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Chapter 3: Writing Research Proposal
A research proposal is similar in a number of ways to a project proposal; however, a research proposal addresses a particular issue whether it is academic or scientific issue. The forms and procedures for such research are well defined by the field of study, so guidelines for research proposals are generally more exacting than less formal project proposals. Research proposals contain extensive literature reviews and must offer convincing support of a research problem and its implications. The first step in an MA thesis or a Ph.D. dissertation is the research proposal. The proposal must be accepted by a panel of experts (usually professors) and academic committees before the actual research can begin. In addition to providing rationale for the proposed research, the proposal must outline a detailed methodology for conducting the research--a methodology consistent with the requirements of the relevant professional or academic field.
CHOOSING A TOPIC:
Choosing a topic is often the most difficult part of the dissertation or thesis writing process. Try to: 1. Develop a topic that has interested you throughout your graduate or undergraduate career. 2. Think about the top three issues you want to study, and then turn them into questions. 3. Review papers you have written for classes, looking for a pattern of interest. 4. Look at class notes; faculty members may have pointed out potential research topics or commented on unanswered questions in the field. 5. Talk with faculty members or advisors about possible topics. 6. Conduct research on a broad topic to discover gaps in the literature. 7. Keep the following cautions in mind: A. Get feedback on a potential topic from your advisor; your topic may not interest others in the field as much as it interests you. B. Do an extensive search to discover why your topic has not been studied before. Is it original? Or may be there is something wrong with your rationale. A Guide to the Preparation and Writing of Theses and Dissertations
The following basic rules need to be observed when writing your thesis/dissertation title: 1. A good title contains the fewest number of words that adequately describe the content of the thesis/dissertation. Do not include abbreviations. Study questions and hypothesis 4. Thus. Samples 2. Think of an informative but catchy title. Let your title be concise and descriptive. Significance of the Study 5. Introduction 2. the following chapters or elements should be included in the proposal: Chapter one: Study Background: The chapter includes: 1. 2. 3.Chapter 3: Writing Research Proposal Thesis/Dissertation Title: Remember that the title will be read by hundreds or thousands of readers while only few will read the abstract or the full text of the thesis/dissertation. Design and Statistical Procedure 18 A Guide to the Preparation and Writing of Theses and Dissertations . familiar and short words. 5. 7. THE ELEMENTS OF A PROPOSAL The research proposal should include chapters or sections and in either case. Use correct syntax (word order) to avoid misunderstanding. The words to be chosen are those that are both understandable and retrievable. Definition of terms 6. Instruments 3. 6. It is the title that will appear in abstracting or indexing publications the most. Use specific. every word in the title is to be properly chosen and written in the correct syntax and order. 4. or chemical formulas in your title. Procedures 4. Limitations of the study Chapter two: Literature Review Chapter Three: Methodology: The chapter includes: 1. Make your title as understandable and as retrievable as possible. Avoid the use of unnecessary words that do not add anything to the title. Statement and purpose of the problem 3.
The introduction typically begins with a general statement of the problem area. • Place the study within the larger context of scholarly literature. if the same question is placed in the context of a very focused and current research area. the writer should: • Create reader interest in the topic. The main purpose of the introduction is to provide the necessary background or context for your research problem. The introduction generally covers the following elements: A. or in other words what you know about the phenomenon. types. its significance will become evident. It is important in a proposal that the problem stand out--that the A Guide to the Preparation and Writing of Theses and Dissertations 19 . How to frame the research problem is perhaps one of the biggest problem in proposal writing. For exploratory or phenomenological research. then the research question may appear trivial and uninteresting. effectiveness. • Lay the broad foundation for the problem that leads to the study. (Please do not confuse the hypothesis with the statistical hypothesis. Identify the key independent and dependent variables of your study by alternatively specifying the phenomenon you want to study in terms of concepts. Introduction: The introduction is the part of the paper that provides readers with the background information for the research reported in the paper. Provide the context and set the stage for your research question in such a way as to show its necessity and importance. However. If the research problem is framed in the context of a general. to be followed by the rationale or justification for the proposed study. 2. State your hypothesis (theory). with a focus on a specific research problem. E. Statement and purpose of the problem: The statement of the problem describes the context of the study and it also identifies the general analysis approach. Present the rationale of your proposed study and clearly indicate why it is worth doing. C. you may not have any hypotheses. if any. • Reach out to a specific audience. B. rambling literature review.Chapter 3: Writing Research Proposal 1. Briefly describe the major issues and sub-problems to be addressed by your research. D.) In an introduction.
