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FACULTY OF EDUCATION DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION DEVELOPING A RESEARCH PROPOSAL AND RESEARCH REPORT: BY DR. C. L. KAPFUNDE 1.0 Introduction A research proposal is a plan of what you intend to do and how you intend to do it. A research proposal tries to answer three questions. These are what do you want to do, how do you want to do it and why do you want to do it the way you have selected? Any piece of research begins with the identification of a problem. Many students of research make the mistake of going into research when they have no research problems. We always say if there is no research problem there is no research to talk about. Sources of research problems are many and varied. For example these can result from your work experience, from lectures, from recommendations made by previous researchers who did similar studies, from literature review, etc. As a student you have your own interest in a particular field of study. When thinking of a research problem that interest is important. You can not think of a research problem in an area you have no interest in. In this paper I introduce you to the procedures and steps for developing a research proposal and the general structure of a research report. The procedures I outline in this paper are applicable to all academic research proposals regardless of the field of study. Of course, there could be a few differences and your tutor will help you in this. Developing a research proposal requires good understanding of the research process, imagination and insight. I hope that these guidelines will help you in presenting a good research proposal and research report for your dissertation. 1.1 Formulation of a Research Topic After you have identified a research problem the next thing is for you to formulate a research topic. This is another area that many sudents find difficult. The topic must be researchable. A researchable topic is one that is neither too narrow nor too broad and general that it is not clear what the researcher wants to do. Some people feel that their research studies must solve all the problems in their area of interest. This is not possible and doing so would make the topic unresearchable. You can only solve one problem at a time. The amount of resources at your disposal will also determine how much research you can do at any time. The research topic you select must be clear to the extent that if given to any other person s/he will give it the same interpretation. Your reasearch topic must have a focus and delimitations.
This section of your proposal forms the introductory section that clearly states the research problem. It may also mean that these have not been compressed adequately. By the time you write your research plan you should be a long way towards converting your initial idea into a clear. In my view. ‘What are the problems that consumers are facing with existing communication systems in harare?’ A statement of the problem acts as a closure to the discussion on background to the study. I always find that four or five objectives will suffice. It should be carefully fitted into the broader context of current theory and relevant research. Alternatively. this can be stated in the form of a question. You are telling the reader what prompted you to go into the kind of study you want to do. specific and manageable research problem. You should clearly state why you believe there is a problem and why you feel the problem is important as a research area. and directly related to the hypotheses that you formulate. They must be few but comprehensive enough to cover everything you intend to achieve. The problem should be clear. you can look at policy guidelines and the problem of implementing that policy. a statement of the problem simply states what you aim to achieve in your proposed study. You achieve this by making a brief review of the most relevant research and theoretical literature. A student wishing to investigate into the problems consumers are facing with 2 . The problem should be sufficiently limited in scope to be manageable. Objectives of the study must be carefully thought out and logically presented.3 Objectives of the Study Many people want to present the purpose of the study before making a description of the objectives of the study. the purpose or aim of the study will have been stated under a statement of the problem and therefore there is no need to repeat this. For example.2 Background to the Study/The Problem Background to the study is sometimes simply called ‘The Problem’. To make a statement of the problem you simply repeat the topic of your proposed research. Thus. Background to the study is important in that this is where you convert your proposed research topic into a research problem. one may state that ‘The proposed study hopes to investigate into the problems that consumers are facing in using existing communication systems in Harare’. This is why some researchers simply refer to it as ‘the problem’. Objectives of the study are better presented in point form so that they stand out more clearly. These provide guidance to you the researcher. It comes in the form of a statement of what your proposed study hopes to achieve. 1. For example.1. For example. 1. Having too many objectives in one study may make the study unresearchable. In this section your objective is to put the problem into its proper perspective. Objectives of the study are short term and specific goals.1 Statement of the Problem A statement of the problem comes immediately after you have put the problem into its proper perspective. They also provide the means by which findings of your research will be evaluated.2. They are a precise statement of what you want to achieve at the end of your study.
