Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen Business School
Module Title and Number: Research Methods: Research Proposal (BS4289)
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GUIDE TO PREPARING THE RESEARCH PROPOSAL (BS4289) Introduction
This document describes the assessment for the BS4289 Research Methods: Research Proposal module.
The purpose of this coursework is to enable you to:
- Identify and examine the scope for research in a topic area of relevance to your course of study.
- Critically evaluate and plan research approaches and methods, and project management techniques, in the design of a research programme approved for research in the Honours dissertation.
The Research Proposal
The research proposal is the starting point of a research study that will be conducted in the future (i.e. your Honours Thesis), which follows this module. The research proposal discusses the essential features and plans for this research study (e.g. aims and objectives, rationale, previous research, methodology, resources, time plan) before embarking on the actual data collection stage.
There are three key purposes behind a research proposal:
• to present the research problem/issue;
• to relate the proposed research to other “key” research in the field;
• to present a clear rationale and plan (e.g. research methodology, necessary resources) for the proposed research.
A good research proposal will include descriptions of:
• what will be done (i.e. the research problem or specific area for investigation/exploration, aims, objectives);
• why it will be done (rationale and justification critically discussing previous research);
• how it will be done (data collection and analysis methods);
• where it will be done (locations, organisations etc);
• to whom it will be done (research subjects, populations, samples);
• what the benefits of doing it are;
• what resources are required (facilities, time, travel, costs);
• ethical issues related to the proposed research; the time plan for completion of the different stages of the research.
Selecting the Research Topic
You should begin by considering possible topics at a broader level. Ideas for your research may come from previous study and/or work experience. They may be stimulated by the topics covered in the course, introduced by staff in discussions and workshops, or suggested by reading.
It is important that you choose a topic in which you have a strong and genuine interest. You are going to spend much time investigating the topic you choose, and it is essential that you are enthusiastic about it.
Content of the Research Proposal
On submission the Research Proposal should be approximately 3000 words in length. It should include the following features where appropriate:
Provisional Title – Representing the research as it stands (although it might not be the title of any completed dissertation in the future). The Research Proposal should have a formal title page, which follows the layout of the specimen included at the end of this Guide.
Abstract – A short synopsis of the proposal, approximately 200-300 words. This is not included in the word count.
Table of Contents – This should show the page numbers of the headings and subheadings used in the main body of the Research Proposal. The headings
and subheadings should be numbered with a decimal numerical form (e.g. 3.1,
3.2, 3.3, 3.4…3.2.1, 3.2.2 etc). The table of contents should also include figures and tables (where appropriate). This is not included in the word count.
Introduction/background – This section should examine the general subject area and background of the research as well as the specific aspects of the topic investigated. It should also explain clearly the reasons for undertaking the research (rationale) and provide justification for the significance of the research problem. The rationale should be supported by references to relevant theory, practice and research already existing in the field. However, these will be covered more extensively in the Literature Review.
Aims and objectives – the aim will express the overall intention of the research while the objectives will express the various elements of investigation necessary to achieve this aim. The vital point about this section is that your objectives should be specific, measurable and achievable. It is standard to ensure that your aims and objectives stand out clearly in your Research Proposal, and are easily identified and located.
Literature Review – The literature review should outline in more detail relevant key research, theory and practice already existing in the field, identifying main sources and ideas and how these relate to your proposed research. The literature should be summarised, critically reviewed and evaluated. More specifically, you should aim to address the following questions:
How important is the problem?
What are the benefits of doing the study? Who will find it useful?
What is already known by previous research?
What gaps exist in our understanding of the research issue on the basis of existing research?
How will the proposed research address these gaps?
Your argument should be based on the relevant literature which you will incorporate in this section outlining relevant research, theory and practice already existing in the field, reviewed critically. You should avoid using text books in the literature review and the majority of sources should be peer-reviewed journal articles. You should identify key ideas and sources and relating these to the proposed research. It is also a good practice, especially when there is a lot of theory developed in your area of interest, to indicate what specific approach/theory/framework you are proposing to use/test/apply as a basis for your research. In general, the literature review should relate to core recent (or historically significant) work (and you might need to set yourself a limit on how far back you are able to go – depending on resources, of course). It is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all relevant literature (save that for the Thesis!), but should show that you are aware of what else is going on and can interpret it in relation to your own proposed research.
You are presenting a justification for doing your research. Thus, it is essential to critically evaluate previous research and relevant theory, rather than just describe it. For example, you may be arguing that there is a significant gap in knowledge, or that this is a new issue for practitioners where there is little known, or that previous research is out of date. Furthermore, previous research may have been undertaken on a limited scale and you feel it would merit a wider focus; or the results from previous research may suggest a new or better approach which would yield more applicable results; there may be previous research but you feel it would be useful to examine the issue in a different/new/more up-to-date context.
Research Methodology – should outline the methodological steps necessary to fulfil the stated objectives. You should include a clear and detailed discussion of your research design and your methods for sampling, data
collection and analysis as appropriate. This section should also include your justification for the methods chosen, timescales, and show how the methods relate to the objectives. In fact you may find it useful to use your objectives as subheadings in the methodology section. You should include a brief theoretical discussion of the methodological approach you are proposing to use with references to the research methods theory but also show how you will conduct the research realistically and feasibly within the timescales, constraints and context of the research. You should demonstrate why your selected methodology is most appropriate for your proposed research compared with other methods- do not simply include lengthy descriptions of different types of research methods.
