You are on page 1of 11

Preparing Research Proposals

Leading to Theses
Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics

Spring 2006
Dr. Larry L. Bradshaw


The purpose of this document is to guide graduate students in the development and

preparation of a research proposal. The guide is not designed to help individuals identify a

research topic, but rather to serve as an aid in the presentation of the research idea in a form

readily understood by the members your research committee.

The guidelines were developed primarily to fit the needs of experimental and descriptive

research topics. It was not developed as a rigid document that must be followed without

alteration. Some research studies lend themselves to alternative methodologies, and therefore,

may be presented differently in the proposal stage.

The guide is written in the form of chapter one of a research proposal with the headings

and a cover page. The proposal will be Chapter One, a sample Chapter Two, and sample

Chapter Three. Chapter one of the research proposal should include the following headings:









The research proposal should be written with the intent of its inclusion in the

dissertation. The writing style should be professional in nature, utilizing the style manual

chosen by the Department. The inclusion of the proposal within the final version of the

dissertation should only necessitate the changing of the tense from present to past and further

completion of the Literature Review.

The INTRODUCTION should focus on the general area in which the study is to be

conducted. It should also broadly define the problem that is to be investigated with a focusing

on specifics at the conclusion of the section. The Introduction should give the reader the

foundation upon which the remainder of the study is to be based.

Points to check for:

1. Is the problem introduced in a broad context?

2. Is there a relationship drawn between the topic and Literacy, Language

survey, Bilingual education, Translation, Anthropology, etc.?

3. Is there a relationship shown between the topic and the field of


4. Is the general tone of the research set so that the reader will be able to
easily understand the remainder of the study?


The Problem STATEMENT should answer specifically what the researcher is trying to

accomplish by doing the study. The problem may be an inconsistency in the literature, a need

for replication in a different setting or some other condition that justifies the study. It should be

short and concise directing itself only to the specifics of the study.

Example of a GOOD statement:

The problem of this study is to develop a guideline for writing research

Proposals at Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics.
The problem of this study is to determine the course content to be taught in the
four module sequenced design courses for a certificate program in introductory

Example of a POOR statement:


The problem of this study is to better understand the role of Linguistics in the
higher education system. The understanding of the role of Linguistics is essential
to its continued development.
*This statement is poor in communicating specifically what is going to be
studied, we cannot tell what the outcome is to be.

Points to check for:

1. Does the Problem Statement address itself to what is being done in this

2. Is the Problem stated with sufficient specificity that the reader would
easily understand?

3. If there is more than one paragraph in the Problem Statement, the

Introduction should be checked as it did not sufficiently introduce what
the study is all about.


The Purpose of the Study should address itself to why the study is being conducted and

should, therefore, have a direct relationship to the Problem. The why of the study can be

determined by answering the following two questions:

1. How can the researcher use the results of this study?

2. How can the profession use the results of this study?

Examples of a GOOD statement:

The purpose of this study is to assist graduate students in the Department of
Applied Linguistics at Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics in the preparation
of Research Proposals.
The purpose of this study is twofold:

1. To help the people in the Applied Linguistics department better understand

the content to be taught in prerequisite courses that lead to earning a
2. To assist Linguists in identifying content to be delivered in programs at all

Example of a POOR statement:


This study is undertaken to help identify the needs of Linguists. The entire study
will aid in giving educators a better understanding of Applied Linguistics.

Points to check for:

1. Does the Purpose Statement address itself to why the study is being

2. Is the Purpose directly related to the PROBLEM STATEMENT?

3. Is the Statement concise and to the point?


The Need for the Study can be established through a number of different sources. If the

only identifiable source of need for the study is a single publication, perhaps the study

actually lacks merit. The need can be established from the following sources:

1. The work of recognized researchers in the field. (This will include

research as well as completed doctoral dissertations).

2. The needs of Linguists for research into this specific area.

3. The statements of recognized authorities in the particular area of research.

This section is the area that will tell the Committee the extent to which the Candidate has

studied the potentials of the research. This section will be strengthened if quotes from noted

authorities and researchers as to the need for research into a specific problem are


Points to check for:

1. Are the individuals quoted considered experts on the specific problem?

2. Is the need for the research expressed from a number of different sources?

3. Are there quotations that call for a direct need to research the area that I
have identified?

4. Am I convinced that the need for the study has been sufficiently


The title of this section may not always be Hypotheses of the Study, but may be entitled

Research Questions or Propositions of the Study. The title of the section will change as the

nature of the research changes. Experimental studies typically have both research hypotheses

and statistical hypotheses. Descriptive and historical studies may have questions or propositions.

The hypotheses are educated guesses at what the outcome of the study may be. The

important element in the formulation of hypotheses is the fact that the guess or hunch is an

educated one. Poorly conceived hypotheses are a reflection of insufficient prior study. The

hypotheses, like the section on Need for the Study, will be a good indication of the work that the

Candidate has completed prior to the preparation of the proposal.

Two specific types of hypotheses should be stated to give the reader an understanding of

the problem under consideration. The first type of hypotheses should be the research hypotheses

which states in verbal terms the projection which is under consideration. The second type is the

statistical hypotheses, which will give an understanding of the method that will be used to test

the research hypotheses.

Example of an ACCEPTABLE research and statistical hypotheses:

It is hypothesized that there is no significant difference in learning
between students taught by means of distance instruction and students
taught by means of traditional classroom procedures.

