Foster, Margaret J. and Sarah T. Jewell, editors. Assembling the Pieces of a Systematic Review: A Guide for Librarians . Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2017; Gough, David, Sandy Oliver, James Thomas, editors. Introduction to Systematic Reviews . 2nd edition. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2017; Gopalakrishnan, S. and P. Ganeshkumar. “Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis: Understanding the Best Evidence in Primary Healthcare.” Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care 2 (2013): 9-14; Gough, David, James Thomas, and Sandy Oliver. "Clarifying Differences between Review Designs and Methods." Systematic Reviews 1 (2012): 1-9; Khan, Khalid S., Regina Kunz, Jos Kleijnen, and Gerd Antes. “Five Steps to Conducting a Systematic Review.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 96 (2003): 118-121; Mulrow, C. D. “Systematic Reviews: Rationale for Systematic Reviews.” BMJ 309:597 (September 1994); Okoli, Chitu, and Kira Schabram. "A Guide to Conducting a Systematic Literature Review of Information Systems Research." Sprouts: Working Papers on Information Systems 10 (2010); Siddaway, Andy P., Alex M. Wood, and Larry V. Hedges. "How to Do a Systematic Review: A Best Practice Guide for Conducting and Reporting Narrative Reviews, Meta-analyses, and Meta-syntheses." Annual Review of Psychology 70 (2019): 747-770; Torgerson, Carole J. “Publication Bias: The Achilles’ Heel of Systematic Reviews?” British Journal of Educational Studies 54 (March 2006): 89-102;Torgerson, Carole. Systematic Reviews . New York: Continuum, 2003.
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How to Write a Research Proposal
Once you’re in college and really getting into academic writing , you may not recognize all the kinds of assignments you’re asked to complete. You know what an essay is, and you know how to respond to readings—but when you hear your professor mention a research proposal or a literature review, your mind might do a double take.
Don’t worry; we’ve got you. Boiled down to its core, a research proposal is simply a short piece of writing that details exactly what you’ll be covering in a larger research project. You’ll likely be required to write one for your thesis , and if you choose to continue in academia after earning your bachelor’s degree, you’ll be writing research proposals for your master’s thesis, your dissertation, and all other research you conduct. By then, you’ll be a research proposal pro. But for now, we’ll answer all your questions and help you confidently write your first one.
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What is the goal of a research proposal?
In a research proposal, the goal is to present the author’s plan for the research they intend to conduct. In some cases, part of this goal is to secure funding for said research. In others, it’s to have the research approved by the author’s supervisor or department so they can move forward with it. In some cases, a research proposal is a required part of a graduate school application. In every one of these circumstances, research proposals follow the same structure.
In a research proposal, the author demonstrates how and why their research is relevant to their field. They demonstrate that the work is necessary to the following:
- Filling a gap in the existing body of research on their subject
- Underscoring existing research on their subject, and/or
- Adding new, original knowledge to the academic community’s existing understanding of their subject
A research proposal also demonstrates that the author is capable of conducting this research and contributing to the current state of their field in a meaningful way. To do this, your research proposal needs to discuss your academic background and credentials as well as demonstrate that your proposed ideas have academic merit.
But demonstrating your research’s validity and your personal capability to carry it out isn’t enough to get your research proposal approved. Your research proposal also has to cover these things:
- The research methodology you plan to use
- The tools and procedures you will use to collect, analyze, and interpret the data you collect
- An explanation of how your research fits the budget and other constraints that come with conducting it through your institution, department, or academic program
If you’ve already read our post on literature reviews , you may be thinking that a research proposal sounds pretty similar. They’re more than just similar, though—a literature review is part of a research proposal. It’s the section that covers which sources you’re using, how you’re using them, and why they’re relevant. Think of a literature review as a mini-research proposal that fits into your larger, main proposal.
How long should a research proposal be?
Generally, research proposals for bachelor’s and master’s theses are a few pages long. Research proposals for meatier projects, like Ph.D. dissertations and funding requests, are often longer and far more detailed. A research proposal’s goal is to clearly outline exactly what your research will entail and accomplish, so including the proposal’s word count or page count isn’t nearly as important as it is to ensure that all the necessary elements and content are present.
Research proposal structure
A research proposal follows a fairly straightforward structure. In order to achieve the goals described in the previous section, nearly all research proposals include the following sections:
Your introduction achieves a few goals:
- Introduces your topic
- States your problem statement and the questions your research aims to answer
- Provides context for your research
In a research proposal, an introduction can be a few paragraphs long. It should be concise, but don’t feel like you need to cram all of your information into one paragraph.
In some cases, you need to include an abstract and/or a table of contents in your research proposal. These are included just before the introduction.
This is where you explain why your research is necessary and how it relates to established research in your field. Your work might complement existing research, strengthen it, or even challenge it—no matter how your work will “play with” other researchers’ work, you need to express it in detail in your research proposal.
This is also the section where you clearly define the existing problems your research will address. By doing this, you’re explaining why your work is necessary—in other words, this is where you answer the reader’s “so what?”
In your background significance section, you’ll also outline how you’ll conduct your research. If necessary, note which related questions and issues you won’t be covering in your research.
In your literature review , you introduce all the sources you plan to use in your research. This includes landmark studies and their data, books, and scholarly articles. A literature review isn’t merely a list of sources (that’s what your bibliography is for); a literature review delves into the collection of sources you chose and explains how you’re using them in your research.
