Research Proposal for Behavioural Sciences -A Procedural Analysis


Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India


When social scientists desire to conduct an experiment, they first develop a proposal. A proposal introduces the problem, purpose, and significance of a study as well as the experimenter’s research question and hypothesis. It also gives a brief explanation of the theory guiding the study, a review of relevant literature pertaining to the theory, and the procedure for the experiment.

The research proposal can be envisaged as the process (step by step guidelines) to plan and to give structure to the prospective research with the final aim of increasing the validity of the research. It is therefore a written submission to spell out in a logic format the nature of the design and the means and strategies that are going to be used.

Proposal writing stifles the creative process necessary to conduct good research The research proposal is a detailed description of how the study will be conducted that includes the study title and researcher names, statement of the research problem and research purpose, review of relevant literature, and the research question(s) or hypothesis(es).  The proposal also includes a formal description of the procedure to be used in the study that includes the information or variables to be gathered, the participants of the study and potential benefits or risks, the design and procedure for gathering data, what data gathering method(s) will be used, and how the data will be analyzed.

Before an attempt is made to start with a research project, a research proposal should be compiled. The synopsis should be between 1000 and 4000 words in length and must be typed in double spacing. Figures and tables may be included if considered absolutely necessary.

Purpose of a Proposal

The purpose of the proposal is to help you (as a 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. The proposal is expected to:

  • Develop your skills in thinking about and designing a comprehensive research study;
  • Establish a particular theoretical orientation
  • Establish your methodological approach, and Critically review, examine, and consider the use of different methods for gathering and analyzing data related to the research problem; and,
  • Improve your general research and writing skills;
  • Learn how to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature to ensure a research problem has not already been answered .
  • link your proposed work with the work of others, while proving you are acquainted with major schools of thought relevant to the topic
  • Nurture a sense of inquisitiveness within yourself and to help see yourself as an active participant in the process of doing scholarly research.
  • Practice identifying the logical steps that must be taken to accomplish one’s research goals;
  • Show that you are engaging in genuine enquiry, finding out about something worthwhile in a particular context
  • Show you have thought about the ethical issues.

A proposal should contain all the key elements involved in designing a completed research study, with sufficient information that allows readers to assess the validity and usefulness of your proposed study. The only elements missing from a research proposal are the findings of the study and your analysis of those results. Finally, an effective proposal is judged on the quality of your writing and, therefore, it is important that your writing is coherent, clear, and compelling.

Regardless of the research problem you are investigating and the methodology you choose, all research proposals must address the following questions:

  1. What do you plan to accomplish? Be clear and succinct in defining the research problem and what it is you are proposing to research.
  2. Why do you want to do it? In addition to detailing your research design, you also must conduct a thorough review of the literature and provide convincing evidence that it is a topic worthy of study. Be sure to answer the “So What?” question.
  3. How are you going to do it? Be sure that what you propose is doable. If you’re having trouble formulating a research problem to propose investigating.

General Structure of Research proposal

The synopsis / Research proposal  must be divided into subsections with titles.

Cover page- identifies topic, writer, institution and degree

  • Proposed thesis title (should be descriptive of focus, concise, eye-catching and preferably use keywords from international information retrieval systems).
  • Your name and qualifications.
  • Department, university and degree the proposal is for.
  • (Working) Title of your planned dissertation or research report.
  • Words in the title should be chosen with great care, and their association with one another must be carefully considered.
  • While the title should be brief, it should be accurate, descriptive and comprehensive, clearly indicating the subject of the investigation.
  • In order to develop a clear title, you must also be clear about the focus of your research!
    Strive for the title to be ten words or 60 characters: focus on or incorporate keywords that reference the classification of the research subject
  • Indicate a realistic time frame toward project completion, followed by the name(s) of your supervisor(s), the university department where you hope to do your research and, if applicable, information about other academics with whom you plan to collaborate.

Table of Contents

Lists sections of proposal and page references

  • Use a hierarchy for titles and subtitles
  • Use the numbering system as follows: 1; 1.1, 1.2…; 1.1.1, 1.1.2…;,…etc. (don’t use more than four digits)

Abstract/Summary statement of the Research Project

This one page summary focuses on the research topic, its new, current and relevant aspects. Strive for clarity; your greatest challenge might be narrowing the topic The abstract is a brief summary of the entire proposal, typically ranging from 150 to 250 words.

