Paul T

 Paul T. P. Wong. Ph.D. C.Psych.  Research Director, Graduate Program in Counselling Psychology Trinity Western University  Langley, BC, Canada

Most students and beginning researchers do not fully understand what a research proposal means, nor do they understand its importance. To put it bluntly, one’s research is only as a good as one’s proposal. An ill-conceived proposal dooms the project even if it somehow gets through the Thesis Supervisory Committee. A high quality proposal, on the other palm, not only promises success for the project, but also impresses your Thesis Committee about your potential as a researcher.

A research proposal is intended to woo others that you have a worthwhile research project and that you have the competence and the work-plan to accomplish it. Generally, a research proposal should contain all the key elements involved in the research process and include sufficient information for the readers to evaluate the proposed probe.

Regardless of your research area and the methodology you choose, all research proposals must address the following questions: What you plan to accomplish, why you want to do it and how you are going to do it.

The proposal should have sufficient information to coax your readers that you have an significant research idea, that you have a good grip of the relevant literature and the major issues, and that your methodology is sound.

The quality of your research proposal depends not only on the quality of your proposed project, but also on the quality of your proposal writing. A good research project may run the risk of rejection simply because the proposal is poorly written. Therefore, it pays if your writing is coherent, clear and compelling.

This paper concentrates on proposal writing rather than on the development of research ideas.

It should be concise and descriptive. For example, the phrase, “An investigation of. ” could be omitted. Often titles are stated in terms of a functional relationship, because such titles clearly indicate the independent and dependent variables. However, if possible, think of an informative but catchy title. An effective title not only pricks the reader’s interest, but also predisposes him/her favourably towards the proposal.

It is a brief summary of approximately 300 words. It should include the research question, the rationale for the examine, the hypothesis (if any), the method and the main findings. Descriptions of the method may include the design, procedures, the sample and any instruments that will be used.

The main purpose of the introduction is to provide the necessary background or context for your research problem. How to framework the research problem is perhaps the largest problem in proposal writing.

If the research problem is framed in the context of a general, rambling literature review, then the research question may emerge trivial and uninteresting. However, if the same question is placed in the context of a very focused and current research area, its significance will become evident.

Unluckily, there are no hard and prompt rules on how to framework your research question just as there is no prescription on how to write an interesting and informative opening paragraph. A lot depends on your creativity, your capability to think clearly and the depth of your understanding of problem areas.

However, attempt to place your research question in the context of either a current “hot” area, or an older area that remains viable. Secondly, you need to provide a brief but suitable historical backdrop. Thirdly, provide the contemporary context in which your proposed research question occupies the central stage. Ultimately, identify “key players” and refer to the most relevant and representative publications. In brief, attempt to paint your research question in broad brushes and at the same time bring out its significance.

The introduction typically starts with a general statement of the problem area, with a concentrate on a specific research problem, to be followed by the rational or justification for the proposed investigate. The introduction generally covers the following elements:

  1. State the research problem, which is often referred to as the purpose of the investigate.
  2. Provide the context and set the stage for your research question in such a way as to showcase its necessity and importance.
  3. Present the rationale of your proposed explore and clearly indicate why it is worth doing.
  4. Shortly describe the major issues and sub-problems to be addressed by your research.
  5. Identify the key independent and dependent variables of your experiment. Alternatively, specify the phenomenon you want to investigate.
  6. State your hypothesis or theory, if any. For exploratory or phenomenological research, you may not have any hypotheses. (Please do not confuse the hypothesis with the statistical null hypothesis.)
  7. Set the delimitation or boundaries of your proposed research in order to provide a clear concentrate.
  8. Provide definitions of key concepts. (This is optional.)

Sometimes the literature review is incorporated into the introduction section. However, most professors choose a separate section, which permits a more thorough review of the literature.

The literature review serves several significant functions:

  • Ensures that you are not “reinventing the wheel”.
  • Gives credits to those who have laid the groundwork for your research.
  • Demonstrates your skill of the research problem.
  • Demonstrates your understanding of the theoretical and research issues related to your research question.
  • Shows your capability to critically evaluate relevant literature information.
  • Indicates your capability to integrate and synthesize the existing literature.
  • Provides fresh theoretical insights or develops a fresh model as the conceptual framework for your research.
  • Convinces your reader that your proposed research will make a significant and substantial contribution to the literature (i.e. resolving an significant theoretical issue or packing a major gap in the literature).
  • Most students’ literature reviews suffer from the following problems:

    • Lacking organization and structure
    • Lacking concentrate, unity and coherence
    • Being repetitive and verbose
    • Failing to cite influential papers
    • Failing to keep up with latest developments
    • Failing to critically evaluate cited papers
    • Citing irrelevant or trivial references
    • Depending too much on secondary sources

    Your scholarship and research competence will be questioned if any of the above applies to your proposal.