Research design, methods, and schedule
Following your research review, you’ll discuss your research plans. In this section, make sure you cover these aspects:
- The type of research you will do. Are you conducting qualitative or quantitative research? Are you collecting original data or working with data collected by other researchers?
- Whether you’re doing experimental, correlational, or descriptive research
- The data you’re working with. For example, if you’re conducting research in the social sciences, you’ll need to describe the population you’re studying. You’ll also need to cover how you’ll select your subjects and how you’ll collect data from them.
- The tools you’ll use to collect data. Will you be running experiments? Conducting surveys? Observing phenomena? Note all data collection methods here along with why they’re effective methods for your specific research.
Beyond a comprehensive look at your research itself, you’ll also need to include:
- Your research timeline
- Your research budget
- Any potential obstacles you foresee and your plan for handling them
Suppositions and implications
Although you can’t know your research’s results until you’ve actually done the work, you should be going into the project with a clear idea of how your work will contribute to your field. This section is perhaps the most critical to your research proposal’s argument because it expresses exactly why your research is necessary.
In this section, make sure you cover the following:
- Any ways your work can challenge existing theories and assumptions in your field
- How your work will create the foundation for future research
- The practical value your findings will provide to practitioners, educators, and other academics in your field
- The problems your work can potentially help to fix
- Policies that could be impacted by your findings
- How your findings can be implemented in academia or other settings and how this will improve or otherwise transform these settings
In other words, this section isn’t about stating the specific results you expect. Rather, it’s where you state how your findings will be valuable.
This is where you wrap it all up. Your conclusion section, just like your conclusion paragraph for an essay , briefly summarizes your research proposal and reinforces your research’s stated purpose.
Yes, you need to write a bibliography in addition to your literature review. Unlike your literature review, where you explained the relevance of the sources you chose and in some cases, challenged them, your bibliography simply lists your sources and their authors.
The way you write a citation depends on the style guide you’re using. The three most common style guides for academics are MLA , APA , and Chicago , and each has its own particular rules and requirements. Keep in mind that each formatting style has specific guidelines for citing just about any kind of source, including photos , websites , speeches , and YouTube videos .
Sometimes, a full bibliography is not needed. When this is the case, you can include a references list, which is simply a scaled-down list of all the sources you cited in your work. If you’re not sure which to write, ask your supervisor.
Here’s a tip: Grammarly’s Citation Generator ensures your essays have flawless citations and no plagiarism. Try it for citing journal articles in MLA , APA , and Chicago styles.
How to write a research proposal
Research proposals, like all other kinds of academic writing, are written in a formal, objective tone. Keep in mind that being concise is a key component of academic writing; formal does not mean flowery.
Adhere to the structure outlined above. Your reader knows how a research proposal is supposed to read and expects it to fit this template. It’s crucial that you present your research proposal in a clear, logical way. Every question the reader has while reading your proposal should be answered by the final section.
Editing and proofreading a research proposal
When you’re writing a research proposal, follow the same six-step writing process you follow with every other kind of writing you do.
After you’ve got a first draft written, take some time to let it “cool off” before you start proofreading . By doing this, you’re making it easier for yourself to catch mistakes and gaps in your writing.
Common mistakes to avoid when writing a research proposal
When you’re writing a research proposal, avoid these common pitfalls:
Being too wordy
As we said earlier, formal does not mean flowery. In fact, you should aim to keep your writing as brief and to-the-point as possible. The more economically you can express your purpose and goal, the better.
Failing to cite relevant sources
When you’re conducting research, you’re adding to the existing body of knowledge on the subject you’re covering. Your research proposal should reference one or more of the landmark research pieces in your field and connect your work to these works in some way. This doesn’t just communicate your work’s relevance—it also demonstrates your familiarity with the field.
Focusing too much on minor issues
There are probably a lot of great reasons why your research is necessary. These reasons don’t all need to be in your research proposal. In fact, including too many questions and issues in your research proposal can detract from your central purpose, weakening the proposal. Save the minor issues for your research paper itself and cover only the major, key issues you aim to tackle in your proposal.
Failing to make a strong argument for your research
This is perhaps the easiest way to undermine your proposal because it’s far more subjective than the others. A research proposal is, in essence, a piece of persuasive writing . That means that although you’re presenting your proposal in an objective, academic way, the goal is to get the reader to say “yes” to your work.
This is true in every case, whether your reader is your supervisor, your department head, a graduate school admissions board, a private or government-backed funding provider, or the editor at a journal in which you’d like to publish your work.
Polish your writing into a stellar proposal
When you’re asking for approval to conduct research—especially when there’s funding involved—you need to be nothing less than 100 percent confident in your proposal. If your research proposal has spelling or grammatical mistakes, an inconsistent or inappropriate tone, or even just awkward phrasing, those will undermine your credibility.
Make sure your research proposal shines by using Grammarly to catch all of those issues. Even if you think you caught all of them while you were editing, it’s critical to double-check your work. Your research deserves the best proposal possible, and Grammarly can help you make that happen.
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Concept Paper vs. Research Proposal – and when to use each
On the surface, concept papers sound like they do the same job as a research proposal – and essentially, they do. Both are designed to communicate the rationale, methodology and outcomes of a proposed piece of work. The difference between the two lies mostly in the level of detail and the potential audience, based on which your approach towards writing each will vary. In this article, we dig deeper into these and recommend when to use which.
