how to do a research proposal

how to do a research proposal

How to Write a Persuasive Research Proposal

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1. Introduction

Successful completion of the work requires not only an understanding of your individual project, but also the ability to convey that understanding to others. When writing excellent research proposals, this ability to convey is essential. Though not recognized as a field of study in the same sense as the natural or social sciences, the argumentative or persuasive research proposal shares a number of common goals. For example, through the process of working on a proposal, a student considering an academic career will have defined the focus and approach to his or her research, a great aid when applying for a faculty position. Similarly, the health educator, nonprofit organization, or community group seeking to solve a problem (e.g., high rates of infant mortality, obesity, or substance abuse; environmental hazards; traffic safety; and the like) may use a proposal to a funding agency as the first step in the resolution of that problem. Finally, a corporation or government agency seeking to implement a new program or policy may conduct an investigation that is similar to academic research and is also presented in a formal proposal. The diversity of endeavors in which a research proposal might be useful creates a challenge for writers in two ways. First, because a proposal never is the end in itself, but rather the means to an end, or the foundation of a more detailed project, it is difficult to know how much effort to put into it. Second, because proposals often are written on the basis of a collective decision and rough direction, and in the case of sponsored research being sought by an individual, an initial go/no go decision from a skeptical fund provider, they have an audience that is predisposed to doubt its value and to advocate alternative uses of the time and resources. In the extreme case, the writer may be the most skeptical of all, merely trying to fulfill an assignment and receive a grade. Given the high failure rate of proposals at the first submission, revision, a skill that typically needs to be practiced, is particularly important.

2. Background and Significance

A persuasive research proposal sets out the goal of your research inquiry and justifies why it is a worthwhile endeavor. You will be more likely to feel that your research questions have meaning, and this will go a long way to enhancing your motivation. According to the NIH (2001, p.2), the first part of your proposal should be on the “specific aims of your research proposal.” These specific aims are the answer to the question, “What do I propose to do?” This “specific aims” section is something that you may return to several times as you draft your proposal. Although it is better to write a more detailed specific aims at a later stage, at this point you need to be able to articulate in a sentence or two what you believe the specific aims of your research will be. Another way of thinking about this, according to the NIH, is to ask, “What are the long-range objectives and what are the steps I need to take to achieve these objectives?” (p.2). Knowing your specific aims will help later when you are selecting a research strategy. This is because your research strategy should be designed to achieve your specific aims. Come back to this “specific aims” section after you have written the background and significance, hypothesis and research design and methods, to make sure there is a logical flow between what you propose to do and why you are proposing it. Both the background and the significance on their own are essential aspects of a persuasive research proposal, according to the NIH (2001, pp.3-4). The background is where you establish the current knowledge on a particular topic, and this will be the bit that you rewrite the most over the next few years. However, as it is essential to begin a research proposal on a topic that will have significance and is aligning with the research priorities of an organization, it is likely that you may shift direction. Begin the background with the broad context of your study and avoid an analysis specific to your hypotheses. Ask yourself, “What is the problem that needs solving?” Then gradually narrow it down to the specific topic. This allows you to justify the step to follow on a general topic with the specific aim for your research.