and To determine what respondents think should be done to reduce the identified communication problems in Harare. Examples of research questions could be: • • • • • What are the existing communication systems in Harare? What problems do consumers in Harare face with the existing communication systems? What might have led to such communication problems in Harare? What do respondents think should be done to reduce communication problems in Harare? What new models could be developed to improve communication systems in Harare? 1. They should be directly related to your objectives of the study. Therefore. To assess the problems that the consumers in Harare are facing with these existing communication systems.4 Specific Research Questions/Sub-problems Specific research questions may also act as sub-problems. Anything outside your research objectives and research questions is meant for other researchers and not for you. They should be presented in the form of questions. Specific research questions may be equal to or slightly more that your research objectives.exisiting communication systems might consider the following as his/her objectives for the study: • • • • To identify and analyse existing communication systems in harare. 1. Once you have clearly identified your research questions you will see that your research plan is aleardy structured. To analyse the major reasons for such communication problems in Harare. In other words. In a justification of the study you try to provide a rationale for the study. specific research questions are an elaboration of what you want to achieve by the end of your research.5 Justification of the Study You can also call this the importance of the study or the significance of the study. You should present these in a logical order of importance. These should come after you have specified what your research objectives are. You are telling the reader why you think it is important for you to devote time and other resources in carrying out the study you have planned to do. you attempt to answer questions 3 .
such as ‘Why do you think your proposed study is worthwhile? Why is it important? What will be its contribution to knowledge or to practice?’ Unless your study has enough justification there is no point in proceeding with it. An example of a directional hypothesis could be ‘There are clear differences in the perceptions of respondents from low density surburbs and those of respondents from high density surburbs in Harare’. Hypotheses may be directional and null hypotheses. quite often. You may decide to replicate studies that have been done by other researchers but your study must have its own point of departure. 1.7 Assumptions Guiding the Study An assumption should not be confused with a hypothesis. etc.8 Delimitations of the Study This referes to ‘geographical boundaries’ of the study. individuals or groups of individuals who are likely to particiapte in the study. An assumption is what you take for granted. a student carrying out a study on the topic given above might delimit his/her study to cover two years (2005 to 2007) and will involve consumers from low and high density surburbs of Greater Harare including Chitungwiza. a Masters student has decided to carry out a study on the the problems that consumers are facing with exisiting communication systems in Harare. As you can see. The study may be delimited to 4 . or research instruments used. For example. Whatever the case. hypotheses are more important in a quantitative study than in a qualitiative study. S/he can also assume that the relevant authorities will grant him/her permission to carry out the study. The student might assume that participants to his/her study will cooperate and provide valid and reliable data for the findings to be generalised for the whole of Harare. Delimitations of the study may include such aspects as actual geographical boundaries. If this is the case. then one is advised not to state them at all. For example.6 Hypotheses of the Study A hypothesis is a tentative proposition about the relationship between two or more theoretical consrtructs. these will guide the type of study that you carry out. This becomes the gap that your study hopes to fill. An example of a null hypothesis could be ‘There is no difference in perception between respondents in low density surburbs and those from the high density surburbs of Harare’. 1. we do not see these being tested when data are being presented. 1. Or it could be that previous studies were inadequate in terms of methodology. sample. and the period that the study will cover. you should make a more deliberate effort to examine exisiting literature related to your research problem. In justifying your study. There is no point in doing a study that has probably been done better by others. For example. Your study must try to fill in an identified gap in knowledge or you may decide to develop new and better models to exisiting ones. population. Without assumptions such as these the researcher will not be able to start working on his/her research. The problem with stating hypotheses is that. similar studies might have been done in other parts of the country but not in Harare.