It is different from a thesis statement in that the abstract summarizes the entire proposal, not just

mentioning the study’s purpose or hypothesis. Therefore, the abstract should outline the proposal’s major headings: the research question, theoretical framework, research design, sampling method, instrumentation, and data and analysis procedures. A good abstract accurately reflects the content of the proposal, while at the same time being coherent, readable, and concise.

Do not add any information in the abstract that is not previously discussed throughout the proposal. Notice this paragraph is not indented; the abstract will be the only paragraph in the

entire proposal that is not indented. Because it highlights the entire proposal, it would be wise to wait and write the abstract last. This way, one merely has to reword information that was previously written.

Note-  Writing of Abstract is not essential for writing Research Proposal


The introduction explains in detail several components of the experiment that must be included in any proposal. After reading the Introduction, the reader should conclude why the experimenter is conducting the research and how this research will affect the academic community and society at large. For this paragraph in particular, it is sufficient to grab the reader’s attention, introduce the topic at hand, and provide a brief definition of the theory from which the study is based.

The introduction is the part of the  that research proposal  that provides   the background information for the research proposal. Its purpose is to establish a framework for the research.

In an introduction, the Investigator  , create  interest in the topic, lay the broad foundation for the problem that leads to the study, and place the study within the larger context of the scholarly literature.

If a researcher is working within a particular theoretical framework/line of inquiry, the theory or line of inquiry should be introduced and discussed  in the introduction . The theory/line of inquiry selected will include the statement of the problem, rationale for the study,  hypotheses, selection of instruments, and choice of methods. Ultimately, findings will be discussed in terms of how they relate to the theory/line of inquiry that undergirds the study.

In Quantitative studies,  use theory deductively and places it toward the beginning of the plan for a study. The objective is to test or verify theory.  Thus begins the study advancing a theory, collects data to test it, and reflects on whether the theory was confirmed or disconfirmed by the results in the study. The theory becomes a framework for the entire study, an organizing model for the research questions or hypotheses for the data collection procedure.

In qualitative inquiry, the use of theory and of a line of inquiry depends on the nature of the investigation. In studies aiming at “grounded theory,” for example, theory and theoretical tenets emerge from findings. Much qualitative inquiry, however, also aims to test or verify theory, hence in these cases the theoretical framework, as in quantitative efforts, should be identified and discussed early on.

The introduction should also include;

  • Background information relating to the social/political/historical/ educational (etc.) context of the study.
  • Historical, cultural, political, social or organisational information about the context of the research
  • A theoretical starting point or policy
  • Personal motivation
  • Problematise the current status quo
  • Need for the study/ Rationale follows from background to persuade the reader that the study is needed and will be useful/interesting.
  • Reference to a ‘gap’ in the research literature, to the need to apply certain ideas in a new context, or to the significance of your particular topic
  • Ways in which the study may be significant for the educational community may also be discussed

Background and Significance

This section can be melded into your introduction or you can create a separate section to help with the organization and narrative flow of your proposal. This is where you explain the context of your proposal and describe in detail why it’s important. Approach writing this section with the thought that you can’t assume your readers will know as much about the research problem as you do. Note that this section is not an essay going over everything you have learned about the topic; instead, you must choose what is relevant to help explain the goals for your study.

Key points:

  • Describe the major issues or problems to be addressed by your research.
  • Explain  plan to go about conducting your research. Clearly identify the key sources  intended to use and explain how they will contribute to the analysis of the topic.
  • If necessary, provide definitions of key concepts or terms.
  • Present the rationale of your proposed study and clearly indicate why it is worth doing.
  • Set the boundaries of  proposed research in order to provide a clear focus.
  • State the research problem and give a more detailed explanation about the purpose of the study than what you stated in the introduction.

Statement of the Problem

The  research forms a circle. It starts with a problem and ends with a solution to the problem. Problem statement is therefore the axis around  which the whole research revolves around, as  it explains in short the aim of the research. Prospective researchers can search within their own subject field for suitable problems. What should, however, be mentioned, is that not all identified problems within a scientific field of study is suitable for research.

The problem statement describes the context for the study and it also identifies the general analysis approach . It  refers to some difficulty that the researcher experiences in the context of either a theoretical or practical situation/ issue that exists in the literature, theory, or practice that leads to a need for the study”  and to which he/she wants to obtain a solution. The formulation of a problem is far more  essential than its solutions. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to comprehend  old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advance in the related subject.

