How to write a research proposal?
Address for correspondence: Dr. Devika Rani Duggappa, 314/2/5, Durganjali Nilaya, 1 st H Cross, 7 th Main, Subbanna Garden, Vijayanagar, Bengaluru – 560 040, Karnataka, India. E-mail: [email protected]
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Writing the proposal of a research work in the present era is a challenging task due to the constantly evolving trends in the qualitative research design and the need to incorporate medical advances into the methodology. The proposal is a detailed plan or ‘blueprint’ for the intended study, and once it is completed, the research project should flow smoothly. Even today, many of the proposals at post-graduate evaluation committees and application proposals for funding are substandard. A search was conducted with keywords such as research proposal, writing proposal and qualitative using search engines, namely, PubMed and Google Scholar, and an attempt has been made to provide broad guidelines for writing a scientifically appropriate research proposal.
A clean, well-thought-out proposal forms the backbone for the research itself and hence becomes the most important step in the process of conduct of research. The objective of preparing a research proposal would be to obtain approvals from various committees including ethics committee [details under ‘Research methodology II’ section [ Table 1 ] in this issue of IJA) and to request for grants. However, there are very few universally accepted guidelines for preparation of a good quality research proposal. A search was performed with keywords such as research proposal, funding, qualitative and writing proposals using search engines, namely, PubMed, Google Scholar and Scopus.
Five ‘C’s while writing a literature review
BASIC REQUIREMENTS OF A RESEARCH PROPOSAL
A proposal needs to show how your work fits into what is already known about the topic and what new paradigm will it add to the literature, while specifying the question that the research will answer, establishing its significance, and the implications of the answer. The proposal must be capable of convincing the evaluation committee about the credibility, achievability, practicality and reproducibility (repeatability) of the research design. Four categories of audience with different expectations may be present in the evaluation committees, namely academic colleagues, policy-makers, practitioners and lay audiences who evaluate the research proposal. Tips for preparation of a good research proposal include; ‘be practical, be persuasive, make broader links, aim for crystal clarity and plan before you write’. A researcher must be balanced, with a realistic understanding of what can be achieved. Being persuasive implies that researcher must be able to convince other researchers, research funding agencies, educational institutions and supervisors that the research is worth getting approval. The aim of the researcher should be clearly stated in simple language that describes the research in a way that non-specialists can comprehend, without use of jargons. The proposal must not only demonstrate that it is based on an intelligent understanding of the existing literature but also show that the writer has thought about the time needed to conduct each stage of the research.[4,5]
CONTENTS OF A RESEARCH PROPOSAL
The contents or formats of a research proposal vary depending on the requirements of evaluation committee and are generally provided by the evaluation committee or the institution.
In general, a cover page should contain the (i) title of the proposal, (ii) name and affiliation of the researcher (principal investigator) and co-investigators, (iii) institutional affiliation (degree of the investigator and the name of institution where the study will be performed), details of contact such as phone numbers, E-mail id’s and lines for signatures of investigators.
The main contents of the proposal may be presented under the following headings: (i) introduction, (ii) review of literature, (iii) aims and objectives, (iv) research design and methods, (v) ethical considerations, (vi) budget, (vii) appendices and (viii) citations.
It is also sometimes termed as ‘need for study’ or ‘abstract’. Introduction is an initial pitch of an idea; it sets the scene and puts the research in context. The introduction should be designed to create interest in the reader about the topic and proposal. It should convey to the reader, what you want to do, what necessitates the study and your passion for the topic. Some questions that can be used to assess the significance of the study are: (i) Who has an interest in the domain of inquiry? (ii) What do we already know about the topic? (iii) What has not been answered adequately in previous research and practice? (iv) How will this research add to knowledge, practice and policy in this area? Some of the evaluation committees, expect the last two questions, elaborated under a separate heading of ‘background and significance’. Introduction should also contain the hypothesis behind the research design. If hypothesis cannot be constructed, the line of inquiry to be used in the research must be indicated.
