Proposal and thesis writing are areas of research that have caused a lot of challenges to scholars and rise archers. These challenges are at times caused by the researcher’s inability to clearly define what is expected in a research proposal or thesis. Proposal and thesis writing constitute part of the research process. This chapter therefore gives a brief overview of research proposal and thesis writing and the variables therein.

The Concept of Research

The term “research” means to look for, examine, investigate or explore. Orodho and Kombo (2002:2) define research as the process of arriving at dependable solutions to problems through the planned systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of data.

Kerlinger (1973:11) defines research as a systematic, controlled, empirical and critical investigation of hypothetical propositions about the presumed relations among natural phenomena.

Tuchman (1978:1) describes research as a systematic attempt to provide answers to questions.

Keywords in these definitions include: process, systematic, collection, analysis and interpretation. Research can therefore be defined as a systematic process of collecting, examining and interpreting data.

Research involves the following components:

  1. It is systematic. Research attempts to solve problems whether social, economic, political, cultural or health-related in a systematic way. It is systematic in that a general system is followed. This involves the Identification of the problem, review of related literature and data collection. The process of data collection requires proper organization and control so that the data will enable valid decisions to be made about the research problem at hand. This is followed by data analysis, conclusions and recommendations.
  2. It is objective. Research attempts to find an objectives unbiased solution to the problem. Research involves gathering new data from primary sources (first hand) and secondary sources (using existing data). It attempts to find an objective unbiased solution to the problem.
  3. It is based on observable experience or empirical evidence. It demands accurate observation and description.
  4. It employs carefully designed procedures and rigorous analysis.


Types of Research

Research can either be qualitative or quantitative.

Qualitative Research

This is a form of research that involves description. Qualitative research seeks to describe and analyze the culture and behaviour of humans and their groups from the point of view 0f those being stud.ied. Examples of qualitative research include case studies of communities and institutions. Qualitative research uses the natural setting, for instance, a classroom setting and not a laboratory. This means the scenario is not artificial. Qualitative research relies on a research strategy that is flexible and interactive. This includes interviewing, focus group discussions and questionnaires. In qualitative research, feelings and insights are considered important (Orodho and Kombo, 2002). Sometimes qualitative research is called naturalistic inquiry or field studies.



Qualitative research is appropriate inkier the following conditions:

When the subject matter is unfamiliar. For example, when one wants to know the causes and effects of a certain phenomenon and the answer is unfamiliar to the researcher. For example, The effect of free primary education on school accessibility and retention or The effect of price increases on commodity consumption.

  • When a researcher wants to relate particular aspects of behaviour to the wider context. For example when one wants to find out the effects of abortion on academic performance, a few schools and students will be sampled. The findings of the study will be applicable to a wider context.
  • When meanings rather than frequencies are sought. For example when analyzing the effect of abortion on education, the researcher may be more interested in why students procure abortions and the effect abortion has on their education. The emphasis will be on the causes and impact of abortion.
  • When flexibility of approach is needed to allow for discovery of the unexpected and in depth investigation of particular topics. for example in finding out the effect of abortion on education, the researcher may interview those who have carried out an abortion and are willing to be interviewed. Focus group discussions may be used. The researcher can also change a research instrument depending on the respondents. For example, a researcher may have planned to use a questionnaire written in English but may discover the majority of respondents are semi-illiterate. The researcher may therefore choose to interview and use the language which the respondents are most comfortable in. The researcher may also want to determine if there is any relationship between the academic performance of a student prior to and after the abortion.
  • This method is used for studying selected issues, cases or events in depth and detail (Orodho and Kombo, 2002).



Qualitative research include the following:

Ethnographies, which are observations of groups.

  • Phenomenological studies which study subjects over a period of time through developing relationships with them and reporting findings based on research experiences.
  • Case studies which use various data to investigate the subject over time and by activity.

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research relies on the principle of verifiability. That means confirmation, proof, corroboration or substantiation. Knowledge emerges from what can be proven by direct observation. The researcher’s values, interpretation and1 feelings are not considered. Objectivity is reinforced. This approach1 is mainly applicable in scientific studies. In quantitative research, the researcher tries as much as possible to be detached from the subject of study or respondent. This research establishes the cause-effect relaitj05in Quantitative research focuses on measurement i.e. the of numerical events according to rules. The numbers are specified, for example, sex: male or female.