A good problem statement begins by introducing the broad area in which  research is centred and then gradually leads  to the more narrow questions .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 essential in all quantitative research and much in  qualitative research.

State the problem in terms intelligible to someone who is generally sophisticated but who is relatively uninformed in the area of  investigation.In an experimental study (and even in some ethnographic research) the questions are one of the most important parts of the proposal. They should be carefully worded and measurable. For  testable hypotheses, write them as directional hypotheses  rather than in the null form The  research questions,  which  are not predicting an effect or relationship, simply label them as such and state them

The research problem should be stated in such a way that it would lead to analytical thinking on the part of the researcher with the aim of possibly concluding solutions to the stated problem.

The following aspects are important when formulating a research problem:

  • The research problem should always be formulated grammatically correct and as completely as possible. You should bear in mind the wording (expressions) you use. Avoid meaningless words. There should be no doubt in the mind of the reader what your intentions are.
  • Demarcating the research field into manageable parts by dividing the main problem into sub problems is of the utmost importance.

Delimitations of the Study

In this section a precise indication is given of the scope of the research with indication of the assumptions made, limitations and delimitations of the research before the research is started

A limitation identifies potential weaknesses of the study. Think about the analysis, the nature of self-report, the instruments, the sample. Think about threats to internal validity that may have been impossible to avoid or minimize—explain.

Delimitation addresses how a study will be narrowed in scope, that is, how it is bounded.

The Title

The title is usually only formulated after the research problem and subproblems have been stated in a more or less final format. The research project title should demarcate the following:

  • The WHO or/and WHAT is researched;
  • The WHERE;
  • The WHEN;
  • The HOW; and
  • An indication of the ENVISAGED SOLUTION

Definitions of  Terminology/Concepts and Terms used

The success of any research depends on unambiguity and clarity on each inherent aspect. The terms used must be related with the study in question. To make the things clear, the investigator  must define the terms in clear terms.

Indication of how the researcher interpreted and is going to use terminology/ concepts in the research report  is very important, because some concepts/terms are often used in different meanings by different authors.

Every research study involves certain key or technical terms which have some special connotation in the context of study; hence it is always desirable to define such key words. There are two types definitions,

(i)                  Theoretical / constitutive and

(ii)                (ii) Operational.

A constitutive definition elucidates a term and perhaps gives some more insight into the phenomena described by the terms. Thus, this definition is based on some theory. While an operational  definition is one which ascribes meaning to a concept by specifying the operations that must be performed in order to measure the concept. Apart from operational definitions, one can define some terms which have definite meaning with reference to particular investigation. The terms like Minimum Levels of Learning, Programmed Learning etc. can be define in particular context of research.

So avoid broad topic areas which would be unmanageable as research topics ,vague descriptions of research areas and subject areas where  University  has no expertise

In experimental research, it is essential that one defines the central ideas or concepts of the research study. Therefore, carefully define each concept/variable that will be used in the study, citing other research studies as much as needed. List each term, italicize it, and use a hyphen to define the term.

Variables :

Variables involved in the research need to be identified here. Their operational definitions should be given in the research proposal. Especially in study where experimental research is conducted, variables be specified with enough care. Their classification should be done in terms and dependent variables, independent variables, intervening variables, extraneous variables etc. Controlling of some variables need to be discussed at an appropriate stage in proposal.

Exploration of the Purpose of the Research

The researcher should indicate and defend why it is necessary to undertake the research. The benefits that will result from the research and to whom it will be beneficial should be indicated.

Identifying a clear purpose and creating a purpose statement helps determine how the research should be conducted, what research design to use, and the research  hypothesis(es) of your study.

Four general purposes for conducting educational research are to explore, describe, predict, or explain the relation between two or more educational variables.

  • Explore – an attempt to generate ideas about educational phenomenon
  • Describe – an attempt to describe the characteristics of educational phenomenon
  • Predict – an attempt to forecast an educational phenomenon
  • Explain – an attempt to show why and how an educational  phenomenon operates

The identification  of purpose of  study will help in determining  the research design  should follow.   Three research designs are mixed, qualitative, and quantitative paradigms

Research purpose  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.

“The purpose statement should provide a specific and accurate synopsis of the overall purpose of the study” . If the purpose is not clear to the writer, it cannot be clear to the reader..  So briefly define and delimit the specific area of the research  The purpose statement can also incorporate the rationale for the study. Some committees prefer that the purpose and rationale be provided in separate sections.

