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1 Writing a Research Proposal on 16th May 2011, 2:16 pm

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Writing a Research Proposal


Introduction
Writing a good proposal is an important part while conducting/doing research and it is a mandatory prerequisite for the Master’s students of economics who opt for Thesis Writing in their second year. The proposal is, in essence, is an intellectual scholastic (not legal) contract between student and a committee (Thesis or Research Committee) who decides approval for perusing thesis writing.
The proposal outlines about what a student/researcher will do, how s/he will do it along with analysis and interpretation of the results. Indeed, a research proposal is a document written by scientist that describes in details the program for a proposed scientific investigation. It is like an outline of the entire research process that gives a reader a summary of information discussed in project . The main purpose of a research proposal is to show that the problem researcher propose to investigate is significant enough to warrant the investigation, the method s/he plans to use is suitable and feasible, and the results are likely to prove fruitful and will make an original contribution. A research proposal is also intended to convince others that you have a worthwhile research project and that you have the competence and the work-plan to complete it. Generally, a research proposal should contain all the key elements involved in the research process and include sufficient information for the readers to evaluate the proposed study. The purpose of the proposal is to help student to focus and define your research plans. These plans are not binding, in that they may well change substantially as you progress in the research. However, they are an indication to your faculty of your direction and discipline as a researcher.
The proposal is expected to :
• Show that you are engaging in genuine enquiry, finding out about something worthwhile in a particular context;
• Link your proposed work with the work of others, while proving you are acquainted with major schools of thought relevant to the topic;
• Establish a particular theoretical orientation;
• Establish your methodological approach, and
• Show you have thought about the ethical issues
As has been just noticed, the objective in writing a proposal is to describe what a student/researcher will do, why it should be done, how s/he will do it and what s/he expect will result. Therefore, it is important to understand that clarities about these issues and things right from the inception helps the researcher to complete the endeavor as planned. Analogously, a vague, weak or fuzzy proposal can lead to a long, painful, and often unsuccessful thesis writing exercise. A clean, well thought-out, proposal forms the backbone for the thesis itself.
The proposal itself indicates how a researcher has the clarity about the research problem or how the researcher has internalized and owned the research problem. A good research proposal therefore hinges on the familiarity with the topic/theme of the proposal. Writing good proposal, of course, requires a longer preparatory period of reading, observation, discussion, and incubation. It is necessary to read as more as one can do/find on the area of the interest. This helps on figuring out what are the important and missing parts about the understanding on theme/issues. It is equally important to consult with experts or others who are familiar or interested on the same topic/theme. This always brings clarity about the various steps of research right from building research questions to methodology.
Components of Research Proposal
The components, structure and other technical formatting issues (like font size, length or References styles) may vary across various departments, Universities and Institutions. However, one can fairly expect following general components of a research proposal (Table 1)
Table1: Components of a Research Proposal





Components

Functions

Title Page

Title of the
proposed research, Name of the institutions, Degree for which the research
proposal is submitted, Full names of the Candidates, Date of Submission

Background
Information

provides
background information relating to theme, context of the study: and may start
with ay include historical, cultural, political, social or organizational
information about the context of the research, may include a theoretical
starting point, may include policy

Statement of
the Problem

The issue that
exists in the literature, theory, or practice that leads to a need for the
study

Research
Questions

(Good if you
have but not mandatory)

Provides
outline to key research questions such that he research question(s) (What,
How, Why, or What if/ is, are/have) should be few, so that the focus is
manageable

Research
Objectives

A clear and
succinct statement about objective/aim/purpose of the study

Hypothesis

(will provide
more clarity but not Mandatory)

An
intellectual guess or hunch about the relationships between variables, or may
be constructed while testing/verifying theories, and warrants for a
quantitative analysis

Review of
Literature

to show your
supervisor and department that you are aware of significant
writers/researchers in the field, and to indicate which issues/topics you
will focus on in your review (this may change later) and/ or to show that you
can be judicious in your selection of issues to focus on and take an approach
of critical inquiry

Methodology

Describes
Conceptual Framework, Research Design, Nature and Sources of Data, Sampling
Strategy if Primary Data has to be collected, Method/Instruments of Data
Collection and Most Importantly Method of Analysis

Significance
of Study

Importance or
Rationale of Study indicating the research gap or value addition to existing
body of Knowledge/ May be combined with expect policy outcome

Reference/Bibliography

list of works
that have been consulted/Cited thus far and appear to be useful

Annexes:

Time Line

(Not Mandatory)

Depicts the
tasks proposed and the stages/times for their completion

Budge (if
Applicable)