Quantitative research is applicable under the following conditions:

  • When the research incorporates the Statistical (how many?) element, designed to quantify the extent to which a target group is aware of, thinks this, believes that or is c1ined to behave in a certain way.
  • When frequencies are sought to meanings. The quantitative approaches involve the collecti0 of numerical data in order to explain certain phenomena.
  • When control of approach is needed to allow for discovery of the unexpected and in-depth investigati0 of particular topics. For example in finding out the effect, control of one phenomenon of interest is needed. Rigid methodological and all procedures must be specified before the beginning of data collection and followed in an unalterable course.
  • When data analysis is mainly statistical (deductive process).
  • When the scenario is artificial, for instance in a laboratory.



Qualitative and quantitative approaches to research are complimentary. Where appropriate, they should be combined to maximize the strengths and minimize the limitation of each. For example, in a study on the effect of abortion on education, a researcher can first use  qualitative research and interview respondents to find out their views on the effect of abortion. The researcher can then segregate one group of students who have terminated their pregnancies, and another group that has not terminated pregnancy and observe them keenly based on specific psychological tests. The researcher can therefore make deductions on the effect of abortion on education.


The Research Proposal

To propose means, to put forward, suggest, intend or advise. Proposals therefore refer to suggestions, intentions, plans or schemes. A research proposal can consequently be referred to as a research plan, suggestion or request. It is a plan since it puts forward for consideration one’s plan of intent. It is a suggestion as it attempts to persuade people reading it to do something. This is either to fund a study, recommend that research should be carried out or to recommend the implementation of a project. Therefore, a research proposal is a request to implement a programme/study.

A research proposal includes three main chapters. (These will be discussed in detail in the following chapters). The first chapter is the introduction. It consists of the background to the study; statement of the research problem; purpose and objectives of the study; hypothesis; conceptual or theoretical framework. The second chapter is the review of related literature while the third chapter deals with the research methodology. References and appendices are included after the third chapter.


Qualities of an Effective Proposal

An effective research proposal clearly states:

  1. What is being proposed, what the project is about?
  2. How it will be carried out
  3. When it will be carried out
  4. How much it will cost.


The Research Thesis

A research thesis is a written scientific report that deals with concerns related to a problem or series of problems in one’s area of research. A thesis consists of the first three chapters of the proposal, plus the research findings, conclusions and recommendations. The body of the thesis includes the following:

Chapter one:                          Introduction.

Chapter two:                          Literature review.

Chapter three:                        Research methodology.

Chapter four:                         Research findings.

Chapter five:                          Summary, Conclusion and Recommendations. It also includes references and appendices. (These will be discussed further in the following chapters). A thesis also includes an abstract. The past tense is used in the thesis.

The thesis paper should begin with an introduction of the subject matter being explored, provide background information related to the subject and provide the reader with information regarding the significance of the subject. The author should present the reader with supporting documentation that either proves or disproves the theory being presented. A discussion of the findings and conclusions sums up the paper. The final thesis report can only be written after data collection, analysis, conclusion and recommendations. The thesis focuses on presenting a unique and original idea to the audience, which the author intends to prove. It describes concerns in society, particularly, what is already known about the issues, what the author did towards solving the problem, what the author thinks the results mean, and where or how further progress in the field can be made. The author is expected, through the thesis, to make an original contribution to human knowledge.


Qualities of an Effective Research,. Thesis

Phillips and Pugh (1994), point out that a good thesis should have the following characteristics:

  • It should be contestable; that means, it should propose an aruab1e point with which people could reasonably disagree.
  • It is should be provocative: it takes a stand and justifies the discussions and conclusions the author presents, but also allows readers to analyze the findings and make their own conclusions either in support or against.
  • It should be specific and focused. There is a systematic link from the research title, problem statement, objectives, data collection an4 analysis and the conclusion.
  • It should flexible. The evidence may lead one to a conclusion one did not expect.
  • It avoids vague language (like “it seems”) and avoids the first person (“I believe,”“In my opinion”).