Review of literature
It refers to all sources of scientific evidence pertaining to the topic in interest. In the present era of digitalisation and easy accessibility, there is an enormous amount of relevant data available, making it a challenge for the researcher to include all of it in his/her review. It is crucial to structure this section intelligently so that the reader can grasp the argument related to your study in relation to that of other researchers, while still demonstrating to your readers that your work is original and innovative. It is preferable to summarise each article in a paragraph, highlighting the details pertinent to the topic of interest. The progression of review can move from the more general to the more focused studies, or a historical progression can be used to develop the story, without making it exhaustive. Literature should include supporting data, disagreements and controversies. Five ‘C’s may be kept in mind while writing a literature review [ Table 1 ].
Aims and objectives
The research purpose (or goal or aim) gives a broad indication of what the researcher wishes to achieve in the research. The hypothesis to be tested can be the aim of the study. The objectives related to parameters or tools used to achieve the aim are generally categorised as primary and secondary objectives.
Research design and method
The objective here is to convince the reader that the overall research design and methods of analysis will correctly address the research problem and to impress upon the reader that the methodology/sources chosen are appropriate for the specific topic. It should be unmistakably tied to the specific aims of your study.
In this section, the methods and sources used to conduct the research must be discussed, including specific references to sites, databases, key texts or authors that will be indispensable to the project. There should be specific mention about the methodological approaches to be undertaken to gather information, about the techniques to be used to analyse it and about the tests of external validity to which researcher is committed.[10,11]
The components of this section include the following:
Population and sample
Population refers to all the elements (individuals, objects or substances) that meet certain criteria for inclusion in a given universe, and sample refers to subset of population which meets the inclusion criteria for enrolment into the study. The inclusion and exclusion criteria should be clearly defined. The details pertaining to sample size are discussed in the article “Sample size calculation: Basic priniciples” published in this issue of IJA.
The researcher is expected to give a detailed account of the methodology adopted for collection of data, which include the time frame required for the research. The methodology should be tested for its validity and ensure that, in pursuit of achieving the results, the participant’s life is not jeopardised. The author should anticipate and acknowledge any potential barrier and pitfall in carrying out the research design and explain plans to address them, thereby avoiding lacunae due to incomplete data collection. If the researcher is planning to acquire data through interviews or questionnaires, copy of the questions used for the same should be attached as an annexure with the proposal.
Rigor (soundness of the research)
This addresses the strength of the research with respect to its neutrality, consistency and applicability. Rigor must be reflected throughout the proposal.
It refers to the robustness of a research method against bias. The author should convey the measures taken to avoid bias, viz. blinding and randomisation, in an elaborate way, thus ensuring that the result obtained from the adopted method is purely as chance and not influenced by other confounding variables.
Consistency considers whether the findings will be consistent if the inquiry was replicated with the same participants and in a similar context. This can be achieved by adopting standard and universally accepted methods and scales.
Applicability refers to the degree to which the findings can be applied to different contexts and groups.
This section deals with the reduction and reconstruction of data and its analysis including sample size calculation. The researcher is expected to explain the steps adopted for coding and sorting the data obtained. Various tests to be used to analyse the data for its robustness, significance should be clearly stated. Author should also mention the names of statistician and suitable software which will be used in due course of data analysis and their contribution to data analysis and sample calculation.
Medical research introduces special moral and ethical problems that are not usually encountered by other researchers during data collection, and hence, the researcher should take special care in ensuring that ethical standards are met. Ethical considerations refer to the protection of the participants’ rights (right to self-determination, right to privacy, right to autonomy and confidentiality, right to fair treatment and right to protection from discomfort and harm), obtaining informed consent and the institutional review process (ethical approval). The researcher needs to provide adequate information on each of these aspects.
Informed consent needs to be obtained from the participants (details discussed in further chapters), as well as the research site and the relevant authorities.
