There are two main types of research proposals:
Academic research proposals
Project research proposals (business proposals)
In general, business proposals can be divided between those generated internally and externally.
• An internal proposal is done for the corporation by staff specialists or the research department of the firm.
• External proposals are either solicited or unsolicited. Sponsors can be university grant committees, government agencies, corporations, and so forth. With few exceptions, the larger the project, the more complex is the proposal.
Academic Research Proposals
These are proposals in which the researcher proposes to undertake a piece of research on some patinent issue leading to a definite academic qualification ie, diploma, degree, masters, doctorate etc. These are certain specific components that must go into such a proposal although the format may vary from institution to institution. The accepted format should be known to the student
before embarking on writing of the proposal.
The Structure of the Research Proposal
The proposal can be structured in 3 sections:
The title page should have the following information:
- A clear title: This should have title of the study eg, Nakumat Supermarkets: A study of the Factors that Enhance the Organisational Commitment of Employees.
- Name of the student registration no/department/faculty registered in.
- Required fulfillment eg, proposal submitted in partial fulfilment of the degree in Business Administration, Mount Kenya University; May 2002. Other preliminary information should then follow, ie,
- Table of contents
- Authority from supervisors ie, this proposal has been submitted with the approval of the
- Declaration page: This declares the research to be one’s original work and not a duplicate from elsewhere.
- List of abbreviations.
- List of figures (if any)
1.1 Background to the problem
1.2 The statement of the problem
1.3 The purpose of the study
1.4 The objectives of the study
1.5 Research questions
1.6 Research hypothesis (these can be substituted with assumptions of the study. In other words, it is not necessary or a must for the student to have research hypothesis especially if the study is of descriptive nature).
1.7 Theoretical background / conceptual framework.
1.8 Rationale or justification / conceptual framework
1.9 Limitations and delimitations of the study.
1.10 Assumptions of the study.
1.11 Definition of terms.
CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1 Theoretical literature review
2.2 Empirical literature review
2.3 Summary of literature.
CHAPTER THREE: RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY
3.0 Introduction (not always necessary)
3.1 Research design.
3.2 Target population.
3.3 Sampling procedures.
3.4 Methods of data collection
3.5 Procedures of data collection
3.6 Data analysis
3.References or Bibliography
Names of authors of the books reviewed, ie, Name of author Name of book Published by Year Place
John Peters Research Methods Kenya Ltd 1997 Nairobi Kenya
• Time schedule
• Data collection instruments and any other document that the researcher may consider important for the readers.
Executive Summary / Abstract
This allows the reader to understand quickly the thrust of the proposal. It is essentially an informative abstract, giving the reader the chance to grasp the essentials of the proposal without having to read the details. As such, the abstract should include brief statements of the problem and research questions, the research objectives and the benefits of your approach (methodology). It should also have some preliminary information on the expected findings. Ideally, the executive summary should be kept to a single page.
Introduction/Background of the Study
This is meant to stimulate interest of the reader. It acquaints the reader with the problem, provides some background and necessary information about the study. A good introduction shoud be brief and flow smoothly. A well written introduction should lead to the statement of the problem.
Statement of the Problem
This section needs to convince the reader / sponsor to continue reading the proposal. You should capture the reader’s attention by stating the problem clearly, its background, and consequences, and the resulting research questions. The problem statement should be brief and to the point. Problem statements too broadly defined cannot be addressed adequately in one study. Therefore, after reading this section, the reader should know the problem, its significance and why something should be done to change the status quo.
• Remember, problem statement is the most critical part of the study, ie, without a problem, there is no study!
Purpose of the Study
A broad statement indicating what the researcher intends to do about the problem being investigated. Why have you undertaken to investigate this problem? Why now?
Objectives of the Study
This module addresses the purpose of the investigation. It is here that you lay out exactly what is being planned by the proposed research. The objectives module flows naturally from the problem statement, giving the reader concrete, and achievable goals. The objectives should be stated clearly and must be testable. Objectives should be specific be as possible. Objectives are
• They determine the kind of research questions to be asked (posed).
