research proposal structure

research proposal structure

The Importance of Research Proposal Structure

1. Introduction

A research proposal is structured from the following headings and has specific information to fill certain levels of heading. This guide includes the first level heading for each heading and a particular sub-level heading for each heading in a research proposal. These sub-level headings are referred to in this guide, and pertaining to each of these, there are questions and suggested information to include. This guide was compiled to aid doctoral and master’s postgraduate students in their research efforts, more specifically in preparing to write their proposals.

The point of departure for this essay is on the realization of the importance of the research proposal as a prelude to a thesis or dissertation for a higher degree by research, where the introduction would be followed by the background to the problem and the outcomes as separate sections. The specific guidance for the proposed structure given here is based on the APA style manual (American Psychological Association, 2001), though other style manuals may be equally valid. It may also be useful for several other research project and thesis proposals. APA style is deliberately chosen because it is the most detailed and clear stylistic guideline for documenting research, making it easier to follow and mimic, though other documentation styles are also acceptable. A research project proposal is a more thorough and long-term type of proposition compared to the prospective study discussed in this article. Due to this, the applicability does not have to adhere strictly to this guide and may be adapted in various ways to suit the needs of different research endeavors. Acknowledgement is made of the WA Young Clinical Psychologist Research Award which facilitated part of the research leading to this article.

2. Background and Significance

A persuasive tone is important in a research proposal as the reader is looking to be convinced of the importance of the topic and its potential contribution to existing knowledge. To be persuasive, the proposed research must be placed in the context of existing work in the field. This is done by making reference to the background, stating the problems or gaps in knowledge, and then indicating how the research will address the problems or fill the gaps. The background and significance section should be written in a persuasive style and be sufficiently detailed for the reader to understand the problem and its importance. Bear in mind that a research proposal is not an essay. You are not expected to provide comprehensive background information, nor are you expected to cover the same amount of content. An excellent proposal is focused on a fairly narrow topic and over-writing on background, context, and significance is a very common error. Attention must be paid to the environment in which the research will be carried out since strategic proposals can be weakened if the research is not placed in the appropriate context, for example, if a proposal is directed to a biological science funding body but the research is on a medical science topic.

3. Research Objectives and Questions

A clear statement of the research question is the first step in writing a research proposal. The research question and hypothesis define the expected results or possible conclusions to the studied problem, often stated in research objectives. Good research objectives in a proposal should clearly and simply state what it is that the research hopes to achieve. This section gives a clear idea of what can be expected to learn, the end results, and the impact on the problem that can occur as a result of the study. Objectives could be broken down into major and minor objectives. Major objectives are broader, more general aims, while minor objectives are the specific steps that will achieve the major objectives. Good objectives are realistic, achievable, and underpinned by motivation. If the expected results and impact are not evident in the objectives, it is an indication to rewrite them. An objective should not be overambitious and throw up too many questions to be answered. A few objectives only lead to a limited amount of work involving a small and relatively simple study. Whereas if the aims are too plentiful, there is a likelihood it will be too complex and difficult to study and may need to be narrowed down at a later stage. Formulation of the questions can also act as an effective method of guidance during the literature review, which determines the relevance of information to the topic. There should be a question(s) to answer each objective. The research can be considered to have been completed when a question has been answered.

4. Research Methodology

The nature of the data analysis between both methods often requires a comparison to understand the differences between the two and also the limitations. For example, using an approach central to qualitative research, one can form a further understanding of a recent research area with little known data or a new phenomenon. This allows the development of theoretical and methodological explanations which lay the foundation towards more advanced research. The same area of research can also be approached with a quantitative stance which would clearly define variables or hypotheses then answer the questions on said variables or hypotheses through data collection and testing. Data collected via qualitative research is generally in the form of words from interviews and observations. This can be problematic for people new to this type of research as the standards of reliability and validity are generally measured by methods more familiar with quantitative research.

The research methodology is not only tied to research but also elucidates the general approach of an individual towards life and belief reality. Given the wide range of methodologies, research can be categorized between either qualitative or quantitative; both are very distinct on the academic, theoretical, and practical problems. Depending on where a researcher situates their point on a continuum between the two different methods, it will help to define the research question, analyze the validity of the data, and the nature of the data analysis itself. The research question becomes more specific and focused as the researcher draws their perspective towards the quantitative angle of research.

5. Expected Results and Conclusion

A research proposal is a document that explains discrete details about a specific project. It is addressed to experts in the given field who are seeking to approve the research or wanting to assist a student in their research, thus it needs to be convincing and logical. In order for the work to be eligible for approval, the proposal must provide adequate information about the project so that the advisors can determine whether or not the work is suitable for the said student and worthwhile for immediate execution. This information should cover the what and how the student intends to do to complete the project, why the project is important to the field, and how the said student will benefit from the experience. Although the research proposal is not a finished product, there should be a clear and logical flow of information throughout the document. With defined sections and sub-sections, it is also important to address any mistakes that were made throughout the project.

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