    There are different ways to organize your literature review. Make use of subheadings to bring order and coherence to your review. For example, having established the importance of your research area and its current state of development, you may devote several subsections on related issues as: theoretical models, measuring instruments, cross-cultural and gender differences, etc.

    It is also helpful to keep in mind that you are telling a story to an audience. Attempt to tell it in a stimulating and engaging manner. Do not bore them, because it may lead to rejection of your worthy proposal. (Recall: Professors and scientists are human beings too.)

    The Method section is very significant because it tells your Research Committee how you plan to tackle your research problem. It will provide your work plan and describe the activities necessary for the completion of your project.

    The guiding principle for writing the Method section is that it should contain sufficient information for the reader to determine whether methodology is sound. Some even argue that a good proposal should contain sufficient details for another qualified researcher to implement the probe.

    You need to demonstrate your skill of alternative methods and make the case that your treatment is the most adequate and most valid way to address your research question.

    Please note that your research question may be best answered by qualitative research. However, since most mainstream psychologists are still biased against qualitative research, especially the phenomenological multiplicity, you may need to justify your qualitative method.

    Furthermore, since there are no well-established and widely accepted canons in qualitative analysis, your method section needs to be more elaborate than what is required for traditional quantitative research. More importantly, the data collection process in qualitative research has a far greater influence on the results as compared to quantitative research. That is another reason for greater care in describing how you will collect and analyze your data. (How to write the Method section for qualitative research is a topic for another paper.)

    For quantitative studies, the method section typically consists of the following sections:

  • Design -Is it a questionnaire explore or a laboratory experiment? What kind of design do you choose?
  • Subjects or participants – Who will take part in your explore. What kind of sampling procedure do you use?
  • Instruments – What kind of measuring instruments or questionnaires do you use? Why do you choose them? Are they valid and reliable?
  • Procedure – How do you plan to carry out your explore? What activities are involved? How long does it take?
  • Obviously you do not have results at the proposal stage. However, you need to have some idea about what kind of data you will be collecting, and what statistical procedures will be used in order to reaction your research question or test you hypothesis.

    It is significant to coax your reader of the potential influence of your proposed research. You need to communicate a sense of enthusiasm and confidence without exaggerating the merits of your proposal. That is why you also need to mention the limitations and weaknesses of the proposed research, which may be justified by time and financial constraints as well as by the early developmental stage of your research area.

    Common Mistakes in Proposal Writing

  • Failure to provide the decent context to framework the research question.
  • Failure to delimit the boundary conditions for your research.
  • Failure to cite landmark studies.
  • Failure to accurately present the theoretical and empirical contributions by other researchers.
  • Failure to stay focused on the research question.
  • Failure to develop a coherent and persuasive argument for the proposed research.
  • Too much detail on minor issues, but not enough detail on major issues.
  • Too much rambling — going “all over the map” without a clear sense of direction. (The best proposals budge forward with ease and grace like a seamless sea.)
  • Too many citation lapses and incorrect references.
  • Too long or too brief.
  • Failing to go after the APA style.
  • Slopping writing.
  • Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: 6. The Methodology

    Importance of a Good Methodology Section

    You must explain how you obtained and analyzed your results for the following reasons:

  • Readers need to know how the data was obtained because the method you chose affects the findings and, by extension, how you likely interpreted them.
  • Methodology is crucial for any branch of scholarship because an unreliable method produces unreliable results and, as a consequence, undermines the value of your interpretations of the findings.
  • In most cases, there are a multitude of different methods you can choose to investigate a research problem. The methodology section of your paper should clearly articulate the reasons why you chose a particular procedure or technology.
  • The reader wants to know that the data was collected or generated in a way that is consistent with accepted practice in the field of investigate. For example, if you are using a numerous choice questionnaire, readers need to know that it suggested your respondents a reasonable range of answers to choose from.
  • The method must be suitable to fulfilling the overall aims of the examine. For example, you need to ensure that you have a large enough sample size to be able to generalize and make recommendations based upon the findings.
  • The methodology should discuss the problems that were anticipated and the steps you took to prevent them from occurring. For any problems that do arise, you must describe the ways in which they were minimized or why these problems do not influence in any meaningful way your interpretation of the findings.
  • In the social and bahavioral sciences, it is significant to always provide sufficient information to permit other researchers to adopt or replicate your methodology. This information is particularly significant when a fresh method has been developed or an innovative use of an exisiting method is utilized.
  • Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Psychology Writing Center. University of Washington; Denscombe, Martyn. The Good Research Guide: For Small-Scale Social Research Projects. 5th edition. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, 2014; Lunenburg, Frederick C. Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008.