Concept paper: Putting your idea to paper
- What : A concept paper verbalises an idea and puts it to paper for the first time. Here, an overall rationale is presented, with a focus on the essential idea and potential impact of the expected outcome(s). However, what you would not include here is much in-depth detail.
- When : Writing a concept paper is most useful when an initial expression of interest is made to either a collaborator or funder – provided the funder has mechanisms for you to do this, like an open call.
- Why : The aim of your concept paper will be to win your audience over with your idea and its potential ramifications.
(For more on concept papers, read: Understanding and developing a concept paper )
Research proposal: Showing how things will get done
Let’s say that through your concept paper, you find funding and collaborators for your proposed research project. You will now get into the nitty gritty of the project with a research proposal, while still keeping it “consumable” enough for a broader audience.
- What : A research proposal builds on a concept paper by now including aspects like key deliverables, milestones and specific outcomes, as well as how you plan to achieve these.
- When : You will typically send a research proposal to sources of funding of an open nature, i.e. those that do not require a standardised form to be filled in, as is often the case with institutional internal funding or private investors.
- Why : It is not necessary for you to first send someone a concept paper and follow it up with a proposal. However, you may often need to follow this sequence in order to provide only ‘need to know’ material depending on the stage of your relationship with potential partners.
( For more on research proposals, read: Writing a successful research proposal )
When both are needed, a concept paper precedes a research proposal
Deciding between a concept paper and a research proposal
Whether you send someone a concept paper or a research proposal depends entirely on two things:
- Your existing relationship with whomever you are reaching out to
- What you are trying to achieve
If you are emailing an organisation or individual for the first time, you are more likely to receive a response by attaching a brief, snappy concept paper that is easily read by a multitude of people. On the other hand, some larger organisations, such as pharmaceutical companies, are very used to seeing full-fledged research proposals and may have a portal on their website where you would need to upload one, enabling them to skip the preliminary step of vetting your work through a concept paper.
Our recommendation : Given how pressed many people are for time these days, it would be prudent to send concept papers more frequently than research proposals. If more information is required, you will be asked for it.
Concept papers and research proposals do very similar things, but set out and achieve very different aims. They are often sent in sequence – the concept paper first, followed by the research proposal. The need for a research proposal arises when the concept paper has achieved its mark – when, for example, more information is required for a funding decision to be reached, or due diligence is to be performed, as a result of your concept paper gaining preliminary acceptance. Following up with a research proposal fills in the gaps and will aid in answering questions arising from the concept paper.
Read previous (second) in series: Writing a successful Research Proposal
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- Key Differences
Know the Differences & Comparisons
Difference Between Research Proposal and Research Report
Last updated on September 26, 2020 by Surbhi S
On the other hand, a research report is the culmination of the research endeavour. It is a great way to explain the research work and its outcome to a group of people. It is the outcome of the study conducted at the time of the research process.
This article will help you understand the difference between research proposal and research report.
Content: Research Proposal Vs Research Report
Comparison chart, definition of research proposal.
Research Proposal can be defined as the document prepared by the researcher so as to give a description of the research program in detail. It is typically a request for research funding, for the subject under study. In other words, a research proposal is a summary of the research process, with which the reader can get quick information regarding the research project.
The research proposal seeks final approval, for which it is submitted to the relevant authority. After the research proposal is submitted, it is being evaluated, considering a number of factors like the cost involved, potential impact, soundness of the plan to undertake the project.
It aims at presenting and justifying the need and importance to carry out the study, as well as to present the practical ways, of conducting the research. And for this, persuasive evidence should be provided in the research proposal, to highlight the necessity of the research.
Further, it must discuss the main issues and questions, which the researcher will address in the study. Along with that, it must highlight the fundamental area of the research study.
A research proposal can be prepared in a number of formats, which differs on the basis of their length. It contains an introduction, problem hypothesis, objectives, assumptions, methodology, justification and implication of the research project.
Definition of Research Report
Research Report can be defined as the document in which the researched and analysed data is organized and presented by the researcher in a systematic manner. It is a publication, comprising of the purpose, scope, hypothesis, methodology, findings, limitations, recommendations and conclusion of the research project.
Simply put, a research report is the record of the research process. It is one of the most important segments of the research, as the research work is said to be incomplete if the report is not prepared.
A research report is a document containing collected and considered facts, taken to provide succinct and comprehensible information to people.
Once the research process is over, the entire work is produced in a written material, which is called a research report . It covers the description of the research activities, in an elaborated manner. It contains Introduction, Literature Review, Methodology, Data Collection, Data Analysis, Discussion of Results and Findings, Bibliography and Appendices.
A research report acts as a method to record the research work and its outcome, for future reference.
Key Differences Between Research Proposal and Research Report
The difference between research proposal and research report is discussed as under:
- A research proposal signifies a theoretical framework within which the research is carried out. In finer terms, a research proposal is a sketch for the collection, measurement and analysis of data. A research report implies a scientific write-up on the research findings, which is prepared in a specific format.
- While the preparation of a research proposal is considered as the first step to research work, preparation of a research report is the final step to the research work.