When the researcher prepares a research budget, he/she should predict and cost all aspects of the research and then add an additional allowance for unpredictable disasters, delays and rising costs. All items in the budget should be justified.
Appendices are documents that support the proposal and application. The appendices will be specific for each proposal but documents that are usually required include informed consent form, supporting documents, questionnaires, measurement tools and patient information of the study in layman’s language.
As with any scholarly research paper, you must cite the sources you used in composing your proposal. Although the words ‘references and bibliography’ are different, they are used interchangeably. It refers to all references cited in the research proposal.
Successful, qualitative research proposals should communicate the researcher’s knowledge of the field and method and convey the emergent nature of the qualitative design. The proposal should follow a discernible logic from the introduction to presentation of the appendices.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
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Articles from Indian Journal of Anaesthesia are provided here courtesy of Wolters Kluwer — Medknow Publications
How to Write a Research Proposal
Once you’re in college and really getting into academic writing , you may not recognize all the kinds of assignments you’re asked to complete. You know what an essay is, and you know how to respond to readings—but when you hear your professor mention a research proposal or a literature review, your mind might do a double take.
Don’t worry; we’ve got you. Boiled down to its core, a research proposal is simply a short piece of writing that details exactly what you’ll be covering in a larger research project. You’ll likely be required to write one for your thesis , and if you choose to continue in academia after earning your bachelor’s degree, you’ll be writing research proposals for your master’s thesis, your dissertation, and all other research you conduct. By then, you’ll be a research proposal pro. But for now, we’ll answer all your questions and help you confidently write your first one.
What is the goal of a research proposal?
In a research proposal, the goal is to present the author’s plan for the research they intend to conduct. In some cases, part of this goal is to secure funding for said research. In others, it’s to have the research approved by the author’s supervisor or department so they can move forward with it. In some cases, a research proposal is a required part of a graduate school application. In every one of these circumstances, research proposals follow the same structure.
In a research proposal, the author demonstrates how and why their research is relevant to their field. They demonstrate that the work is necessary to the following:
- Filling a gap in the existing body of research on their subject
- Underscoring existing research on their subject, and/or
- Adding new, original knowledge to the academic community’s existing understanding of their subject
A research proposal also demonstrates that the author is capable of conducting this research and contributing to the current state of their field in a meaningful way. To do this, your research proposal needs to discuss your academic background and credentials as well as demonstrate that your proposed ideas have academic merit.
But demonstrating your research’s validity and your personal capability to carry it out isn’t enough to get your research proposal approved. Your research proposal also has to cover these things:
- The research methodology you plan to use
- The tools and procedures you will use to collect, analyze, and interpret the data you collect
- An explanation of how your research fits the budget and other constraints that come with conducting it through your institution, department, or academic program
If you’ve already read our post on literature reviews , you may be thinking that a research proposal sounds pretty similar. They’re more than just similar, though—a literature review is part of a research proposal. It’s the section that covers which sources you’re using, how you’re using them, and why they’re relevant. Think of a literature review as a mini-research proposal that fits into your larger, main proposal.
How long should a research proposal be?
Generally, research proposals for bachelor’s and master’s theses are a few pages long. Research proposals for meatier projects, like Ph.D. dissertations and funding requests, are often longer and far more detailed. A research proposal’s goal is to clearly outline exactly what your research will entail and accomplish, so including the proposal’s word count or page count isn’t nearly as important as it is to ensure that all the necessary elements and content are present.
Research proposal structure
A research proposal follows a fairly straightforward structure. In order to achieve the goals described in the previous section, nearly all research proposals include the following sections:
Your introduction achieves a few goals:
- Introduces your topic
- States your problem statement and the questions your research aims to answer
- Provides context for your research
In a research proposal, an introduction can be a few paragraphs long. It should be concise, but don’t feel like you need to cram all of your information into one paragraph.