Topic Selection

The term “topic” refers to subject, issue or area under discussion. The topic (subject) one selects to research is essential in the success of the research project. This is mainly because one’s interest in the topic will sustain the research. If a researcher is interested in a particular area, he/she will enjoy reading materials related to that subject, and will put time and effort into the work. The researcher will be keen on collecting the required data, analyzing it and finding out the results. All research requires painstaking thought, writing, and reading before the proposal/thesis is finalized. If the researcher is interested in the topic, this will be an exciting venture. It is therefore imperative that a researcher selects a topic that interests him/her. The following are some of the steps that should be followed in topic selection.


a) Identify what interests or puzzles one in an area of study

There are many issues in life that may puzzle or interest a researcher. These may be social,, economic, health, political or cultural issues. However, it is important to identify a puzzling aspect in one’s area of study. This not only enables the researcher to go in-depth in one’s professional area, but also to defend the researched work with authority.


For example, in identifying an area of study, a student in the department of Sociology may be puzzled as to why people still consume illicit brews despite the dangers experienced and the warnings given by the government. A student in the department of Curriculum Development may be puzzled as to why, despite the reduction of examinable subjects at the primary level, pupils are still overworked. A doctor may be puzzled as to why, despite awareness creation on malaria prevention and the provisions of mosquito nets to a certain district, malaria prevalence was still high. A student in the department of Religious Studies may be puzzled at the mushrooming of churches in Kenya. An educationist may be puzzled about free primary education and school accessibility, retention and performance. These are fertile grounds in which students can identify research topics.


b) Identify keywords for the topic

The researcher should then zero down to the real aspect puzzling him/her and express it in specific keywords. These keywords can include words representing the issue that has puzzled the researcher. For example if the researcher is puzzled about illicit brews, the keywords may be increase of illicit brews. The keywords for the student in Curriculum Development department may be curriculum reduction verses student overwork. The doctor’s keywords may be awareness creation verses malaria prevalence. For the student in education, the keywords may be free primary education, school accessibility, retention and performance. The researcher should think of what to concentrate on based on these words.


c) Define the topic

After identifying the keywords the researcher wants to concentrate on, he/she has to define the topic. Defining the topic involves analyzing selected keywords keenly. Out of these keywords there are a number of topics that can be studied. For example on illicit brews, the researcher has to decide on what to concentrate on, whether it is causes and effects or the costs. A researcher analyzing student overwork may study the causes and effects or analyze the implementation aspect. At this point, the researcher has to filter and come up with the topic to be studied. For example, on the issue of free primary education, the researcher may decide to concentrate on free primary education and student accessibility, or free primary education and student retention, or free primary education and learners’ performance or all of the above, thus analyzing free primary education and school accessibility, retention and performance. The researcher has to identify specifically what he/she wants to concentrate on. This enables the study to be focused.


d) Formulate the topic

After identifying and defining the topic, the researcher should formulate it. For example the prevalence of illicit brews in Kenya. The researcher should search for articles and other materials relevant to the research topic. This information will assist the researcher develop clarity over the topic selected. This will also assist the researcher in the formulation of the research problem later on. The researcher should take notes, paraphrase and summarize what has been read on relevant materials. This will be included in the literature review. Relevant information related to the selected topic can be found in a library or the Internet.


 Qualities of an Effective research Topic

A good research topic has the following qualities:

  1. It is researchable: That means it is a subject where the research instruments can be easily formulated and the study population sampled. The objectives that will be formulated based on the topic are measurable.
  2. It captivates the interest of the researcher: The topic selected should be one that the researcher has an interest in.
  3. It makes a contribution to knowledge: A good research topic is one in which the researcher is aware that the findings of the study will contribute to the body of knowledge.
  4. It is provocative: It is open to varied views and interpretations.
  5. It is clear and focused: The topic is not vague or alien to the researcher.


Challenges Encountered in Topic Selection

Selecting a topic in research is essential and requires a lot of care. This is because the topic selected has a lot of influence on the success of the project/study. There are various challenges encountered in topic selection, and some have resulted in researchers abandoning the project halfway, or the project taking longer to be completed than anticipated. The following are some of the problems encountered in topic selection.