- A research proposal is prepared at the beginning of the project. In contrast, the research report is prepared after the completion of the project
- A research proposal is written in the future tense, whereas the tense used in the research report is past tense, as well as it is written in the third person
- The length of a research proposal is about 4-10 pages. On the contrary, the length of the research report is about 100 to 300 pages.
- The research proposal is concerned with the problem or topic to be investigated. Conversely, the research report focuses on the results of the completed research work.
- The research proposal determines what will be researched, the relevance of the research and the ways to conduct the researched. As against, the research report determines what is researched, sources of data collection, ways of data collection (i.e. survey, interview, or questionnaire), result and findings, recommendations for future research, etc.
- Research Proposal includes three chapters i.e. Introduction, Literature Review, Research Methodology. Contrastingly, Research Report covers the following chapters – Introduction, Literature Review, Research Methodology, Results, Interpretation and Analysis, Conclusion and Recommendation.
Basically, a research proposal defines the planning stage of the research work, which is prepared in written format, to know its worth. On the other hand, the research report signifies the concluding stage of the research work.
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- 1. Azra Naheed Center for Research and Development Superior 11-Feb-13 University Lahore
- 2. Azra Naheed Center for Research and Development Superior 11-Feb-13 University Lahore
- 3. Session Objectives After this session you will be able to ◦ Understand what is meant by research design ◦ What is a proposal ◦ Why to write a proposal ◦ How to write a proposal Azra Naheed Center for Research and Development Superior University 11-Feb-13 Lahore
- 4. Session Outline Research design Introduction Purpose statement Objectives of the research Significance of the study Methodology and Methods Research questions and hypothesis limitations and delimitation Ethical consideration Proposal why proposal Structure of proposal Azra Naheed Center for Research and Development Superior 11-Feb-13 University Lahore
- 5. RESEARCH DESIGN A plan of what data to gather, from whom, how and when to collect the data, and how to analyze the data obtained Components of Research Design 1. Introduction 2. Purpose statement 3. Objectives of the research 4. Significance of the study 5. Methodology and Methods 6. Research questions and hypothesis 7. Limitations and delimitation
- 6. 1. The Introduction Introduction is the opening part of the proposal that justifies the problem to be researched and clarifies the significance of the proposed study in order to establish a base for research. Components of introduction ◦ Background of the study ◦ The research problem ◦ Studies that have addressed the problem ◦ Deficiencies in the studies ◦ The significance of the study Azra Naheed Center for Research and Development 11-Feb-13 Superior University Lahore
- 7. 2. Purpose Statement The purpose statement indicates “why you want to do the study and what you intend to accomplish”(Locke et al, 2000) Why Purpose Statement It is the most important statement in an entire research study. • It conveys the overall intention of a proposed study. • It establishes the direction for the research. Qualitative Research In qualitative research we use the worlds like explore, understand, or discover and we have focus on single phenomena. Quantitative Research In quantitative research we use words like determine, identify, or compare and we have focus on comparing and relating two or more variables. Mixed Methods Research In Mixed methods research we focus on both qualitative and quantitative research and mention the design with rationale Azra Naheed Center for Research and Development Superior 11-Feb-13 University Lahore
- 8. 3.Objectives of the study Objectives are the steps you are going to take to answer your research questions to fulfill the purpose of the research study Objectives can be Main objectives Sub objectives Azra Naheed Center for Research and 11-Feb-13 Development Superior University Lahore
- 9. Significance of the study A significance sections elaborates on the importance and implication of a study for researcher, practitioners, and policy maker. In designing the section one might include ◦ 3 or 4 ways in which the study adds to scholarly research and literature in the field ◦ 3 or 4 ways in which the study helps improve practice ◦ 3 or 4 reasons why the study will improve policy Azra Naheed Center for Research and Development 11-Feb-13 Superior University Lahore
- 10. Methodology and Methods The methodology includes the methods, procedures, and techniques used to collect and analyze information. It should generally include statements about: ◦ Site and sample ◦ Methods of data collection ◦ Data analysis procedures Why Methodology ◦ it clarifies the procedures and methods of data collection and analysis ◦ It increases the efficiency and authenticity of the research Azra Naheed Center for Research and Development 11-Feb-13 Superior University Lahore
- 11. Theory Theory is the standard principle that defines the relationship of two or more variables Qualitative Research: In case of qualitative research theory is an outcome of the whole research process by finding the answers to the research questions Quantitative Research In case of quantitative research theory is used as bases to be verified through the acceptance or rejection of hypothesis using statistical results. Mixed Methods Research in case of Mixed Methods Research theory is both developed and also verified. Azra Naheed Center for Research and 11-Feb-13 Development Superior University Lahore
- 12. Research Questions and Hypothesis Research questions are interrogative statements or questions that the researcher seeks to answer Hypothesis are predictive statements that the researcher holds about the relationship among variables to be tested Azra Naheed Center for Research and 11-Feb-13 Development Superior University Lahore
- 13. Limitations and Delimitations Limitations: possible weaknesses of the study that were not / could not be controlled. Delimitations: boundaries set by the researcher that limit the generalizability of findings. Azra Naheed Center for Research and 11-Feb-13 Development Superior University Lahore
- 14. Ethical Considerations Ethics are the standards of behavior to be adopted while interacting to other people during research in a way that People must be respected and seen not as passive sources of data but as people whose rights and welfare must be protected. Physical risk, psychological harm must be minimized. Risks and benefits from studies should be Why Ethical Considerations populations. distributed fairly and evenly in The aim of discussing research ethics is to encourage integrity in the conduct of business Research and practices among of scientists, scholars, and professionals Azra Naheed Center for Research and Development 11-Feb-13 Superior University Lahore