3. Research Objectives and Questions

The objectives should lead logically to the statement of the problem. Your objectives will be the road map to your study. These can be considered as a statement of what is to be achieved in the study, and should be related to the problem. The objectives should be an active statement (e.g. ‘To determine…’, ‘To identify…’, ‘To compare…’) with a detailed description of the methodology by which that will be achieved. It is best to be as specific as possible here because how you achieve your objectives will determine the quality of your research. Make sure that your objectives are interrelated, for instance, you do not want to have one objective that contradicts another. This might sound obvious, but not following this can lead to wasted time and resources. If you are not clear about the objectives for your research, you can end up wasting a lot of time. An unclear objective can lead to generating a mass of information with no relevance to what is required. Always try to structure your objectives in the form of a question. By doing it this way, you will have one or more questions that will help to generate the information required. Make sure that the questions will be of relevance to the topic in that they will direct the line of investigation. A good tactic is try to find the answers to these questions by asking a friend, or relative. This will help to improve the quality and relevance of your research. Do not try to be too ambitious. It is better to have a simple and clearly defined objective that is achievable within a set timeframe, than a complex objective that is so grand that it is difficult to prove whether it has been achieved. Always bear in mind that your objective should lead to a clear end. An objective that is too open is likely to leave you in a spin as to what you should include in your study. At each stage of the study you will be referring back to your objectives to decide whether you are on the right track. If you do not achieve your objectives, you have a problem. If there was a fault with the methodology. This will complicate your study. Always be prepared to change your objectives. It may be that after carrying out your literature review, you find a lot of conflicting information. Or that you are unable to gain access to certain data. In such cases you may have to consider reformulating and being realistic with what can be achieved. Always take your time to think about this stage, and do not be afraid to ask others about the clarity of your objectives. This will save you a lot of time in the long run and help to decide the best way to conduct the study. Objectives should take into consideration the readers or consumers of the research. If you are working on a product, you might want to find out from the client what successes would make it most worthwhile. If it is a private study, you will likely be the main beneficiary. In the case of an academic, the main aim will be to gain a qualification or to determine the best line of study for a specific area. Always remember these will be guiding your research and make sure that they are directly related to the topic.

4. Methodology and Approach

“The study will be conducted in two to three phases. It is anticipated that the preliminary phases of the study will involve interviewing clientele at a drop-in center. This will be facilitated by helping the clientele to utilize friendship as a means of recovery. Data will be collected culminating in the production of a resource that will be developed at a later time. This stage will involve life experience, case method learning from the author and will be an ongoing part of the author’s life and will not be documented as a study. Each phase of the study will have its limitations and will be discussed when the time or problems arise. The author would like to state that methods and design are an estimated plan, subject to change as the research progresses.”

Methodology is the study of methods and the underpinning philosophical assumptions of the research process itself. It is about how you propose to do the research and will be crucial to gaining approval of your research proposal. Coming to grips with the research methodology or approach to your proposed research is of utmost importance, no matter the topic or nature of the work. If the research statement remains too broad or vague, it will be much harder to formulate a persuasive hypothesis. And if it is not formulated well, then it will be a real obstacle to convincing your audience that your research is sound and worthwhile. It will be an issue in justifying the study even if the research is sound. While it is essential that you provide enough information about the methodology, it is equally imperative that you not waste time and energy focusing on methods that will not be used as this will just provide justification, but no real outcome. A successful research persuasive research proposal will have a very convincing statement on methodology. Below is a short extract from a research proposal, the methodology section.

5. Conclusion

Finally, you should state the eventual goal of the research, which should be reiterated in the conclusion.

Make the research question the heading for a section. In the next section, which I suppose should be titled “Relevance of the research,” you will write on a few parameters to define how success can be measured in solving the problem. This is important to do because your research should be bounded in the measures of success throughout. Usually, the measures of success are the methods. For example, a successful prevention of a disease will be measured by the number of people living without the disease at some point in the future. This is good because different countries have different abilities to eliminate the disease, and it will provide a measure of success for each country. This can be theoretically mapped as a function between an independent variable (country’s effort) and a dependent variable (change in prevalence of disease), and your comparisons can be assessed to determine which methods were better at changing the function. In other words, the method which changes the function in a positive direction with minimum gradient will be the best method. This is usually the way a regression analysis is used, and by stating that you will do a regression analysis, it will give you a secondary measure of success in this example to determine the best method of prevention.

Next important thing is to put the problem in specific terms in the form of a question. This question is your research question. You will pose this question to different people, and from their suggestions, you will get different ways of solving the problem. You must use very formal language in this part.

Create a historical context and concern for different audiences. The problem which you have chosen should be the starting point of your research proposal. For example, the global war on terror should be used for historical context, and then terrorism should be investigated in the context of the global war on terror.

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