Choosing a topic that is too wide

A researcher may select a research area that is too wide and fail to limit the scope. This occurs due to underestimating the dimension of the topic. For example, The effects of drought. This topic may be problematic since the effects of drought and its intensity varies by region and gender. The impact of drought in Turkana may not be similar to its impact in Makueni. It is also vague since the effect of drought on education may be different from its effect on politics. A topic such as Truancy in schools may also be problematic unless the scope is clearly specified. This topic may be too wide because the causes and effects of truancy on education vary by gender and region. Truancy also has diverse effects on school accessibility, retention and academic performance. It maybe impossible for this researcher to conduct an in-depth study. To avoid selecting a topic that is too wide, the researcher should be very clear and focused on what they want to research. If it is issues related to drought or truancy, then they have to be very certain on what they want to investigate in relation to drought or truancy and make that the focus of the study.


d) Choosing a topic that is too complex

At times a researcher may choose a topic that is too complex for research at the level of the student. This complexity is based on the fact that some of the research may require large samples. For example a study on Consumer reaction to price increases may require a large population sample. A study on The mushrooming of churches in Kenya is complex in that it requires clear definition of the term “mushrooming.” A single researcher cannot usually undertake this type of research. It may require different approaches and a lot of capital besides expertise. This topic may present the researcher with problems particularly during data collection and analysis.


c) Poor timing

Most research works have a limited time span for which data should be collected and presented. Failure to adhere to this may lead to disqualifications or penalties. Some topics, for example, Effects of free primary education over a five year period may not be feasible for a master’s programme. This is mainly because these programmes usually cover a span of two years. If for some reasons, gathering information will take many months or even years, then the topic may not be suitable, particularly if the researcher has a specific deadline to meet.


d) Limited accessibility to materials and respondents

A particular topic may prove unsuitable simply because there is no ready accessibility to the requisite source materials. It is common for some source materials not to be made available for some years after an event or during the lifetime of an individual. In Kenya, for example, materials on tribal clashes that occurred in 1992 are not easily available. Other materials may not be available in libraries. Some research works have been delayed or changed due to the problem of unavailability of subjects. For example, a study based on Aids patients at Kenyatta National Hospital may not be easy as accessibility to respondents may be limited. The patients may also feel an invasion of privacy and refuse to respond.


Topic selection is vital in proposal writing as it contributes to the success of the research. The researcher should therefore ensure that he/she is certain about the topic to be researched, is interested in the topic and the required materials and resources are available.


Title Selection

The term “title” refers to heading, label or tag. The title of the proposal or thesis describes what the study is about. The title is a mini- abstract. It portrays a quick summary of the key idea(s) in a proposal or thesis. For example the following title by Kombo (2005), Abortion in Kenya: An examination of its causes and effects on female students in secondary schools and colleges indicates that the study is on abortion. It also indicates that the study will analyze the causes and effects of abortion. It can be deduced from the title that the respondents will include female students in secondary schools and colleges.


In title selection, a researcher may discuss topical issues in society. This may include issues such as businesses that are not making any profit, the effect of business location on the success of a business, in- security in urban and rural areas or the mushrooming of churches. In business management-a researcher may analyze factors hindering the success of income generating activities. The title should be formulated after the researcher has identified the research topic.


The following steps are essential in title selection:

a) identify keywords for the title

Before selecting the title, the researcher should identify key issues in the topic the researcher is interested in.

b) Reflect on the key issues

The researcher should brainstorm the key issues identified. This includes attempting to find out the independent and dependent variables. For example if the researcher is puzzled over price increase and commodity consumption, questions that the researcher should attempt to answer are:

  • Does price increase affect consumption
  • Does price increase influence consumption
  • Does consumption influence price increase


The researcher will attempt to find out how these issues describe linked to form a title.


c) Formulate the title

After the researcher is clear about the independent and dependent variables, the title can be formulated. The formulation of the title involves trying to link the key variables. This can be formulated by using terms such as The effect of…, The impact of…, An assessment of…, for instance, The effect of price increase on consumption or The effect of free primary education on school accessibility.


d) Evaluation

After formulating the title, the researcher has to ensure that it is clear and specific. This means the independent and dependent variables are easily identified (variables will be discussed later). For example, if the title is on the effect of price increase on consumption the researcher may specify it as The effect of price increase on sugar consumption in Kenya. If the title is on free primary education, the title can be The effect of free primary education on student accessibility, retention and academic performance.