- 15. Azra Naheed Center for Research and Development 11-Feb-13 Superior University Lahore
- 16. Course Objectives To introduce the basic philosophical and methodological approaches currently used as a foundation for research in Business, Management and Social Sciences. To discuss critically the conventional distinction between “quantitative and qualitative” research and its usefulness in planning and evaluating research. To develop the skills of literature review and critical analysis of research reports by giving practical exposure to locating literature and reviewing critically by argumentation, reading analysis and mapping. To provide a comprehensive knowledge about the research design including introduction, purpose statement, research questions, hypothesis, use of theory limitations and significance for the development of rationale in research. To provide a comprehensive understanding about quantitative research and develop their skills in different areas like operationalization, Naheed Center for Research and Development Azra quantitative methods and ensure the reliability 11-Feb-13 Superior University Lahore
- 17. Cont…. To make a clear understanding for the use of SPSS (which is related to their previous course “Quantitative Techniques”). To provide a comprehensive understanding about qualitative research and develop their skills in using valid and reliable qualitative methods. To discuss various ways of designing research which focuses on the purpose of research, the use of theory and the research significance, its limitations and delimitations. To present a range of ethical issues relevant to the conduct and publication of research. To give an introduction of Nvivo (for qualitative data analysis). Azra Naheed Center for Research and Development 11-Feb-13 Superior University Lahore
- 18. Classification Topics At the end of this module, successful students will be able to demonstrate the knowledge of: A range of methodological approaches and philosophical assumptions to organizational and professional research. Ways of formulating and defining business and management research problems, Knowledge and significance or limitations. Comprehension Understanding of Literature Review and critical Analysis Issues in, and methods of, research design. The importance of ethics and values in business research. The requirements for effective analysis and interpretation of quantitative, qualitative data and mixed methods. At the end of this module, the successful students will be able to: Make informed decisions about different research approaches, strategies, design and methods which are relevant to different purposes To write a literature review related to business research problems. Application and Skills To conduct interviews and interpret them to develop results. To conduct surveys and develop analysis & interpretation of them. Write a successful research proposal which outlines and evaluates the research process and method(s) most appropriate to investigate the student’s own research questions/subject. At the end of this module successful students will be able to: Critically evaluate the range of qualitative and quantitative data and information Analysis and Synthesis collection strategies in a meaningful manner to solve problems. To analyze the research and findings of other people. Analyze the quantitative & Qualitative data for interpretation of results. Azra Naheed Center for Research and Development 11-Feb-13 Superior University Lahore
- 19. Final Assignment TO DEVELOP A RESEARCH PROPOSAL FOR AN APPROVED RESEARCH PROBLEM Guidelines and Assessment Criteria: Write a research proposal for a specific project of research, addressing in an analytical way, the following issues: (a) Abstract (b) Aims of the investigation: Including the need for / value of the research (c) Problem formulation: Relevant social / business context Main research questions / hypotheses Brief summary of theoretical / conceptual bases of the project Target population of interest (d) Selective literature review: Brief summary (max. 3000 words) of the areas to be addressed, and of illustrative resources, including selective bibliography in recognized format (e) Initial choice of methodological approach * and research strategy (ies) (f) Fieldwork: An outline (only) of plans for methods of data production / sources, and for negotiating access (g) Research design: Outline of plans for indicators / descriptors for key concepts Methods for ruling out alternative explanations (or descriptions) Sampling procedures / selection of cases (organizations or individuals) (h) Discussion of issues of validity and reliability – or alternative criteria for research quality (to be clearly specified) (i) Ethical and other commitments: Brief discussion of any major ethical or legal dilemma and political or organizational constraints etc. Azra Naheed Center for Research and Development 11-Feb-13 Superior University Lahore
- 20. Presentation The aim of the presentation is to allow students to gain constructive feedback from their peers regarding their comparative reports as well as allowing them to demonstrate their presentation skills. The structure of the presentation will largely mirror the structure of the report and thus contain the comparison on the basis of three basic research approaches i.e. qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods. Points to consider when marking presentations are: ◦ Timing of presentation. ◦ Clarity of concepts. ◦ Structure of the presentation. ◦ Quality of overheads, handouts etc. ◦ Application of theory to practice. ◦ Ability to answer questions effectively. ◦ Use of sources of information. Criteria of Assessment Clarity and conciseness of your specification of various aspects of the proposal. The relation of details of your research design specifically to the aims of your particular study (That is, credit will not be given for the production of generalities about research design that are unrelated to any particular study). Justification of key decisions made. Completeness of coverage of guidelines. Azra Naheed Center for Research and Development 11-Feb-13 Superior University Lahore
- 21. Weighting: 20 Marks ◦ Guidelines (a,b,c) (5% + 5% + 15%) 25% ◦ Guidelines (d,e) 15% ◦ Guidelines (f,g) 40% ◦ Guideline (h) 10% ◦ Presentation (including bibliography in a recognized format) 10% Length: Maximum 6000 words, plus references (at most 10) in selective bibliography (based on selective literature review). Weightage: 30% (project: 20%, presentation: 10%) Due dates: 13th Week Short Working Draft: 11th Week (This draft only: max. 2000 words, submitted electronically to module tutor by the time announced; any draft submitted after that would not be given any feedback). Final Draft: To be announced later. 9. Reference Material Azra Naheed Center for Research and Development 11-Feb-13 Superior University Lahore
- 22. Azra Naheed Center for Research and 22 11-Feb-13 Development Superior University Lahore