. hypotheses must be grounded in the theoretical framework. it cannot be clear to the reader. Deciding whether to use questions or hypotheses 20 A Guide to the Preparation and Writing of Theses and Dissertations . • Try to incorporate a sentence that begins with "The purpose of this study is . some committees prefer this to be given in a separate section. They are most often used in qualitative inquiry. Hypotheses are relevant to theoretical research and are generally used in experimental inquiry.Chapter 3: Writing Research Proposal reader can easily recognize it. Some committee chairs prefer a separate section to this end. In such cases. Clearly and succinctly identify and explain the theoretical framework that (underlies) your study and explain how you identified this problem. 3. . Research should not include both questions and hypothesis because they are the same just different structure of the sentences. the reader is entitled to have an exposition of the theory that leads to them (and of the assumptions underlying the theory). If the purpose is not clear to the writer. reviewers and/or committee members will have difficulty recognizing the problem. Key points to keep in mind when preparing a purpose statement. Just as conclusions must be grounded in the data. including a discussion of the conceptual or theoretical framework in which it is embedded." This will clarify your own mind as to the purpose and it will inform the reader directly and explicitly. A problem statement should be presented within a context. The purpose statement should also incorporate the rationale for the study. When a writer states hypotheses. You should: • State the problem in terms intelligible to someone who is generally sophisticated but who is relatively uninformed in the area of your investigation. and that context should be provided and briefly explained. Questions and/or Hypotheses: Questions are relevant to normative or census type research (How many of them are there? Is there a relationship between them?). This is of major importance in nearly all proposals and requires careful attention. • Clearly identify and define the central concepts or ideas of the study. obscure and poorly formulated problems are masked in an extended discussion. • Make the statement of the problem in a separate section. The purpose statement should provide a specific and accurate synopsis of the overall purpose of the study. Sometimes.
as researchers should be and tend to be conservative and cautious in their statements of conclusions. stated in terms of theoretical constructs. the nature of the design and methodology. Literary null: a "no difference" form in terms of theoretical constructs. Types of research hypothesis: A.?. this is usually what you hope the results will show." Or "There is no difference in school achievement for high and low self-regulated students. For example. Literary alternative: A form that states the hypothesis you will accept if the null hypothesis is rejected." B. C. In other words. "High self-regulated students will achieve more in their classes than low self-regulated students. What are……? B. the more they will persist academically. Comparison questions: they reflect differences between two variables or groups or phenomenon or more. "There is no relationship between the number of hours nontraditional-aged college women use the student union and their persistence at the college after their freshman year." The operational null is generally the preferred form of hypothesis-writing. C. and the audience of the research." Or.Chapter 3: Writing Research Proposal depends on factors such as the purpose of the study. the more they will persist at the college after their freshman year. For example. Operational alternative: Similar to the literary alternative except that the operations are specified. Descriptive questions: they reflect a description of a phenomenon or a variable: How much …. Relationship questions: they reflect correlations between variables or causal relations between two variables or more." D." A Guide to the Preparation and Writing of Theses and Dissertations 21 . The practice of using hypotheses was derived from using the scientific method in social science inquiry since they have philosophical advantages in statistical testing. How many…. "There is no relationship between support services and academic persistence of nontraditional-aged college women. "The more that nontraditional-aged college women use the student union. For example. Operational null: A "no difference" form in terms of the operation required to test the hypothesis. Types of research questions: A." Or "There is no difference between the mean grade point averages achieved by students in the upper and lower quartiles of the distribution of the Self-regulated Inventory. For example..?. "The more that nontraditional-aged women use support services.