In some cases, you need to include an abstract and/or a table of contents in your research proposal. These are included just before the introduction.
This is where you explain why your research is necessary and how it relates to established research in your field. Your work might complement existing research, strengthen it, or even challenge it—no matter how your work will “play with” other researchers’ work, you need to express it in detail in your research proposal.
This is also the section where you clearly define the existing problems your research will address. By doing this, you’re explaining why your work is necessary—in other words, this is where you answer the reader’s “so what?”
In your background significance section, you’ll also outline how you’ll conduct your research. If necessary, note which related questions and issues you won’t be covering in your research.
In your literature review , you introduce all the sources you plan to use in your research. This includes landmark studies and their data, books, and scholarly articles. A literature review isn’t merely a list of sources (that’s what your bibliography is for); a literature review delves into the collection of sources you chose and explains how you’re using them in your research.
Research design, methods, and schedule
Following your research review, you’ll discuss your research plans. In this section, make sure you cover these aspects:
- The type of research you will do. Are you conducting qualitative or quantitative research? Are you collecting original data or working with data collected by other researchers?
- Whether you’re doing experimental, correlational, or descriptive research
- The data you’re working with. For example, if you’re conducting research in the social sciences, you’ll need to describe the population you’re studying. You’ll also need to cover how you’ll select your subjects and how you’ll collect data from them.
- The tools you’ll use to collect data. Will you be running experiments? Conducting surveys? Observing phenomena? Note all data collection methods here along with why they’re effective methods for your specific research.
Beyond a comprehensive look at your research itself, you’ll also need to include:
- Your research timeline
- Your research budget
- Any potential obstacles you foresee and your plan for handling them
Suppositions and implications
Although you can’t know your research’s results until you’ve actually done the work, you should be going into the project with a clear idea of how your work will contribute to your field. This section is perhaps the most critical to your research proposal’s argument because it expresses exactly why your research is necessary.
In this section, make sure you cover the following:
- Any ways your work can challenge existing theories and assumptions in your field
- How your work will create the foundation for future research
- The practical value your findings will provide to practitioners, educators, and other academics in your field
- The problems your work can potentially help to fix
- Policies that could be impacted by your findings
- How your findings can be implemented in academia or other settings and how this will improve or otherwise transform these settings
In other words, this section isn’t about stating the specific results you expect. Rather, it’s where you state how your findings will be valuable.
This is where you wrap it all up. Your conclusion section, just like your conclusion paragraph for an essay , briefly summarizes your research proposal and reinforces your research’s stated purpose.
Yes, you need to write a bibliography in addition to your literature review. Unlike your literature review, where you explained the relevance of the sources you chose and in some cases, challenged them, your bibliography simply lists your sources and their authors.
Sometimes, a full bibliography is not needed. When this is the case, you can include a references list, which is simply a scaled-down list of all the sources you cited in your work. If you’re not sure which to write, ask your supervisor.
How to write a research proposal
Research proposals, like all other kinds of academic writing, are written in a formal, objective tone. Keep in mind that being concise is a key component of academic writing; formal does not mean flowery.
Adhere to the structure outlined above. Your reader knows how a research proposal is supposed to read and expects it to fit this template. It’s crucial that you present your research proposal in a clear, logical way. Every question the reader has while reading your proposal should be answered by the final section.
Editing and proofreading a research proposal
When you’re writing a research proposal, follow the same six-step writing process you follow with every other kind of writing you do.
After you’ve got a first draft written, take some time to let it “cool off” before you start proofreading. By doing this, you’re making it easier for yourself to catch mistakes and gaps in your writing.
Common mistakes to avoid when writing a research proposal
When you’re writing a research proposal, avoid these common pitfalls:
Being too wordy
As we said earlier, formal does not mean flowery. In fact, you should aim to keep your writing as brief and to-the-point as possible. The more economically you can express your purpose and goal, the better.