H0: σ1 ≠ σ2

H1: σ1 = σ2

Example of a POOR research hypothesis:


It is hypothesized that teaching success can be predicted from a collection
of variables.

H0: Rho ≠ 0

H1: Rho = 0

Points to check for:

1. Are the hypotheses clearly stated in operational terms?

2. Are the hypotheses testable and specific?

3. Are the hypotheses related to a specific body of theory? (Educated or

uneducated guesses)


. The Limitations are to be listed in numerical fashion. A limitation can be defined as

"those factors surrounding the study within which the conclusions must be confined." The

major purpose of this area is to identify and present areas of potential weaknesses in the

study that cannot be controlled by the investigator.

Examples of areas from which limitations may come:

Weaknesses relative to the

1. Method or procedure.
2. Reliability or validity of instrumentation.
3. Sampling technique.
4. Environmental conditions.
5. Characteristics of sample.

Points to check for:

1. Are the limitations listed in numerical fashion?

2. Are the limitations setting realistic parameters under which the

conclusions must be interpreted?

3. Is the number of limitations sufficient but yet totally inclusive?


The Procedure of the Study in chapter one is designed to give the researcher a brief plan

under which he/she can carry out the study. This plan will assist your committee assess your

readiness to undertake the research project, allow them a chance for input as to the design of the

methodology rather than sending you without good direction as where to begin and what to do

next. A more detailed description of each of the listed steps will be included in chapter three.

The procedure should consist of a step-by-step outline of what the researcher intends to do. This

section should be listed in numerical order.

Points to be included in the Procedure of the Study:

1. Define the population from which the subjects for the study will be


2. How will the subjects will be selected from the defined population?

3. Under what conditions will the data will be collected? Will the data be

nominal, ordinal, ratio or interval or be from a case study or another

technique of finding information?

4. The independent variables.

5. The treatment

6. What measuring instruments or data gathering techniques will be used?

7. The dependent variable

8. How will the data be analyzed and interpreted?

This section is extremely important because a good plan for the study will facilitate your

completion of the study. Chapter Three will be the detailed research plan that you actually

carried out. Often times there will be changes from this plan. Students who have a good plan

usually can adjust quite a lot easier as needed because of the thought process in preparing the

plan than those with poor on non existing plans.

Points to check for:

1. Will the procedure outlined test the hypotheses that have been proposed?

2. Is the procedure complete in every detail?

3. Has sufficient thought been given to the method of analysis?

4. Are there statements in the procedure which will be impossible to carry


The type of data to be collected along with the type of hypothesis and / or questions
to be answered directly impact the choice of statistical or explanation procedures.


The terms included in the Definition of Terms should be only those that would have a

specific meaning or interpretation in the study being conducted. If a term has more than one

definition and is critical to the understanding of the study, it should be defined in this section.

All terms should be defined from a documented reliable source unless they are identifier-

type terms such as "Experimental Group."

Points to check for:

1. Are all terms defined from a reliable source?

2. Are any terms included in the study which could have more than one
meaning or are used uniquely in this study that have not been defined?


This section should begin on a separate page and list only those sources that were quoted

in the proposal. The multitude of materials that were reviewed in the formulation of the

problem and proposal need not be referenced. The style to be used is that of the style and form

manual recommended by the Language Development Department or the Applied Linguistics


Background references should be kept in a separate file, often the researcher wishes a

reference could be used to amplify or support a viewpoint, but hasn’t been filed properly and

much time is wasted in trying to recover it.

Chapter Two

Selected Sample of the Review of the Literature.

The second chapter is the Literature Review chapter. Many students have difficulty

developing this chapter. Perhaps this is the most difficult of the entire research process, usually it

will be the largest chapter. The purpose of Literature review in the proposal is to show an

understanding of related research that exists. This section of this paper shares some thoughts that

are intended to make this portion of the research paper easier to complete. Good practice avoids

reference to publications by members of the students committee.

The research study is to result in new knowledge, often knowledge that is built on

existing knowledge in ways that are distinct from all that is currently known. This new

knowledge will be about the dependent variable of the study and will be presented in Chapter

Five of the final document

. The independent variables, in fact are already known, therefore these are the topics to be

reviewed in the literature. We should know about their variances, reliability, and validity and

any other pertinent facts. These are the facts to be reported in Chapter 2.

The following decisions will be made based on literature found in texts and previous studies.

1. what do the independent variables bring to our study?

2. how was the population for the study defined.

3. how was the population sample determined?

4. how was the procedure for collecting information selected? Was the procedure


5. on what basis was the sample size determined? What bias might be introduced?

The purpose of the literature review is to assist reader/reviewers in assessing whether all

the independent variables have been found and adequately understood. This is the area in which

too many assumptions are often made without support, leaving the new researcher vulnerable to


Chapter Three


This chapter should be viewed much like a contract that the researcher will complete.

When the plan is well made, the tasks will be well defined, allowing the researcher to complete

the data collection in a logical and timely manner. It is possible for the plan to change due to

unforeseen impediments, but a good plan usually minimizes the number and extent of problems

for the researcher. A Gantt chart placed in Chapter Three would make a nice graphical

presentation of your planned activities in relation to time. A poorly conceived Procedure of the

Study can necessitate changes in the study which will require the candidate to undertake a

number of unwanted tasks which could have been eliminated with good pre-planning.