- 23. Proposal Proposal is the written document that describes the topic, Problem, design, and methodologies to be adopted to conduct the proposed research. Why Proposal The development of proposal for any research study is essential because • It allows the researcher to plan and review the steps of the project. • It serves as a guide throughout the investigation. • It forces time and budget estimates Azra Naheed Center for Research and 23 11-Feb-13 Development Superior University Lahore
- 24. Outline of the structure of a proposal 1. Title 2. Introduction • Background of the study (Sectoral Brief) • The research problem • Studies that have addressed the problem • Deficiencies in the studies • The significance of the study • The purpose statement 3. Purpose • The purpose or study, aim of the project and reasons for the research design • The research questions and hypotheses 4. Philosophical Foundations worldview and philosophical assumptions for using specific research approach. 5. Literature Review Azra Naheed Center for Research and Development 24 11-Feb-13 Superior University Lahore
- 25. Outline of the structure of a proposal 6. Methodology and Methods • Site and sample • Data collection procedures • Data analysis procedures 7. Potential Ethical issues 8. Reference and appendixes Azra Naheed Center for Research and 25 11-Feb-13 Development Superior University Lahore
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- Research Process
Writing a Scientific Research Project Proposal
- 5 minute read
- 39.9K views
Table of Contents
The importance of a well-written research proposal cannot be underestimated. Your research really is only as good as your proposal. A poorly written, or poorly conceived research proposal will doom even an otherwise worthy project. On the other hand, a well-written, high-quality proposal will increase your chances for success.
In this article, we’ll outline the basics of writing an effective scientific research proposal, including the differences between research proposals, grants and cover letters. We’ll also touch on common mistakes made when submitting research proposals, as well as a simple example or template that you can follow.
What is a scientific research proposal?
The main purpose of a scientific research proposal is to convince your audience that your project is worthwhile, and that you have the expertise and wherewithal to complete it. The elements of an effective research proposal mirror those of the research process itself, which we’ll outline below. Essentially, the research proposal should include enough information for the reader to determine if your proposed study is worth pursuing.
It is not an uncommon misunderstanding to think that a research proposal and a cover letter are the same things. However, they are different. The main difference between a research proposal vs cover letter content is distinct. Whereas the research proposal summarizes the proposal for future research, the cover letter connects you to the research, and how you are the right person to complete the proposed research.
There is also sometimes confusion around a research proposal vs grant application. Whereas a research proposal is a statement of intent, related to answering a research question, a grant application is a specific request for funding to complete the research proposed. Of course, there are elements of overlap between the two documents; it’s the purpose of the document that defines one or the other.
Scientific Research Proposal Format
Although there is no one way to write a scientific research proposal, there are specific guidelines. A lot depends on which journal you’re submitting your research proposal to, so you may need to follow their scientific research proposal template.
In general, however, there are fairly universal sections to every scientific research proposal. These include:
- Title: Make sure the title of your proposal is descriptive and concise. Make it catch and informative at the same time, avoiding dry phrases like, “An investigation…” Your title should pique the interest of the reader.
- Abstract: This is a brief (300-500 words) summary that includes the research question, your rationale for the study, and any applicable hypothesis. You should also include a brief description of your methodology, including procedures, samples, instruments, etc.
- Introduction: The opening paragraph of your research proposal is, perhaps, the most important. Here you want to introduce the research problem in a creative way, and demonstrate your understanding of the need for the research. You want the reader to think that your proposed research is current, important and relevant.
- Background: Include a brief history of the topic and link it to a contemporary context to show its relevance for today. Identify key researchers and institutions also looking at the problem
- Literature Review: This is the section that may take the longest amount of time to assemble. Here you want to synthesize prior research, and place your proposed research into the larger picture of what’s been studied in the past. You want to show your reader that your work is original, and adds to the current knowledge.
- Research Design and Methodology: This section should be very clearly and logically written and organized. You are letting your reader know that you know what you are going to do, and how. The reader should feel confident that you have the skills and knowledge needed to get the project done.
- Preliminary Implications: Here you’ll be outlining how you anticipate your research will extend current knowledge in your field. You might also want to discuss how your findings will impact future research needs.
- Conclusion: This section reinforces the significance and importance of your proposed research, and summarizes the entire proposal.
- References/Citations: Of course, you need to include a full and accurate list of any and all sources you used to write your research proposal.
Common Mistakes in Writing a Scientific Research Project Proposal
Remember, the best research proposal can be rejected if it’s not well written or is ill-conceived. The most common mistakes made include:
- Not providing the proper context for your research question or the problem
- Failing to reference landmark/key studies
- Losing focus of the research question or problem
- Not accurately presenting contributions by other researchers and institutions
- Incompletely developing a persuasive argument for the research that is being proposed
- Misplaced attention on minor points and/or not enough detail on major issues
- Sloppy, low-quality writing without effective logic and flow
- Incorrect or lapses in references and citations, and/or references not in proper format
- The proposal is too long – or too short
Scientific Research Proposal Example
There are countless examples that you can find for successful research proposals. In addition, you can also find examples of unsuccessful research proposals. Search for successful research proposals in your field, and even for your target journal, to get a good idea on what specifically your audience may be looking for.