It is again important to note that these components are common but are not mandatory in its existence or sequence. For example, asking the research questions or constructing hypothesis is not a mandatory requirement for the student submitting proposal to Central Department of Economics. The time line of activity or Budget is not readily applicable to the student writing proposal for the Thesis. By same token, one cannot claim that these components make a research proposal complete. There might be several components that may be needed to add (for example glossary on Annex/Appendix, Use of Human Resources etc) and this typical depends upon what type of proposal we are writing.
Components: Further Look (This follows from Frank Pajares, Emory University )

1. Background/ Introduction
The introduction is the part of the paper that provides readers with the background information for the research reported in the paper. Its purpose is to establish a framework for the research, so that readers can understand how it is related to other research (Wilkinson 1991).
In an introduction, the writer should
1.create reader interest in the topic,
2.lay the broad foundation for the problem that leads to the study,
3.place the study within the larger context of the scholarly literature, and
4.reach out to a specific audience (Creswell: 1994).

2. Statement of the Problem
The problem statement of the research proposal indicates how a researcher has been able to understand the context and depth of the questions that one is trying to answer. Kumar (2005) observed that ‘any question that you want answered and any assumption or assertion that you want to challenge or investigate can become a research problem or a research topic for your study. However, it is important to remember that not all questions can be transformed into research problems and may prove to be extremely difficult to study’
The problem statement describes the context for the study and it also identifies the general analysis approach (Wiersma 1995).
A problem might be defined as the issue that exists in the literature, theory, or practice that leads to a need for the study (Creswell 199)
It is important in a proposal that the problem stand out—that the reader can easily recognize it. Sometimes, obscure and poorly formulated problems are masked in an extended discussion. In such cases, reviewers and/or committee members will have difficulty recognizing the problem.
A problem statement should be presented within a context, and that context should be provided and briefly explained, including a discussion of the conceptual or theoretical framework in which it is embedded. Clearly and succinctly identify and explain the problem within the framework of the theory or line of inquiry that undergirds the study. This is of major importance in nearly all proposals and requires careful attention. It is a key element that associations such as AERA and APA look for in proposals. It is essential in all quantitative research and much qualitative research. State the problem in terms intelligible to someone who is generally sophisticated but who is relatively uninformed in the area of your investigation.
Effective problem statements answer the question “Why does this research need to be conducted.” If a researcher is unable to answer this question clearly and succinctly, and without resorting to hyperspeaking (i.e., focusing on problems of macro or global proportions that certainly will not be informed or alleviated by the study), then the statement of the problem will come off as ambiguous and diffuse. For conference proposals, the statement of the problem is generally incorporated into the introduction; academic proposals for theses or dissertations should have this as a separate section.


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2 Re: Writing a Research Proposal on 16th May 2011, 2:27 pm

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Purpose of the Study

A.“The purpose statement should provide a specific and accurate synopsis of the overall purpose of the study” (Locke, Spirduso, & Silverman, 1987, p. 5). If the purpose is not clear to the writer, it cannot be clear to the reader.
B.Briefly define and delimit the specific area of the research. You will revisit this in greater detail in a later section.
C.Foreshadow the hypotheses to be tested or the questions to be raised, as well as the significance of the study. These will require specific elaboration in subsequent sections.
D.The purpose statement can also incorporate the rationale for the study. Some committees prefer that the purpose and rationale be provided in separate sections, however.
E.Key points to keep in mind when preparing a purpose statement.
1.Try to incorporate a sentence that begins with “The purpose of this study is . . .”
This will clarify your own mind as to the purpose and it will inform the reader directly and explicitly.
2. Clearly identify and define the central concepts or ideas of the study. Some committee Chairs prefer a separate section to this end. When defining terms, make a judicious choice between using descriptive or operational definitions.
3.Identify the specific method of inquiry to be used.
4.Identify the unit of analysis in the study.

Review of the Literature

A.“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” (Wiersma, 1995, p. 406).
B.The literature review accomplishes several important things.
1.It shares with the reader the results of other studies that are closely related to the study being reported (Fraenkel & Wallen, 1990).
2.It relates a study to the larger, ongoing dialogue in the literature about a topic, filling in gaps and extending prior studies (Marshall & Rossman, 1989).
3.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.
4.It “frames” the problem earlier identified.
C.Demonstrate to the reader that you have a comprehensive grasp of the field and are aware of important recent substantive and methodological developments.
D.Delineate the “jumping-off place” for your study. How will your study refine, revise, or extend what is now known?
E.Avoid statements that imply that little has been done in the area or that what has been done is too extensive to permit easy summary. Statements of this sort are usually taken as indications that the writer is not really familiar with the literature.
F.In a proposal, the literature review is generally brief and to the point. Be judicious in your choice of exemplars—the literature selected should be pertinent and relevant (APA, 2001). Select and reference only the more appropriate citations. Make key points clearly and succinctly.
G.Committees may want a section outlining your search strategy—the procedures you used and sources you investigated (e.g., databases, journals, test banks, experts in the field) to compile your literature review. Check with your Chair.