the problems they have met and how best you can attack the problem. The review of literature will also help you avoid unnecesary duplication of the study that might have been done better by others before you. Quite often the major limitiations are time and financial constraints. But other limitations that many researchers often ignore may be those that have something to do with research methodology such as population. the sample and sampling procedures and research instruments. 1. Its a question of personal choice but the amount of time and availability of other resources to the researcher are also an important consideration when it comes to the delimitations of one’s study. A review of related literature will help you in developing a conceptual framework for the study. possible or manageable. Another student doing the same study may decide to restrict the study only to academics and other professionals in low density surburbs of Greater Harare excluding Chitungwiza.11 Brief Review of Related Literature A research proposal should ideally include a paragraph or two on a review of related literature. A researcher with adequate mathematical background and training will find it easier to carry out a quantitative study than one without. the skill. In stating limitations of your proposed study you make a self-critique of the limitations of your study. When I talk of related literature I mean literature that has direct relevance to the problem that you wish to investigate.10 Feasibility of the Study All that is needed here is for you to state why you think your proposed study will be feasible. For example. knowledge and resources at the disposal of the researcher.12 Research Design and Methodology 5 .9 Limitations of the Study A description of limitations of the study always follows a description of delimitations of the study. You will avoid facing the same problems that your predecessors faced in carrying out similar studies. This could be similar research studies that have been conducted by others.certain categories of people such as professionals. In this section something like 10 to 20 references will be adequate to assist your supervisors and the research committee to fit your research problem into the context of other works in the problem you propose to investigate. These few references should be carefully selected from an extensive review of previous research. if you do not have adequate time and financial resources you may have to scale down the study instead of makig a grand one that will be more helpful in developing policy. 1. 1. 1. The factors that may make a proposed research topic feasible may be factors such as accessibility. business people and civil servants in the area specified. The objective of a review of related literature would be to see what other researchers in the same or related area have done. Similarly. one with a lot of time and financial resources will be in a better position to conduct a more comprehensive study than one with little time and finacial support.
document analysis. adapt or adopt existing ones. a sample size of between 10 and 25 percent is recommended for most social science research studies. 1. State clearly what your research design is e. Authorities do not agree either.g. the smaller the population the larger the sample size. These may be the questionnaire survey. 1. But of course. etc. you may have to sample all the subjects. You should settle for a sample size that you can handle given the resources and time available to you. So the research design you select must be relevant to your proposed study. When this is the case. In some cases. A researcher may use one or more methods of data collection depending on the nature of the study being carried out.In your research proposal you must also give a description of the research design that you propose to use for your particular study. A particular study may use one or two research designs. And briefly describe what the research design involves and why you think it is relevant to your proposed study. You will find that the literature is abound with several research designs such as case study. etc.13 Population After a description of your research design the next thing to do is to state the expected or actual population for your study. show how you will reduce these problems. show its relevance and the advantages you will gain in using that method. Do not forget to state what you want to achieve with each instrument of data collection and whether you will develop your own instruments. you are expected to select a representative sample for your study. However.14 The Sample Quite often your defined population may be too large to the extent that it will not be possible to approach every member of the population for information on the problem that you wish to investigate. Population includes all individuals who have an equal chance of being selected to participate in the study. experimental. In other words. and survey research designs. explain how your proposed research design fits into the study. 6 . If the method is likely to present some problems. 1. Each particular research design is suitable for certain types of studies and not others. For example. if you are carrying out a research on the topic given above all the people in Harare who are in the defined groups and are using the different communication systems such as mobile telephones and land lines form your population. quasi experimental. case study research design. indepth interviews. This is important for decisions on sample size. experimental resarch design. When you want to achieve some triangualtion it is always advisable to employ two or more methods of data collection. You must therefore clearly state what your sample size will be and why you will settle for that sample size. You should give a full description of each method of data collection.15 Method(s) of Data Collection You must also state the method(s) of data collection that you will use in your proposed study. There are no hard and fast rules about sample sizes. Explain your sampling procedures clearly.