For example if your chosen data collection method is a questionnaire, you should include information on the selection of research location and/or sample if appropriate (e.g. if your study involves a specific organisation/company you should include its name, your plans for contacting them and how you will seek permission). If you have already secured their permission and willingness to collaborate you should include a copy of any written statement/letter from them in an appendix. If it is too early to know who will be involved you should indicate the kind of criteria you will use to select appropriate organisations or individuals and/or how you will construct your research sample if appropriate. You should include as much detail as possible on methods to be used to collect data. If you intend using a questionnaire for data collection, for example, you would need to include the following:
• What kinds of themes will be covered in the questionnaire and why?
• How many questionnaires will you distribute?
• Who will you distribute questionnaires to?
• How representative will your sample be?
• How will you find these people?
• How will you clear access to them?
• What kind of response rate would you need?
• How will you distribute the questionnaires?
• How will people reply to you?
• When will you distribute the questionnaires?
• What sorts of questions will you ask?
• How will you pilot the questionnaire?
• What will you do if your initial response rate is low?
Your objectives and methods should also include consideration of the ways you will analyse and present your findings. Obviously, if you are using some kind of quantitative questionnaire, you will need to think about ‘coding’ your questions, so that they can be entered into a statistics package or spreadsheet. On the other hand, if you are using interviews, you will have to think of the practicalities of coding interview transcripts thematically to enable you to analyse patterns emerging in the data. The point about this is that you need to think about how you will treat the data BEFORE you actually devise your questionnaires or interviews, and you need to allow sufficient time for these stages in your plans. Although it is not necessary, you may wish to include a draft questionnaire in your proposal, usually in an appendix. However, it should be clearly marked as “draft” at this stage – the final design and piloting of the instrument would take place as part of the research project itself. You will probably only have a very rough idea about your questionnaire or interview at the proposal stage.
Research Plan – This section should also outline your project schedule, the practical steps necessary to fulfil your given objectives. You should propose a realistic work schedule, identifying the stages and timescales of the research (e.g. for reviewing the literature, designing the data collection instruments, administering questionnaires/conducting interviews/focus groups, data analysis, writing up etc). You should present your action plan in the form of a Gantt chart or a table indicating start and finish dates of each component of your entire research process and be realistic in the timescale you are proposing.
Resource Requirements– this should identify and discuss essential and likely resource requirements, e.g. visits to organisations, equipment, access to computer facilities, any cost implications of surveys, travel to interview people, your own time, etc. If you intend to pursue the research, it is essential that permission from organisations likely to be involved in your research is granted at the proposal stage (although you may wish to contact them only when you have a clear idea of your plans for this research).
You should include a brief risk assessment in your proposal where you outline the main areas of risk (e.g. not getting adequate response rates) associated with your proposed research and the steps that you will take to avoid them.
Ethical considerations – these should constitute a dedicated section where you demonstrate that you have considered/acknowledged potential ethical problems (e.g. anonymity, confidentiality, informed consent etc), discussing the specific steps you will follow to address them (please note that there are always ethical concerns in research but their level of significance may be different depending on the specific research project). The proposal must be accompanied by a signed and completed Ethics Review form (SPER form) which sets out any ethical considerations pertaining to the research. This should also be submitted by 1pm on Monday the 16th November 2020.
Conclusion – The Research Proposal may finish with a brief final statement summarising the above points and/or adding any extra relevant information.
References – In the Research Proposal you will be expected to show awareness of key reports, articles and/or monographs which have a bearing on the research issues you are exploring and it is essential that you cite these works using standard citation conventions. In line with the School’s policy, citations should adhere to the Harvard format. Guidelines on citation according
to the Harvard style are available on the library campusmoodle page. These are not included in the word count.
Appendices – these may include any material, which support the proposal (e.g. sample questionnaires, interview schedules). These are not included in the word count.
Your Research Proposal needs to be professionally presented. Professional presentation is part of convincing a reader and/or examiner that you have a professional approach to your work.
You should use the font Verdana, point size 11 and your work should be one and-a-half- or double-spaced. Use bold style or a larger font size for headings. You should number your sections, as this makes it easier for the reader to keep track. There is normally no need to start each section on a new page (although references, bibliography and appendices should have their own pages). You should include page numbers in the table of contents and the main body of your work. Prelims (i.e. table of contents, abstract) should use Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, etc.); the main body of the Proposal should use Arabic numerals (1,2,3,4, etc.) as explained earlier in this document. Headers and footers are a matter of personal preference – their presence is not mandatory.
You should adopt a formal writing style and use the third person (e.g. you can refer to yourself as the ‘researcher’). Try to keep it clear without assuming that the reader has pre-existing knowledge and expertise in the subject (for example, always make sure you explain abbreviations in the first instance, offer appropriate definitions etc.).
All of this is good preparation for the style and standard of presentation you will adopt at the writing up stage of the research.
English Language: UK,
Type of writing: Research summary