Questions and/or Hypotheses

A.Questions are relevant to normative or census type research (How many of them are there? Is there a relationship between them?). They are most often used in qualitative inquiry, although their use in quantitative inquiry is becoming more prominent. Hypotheses are relevant to theoretical research and are typically used only in quantitative inquiry. When a writer states hypotheses, the reader is entitled to have an exposition of the theory that lead to them (and of the assumptions underlying the theory). Just as conclusions must be grounded in the data, hypotheses must be grounded in the theoretical framework.
B.A research question poses a relationship between two or more variables but phrases the relationship as a question; a hypothesis represents a declarative statement of the relations between two or more variables (Kerlinger, 1979; Krathwohl, 1988).
C. Deciding whether to use questions or hypotheses depends on factors such as the purpose of the study, the nature of the design and methodology, and the audience of the research (at times even the taste and preference of committee members, particularly the Chair).
D.The practice of using hypotheses was derived from using the scientific method in social science inquiry. They have philosophical advantages in statistical testing, as researchers should be and tend to be conservative and cautious in their statements of conclusions (Armstrong, 1974).
E.Hypotheses can be couched in four kinds of statements.
1.Literary null—a “no difference” form in terms of theoretical constructs. For example, “There is no relationship between support services and academic persistence of nontraditional-aged college women.” Or, “There is no difference in school achievement for high and low self-regulated students.”
2.Operational null—a “no difference” form in terms of the operation required to test the hypothesis. For example, “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.” 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.” The operational null is generally the preferred form of hypothesis-writing.
3.Literary alternative—a form that states the hypothesis you will accept if the null hypothesis is rejected, stated in terms of theoretical constructs. In other words, this is usually what you hope the results will show. For example, “The more that nontraditional-aged women use support services, the more they will persist academically.” Or, “High self-regulated students will achieve more in their classes than low self-regulated students.”
4.Operational alternative—Similar to the literary alternative except that the operations are specified. For example, “The more that nontraditional-aged college women use the student union, the more they will persist at the college after their freshman year.” Or, “Students in the upper quartile of the Self-regulated Inventory distribution achieve significantly higher grade point averages than do students in the lower quartile.”
F.In general, the null hypothesis is used if theory/literature does not suggest a hypothesized relationship between the variables under investigation; the alternative is generally reserved for situations in which theory/research suggests a relationship or directional interplay.
G.Be prepared to interpret any possible outcomes with respect to the questions or hypotheses. 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 (Guba, 1961).
H.Questions and hypotheses are testable propositions deduced and directly derived from theory (except in grounded theory studies and similar types of qualitative inquiry).
I.Make a clear and careful distinction between the dependent and independent variables and be certain they are clear to the reader. Be excruciatingly consistent in your use of terms. If appropriate, use the same pattern of wording and word order in all hypotheses.