A definition of terms is not so important in a research proposal but sometimes one or two key terms may require to be defined right from the beginning. Quite often the definitions we expect are contextual definitions and not dictionary definitions. Briefly. which one would you think is suitable for our situation and why? Briefly explain how the selected method(s) will fit in your study.1. 2. of the two or more models that you experimented on. the five (5) chapters are: 7 .18 Organisation of the Study Generally speaking. pie charts. analysis and interpretation will be followed by a discussion of the findings. why were your respondents behaving in the way they did? What are the likely implications of their responses? Data presentation. Here you give a detailed description of what will constitute each of the five chapters and how the chapters will relate to each other.0 Structure of an Academic Research Report An academic research report usually consists of five chapters but this may vary slightly according to the problem being investigated. It is therefore important that in your research proposal you make an outline of how your research report will be organised. you should be honest enough to say so and state how you will go round the problem. Chapter 5 will be followed by a list of references and any pertinent appendices such as correspondences and figures that you will have found awkward to place in the main text.16 Data Analysis. Where a researcher carries out some experiments to develop a new programme such as a new computer software. Presentation and Interpretation Discuss fully how you will analyse the data you are going to collect for the study. As long as you do the interpretation and all the rest on your own there is nothing wrong with this. data presentation will take the form of a thick descriptions of each experiment conducted including successes and failures. For example. Most of the other key terms may be defined later as you write your research report. analysis of variance (ANOVA) and t-tests. an academic research report is made up of five (5) chapters. will you use a computer programme such as SPSS or hand calculator to analyse the data? What skills and/or deficiencies in knowledge do have? If you cannot use a computer programme such as SPSS to analyse the data. 1. But for a researcher doing a quantitative study s/he will have to test his/her hypotheses and present his/her data as thick descriptions accompanied by high level statistical analysis such as Chi-square statistical analysis. For example. In a qualitative study data are presented using simple descriptive statistics such as tables. you may ask or hire someone skilled to do it for you. For example. 1. frequencies and/or percentages that are accompanied by thick descriptions. etc. As you present your data you also analyse and interpret them. graphs. For example.17 Definition of Key Terms You should only define those terms that are likely to confuse the reader.
the significance or importance of the study Hypotheses Assumptions guiding the study Scope of the study Delimitations of the study Limitations of the study Definition of terms Organisation of the study 2.2 Chapter 2 The main heading for this chapter is usually ‘Review of Related Literature’. The main sub-headings for this chapter are: The research design Population • The sample • Sampling procedures • Method(s) of data collection • Data presentation. the research questions you have in your research proposal or Chapter 1. About 5 to 7 pages will suffice. you may use questionnaires only. This chapter is one of the shortest chapters in a research report. if not all. analysis and interpretation 2. 2.2. This is another very short chapter that will consist of 5 to 6 pages in length. You should have an analytical framework at the end of your review of literature although others might want to place it in Chapter 1. A review of related literature attempts to seek answers to some. Depending on the type of problem you will be handling. interviews only.3. Explain the appropriateness of the method(s) you intend to use in collecting data. Discuss the method(s) of data collection that you intend to use for the study. The main sub-heading in this chapter are: • • • • • • • • • • • Background to the study/the problem Objectives of the study Specific research questions Justification. Only the most pertinent issues that are relevant to the study are examined in this chapter. or combine questionnaires with interviews and document analysis. its advantages and likely 8 .3 Chapter 3 The main heading for this chapter is ‘Research Design and Methodology’.1 Method(s) of data collection.1 Chapter 1 This chapter is an introductory chapter and the chapter heading is ‘Introduction’. etc. Explain fully what each method entails.