While there’s no one example that will show you everything you need to know, looking at a few will give you a good idea of what you need to include in your own research proposal. Talk, also, to colleagues in your field, especially if you are a student or a new researcher. We can often learn from the mistakes of others. The more prepared and knowledgeable you are prior to writing your research proposal, the more likely you are to succeed.
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One of the top reasons scientific research proposals are rejected is due to poor logic and flow. Check out our Language Editing Services to ensure a great proposal , that’s clear and concise, and properly referenced. Check our video for more information, and get started today.
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- Guide to Experimental Design | Overview, Steps, & Examples
Guide to Experimental Design | Overview, 5 steps & Examples
Published on December 3, 2019 by Rebecca Bevans . Revised on December 5, 2022.
Experiments are used to study causal relationships . You manipulate one or more independent variables and measure their effect on one or more dependent variables.
Experimental design create a set of procedures to systematically test a hypothesis . A good experimental design requires a strong understanding of the system you are studying.
There are five key steps in designing an experiment:
- Consider your variables and how they are related
- Write a specific, testable hypothesis
- Design experimental treatments to manipulate your independent variable
- Assign subjects to groups, either between-subjects or within-subjects
- Plan how you will measure your dependent variable
For valid conclusions, you also need to select a representative sample and control any extraneous variables that might influence your results. If random assignment of participants to control and treatment groups is impossible, unethical, or highly difficult, consider an observational study instead. This minimizes several types of research bias, particularly sampling bias , survivorship bias , and attrition bias as time passes.
Table of contents
Step 1: define your variables, step 2: write your hypothesis, step 3: design your experimental treatments, step 4: assign your subjects to treatment groups, step 5: measure your dependent variable, frequently asked questions about experiments.
You should begin with a specific research question . We will work with two research question examples, one from health sciences and one from ecology:
To translate your research question into an experimental hypothesis, you need to define the main variables and make predictions about how they are related.
Start by simply listing the independent and dependent variables .
Then you need to think about possible extraneous and confounding variables and consider how you might control them in your experiment.
Finally, you can put these variables together into a diagram. Use arrows to show the possible relationships between variables and include signs to show the expected direction of the relationships.
Here we predict that increasing temperature will increase soil respiration and decrease soil moisture, while decreasing soil moisture will lead to decreased soil respiration.
Now that you have a strong conceptual understanding of the system you are studying, you should be able to write a specific, testable hypothesis that addresses your research question.
The next steps will describe how to design a controlled experiment . In a controlled experiment, you must be able to:
- Systematically and precisely manipulate the independent variable(s).
- Precisely measure the dependent variable(s).
- Control any potential confounding variables.
If your study system doesn’t match these criteria, there are other types of research you can use to answer your research question.
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How you manipulate the independent variable can affect the experiment’s external validity – that is, the extent to which the results can be generalized and applied to the broader world.
First, you may need to decide how widely to vary your independent variable.
- just slightly above the natural range for your study region.
- over a wider range of temperatures to mimic future warming.
- over an extreme range that is beyond any possible natural variation.
Second, you may need to choose how finely to vary your independent variable. Sometimes this choice is made for you by your experimental system, but often you will need to decide, and this will affect how much you can infer from your results.
- a categorical variable : either as binary (yes/no) or as levels of a factor (no phone use, low phone use, high phone use).
- a continuous variable (minutes of phone use measured every night).
How you apply your experimental treatments to your test subjects is crucial for obtaining valid and reliable results.
First, you need to consider the study size : how many individuals will be included in the experiment? In general, the more subjects you include, the greater your experiment’s statistical power , which determines how much confidence you can have in your results.
Then you need to randomly assign your subjects to treatment groups . Each group receives a different level of the treatment (e.g. no phone use, low phone use, high phone use).
You should also include a control group , which receives no treatment. The control group tells us what would have happened to your test subjects without any experimental intervention.
When assigning your subjects to groups, there are two main choices you need to make:
- A completely randomized design vs a randomized block design .
- A between-subjects design vs a within-subjects design .
An experiment can be completely randomized or randomized within blocks (aka strata):
- In a completely randomized design , every subject is assigned to a treatment group at random.
- In a randomized block design (aka stratified random design), subjects are first grouped according to a characteristic they share, and then randomly assigned to treatments within those groups.
Sometimes randomization isn’t practical or ethical , so researchers create partially-random or even non-random designs. An experimental design where treatments aren’t randomly assigned is called a quasi-experimental design .
Between-subjects vs. within-subjects
In a between-subjects design (also known as an independent measures design or classic ANOVA design), individuals receive only one of the possible levels of an experimental treatment.
In medical or social research, you might also use matched pairs within your between-subjects design to make sure that each treatment group contains the same variety of test subjects in the same proportions.
In a within-subjects design (also known as a repeated measures design), every individual receives each of the experimental treatments consecutively, and their responses to each treatment are measured.
Within-subjects or repeated measures can also refer to an experimental design where an effect emerges over time, and individual responses are measured over time in order to measure this effect as it emerges.