22 A Guide to the Preparation and Writing of Theses and Dissertations . or methodological significance. theory. Note that such refinements. revisions. and what innovations will come about? 5. revise. or extend existing knowledge in the area under investigation. This can be a difficult section to write. and/or interventions? • Will results contribute to the solution of educational problems? • Will results influence policy decisions? • What will be improved or changed as a result of the proposed research? • How will results of the study be implemented. Significance of the Study: Indicate how your research will refine. practice. It will be helpful if you visualize in your mind's eye the tables (or other summary devices) that you expect to result from your research. Definition of terms or Key concepts: Define your key concepts in terms of scientific definitions and operationally define your variables so others will understand your measurements. policy. how results of the study may affect scholarly research. "Students in the upper quartile of the Self-regulated Inventory distribution achieve significantly higher grade point averages than do students in the lower quartile. educational interventions." In general. the null hypothesis is used if theory/literature does not suggest a hypothesized relationship between the variables under investigation. ask yourself the following questions: • What will results mean to the theoretical framework of the study? • What suggestions for subsequent research arise from the findings? • What will the results mean to the practicing educator or management? • Will results influence programs. Be prepared to interpret any possible outcomes with respect to the questions or hypotheses. Think pragmatically that most studies have two potential audiences: practitioners and professional peers. the alternative is generally reserved for situations in which theory/research suggests a relationship or directional interplay. Statements relating the research to both groups are in order. theoretical. 4. or extensions may have substantive. Think about implications. methods. When thinking about the significance of your study. curricula. Questions and hypotheses are testable propositions deduced and directly derived from theory (except in grounded theory studies and similar types of qualitative inquiry). counseling.Chapter 3: Writing Research Proposal Or.
Chapter 3: Writing Research Proposal 6. your instruments. • It provides a framework for establishing the importance of the study. as well as a benchmark for comparing the results of a study with other findings. Most students' literature reviews suffer from the following problems: • Lacking organization and structure • Lacking focus. and the sample. Think about threats to internal validity that may have been impossible to avoid or minimize and explain them. the literature review is incorporated into the introduction section. • Demonstrates your knowledge of the research problem. for theses and dissertations purposes. • Indicates your ability to integrate and synthesize the existing literature. A limitation identifies potential weaknesses of the study. 7. • Demonstrates your understanding of the theoretical and research issues related to your research question. unity and coherence • Being repetitive and verbose • Failing to cite influential papers A Guide to the Preparation and Writing of Theses and Dissertations 23 . Review of the Literature: In research papers. Limitations of the study: Set the limitations or boundaries of your proposed research in order to provide a clear focus. • Provides new theoretical insights or develops a new model as the conceptual framework for your research. which allows a more thorough review of the literature. The literature review serves several important functions: • It shares with the reader the results of other studies that are closely related to the study being reported. it is preferred as a separate section. Think about your analysis. • Gives credits to those who have laid the groundwork for your research. The review of the literature provides the background and context for the research problem. It should establish the need for the research and indicate that the writer is knowledgeable about the area. the nature of self-report. However. • Shows your ability to critically evaluate relevant literature information. • Convinces your reader that your proposed research will make a significant and substantial contribution to the literature.
