Elements of a Research Proposal
To help guide you in constructing your research proposal I have identified some of the main elements that have to be explained when writing your research proposals. In different books you can find different elements, and it is not necessary that students are limited to these elements only. The students are free to chose the elements that they want to include in their research proposal. However, in general, the following elements of a research proposal we find in many research methods books. Likewise, when writing your proposal, the following elements matters should be explained and tackled in your research proposal:
1. Problem or objective. Research proposals generally begin with an introductory section that describes the research problem and establishes its significance. This section is mainly devoted to answer the following questions: What exactly do you want to study? Why is it worth studying? Does the proposed study have theoretical and/or practical significance? Does it contribute to a new understanding of a phenomenon?
2. Review of Literature. The research problem or objective needs to be situated within a context of other scholarship in the area(s). It addresses the following kinds of questions: What have others said about this area(s)? What theories address it and what do these say? What research has been done (or not done) previously? Are there consistent findings or do past studies disagree? Are there flaws or gaps in the previous research that your study will seek to remedy?
3. Research Question(s). Your specific research question(s) or hypotheses should be stated clearly either at the end of the description of the problem/objective or at the end of the review of the literature.
4. Research Design: This section describes how you will conduct your study. Regardless of the type of research you plan to do, you need to indicate how you will carry out your study so others may judge its viability, its worth, etc. For example this section includes a description of the subjects (or participants), the measurements, the data-collection methods, and analysis/analyses.
a. Subjects for study. Describe the subjects (people or objects, e.g. texts) for your study, considering carefully the type and number you need. Explain your method of selecting your subject(s) (and if a sample, describe the population and how the sample will be drawn). Discuss the subject(s) in relation to your research question or hypothesis, to availability, and to your research design. That is, you need to identify the subjects and make clear whether they will be available and how you will reach them. Ethical consideration could also be discussed within this section. This section typically answers the following questions: Who or what will you study in order to collect data? Is it appropriate to select a sample from a larger pool? If so, how will you do that? How do these subjects relate to your research question(s)?
b. Measurement. Describe the kinds of measures you intend to use and explain why you have selected these? A discussion of measurements generally considers the following questions: What are the key variables in your study? How will you define and measure them? Do your definitions and measurements draw on or differ from those of previous research in this area? (If you are using a writing prompt, or a survey questions, or other such written material, it is usually appropriate to include a copy of this in an appendix at the end.)
c. Data-Collection Methods. Describe what you plan to actually do and the kind of research you will conduct. Your data-collection methods obviously need to be consistent with your research problem, your subjects and your measurements. This section typically considers the following 3 questions: How will you actually collect the data for your study? What kind of study will you conduct (e.g., ethnographic, case study, experiment, survey, historical, textual analysis, etc.)?
d. Analysis. Describe the kind of analysis you plan to conduct, and explain the logic and purpose of your analysis. The kind(s) of analysis you plan will, of course, be contingent on the subjects, the measures and the data collection as well as on your research question. This section typically answers the following kinds of questions: How precise a description or explanation of the phenomenon do you plan to provide? Do you intend to simply describe the what and how of a given phenomenon? Do you intend to examine relationships among variables? or Do you intend to explain why things are the way they are? What possible explanatory variables will your analysis consider and how will you know if you’ve explained the variables adequately?
5. Timeline/Schedule. Most proposals require a schedule that outlines the various stages of the project along a time line. Typically, this is written as a chronological list of procedures you will follow in carrying out your study (data collection, analysis, writing and revising). Work backwards from the date you want to complete the project and be realistic about the amount of time that different tasks will take. Even when this is not required, it is a good idea to generate a timeline because this task forces you to think through the entire research process realistically and may alert you to problems that you might otherwise overlook. A timeline also helps you later on to stay on task during the research project.
6. Bibliography: Include a bibliography or works cited of all sources cited in the research proposal. Double check your bibliography against the proposal to make sure that all sources appear in both places.