Counterbalancing (randomizing or reversing the order of treatments among subjects) is often used in within-subjects designs to ensure that the order of treatment application doesn’t influence the results of the experiment.
Finally, you need to decide how you’ll collect data on your dependent variable outcomes. You should aim for reliable and valid measurements that minimize research bias or error.
Some variables, like temperature, can be objectively measured with scientific instruments. Others may need to be operationalized to turn them into measurable observations.
- Ask participants to record what time they go to sleep and get up each day.
- Ask participants to wear a sleep tracker.
How precisely you measure your dependent variable also affects the kinds of statistical analysis you can use on your data.
Experiments are always context-dependent, and a good experimental design will take into account all of the unique considerations of your study system to produce information that is both valid and relevant to your research question.
Experimental design means planning a set of procedures to investigate a relationship between variables . To design a controlled experiment, you need:
- A testable hypothesis
- At least one independent variable that can be precisely manipulated
- At least one dependent variable that can be precisely measured
When designing the experiment, you decide:
- How you will manipulate the variable(s)
- How you will control for any potential confounding variables
- How many subjects or samples will be included in the study
- How subjects will be assigned to treatment levels
Experimental design is essential to the internal and external validity of your experiment.
The key difference between observational studies and experimental designs is that a well-done observational study does not influence the responses of participants, while experiments do have some sort of treatment condition applied to at least some participants by random assignment .
A confounding variable , also called a confounder or confounding factor, is a third variable in a study examining a potential cause-and-effect relationship.
A confounding variable is related to both the supposed cause and the supposed effect of the study. It can be difficult to separate the true effect of the independent variable from the effect of the confounding variable.
In your research design , it’s important to identify potential confounding variables and plan how you will reduce their impact.
In a between-subjects design , every participant experiences only one condition, and researchers assess group differences between participants in various conditions.
In a within-subjects design , each participant experiences all conditions, and researchers test the same participants repeatedly for differences between conditions.
The word “between” means that you’re comparing different conditions between groups, while the word “within” means you’re comparing different conditions within the same group.
An experimental group, also known as a treatment group, receives the treatment whose effect researchers wish to study, whereas a control group does not. They should be identical in all other ways.
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A research design is a strategy for answering your research question using empirical data. Creating a research design means making decisions about: Your overall research objectives and approach Whether you'll rely on primary research or secondary research Your sampling methods or criteria for selecting subjects Your data collection methods
What is a research proposal? A research proposal is a simply a structured, formal document that explains what you plan to research (i.e. your research topic), why it's worth researching (i.e. your justification), and how you plan to investigate it (i.e. your practical approach).
The research design refers to the overall strategy and analytical approach that you have chosen in order to integrate, in a coherent and logical way, the different components of the study, thus ensuring that the research problem will be thoroughly investigated.
Research design is mainly method, discussion, budget. Research proposal is composed of title, abstract, table of contents, introduction, literature review plus research design. A research design cannot stand alone. It has to be part of a research (proposal) to have meaning and purpose. Research proposal is more extensive than research design.
In a research proposal, the goal is to present the author's plan for the research they intend to conduct. In some cases, part of this goal is to secure funding for said research. In others, it's to have the research approved by the author's supervisor or department so they can move forward with it.
Research design and research proposal checklists Authors: Woodrow Denham Unaffiliated Abstract Writing a research proposal is an invaluable way to organize your thoughts about a project that...
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A research proposal signifies a theoretical framework within which the research is carried out. In finer terms, a research proposal is a sketch for the collection, measurement and analysis of data. A research report implies a scientific write-up on the research findings, which is prepared in a specific format.
Proposal Proposal is the written document that describes the topic, Problem, design, and methodologies to be adopted to conduct the proposed research. Why Proposal The development of proposal for any research study is essential because • It allows the researcher to plan and review the steps of the project.
The main difference between a research proposal vs cover letter content is distinct. Whereas the research proposal summarizes the proposal for future research, the cover letter connects you to the research, and how you are the right person to complete the proposed research.
Experimental research is a type of research design in which the study is carried out utilising a scientific approach and two sets of variables. The first set serves as a constant against which the variations in the second set are measured. Experimentation is used in quantitative research methodologies, for example.
Step 1: Define your variables. You should begin with a specific research question. We will work with two research question examples, one from health sciences and one from ecology: Example question 1: Phone use and sleep. You want to know how phone use before bedtime affects sleep patterns.
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Specify the problem of the study and provide a more detailed elaboration of the research purpose. This is very important when the research problem is multifaceted or complex. State the rationale of your research proposal and explain, in an engaging way, why it is worthwhile to conduct.
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A research proposal is a document proposing a research project, generally in the sciences or academia, and generally constitutes a request for sponsorship of that research. Proposals are evaluated on the cost and potential impact of the proposed research, and on the soundness of the proposed plan for carrying it out. Research proposals ...
Research design refers to the overall strategy utilized to carry out research that defines a succinct and logical plan to tackle established research question(s) through the collection, interpretation, analysis, and discussion of data.. Incorporated in the design of a research study will depend on the standpoint of the researcher over their beliefs in the nature of knowledge (see epistemology ...
A research proposal needs to let people know why the project is a good and/or needed idea and that you understand what information and studies are already out there. Keep in mind that the way the ...