• They determine the data collection and analysis procedures to be used.
• The research objectives section is the basis for judging the remainder of the proposal and ultimately, the final report. Verify the consistency of the proposal by checking to see that each objective is discussed in the research design, data analysis and results sections.
These refer to the questions which a researcher would like to be answered by undertaking the study. Research questions are more of objectives put in a question form, sometimes it is not necessary to have both. In a case where the objectives are general statements, then it may be necessary for the research questions to be concluded. The research questions should be very specific and guiding to the study.
Significance / Justification of the Study
Highlights the reasons for conducting the research, for instance what gaps in knowledge has the study addressed? Has it contributed to the solution of an immediate problem? Who will the research benefit?
Limitations and Delimitations of the Study
A limitation is an aspect of the study that the researcher knows may negatively affect the results or generalizability of the results but which s/he has no control over. In other words, it is a factor that will affect the study in an important way and it is not in the control of the researcher. For example, when one is administering a questionnaire, one may not be in a position to force people to answer certain questions which are personal. Again, people may constantly go on giving wrong replys to some questions and this affects the contents of the study.
Delimitation on the other hand is an aspect mainly been able to be controlled by the researcher. For example, the researcher is able to control the sampling size, location of the study, be able to know how many research assistants are required. These aspects may also affect the outcome of the study to a certain extent.
In summary the limitations surface as variables which cannot be controlled by the researcher but affect the study. As a researcher, one must be honest enough to admit and is possible outline these limitations. Not stating these limitations is morally and ethically wrong.
In general, a hypothesis is a suggested solution to a problem. It is remains largely a guess until facts are found to confirm or discredit it. The word hypothesis is a Greek word meaning ‘ground work’ or ‘bases – supposition, proposition. Hypothesis would generally be generated by the theory being used. In most cases, without clear hypothesis people have wasted time doing circular studies.
Review of the Literature
There is a need for the review of both theoretical and empirical literature. This is a necessary and indispensable part of the proposal. There are two schools of thought that have argued over literature review, which is basically about the detail or length this section should take. One school of thought argues that one cannot write a comprehensive literature review if the proposal is required to be short – 10 to 20 pages. Therefore, the review should be short and focus on – highlighting key issues in the literature, what is the study for and what methodology will be used, how will it add to the existing literature (continuation of knowledge).
The second school of thought argues that literature review should be comprehensive and detailed. Such a detailed review will enable one to access if there is enough information to go on and if the study problem is of any interest to people. Secondly, literature review must be done because it fulfills a requirement for all study procedures and it also gauges the importance of the proposal.
There are certain advantages of detailed review:
1. One is able to gain a good background about the field of study – one is able to gain facts about the topic and most important learn about the authoritative authors / writers in that field. What ideas do these writers consider important – what are their main hypothesis – how have they defined the various concepts and terms.
2. A detailed literature review also provides valuable information on the methodology used in the study of certain phenomena. One is able to analyse the various methods used by various writers and from this consider which is best going to suit the topic chosen. Again all these methodologies have their requirements – ie, special skill or computer equipment) which one may not have and thus one is able to choose the methodology which is available given one’s technical skills.
3. Detailed literature review will enable us ascertain whether the study is needed and timely. Is the area of any interest to require further research? Therefore, one is able to get valuable clues from literature review.