analysed and interpreted. Your research report will largely be evaluated on the basis of your contribution. What inferences can be drawn from the findings? What are the theoretical and practical implications of the results? You may compare your results to those reported by other investigators and discuss possible shortcomings of your study.3. analysis and interpretation. and conditions that limit the generalisability of your findings. State whether you are going to develop your own instruments. As you present the data. Points that you left out in data presentation may be brought up in this section. you should do so in a logical manner. Show how you plan to present your data.4. You must organise your chapter in clear and meaningful sections and sub-headings. You should be careful to ensure that not every finding is reported. In Chapter 2 you were writing about what others said about the problem you identified but in this chapter you present what your study found out. In a quantitative study any hypotheses stated in Chapter 1 must be tested in this chapter to see if they can be proved or disapproved. pie charts. 2. etc. You may choose to present your data in the form of thick description accompanied by simple descriptive statistics such as frequences. The use of two or more methods is often recommended to achieve some kind of triangulation during the study. The more instruments you use the better since any method selected has its own strengths and limitations. Alternatively. Topics that are central to your argument will appear in the introduction and also in the discussion section. graphs. Also explain how you will ensure validity and reliability of the data you will collect.problems in your study and how you intend to go round the anticipated problems. 2. percentages. you should always start with personal data or background information. As a rule of thumb. You end this chapter by making a discussion of the main findings of your study. Begin by telling us what you have learned from the study. to present the data. Only the most critical issues and findings should be presented. or whether you are going to adapt or adopt intruments designed and developed by others. If your study is a qualitative one you can restrict yourself to thick description accompanied by simple descriptive statistics. you may combine thick descriptions inferential statistical analysis such as Chi-square or Ttest. etc. The chapter is perhaps one of the longest. It should be different from Chapter 2 in that this is where you demonstrate your contribution to knowledge or come up with a potential solution to a problem.2 Method(s) of data presentation. Remind the reader of the characteristics of your sample and the possibility that it might differ from other populations 9 . Make a clear statement on the support or lack of support of the hypotheses or answers to questions you raised in your introductory chapter. taking one issue or specific research question at a time. 2.1 Discussion of the Findings A discussion of the findings is often combined with the results section although in more complex studies this may appear separately.4 Chapter 4 This fourth chapter should be on data presentation.
There should be good balance between description and interpretation. understandable and relatively free from jargon.in which you might want to generalise. It is the data that should impress and not your academic training. conclusions and recommendations. attaching significance to particular results and putting patterns into an anlytical framework. These will be followed by the recommendations also emerging from the study. others will be for implementers while others still may be meant for future researchers. you should now list the major conclusions that will have emerged from the study. Others reading the report must understand it and draw their own interpretations. This chapter is immediately followed by a list of references and appendices of any pertinent correspondences and other detail that could not be placed in the main text such as tables and graphs. It must separate the descriptions from interpretations. Be willing to accept negative or unexpected results. you highlight the major issues in your study. The focus in data analysis should come from specific questions you will have outlined in the first chapter. Interpretation involves explaining the findings. For example. A good research report must contain the following characteristics: • • It must be readable. What have you been doing? What have you covered? Where were you coming from and where are you now? After making a summary of the study. It must put together coherent answers to major research questions. You should avoid rushing into making the interpretation before you give the description. • • • • • • 2. Make a comprehensive summary of what the study was all about. Each major research question must be addressed. some recommendations may be for policy-makers. Where you have many tables it is sometimes inappropriate to place all 10 . Here. The conclusions and recommendations that you draw must be stated clearly in point form.5 Chapter 5 This chapter should be on the summary. Recommendations you make may be targeted at specific audiences or groups. and Avoid mentioning individuals or institutions by name unless if this is by prior agreement. The data must be organised in such a way that information answering specific kinds of questions is brought together in its logical order. You should feel free to include questions that remain unanswered or new questions that may have been raised by your study.
Once this has been done. An abstract should convey the content of your study as accurately and as clearly as possible. the objectives.0 Abstract An abstract is a brief summary of the study. from the external examiner as well. 4. procedures. where relevant. Comments and suggestions from the supervisor should be incorporated into the final draft of the report. Only when you have come to the end of the study can you now go back to Chapters 1 and 3 and write in the past tense.of them in the main text. Few examples of these should be in the main text and the rest may appear as appendices. the major conclusions and recommendations drawn from the study. you carefully edit your research report before submitting it as your first full draft to your supervisor for his/her overall comments. Copies of the re4port will only be placed in the University library after incorporation of comments from the examiners and. It should be about half a page to three quarters of a page in length. Although this is written at the end of the study. It is used to make the barest outline of the problem. Its major purpose is to allow potential readers to get a quick overview of the study and decide if they need to read the report itself. 11 .0 Revision of Chapters 1 and 3 When you are developing and writing Chapters 1 and 3 you write in the future because you are still at proposal stage. 3. major findings of the study. it actually comes at the beginning of your research report.
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