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DevelopingResearchProposalsHandout

PreparedbyTedZorn,UniversityofWaikato
ThisisahandoutIoftengivetostudentswhenIexpectthemtoprovidearesearchproposalfor
acourseproject.Thatis,itsintendedforfairlybriefproposals,notaprospectusforamastersor
doctoralthesis.
ItgivesstudentsanexampleofthesortofthingIwant,plussomecommentary(initalics)about
whatImexpectingineachsection.Isometimeschangetheparticularexamplegiven,inorder
to encourage them to think about particular kinds of projects. For instance, the example
providedherewasusedinaLeadershipCommunicationcourse.Iveusedthesameformat,but
a different research project example, for a course on Organisational Communication
Technology.
Feelfreetoadaptittoyourpurposes.

ResearchProposal(Example)
(Note:Thisissinglespacedtosavepaper;yoursshouldbedoublespaced)
To: TedZorn
From: ChrisStudent
Date: 1April2003
Subject:Researchproposal
ProposedResearchTopic:Asituationalanalysisofsharedleadershipinaselfmanagingteam
[provideabriefdescriptionoradescriptivetitleoraresearchquestion]
Purposes:Alvesson(1996)claimsthatasituationalapproachenablesleadershiptobeviewed
and studied as a practical accomplishment (p. 476) rather than starting with a
conceptualisationofleadershipaswhatevertheappointedleaderdoes. Thisapproachseems
particularly well suited to selfmanaging teams (SMTs), in which leadership is presumably
shared.Inthisproject,Iwillexplorehowmembersofaselfmanagingteamenactleadershipin
theirregularteammeetings. Inparticular,IwillfocusonhowSMTmembersinfluencethe
directionoftheteamaswellastherelationshipsandidentitiesofindividualmembersandthe
identityoftheteamasaunit,andhowtheirinteractionisenabledandconstrainedbysocialand
cultural influences (eg, organisational culture, national/ethnic culture, and gender). Such a
studyshouldgiveinsightsintotheworkingsofSMTs,anorganisationalformthatisrapidly
gaininginpopularityandacceptance.Also,thestudywilltesttheusefulnessofaperspective
(thesituationalapproach)thatisunderdevelopedintheleadershipliterature.
[Expandonthetopic/questionbydescribingwhatyouhopetoaccomplish,andthedesired
outcomes(especiallythepracticalortheoreticalbenefitstobegained)]
Background:IwillconductmystudyinateamthatiswithintheRoadworksDivisionwithin
the Hamilton City Council. Roadworks has 12 SMTs, each of which is responsible for
maintenance of roads within one geographical section of Hamilton. This particular team
includesfourmenandawoman.Threeofthemenareintheirthirtiesandoneinhisearly50s;
thewomanisinherthirties.TheyareassignedtoanareaaroundChartwell.Theystarteach
daywithabrief(1545minutemeeting)onanagreeduponsite,oftenjustgatheringaroundthe
backofatruckfortheirmeeting.Iwillattendthesethreemorningsaweekforfourweeks,and
willstayontoobservetheirworkforapproximately20hoursduringthefourweekperiod.My
primaryfocuswillbeontheirinteractioninmeetings,althoughIwillalsoobserve(andperhaps
enquiresabout)interactionsduringtheirotherwork.
[Describethecontextoftheproposedresearch,makingitclearhowthiscontextwillallowyou
toaccomplishyourstatedpurposes]
Scope:Iwillengageinparticipantobservationoverasixweekperiod,from8Aprilto22May
forapproximatelyfourhoursperweek.Iwilltypicallyobservethemorningmeetingsandstay
foranhourorsotoobservetheirotherwork.OnsomedaysImaycomeatothertimesofthe
dayforcomparison.Iwillnotschedulestructuredinterviews,butwillinterviewteammembers
informally,asneededtoclarifyandprovideinsightintospecificconversations.[Describesuch
things as the time you will invest, when the field work will take place, the number of
participants,andthenumberofinterviewsyouwillconduct]