you may need to justify your qualitative method. crosscultural and gender differences. the data collection process in qualitative research has a far greater impact on the results as compared to quantitative research. Some even argue that a good proposal should contain sufficient details for another qualified researcher to implement the study. For example. However. Do not bore them. That is 24 A Guide to the Preparation and Writing of Theses and Dissertations . Try to tell it in a stimulating and engaging manner. measuring instruments. etc. since there are no well-established and widely accepted canons in qualitative analysis. It is also helpful to keep in mind that you are telling a story to an audience. Methods: The Method section-chapter is very important because it tells your Research Committee how you plan to tackle your research problem. Make use of subheadings to bring order and coherence to your review. your method section needs to be more elaborate than what is required for traditional quantitative research. Please note that your research question may be best answered by qualitative research. You need to demonstrate your knowledge of alternative methods and make the case that your approach is the most appropriate and most valid way to address your research question. More importantly. you may devote several subsections on related issues as: theoretical models. Furthermore. It will provide your work plan and describe the activities necessary for the completion of your project.Chapter 3: Writing Research Proposal • Failing to keep up with recent 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. The guiding principle for writing the Method section is that it should contain sufficient information for the reader to determine whether methodology is sound. having established the importance of your research area and its current state of development. 8. because it may lead to rejection of your worthy proposal. There are different ways to organize your literature review.
you must outline the characteristics of the population (by gender. the extent to which findings of a study can be generalized to people or situations other than those observed in the study. Define the population and indicate the sampling plan in detail. By a probability sample is meant that the probability of inclusion in the sample of any element in the population must be given a priori. rationale and limitations must be clearly provided. To do so. In experimentation. A Guide to the Preparation and Writing of Theses and Dissertations 25 . All probability samples involve the idea of random sampling at some stage. If instruments have not previously been used. 9. a pilot study is nearly essential. • Random assignment: Participants for the sample have been assigned at random to the experimental and control conditions. If instruments have previously been used. outline procedures you will follow to develop and test their reliability and validity. race/ethnicity. or other relevant characteristics of the sample) and take this in consideration in choosing the sample. Sampling: the research must choose a sample that is most representative of the study population (the larger phenomenon or group to which we wish to generalize).Chapter 3: Writing Research Proposal another reason for greater care in describing how you will choose the sample and collect and analyze your data. the findings from a sample to some defined population requires that the sample has been drawn from that population according to one of several probability sampling plans. To generalize validly. When a sample is drawn out of convenience (nonprobability sample). identify previous studies and findings related to reliability and validity. Instrumentation: Outline the instruments you propose to use. 10. The key reason for being concerned with sampling is that of validity. two distinct steps are involved: • Random selection: Participants to be included in the sample have been chosen at random from the same population. socioeconomic status. In the latter case. the extent to which the interpretations of the results of the study follow from the study itself and the extent to which results may be generalized to other situations with other people or situations. Sampling is critical to external validity.
Procedure: Outline in a step by step approach your procedure to carry out your research and the general plan for collecting the data. MANCOVA. and analyses you have selected. This labeling is helpful in communicating your precise intentions to the reader. If coding procedures are to be used. interview or observation procedures. Include an explicit statement covering the field controls to be employed. you should anticipate possible sources of error and attempt to overcome them or take them into account in your analysis. Strictly speaking. You will not produce a perfect. Ethnograph. and it helps you and the reader to evaluate these intentions. 11. If appropriate. ANOVA. case study. Specify the statistical procedures you will use. The Design and Statistical Procedure: Provide a well thought-out rationale for your decision to use the design. methodology.Chapter 3: Writing Research Proposal Because selection of instruments in most cases provides the operational definition of constructs. Name your research methodology and describe your research design. Indicate briefly any analytic tools you will have available and expect to use (e.g. error free design (no one can). SAS. AQUAD. SYSTAT). Procedures help answer questions such as: How do you plan to carry out your study? What activities are involved? How long does it take? 12. describe them in reasonable detail. grounded theory). Be aware of possible sources of error to which your design exposes you.g.. you should disclose to the reader the sources you have identified and what efforts you have made to account for them. this is a crucial step in the proposal. 26 A Guide to the Preparation and Writing of Theses and Dissertations . However. results of your study will be directly relevant only to the instrumental or operational statements. SPSS.. provide a general outline of the time schedule you expect to follow. Include an appendix with a copy of the instruments to be used or the interview protocol to be followed. and label them accurately (e. Also include sample items in the description of the instrument. This may include survey administration procedures. Moreover. ethnography.
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