4. Detailed literature review enables one to pinpoint the critical issues – refine the problem statement.
5. Detailed literature review helps one to generate hypothesis and questions for further study.
Generally, recent studies published in recent journals are an important source of getting information about the current ‘burning issues’ in the subject. The journals also provide information about the current professionals in the area and what they have said about the issue / subject. One is able to know about the most ‘cited articles’, because these are articles which are considered authoritative in their field of inquiry. Not all journals are equally good. The quality of the journal is very important. The journal must contain articles that have been written by authoritative authors, who have specialised in certain fields. One should be able to know about the qualifications of the writers by checking through the editorial board. Besides recent articles, one should be able to read books on the topic of study. Some books do contain seminal work in certain topics. Four kinds of works should be scanned through for
- Dissertation abstract
- Major books in the field
- Electronic material / computerised information banks
In summary, such information centres should provide information on the evolution and the present state of the study topic. They should provide justification for providing additional information to existing knowledge and also advance knowledge. One should select only those studies that are related to the study topic. If nothing is related directly to your study topic, then select those that come close to it. Take time to review how they relate to the study and how do they differ significantly from the study.
Choose the most recent literature and method, and other works that are considered seminal. Discuss the selected study in detail so that a non-specialised can understand the study. Briefly explain how the study relates to your problem and how yours differ from those you have reviewed. If you are aware of concurrent studies, cite them if possible.
Specification of the Research Methodology
This section gives a detailed procedure of the methods to be used for the study. The literature review section is used as the basis of methodology investigation. In other words literature review specifies the methods used and you can use the information to model your methodology. This section should also provide information on the data one intends to use, sources of that data, the characteristics / attributes of that data, ie, the population. It will also indicate whether if there are any manipulations to be done on the data. How does one go about generating qualitative data?
In summary, this section outlines the research design to be used. It provides the model which the researcher is going to use. One can provide preliminary results depending on the kind of investigation been undertaken.
The design describes what you are going to do in technical terms. This section should include as many subsections as needed to show the phases of the project. Provide information on your proposed design for tasks such as sample selection and size, data collection method, instrumentation, procedures, and ethical requirements. When more than one way exists to approach the design, disucss the methods you rejected and why your selected approach is
A brief section on the methods used for analysing the data is apropriate for large-scale contract research projects and doctoral theses. With smaller projects, the proposed data analysis would be included within the research design section. Describe your proposed treatment and the theoretical basis for using the selected techniques. This is often an arduous section to write. By use of sample charts and dummy tables, you can make it easier to understand your data.
Any detail that reinforces the body of the proposal can be included in an appendix. This includes researcher vitae, budget details, lengthy descriptions of special facilities, definition of terms etc.
For all projects that require literature review, a bibliography is necessary. Use the bibliographic format required by the sponsor / supervisor.
Author, year of publication, title of the book, publisher, place of publication: Koutsoyiannus, A; 1973: Theory of Econometrics; 2nd edition, Mcmillan, London
Time Plan and Budget
Time plan is important for monitoring the development of the study. One should set out a time plan for literature review, a draft report and final report. One should also estimate the resources that are going to be committed to the project. One should
establish the main cost components.
Research personnel cost – main researcher, assitants.
Equipment requirements / office supplies
Miscellaneous costs / contingencies
Evaluating the Research Proposal
In practice, many items contribute to a proposal’s acceptance and funding.
- First, the proposal must be neatly presented. Although a proposal produced on a word processor and bound with an expensive cover will not overcome design or analysis deficiencies, a poorly presented, unclear, or disorganised proposal will not get serious
attention for the reviewing sponsors.
- Second, the proposal’s major topics should be easily found and logically organised. The reviewer should be able to page through the proposal to any section of interest.
- The proposal also must meet specific guidelines set by the sponsoring company or agency. These include budgetary restrictions and schedule deadlines.
- A fourth important aspect is the technical writing style of the proposal. The problem statement must be easily understood. The research design should be clearly outlined and methodology explained. The importance / benefits of the study must allow the sponsor to see why the research should be funded. The objectives and results sections should communcate exactly the goals and concrete results that will come from the study.
- Finally, budget and schedule considerations must be kept in mind. A schedule that does not meet the expected deadlines will disqualify the proposal. A budget that is too high for the allocated funds will be rejected. Conversely, low budgets compared to competing proposals suggest that something is missing or there is something wrong with the researcher.