Qualities of an Effective Title

An effective research title should portray the following qualities:

It should be brief and specific: For example, The impact of drug abuse on education. This brevity makes the title stand out and have a strong impact. It is easier to identify the independent and dependent variables. The title becomes clear and focused.

  • It should be in line with the set objectives: The title is a brief summary of what the study is about. It should portray the aims and objectives of the study. The words used in the title should clearly reflect the focus of the study.
  • It should be clear and unambiguous: The title should not lead to various interpretations of the study.
  • It should reflect a relationship between the independent and dependent variables, for example, the effect of price increase on food consumption.
  • The title should portray an issue that is researchable. The aspects in question should be measurable.

Challenges Encountered in Title Selection

There are various challenges faced by researchers in title selection. These include the following:

a) Choosing a title that is not specific

A researcher may select a title that is open to varied interpretations. For example, Crime in Kenya is a wide title that is open to various interpretations. This is because there are also varied forms of crime. For it to be effective, it has to be specific. To avoid this in title selection, the researcher should be very clear and focused on what the independent and dependent variables of the study are.


b) Writing a title that is too wordy

A brief title is more effective than a long one. This is because variables are easily identified. Some titles have too many words. To avoid• this, researchers should ensure that words that are not necessary for understanding the title are omitted. For example, the title The effect of free primary education on the academic performance of boys and girls in boarding and day schools in Kenya can be summarized as The effect of free primary education on academic performance. When all else fails, a two- part title can be used with the parts separated by a colon.


c) Poorly formulated titles

Some titles are difficult to comprehend for example, Understanding drug abuse in Kenya. It is difficult to comprehend what the term “understanding” means.


d) Lack of consistency

Some study titles neither tally with the research objectives, nor with the problem statement or methodology applied. For example a researcher who in a study on The effect of price increase on sugar consumption in Kenya, concentrates on finding out about student indiscipline in schools is not addressing the title selected.



The term “variable” is derived from variations. This refers to differences. Variables are attributes or qualities of the cases that we measure or record. For example, if the cases are persons, the variables could be sex, age, height, weight, level of empowerment, ability, and so on. They are referred to as variables because it is assumed that the cases will vary in their scores on these attributes. For example, if the variable is age, we obviously recognize that people can be of different ages. In any particular study, variables can play different roles. For example the reaction of people towards price increase may vary according to commodity use and availability. An increase in beer and cigarette prices may be viewed positively by those who do not drink and smoke but negatively by the consumers. There are two major forms of variables: the independent and dependent variables.


Independent Variable

The independent variables are also known as the predictor or explanatory variables. These are the factors that the researcher thinks explain variation in the dependent variables In other words, these are the causes. In Figure 1, the physiotherapy strategy used is the independent variable. This strategy includes the provision of health care, rehabilitation, economic empowerment and awareness creation. If a study is on The impact of price increase on beer consumption in Kenya then price increase is the independent variable. This is because it can explain or affect the increase or decrease in beer consumption.


Dependent Variable

Usually there is only one dependent variable, and it is the outcome variable the researcher is attempting to predict. In Figure 1: Physiotherapy Strategy, the researcher attempts to predict the effect of the physiotherapy strategy on community-based rehabilitation programmes for the physically impaired. A community-based rehabilitation programme therefore is the dependent variable. Variation in the dependent variable is what the researcher is trying to explain. In the study on The impact of price increase on beer consumption in Kenya, beer consumption, or more specifically, its increase or decrease is the dependent variable. in other words, the dependent variable “depends” on the independent. For instance, the fluctuation in beer consumption is seen in so far as it is caused by the price increase — independent variable — which is expected to change or alter in some way the dependent variable.


To understand the independent and dependent variables let us analyze the example below:


The role of physiotherapy strategy in community-based rehabilitation of the physically disabled. In this title, there are two keywords, physiotherapy strategy and community-based rehabilitation. In this study an attempt is made to find out how the physiotherapy strategy influences community-based rehabilitation. This can be put in a diagram as follows:


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