Failing to cite relevant sources
When you’re conducting research, you’re adding to the existing body of knowledge on the subject you’re covering. Your research proposal should reference one or more of the landmark research pieces in your field and connect your work to these works in some way. This doesn’t just communicate your work’s relevance—it also demonstrates your familiarity with the field.
Focusing too much on minor issues
There are probably a lot of great reasons why your research is necessary. These reasons don’t all need to be in your research proposal. In fact, including too many questions and issues in your research proposal can detract from your central purpose, weakening the proposal. Save the minor issues for your research paper itself and cover only the major, key issues you aim to tackle in your proposal.
Failing to make a strong argument for your research
This is perhaps the easiest way to undermine your proposal because it’s far more subjective than the others. A research proposal is, in essence, a piece of persuasive writing . That means that although you’re presenting your proposal in an objective, academic way, the goal is to get the reader to say “yes” to your work.
This is true in every case, whether your reader is your supervisor, your department head, a graduate school admissions board, a private or government-backed funding provider, or the editor at a journal in which you’d like to publish your work.
Polish your writing into a stellar proposal
When you’re asking for approval to conduct research—especially when there’s funding involved—you need to be nothing less than 100 percent confident in your proposal. If your research proposal has spelling or grammatical mistakes, an inconsistent or inappropriate tone, or even just awkward phrasing, those will undermine your credibility.
Make sure your research proposal shines by using Grammarly to catch all of those issues. Even if you think you caught all of them while you were editing, it’s critical to double-check your work. Your research deserves the best proposal possible, and Grammarly can help you make that happen.
Ten tips for writing your research proposal
Read and conform to all instructions found on the council website. Make sure that your proposal fits the criteria of the competition.
2. Break down your proposal into point form before writing your first draft.
Based on the total length of the proposal, decide whether you will have headings/subheadings and what they will be (e.g., Introduction, Background Material, Methodology, and so on).
These headings can be selected based on the advice given in the specific award instructions. For each section, lay out in point form what you will discuss.
3. Know your audience.
- Describe your research proposal in non-technical terms. Use clear, plain language and avoid jargon.
- Make sure your proposal is free of typographic and grammatical errors.
- Remember that, at every level, adjudication committees are multi-disciplinary and will include researchers in fields other than your own.
- Therefore, follow the KIS principle – Keep It Simple! Reviewers like it that way.
4. Make an impact in the first few sentences.
Reviewers are very busy people. You must grab their attention and excite them about your project from the very beginning. Make it easy for them to understand (and thus fund) your proposal.
Show how your research is innovative and valuable. Remember, too, to show your enthusiasm for your project—enthusiasm is contagious!
Organize your proposal so that it is tight, well-integrated, and makes a point, focused on a central question (e.g., “I am looking at this to show. ”).
Depending on the discipline, a tight proposal is often best achieved by having a clear hypothesis or research objective and by structuring the research proposal in terms of an important problem to be solved or fascinating question to be answered. Make sure to include the ways in which you intend to approach the solution.
5. Have a clear title.
It is important that the title of your project is understandable to the general public, reflects the goal of the study, and attracts interest.
6. Emphasize multidisciplinary aspects of the proposal, if applicable.
7. Show that your research is feasible.
Demonstrate that you are competent to conduct the research and have chosen the best research or scholarly environment in which to achieve your goals.
8. Clearly indicate how your research or scholarship will make a “contribution to knowledge” or address an important question in your field.
9. Get the proposal reviewed and commented on by others.
Get feedback and edit. Then edit some more. And get more feedback. The more diverse opinion and criticism you receive on your proposal the better suited it will be for a multi-disciplinary audience.
10. Remember that nothing is set in stone.
Your research proposal is not a binding document; it is a proposal. It is well understood by all concerned that the research you end up pursuing may be different from that in your proposal.
Instead of treating your proposal as a final, binding document, think of it as a flexible way to plan an exciting (but feasible) project that you would like to pursue.