Precautions when preparing a Purpose statement.

  • 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.
  • Identify the specific method of inquiry to be used.
  • Identify the unit of analysis in the study.
  • Try to incorporate a sentence that begins with “The purpose of this study is . . .” This will clarify the mind  to the purpose and it will inform the reader directly and explicitly.

Review of the Literature

In this section, one presents what is so far known about the problem under investigation. Generally theoretical / conceptual frame work is already reported in earlier section. In this section researcher concentrates on studies conducted in the area of interest. here, a researcher will locate various studies conducted in his area and interest. Try to justify that all such located studies are related to your work.

This section of the proposal need not be equivalent to the literature review chapter of thesis  or dissertation. Again, two or three pages may suffice. The goal is not to give description of every study that has ever been conducted in the area, but to weave a careful overview of what has been done and how this study adds to existing knowledge

To conduct research regarding a topic, by implication means that the researcher has obtained sound knowledge with regard to the research topic. It is therefore imperative that the researcher, at the time of the submission of the research proposal, clearly indicates what theoretical knowledge he possesses about the prospective research. A literature search therefore will entail the literature the prospective researcher has already consulted.

An overview of the literature anticipates the background knowledge of the researcher and a possible classification of the content for the purpose of stating the research problem. This should also reveal the importance of the contemplated research. A literature search therefore simplifies the formulation of hypotheses for the researcher.

Explore the research literature to gain an understanding of the current state of knowledge pertaining to your research problem.  A review of prior research will inform about the research problem has already been explored (and if a revision or replication is needed), how to design  the study, what data collection methods to use, and how to make sense of the findings of the study once data analysis is complete. Reviewing prior research can also help with creating research questions, what population to explore, and laying the theoretical groundwork for the study.

“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 investigator is knowledgeable about the area

The aims of a literature study are :

  • To give all-round perspectives on the latest research findings regarding the topic.
  • To indicate the best method, scale of measurements and statistics that can be used.
  • To interpret the research findings in a better way; and
  • To determine the relevancy of the prospective research.
  • To  shares with the reader the results of other studies that are closely related to the study  being reported .
  • To  relates a study to the larger, ongoing dialogue in the literature about a topic, filling in gaps and extending prior studies .
  • To  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.
  • To  “frames” the problem earlier identified.
  • To demonstrate  that the investigator have a comprehensive grasp of the field and are aware of important recent substantive and methodological developments.

In research proposal, the review of studies conducted earlier is reported briefly. There are two was of reporting the same. One way could be all such related studies be reported chronologically in brief indicating purpose, sample, tools and major findings. Of course, this will increase the volume of research proposal. Second studies with similar trends be put together and its important trend/s be highlighted. This is bit difficult, but innovative. Normally in review the surname of author and year in bracket is mentioned. There is also a trend to report studies conducted in other countries separately. It is left to guide and researcher whether such separate caption is necessary or not.

In qualitative research, this step is sometimes used throughout the research process or after data is collected (e.g., grounded theory research).

The most effective and efficient way to review prior research is to search educational journals through electronic computer databases .   Searching other library databases is also recommended.

It should further noted that the research design must be accompanied by a preliminary list of references consulted by the researcher during the preparation of the research proposal. The list should include the most recent publications on the research topic. It must however be emphasized that this reference list by no means is sufficient to complete the research project – it must be augmented during further literature searches as the research process continues.

The “five C’s” of writing a literature Review:

  1. Cite, so as to keep the primary focus on the literature pertinent to your research problem.
  2. Compare the various arguments, theories, methodologies, and findings expressed in the literature: what do the authors agree on? Who applies similar approaches to analyzing the research problem?
  3. Contrast the various arguments, themes, methodologies, approaches, and controversies expressed in the literature: what are the major areas of disagreement, controversy, or debate?
  4. Critique the literature: Which arguments are more persuasive, and why? Which approaches, findings, methodologies seem most reliable, valid, or appropriate, and why? Pay attention to the verbs you use to describe what an author says/does [e.g., asserts, demonstrates, argues, etc.].
  5. Connect the literature to your own area of research and investigation: how does your own work draw upon, depart from, synthesize, or add a new perspective to what has been said in the literature?