The Design--Methods and Procedures

A.“The methods or procedures section is really the heart of the research proposal. The activities should be described with as much detail as possible, and the continuity between them should be apparent” (Wiersma, 1995, p. 409).
B.Indicate the methodological steps you will take to answer every question or to test every hypothesis illustrated in the Questions/Hypotheses section.
C.All research is plagued by the presence of confounding variables (the noise that covers up the information you would like to have). Confounding variables should be minimized by various kinds of controls or be estimated and taken into account by randomization processes (Guba, 1961). In the design section, indicate
1.the variables you propose to control and how you propose to control them, experimentally or statistically, and
2.the variables you propose to randomize, and the nature of the randomizing unit (students, grades, schools, etc.).
D.Be aware of possible sources of error to which your design exposes you. You will not produce a perfect, error free design (no one can). However, you should anticipate possible sources of error and attempt to overcome them or take them into account in your analysis. Moreover, you should disclose to the reader the sources you have identified and what efforts you have made to account for them.
E.Sampling
1.The key reason for being concerned with sampling is that of validity—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 (Shavelson, 1988).
2.Sampling is critical to external validity—the extent to which findings of a study can be generalized to people or situations other than those observed in the study. To generalize validly the findings from a sample to some defined population requires that the sample has been drawn from that population according to one of severalprobability sampling plans. 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. All probability samples involve the idea of random sampling at some stage (Shavelson, 1988). In experimentation, two distinct steps are involved.
Random selection—participants to be included in the sample have been chosen at random from the same population. Define the population and indicate the sampling plan in detail.
Random assignment—participants for the sample have been assigned at random to one of the experimental conditions.
3.Another reason for being concerned with sampling is that of internal validity—the extent to which the outcomes of a study result from the variables that were manipulated, measured, or selected rather than from other variables not systematically treated. Without probability sampling, error estimates cannot be constructed (Shavelson, 1988).
4.Perhaps the key word in sampling is representative. One must ask oneself, “How representative is the sample of the survey population (the group from which the sample is selected) and how representative is the survey population of the target population (the larger group to which we wish to generalize)?”
5.When a sample is drawn out of convenience (a nonprobability sample), rationale and limitations must be clearly provided.
6.If available, outline the characteristics of the sample (by gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or other relevant group membership).
7.Detail procedures to follow to obtain informed consent and ensure anonymity and/or confidentiality.
F.Instrumentation
1.Outline the instruments you propose to use (surveys, scales, interview protocols, observation grids). If instruments have previously been used, identify previous studies and findings related to reliability and validity. If instruments have not previously been used, outline procedures you will follow to develop and test their reliability and validity. In the latter case, a pilot study is nearly essential.
2.Because selection of instruments in most cases provides the operational definition of constructs, this is a crucial step in the proposal. For example, it is at this step that a literary conception such as “self-efficacy is related to school achievement” becomes “scores on the Mathematics Self-Efficacy Scale are related to Grade Point Average.” Strictly speaking, results of your study will be directly relevant only to the instrumental or operational statements (Guba, 1961).
3.Include an appendix with a copy of the instruments to be used or the interview protocol to be followed. Also include sample items in the description of the instrument.
4. For a mailed survey, identify steps to be taken in administering and following up the survey to obtain a high response rate.
G.Data Collection
1.Outline the general plan for collecting the data. This may include survey administration procedures, interview or observation procedures. Include an explicit statement covering the field controls to be employed. If appropriate, discuss how you obtained entré.
2.Provide a general outline of the time schedule you expect to follow.
H.Data Analysis
1.Specify the procedures you will use, and label them accurately (e.g., ANOVA, MANCOVA, HLM, ethnography, case study, grounded theory). If coding procedures are to be used, describe in reasonable detail. If you triangulated, carefully explain how you went about it. Communicate your precise intentions and reasons for these intentions to the reader. This helps you and the reader evaluate the choices you made and procedures you followed.
2.Indicate briefly any analytic tools you will have available and expect to use (e.g., Ethnograph, NUDIST, AQUAD, SAS, SPSS, SYSTAT).
3.Provide a well thought-out rationale for your decision to use the design, methodology, and analyses you have selected.

Limitations and Delimitations

A.A limitation identifies potential weaknesses of the study. Think about your analysis, the nature of self-report, your instruments, the sample. Think about threats to internal validity that may have been impossible to avoid or minimize—explain.
B. A delimitation addresses how a study will be narrowed in scope, that is, how it is bounded. This is the place to explain the things that you are not doing and why you have chosen not to do them—the literature you will not review (and why not), the population you are not studying (and why not), the methodological procedures you will not use (and why you will not use them). Limit your delimitations to the things that a reader might reasonably expect you to do but that you, for clearly explained reasons, have decided not to do.
VIII. Significance of the Study
A.Indicate how your research will refine, revise, or extend existing knowledge in the area under investigation. Note that such refinements, revisions, or extensions may have either substantive, theoretical, or methodological significance. Think pragmatically (i.e., cash value).
B.Most studies have two potential audiences: practitioners and professional peers. Statements relating the research to both groups are in order.
C.This can be a difficult section to write. Think about implications—how results of the study may affect scholarly research, theory, practice, educational interventions, curricula, counseling, policy.
D.When thinking about the significance of your study, ask yourself the following questions.
1.What will results mean to the theoretical framework that framed the study?
2.What suggestions for subsequent research arise from the findings?
3. What will the results mean to the practicing educator?
4.Will results influence programs, methods, and/or interventions?
5.Will results contribute to the solution of educational problems?
6.Will results influence educational policy decisions?
7.What will be improved or changed as a result of the proposed research?
8.How will results of the study be implemented, and what innovations will come about?


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