10 Steps to Writing an Academic Research Proposal

This hub discusses some of the common elements in a research proposal. Whether you are doing quantitative or qualitative research, it is important that you outline the reasons why you propose doing the study and what process or procedures you will follow to complete the proposed study.

Some of the important parts of a good quantitative or qualitative research proposal include:

  1. Determining the general topic;
  2. Performing a Literature review on the topic;
  3. Identifying a gap in the literature;
  4. Identifying a problem highlighted by the gap in the literature and framing a purpose for the study;
  5. Writing an Introduction to the study;
  6. Framing research hypotheses and or research questions to investigate or guide the study;
  7. Determine the method of investigation
  8. Outline the research design
  9. Define the Sample size and the characteristics of the proposed sample;
  10. Describe the procedures to follow for data collection and data analyses.

The first step in writing an academic research proposal is to idenitfy a general topic or subject area to investigate. Usually this first point is the easiest because the research proposal will be tied to the overall theme of a course. In such a case, the the general subject for investigation is normally determined by a professor who is leading the class, the school's department chair, or academic advisory committee.

The next step is to read as much literature on the general subject matter as time will allow. While you read the literature it is advised to take copious notes and then summarize the purpose and findings of each study relevant to the general subject matter of the eventual research proposal.

The general purpose of the literature review is not to have notes on a whole bunch of different journal articles and books on a particular subject. The purpose is to understand what studies have already been done on the subject and then to identify any glaring gaps in the literature. Identifying gaps in the literature will open up opportunities to add to the body of knowledge within the general subject area.

For instance, both Kimura and Coggins found that servant leadership is actively admired and taught in the Cambodian Christian community which makes up only a small percentage of the Cambodian population. However, no one has yet investigated attitudes towards servant leadership in the non-Christian Cambodian community which makes up over 90% of the population. This is an obvious gap in the literature.

After you have performed the literature review and hopefully identified an obvious gap in the literature, next you need to identify a problem related to the gap and frame a purpose statement as to why you are investigating what you propose and why other should care about the study. If your readers cannot answer the question so what? Or your answer the question why should I care? Then it may be interesting to you,

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but not relevant to anyone else. 

After you have identified a pertinent problem and framed a purpose statement, then you need to craft an introduction. Among other things, the introduction to the proposal will include

  • The Problem Statement
  • A brief summary of the literature
  • A brief description of the gap in the literature
  • A Purpose statement as to why you are proposing the study and why others should care about the subject matter tied to your research proposal.

Next, you need to identify and craft carefully defined research hypotheses and or research questions. Research hypotheses identify what you are actually going to investigate and what you expect to find from your research study. Research hypotheses are normally found in quantitative research proposals which compare differences and/or relationships between independent variables (or causes of phenomena) and dependent variables (or the effects that result from causes). Research questions are normally found in qualitative research studies. Most importantly, in good academic writing, research hypotheses and questions must be informed or flow from the literature review.

The method section is the second of the two main parts of the research proposal. In good academic writing it is important to include a method section that outlines the procedures you will follow to complete your proposed study. The method section generally includes sections on the following:

  • Research design;
  • Sample size and characteristics of the proposed sample;
  • Data collection and data analysis procedures

The next step in good academic writing is to outline the research design of the research proposal. For each part of the design, it is highly advised that you describe two or three possible alternatives and then tell why you propose the particular design you chose. For instance, you might describe the differences between experimental, quasi-experimental, and non-experimental designs before you elaborate on why you propose a non-experimental design.

In this section of your research proposal, you will describe the sample size and the characteristics of the participants in the sample size. Describe how you determined how many people to include in the study and what attributes they have which make them uniquely suitable for the study.

The last section highlighted in this hub is the data collection and analysis procedures. In this section you will describe how you propose to collect your data e.g. through a questionnaire survey if you are performing a quantitative analysis or through one-on-one interviews if you are performing a qualitative or mixed methods study.

After you collect the data, you also need to follow a scheme as how to analyze the data and report the results. In a quantitative study you might run the data through Excel or better yet SPSS and if you are proposing a qualitative study you might use a certain computer program like ATLAi. to perform a narrative study or grounded theory study that exposes the main themes from the proposed interviews.


Category: Research proposal

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