At the end of review, in research proposal, there should be conclusion. (Of course a separate caption like conclusion be avoided.) Here, the researcher shares the insights he has gained from the review. Also, on the basis of review he will justice the need of conducting present study. The researcher should conclude with following points :

What has been done so far in this area?

Where? (Area wise)

When? (Year wise)

How? (Methodology wise)


What needs to be done?


Thus, the researcher will identify the Research Gap‘.


Formulating Hypotheses

A hypothesis states  expectations concerning the relation between two or more variables in the research problem .  Usually, a hypothesis represents an extension of a purpose statement or research question by adding a prediction or explanation component.

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

A hypothesis is a tentative statement, that implies a proposed answer to a problem, setting accountability and responsibility of effective research procedure as high priority Hypotheses are thus tentative statements that should either be acknowledged or rejected by means of research.

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.

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

A hypothesis represents a declarative statement of the relations between two or more variables  Hypotheses can be couched in four kinds of statements.

  • 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.
  • Operational null—a “no difference” form in terms of the operation required to test the hypothesis. The operational null is generally the preferred form of hypothesis-writing.
  • 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,
  • Operational alternative—Similar to the literary alternative except that the operations are specified.

Precautions  in Formulating a Hypothesis:

  • Hypotheses can only be formulated after the researcher has gained enough knowledge regarding the nature, extent and intensity of the problem.
  • Hypotheses should figure throughout the research process in order to give structure to the research.
  • Hypotheses are tentative statements/solutions or explanations of the formulated problem. Care should be taken not to over-simplify and generalize the formulation of hypotheses.
  • The research problem does not have to consist of one hypothesis only. The type of problem area investigated, the extent which encircles the research field are the determination factors on how many hypotheses will be included in the research proposal.

A research hypothesis is usually stated in an explanatory form, because it indicates the expected reference of the difference between two variables. ln other words it verifies the reference that the researcher expects by means of incorporating selected research procedures.

The research hypothesis may be stated in a directional or non-directional form. A directional hypothesis statement indicates the expected direction of results, while a no directional one indicates no difference or no relationship

In general, the null hypothesis is used if theory 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.

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.

Criteria for the Formulation of a Hypothesis

A hypothesis should:

  • stand a test;
  • be expressed in clear language;
  • be in accordance with the general theme of other hypotheses statements in the same field of study, and should be regarded as valid;
  • be co-ordinated with the theory of science;
  • be a tentative answer to the formulated problem;
  • be logical and simplistic;
  • consider available research techniques (to be able to analyze and interpret the results);
  • be specific; and
  • be relevant to the collection of empirical phenomenon and not merely conclude value judgements.

Propose in Research Methods and Procedures

It is one task to generate a research question, it is quite another to determine an effective way to answer the question. First, we must decide to use a specific paradigm or mixture of paradigms. Each paradigm or research method has certain advantages and disadvantages and can be applied appropriately or inappropriately. The task of the proposal writer is to determine which method or combination of methods would be most effective to answer the research questions posed.

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

Indicate the methodological steps you will take to answer every question or to test every hypothesis illustrated in the hypotheses section.

All research is plagued by the presence of confounding variables .Confounding variables should be minimized by various kinds of controls or be estimated and taken into account by randomization processes. In the design section, indicate,   the variables to control and to control them, experimentally or statistically, and   the variables to be randomize, and the nature of the randomizing unit.

Be aware and anticipate possible sources of error and attempt to overcome them or take them into account in the analysis. Moreover, disclose the sources and identify the efforts to account for them.

•             Decide on the method, techniques and tools to use

•             Explain the rationale of each vis-à-vis the statement of the problems

•             Describe the tool development process or use of existing one

•             Describe how you will gather data for the study

•             Indicate the population, sample size and the sampling procedure.Explain the statistical methods to be used with rationale

Describe the overall research design by building upon and drawing examples from your review of the literature. Consider not only methods that other researchers have used but methods of data gathering that have not been used but perhaps could be. Be specific about the methodological approaches you plan to undertake to obtain information, the techniques you would use to analyze the data, and the tests of external validity to which you commit yourself [i.e., the trustworthiness by which you can generalize from your study to other people, places, events, and/or periods of time].