    Structure and Writing Style

    I. Groups of Research Methods

    There are two main groups of research methods in the social sciences:

  • Thee mpirical-analytical groupapproaches the investigate of social sciences in a similar manner that researchers explore the natural sciences. This type of research concentrates on objective skill, research questions that can be answered yes or no, and operational definitions of variables to be measured. The empirical-analytical group employs deductive reasoning that uses existing theory as a foundation for formulating hypotheses that need to be tested. This treatment is focused on explanation.
  • Thei nterpretative group of methods is focused on understanding phenomenon in a comprehensive, holistic way. Interpretive methods concentrate on analytically disclosing the meaning-making practices of human subjects [the why, how, or by what means people do what they do], while demonstrating how those practices arrange so that it can be used to generate observable outcomes. Interpretive methods permit you to recognize your connection to the phenomena under examine but, because the interpretative group concentrates more on subjective skill, it requires careful interpretation of variables.
  • An effectively written methodology section should:

  • Introduce the overall methodological treatment for investigating your research problem. Is your examine qualitative or quantitative or a combination of both (mixed method)? Are you going to take a special treatment, such as act research, or a more neutral stance?
  • Indicate how the treatment fits the overall research design. Your methods should have a clear connection with your research problem. In other words, make sure that your methods will actually address the problem. One of the most common deficiencies found in research papers is that the proposed methodology is not suitable to achieving the stated objective of your paper.
  • Describe the specific methods of data collection you are going to use. such as, surveys, interviews, questionnaires, observation, archival research. If you are analyzing existing data, such as a data set or archival documents, describe how it was originally created or gathered and by whom.
  • Explain how you intend to analyze your results. Will you use statistical analysis? Will you use specific theoretical perspectives to help you analyze a text or explain observed behaviors? Describe how you plan to obtain an accurate assessment of relationships, patterns, trends, distributions, and possible contradictions found in the data.
  • Provide background and a rationale for methodologies that are unacquainted for your readers. Very often in the social sciences, research problems and the methods for investigating them require more explanation/rationale than widely accepted rules governing the natural and physical sciences. Be clear and concise in your explanation.
  • Provide a justification for subject selection and sampling procedure. For example, if you propose to conduct interviews, how do you intend to select the sample population? If you are analyzing texts, which texts have you chosen, and why? If you are using statistics, why is this set of statistics being used? If other data sources exist, explain why the data you chose is most suitable to addressing the research problem.
  • Describe potential limitations. Are there any practical limitations that could affect your data collection? How will you attempt to control for potential confounding variables and errors? If your methodology may lead to problems you can anticipate, state this openly and showcase why pursuing this methodology outweighs the risk of these problems cropping up.
  • NOTE. Once you have written all of the elements of the methods section, subsequent revisions should concentrate on how to present those elements as clearly and as logically as possibly. The description of how you ready to investigate the research problem, how you gathered the data, and the protocol for analyzing the data should be organized chronologically. For clarity, when a large amount of detail must be introduced, information should be introduced in sub-sections according to topic.

    III. Problems to Avoid

    Irrelevant Detail
    The methodology section of your paper should be thorough but to the point. Do not provide any background information that doesn’t directly help the reader to understand why a particular method was chosen, how the data was gathered or obtained, and how it was analyzed.

    Unnecessary Explanation of Basic Procedures
    Reminisce that you are not writing a how-to guide about a particular method. You should make the assumption that readers wield a basic understanding of how to investigate the research problem on their own and, therefore, you do not have to go into fine detail about specific methodological procedures. The concentrate should be on how you applied a method. not on the mechanics of doing a method.

    NOTE: An exception to this rule is if you select an unconventional treatment to doing the method; if this is the case, be sure to explain why this treatment was chosen and how it enhances the overall research process.

    Problem Blindness
    It is almost a given that you will encounter problems when collecting or generating your data. Do not disregard these problems or pretend they did not occur. Often, documenting how you overcame obstacles can form an interesting part of the methodology. It demonstrates to the reader that you can provide a cogent rationale for the decisions you made to minimize the influence of any problems that arose.

    Literature Review
    Just as the literature review section of your paper provides an overview of sources you have examined while researching a particular topic, the methodology section should cite any sources that informed your choice and application of a particular method [i.e. the choice of a survey should include any citations to the works you used to help construct the survey].

    It’s More than Sources of Information!
    A description of a research probe's method should not be confused with a description of the sources of information. Such a list of sources is useful in itself, especially if it is accompanied by an explanation about the selection and use of the sources. The description of the project's methodology complements a list of sources in that it sets forward the organization and interpretation of information emanating from those sources.

    Azevedo, L.F. et al. “How to Write a Scientific Paper: Writing the Methods Section.” Revista Portuguesa de Pneumologia 17 (2011): 232-238; Butin, Dan W. The Education Dissertation A Guide for Practitioner Scholars. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010; Carter, Susan. Structuring Your Research Thesis. Fresh York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012; Lunenburg, Frederick C. Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008. Methods Section. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; What is Interpretive Research. Institute of Public and International Affairs, University of Utah; Writing the Experimental Report: Methods, Results, and Discussion. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Methods and Materials. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College.

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