Theoreticalframework: Iwillbeguidedmostgenerallybytheinterpretiveperspective,and
more specifically by Alvessons (1996) situational approach. The interpretive perspective
placesthefocusoninterpretingthemeaningsandperspectivesofculturalmembers,andhow
thesemeaningsarenegotiated(Trujillo,1992).Iamexploringthemeaningsthesalesstaffand
customershaveforthemselvesasindividualsandfortheirrelationships,aswellasthemeanings
salesstaffhavefortheorganisation,group,andprofessionofwhichtheyaremembers. The
situationalapproachdirectsmetochooseoneorafewspecificinteractionstoexploreindepth.
Thus,anappropriatemeansofinvestigatingthetopicfromthisperspectiveisobservationof
conversation,plusinterviewingtheinteractantstounderstandthemeaningstheyhavefortheir
symbolicinteractions. [Brieflyidentifyandexplainthetheoreticalframeworkyouwilluseto
guideyourinvestigation,howitfitsyourpurposeanditsimplicationsfortheresearchmethods]
Method:
1.ConductaliteraturereviewonleadershipandcommunicationinSMTs.
2.Observethegroupfourhoursperweekforsixweeks,focusingmostlyonconversationsat
teammeetings,especiallythoseconversationsinwhichthegroupaddresseschangestotheir
workprocessesandissuesofteamrelationshipsandidentity(ies).
3.Interviewteammemberstoclarifyandprovideinsightintoconversations.Iwillattemptto
conducttheseinterviewsshortlyafterconversationsofinterest.Whiletheinterviewswillnot
beformalorstructured,thekindsofquestionsIwillaskincludethefollowing.Thegeneral
strategy for the interviews is to start off with broad questions and follow up on the
intervieweesresponses,tocaptureherorhismeaningsandtoavoidimposingmymeanings
ontheinterviewee.
a.TellmeabouttheconversationyoujusthadwithX.
b.Whatwereyouthinkingduringtheconversation?
c.Whatdoyouthinkshe/hewasthinking?
d.Whatdoyouthinkshe/hewastryingtodo(oraccomplish)intheconversation?
e.Whatdidyoumeanwhenyousaid,......?
f.Whatwereyouthinkingwhenyousaidthat?
g.Whatdoyouthinkshemeantwhenshesaid......?
h.Whenyouthinkaboutwhatyoudidandsaidinthatconversation,howwouldyou
describeyourself?
4.Undertakeasituationalanalysisofthefieldnotesandinterviewnotes,guidedbyAlvessons
theory.
5.Writearesearchreportthatcombinesmyunderstandingoftherelevanttheoryandprevious
researchwiththeresultsofmyempiricalresearch.
[Describeindetailthestepsyouwilltakeinattemptingtoansweryourresearchquestion]
Timetable:
Prepareproposalby
1April
Completeliteraturereviewby15April
Completefieldworkby
22May
Completeanalysisby
29May
Givepresentationon
3June
Completefinalreportby
16June
Limitations: Time constraints of the semester require less time than may be ideal for an
ethnographicstudy. Bybeingintheorganisationforonlyfourhoursaweekforfiveweeks,
there are bound to be aspects of leadership practice, organisational culture and team

communicationthatwillnotberevealedduringmyobservations.Beinganoutsidermayalso
limitwhatisrevealedtome.Theteammembersmaybeguardedintheirconversationsaround
me,especiallyinmyinitialobservations.[Describeconditionsbeyondyourcontrolthatplace
restrictionsonwhatyoucandoandtheconclusionsyoumaybeabletodraw]
Delimitations: Iamchoosingnottoobservemultipleteams,eventhoughsuchcomparisons
mightbevaluable,inordertoallowmoredepthofunderstandingregardingthegrouponwhich
I will focus. Additionally, I will not use structured interviews in order to minimise my
obtrusivenessandmyinfluenceontheteammembers. [Describetheboundariesofthestudy
thatyoudetermine]
References
[Listallreferencescitedthatarenotonthecoursereadinglist]