When describing the methods you will use, be sure to cover the following:

  • Specify the research operations you will undertake and the way you will interpret the results of these operations in relation to the research problem.
  • Keep in mind that a methodology is not just a list of tasks; it is an argument as to why these tasks add up to the best way to investigate the research problem. Mere listing of tasks to be performed does not demonstrate that, collectively, they effectively address the research problem. Be sure you explain this.
  • Anticipate and acknowledge any potential barriers and pitfalls in carrying out your research design and explain how you plan to address them. No method is perfect so you need to describe where you believe challenges may exist in obtaining data or accessing information.


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 .

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 several probability 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 . 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.

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 .

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)?”

When a sample is drawn out of convenience (a nonprobability sample), rationale and limitations must be clearly provided.

If available, outline the characteristics of the sample (by gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or other relevant group membership).

Detail procedures to follow to obtain informed consent and ensure anonymity and/or confidentiality.


Outline the instruments propose to be used (surveys, scales, interview, standardised tests observation  etc ). 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 to develop and test their reliability and validity. In the latter case, a pilot study is nearly essential.

Because selection of instruments in most cases provides the operational definition of constructs, this is a crucial step in the proposal

  • 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.
  • For a mailed survey, identify steps to be taken in administering and following up the survey to obtain a high response rate.

Data Collection

Data gathering focuses on information acquisition that will attempt to answer the research questions or support the hypotheses.

Data gathering includes consideration about what variables to investigate, the unit of analysis or participants of the study (population and sample), human subject protections, procedures used for selecting participants, the methods and procedures used for data collection, and any reliability or validity of collection methods.

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.

Provide a general outline of the time schedule you expect to follow.

Proposed Analysis of Data

Data or statistical analysis will depend on whether the collected quantitative data, qualitative data , or both.

For quantitative data, there are a variety of statistical analysis tools can be used to identify statistical relationships between variables.  For qualitative data, data analysis generally involves holistically identifying patterns, categories, and themes.

Bibliography : During preparation of proposal, researcher consults various sources like books, journals, reports, Ph.D. theses etc. All such primary / secondary sources need to be reported in the bibliography. Generally American Psychological Association – Publication Manual be followed to write references. All authors quoted in proposal need to be listed in bibliography. Authors who are not quoted but they are useful for further reading be also listed. Consistency and uniformity be observed in reporting references.

Timetable/Plan (may be part of Research Design)

  • Depicts the tasks proposed and the stages/times for their completion
  • This may take the form of a chart, timeline or flowchart (or any other)

Final  Editing of the Research Proposal

In this part we discuss some aspects of good academic writing.

Aspects of Academic writing

Although the research proposal is considered the preliminary planning of a research problem, it should comply with the following requirements:

•             It should preferably be typed in double spacing on size A4 paper.

•             A margin of 4cm is required on the left side of the paper.

Information-prominent and Author-prominent references

Swales  shows how you can decide whether to focus on the source of an idea or on the idea itself in your writing. He provides two categories of referencing: author prominent, where the author’s name appears in your sentence, or information prominent, where the author’s name appears only in parentheses (brackets).

Verb tense

The three tenses which appear most frequently are used in the following ways:

The present tense is used for: generalisation (in overviews, statements of main points); a statement which is generally applicable or which seems relevant; a statement made by you as writer; or to report the position of a theorist/ researcher to which you feel some proximity, either in time or allegiance.

The past tense is used to “claim non-generality about past literature” ; that is, it is used to report or describe the content, findings or conclusions of past research. The specificity of the study is thus emphasised. Past tense can be used in your methodology chapter to describe what you have done.

The present perfect is used to indicate that inquiry into the specified area continues, to generalise about past literature, or to present a view using a non-integral form of referencing.

The future tense is often used in the methodology section in a proposal to state intention. When you are describing what appears in your writing, use the present tense, not the future .

Referencing and Citing Conventions:

Note some very basic rules:

Book titles are in italics but only the first word (and the first word in subtitle) and proper nouns are capitalised

Journal names are in italics and capitalised – the volume number also appears in italics

The titles of articles in journals and chapters of books are in plain font and are not capitalised

• When a chapter of an edited book (one where the different chapters are written by different authors) is referenced, the chapter is treated in the same way as a journal article, but instead of the journal name, the book in which the chapter appears must also be referenced in the reference list entry. Note that the book is introduced by the word “In”, which is followed by the initials of the author (first) and then the family name. This is the reverse of what you do in the rest of the list, where the family name comes first and then the initials of the given name.

Facilitating  writing process

Discussion, concept maps, questions, note-taking techniques may all facilitate your writing. Using certain software (e.g., Endnote, NVivo, MS OneNote, EverNote) can also help.


It is a great help to your reader if you make a clearly signposted ‘map’ of your writing. You can do this by:

  • Repeating key words or further developing propositions from an earlier sentence in order to make clear the connection between the ideas discussed earlier and those discussed later.
  • Stating explicitly the points you will focus on in the introduction of a chapter or (for a longer piece) at the beginning of a major section; and
  • Using subheadings which indicate what you will focus on in that part of your writing.


The use of mapping or advance organisers is very important in a long piece of work. In such pieces of writing you may insert maps at strategic points (e.g. beginnings of chapters/sections) so that readers reorient themselves and know where they’re headed. For example look at the opening paragraph of section 4.

Useful Discourse Markers

The ways in which parts of your writing are related to other parts can be made clearer by using discourse markers, which can be grouped according to their function in the discourse. Here are some groups of markers that might help you when you need a little variety.

Ordering points or Sequencing

Firstly, …; secondly, …; finally,…

Adding something

Moreover, …; Furthermore,…; Further,…; In addition,…; Additionally,…

NOTE: “Besides” is mainly used in speaking

Comparing (Similarity)

Similarly,…; … likewise,…; equally,…

Comparing (difference – establishing contrast)

However,…; in fact,…; On the other hand,…; …, rather,…; In contrast, …; On the contrary,…; Nevertheless,…; Nonetheless,…; …, yet …; Despite…; In spite of…; Notwithstanding…

Introducing a Cause

As a result of…; Because of…; Because…; Owing to …; Due to…

Introducing a Result

Consequently…; Therefore…; Hence,…; As a result,…; Thus,…; So …; Then…


For example,…; For instance,…; Notably,…


In other words,…; that is,…; namely,…


In general, …; generally,…; on the whole,…


In summary,…; In conclusion,…

6. Common problems (Grammar, style, conventions)

Below are examples of some commonly confused words/expressions in academic writing. Can you think of more?

Et al. (and others)

Only one of these two words is abbreviated. Et is a whole word meaning and, while alii, a word meaning others, is abbreviated to al. (note the full stop/period mark.

Use of the ‘&’ sign

The &’ (ampersand) sign in referencing appears only in brackets or in the reference list at the end of your thesis.

Plurals and Singulars

  • Criterion/criteria
  • Datum/data (the data were categorised…)
  • Focus/foci (or focuses) (The foci of this study were…)
  • Phenomenon/phenomena (… was understood to be a phenomenon)
  • Research/information (used as non-countable nouns in the singular)

Often Confused Spelling


When these words mean influence, affect is used as a verb and effect is used as a noun.


Its is used when you are talking about something belonging to the thing you have already mentioned. It’s is a contraction or a shortened form of “It is” or “It has” – the apostrophe stands for the letter omitted.

That or which?

In academic writing, which often needs to very specifically define the issues that it is discussing, while the word “that” is used more frequently than “which”. Both these words introduce information that is related to a word or phrase that appeared earlier. “That” is used when you wish to specify more closely the defining characteristics of the word or phrase (the word or phrase that appeared earlier). “Which” is used to provide extra information rather than to specify or define. You need a comma before “which”, but not before “that” (“that” must stick to the word it is defining).

‘As’ and ‘that’

Many writers use both ‘as’ and ‘that’ to introduce what other authors are saying. They both mean the same thing, so you must choose only ONE of these words.

Hanging (dangling) Modifiers

  • In a sentence with two parts, the writer’s intention might be to give the reader one piece of information that can enlighten us about the other (main) part of the sentence. This extra information seems to remain hanging or dangling if the writer forgets to indicate clearly who is doing what in both parts of the sentence.
  • The rule is that if you have an –ing word at the beginning of the first part of the sentence, the action of that word must be carried out by the first word of the second part of the sentence.

The goal of a research proposal is to present and justify the need to study a research problem and to present the practical ways in which the proposed study should be conducted. The design elements and procedures for conducting the research are governed by standards within the predominant discipline in which the problem resides, so guidelines for research proposals are more exacting and less formal than a general project proposal. Research proposals contain extensive literature reviews. They must provide persuasive evidence that a need exists for the proposed study. In addition to providing a rationale, a proposal describes detailed methodology for conducting the research consistent with requirements of the professional or academic field and a statement on anticipated outcomes and/or benefits derived from the study’s completion.





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