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SLHS 491: Research Applications in SLHS: Research Proposal

Writing a Research Proposal

A research proposal is a great way to introduce you to research without making you write a long research paper (sounds nice, no?). Research proposals force you to think about why the topic matters, not just to yourself, but to a wider audience.

The goal of a research proposal is twofold: 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 research are governed by standards of the predominant discipline in which the problem resides, therefore, the 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.

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 findings. Finally, an effective proposal is judged on the quality of your writing and, therefore, it is important that your proposal 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 the research? 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 in-depth investigation. Be sure to answer the "So What?" question.
  3. How are you going to conduct the research? Be sure that what you propose is doable. If you're having difficulty formulating a research problem to propose investigating, go here for strategies in developing a problem to study.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Failure to be concise. A research proposal must be focused and not be "all over the map" or diverge into  on unrelated tangents without a clear sense of purpose.
  • Failure to cite landmark works in your literature review. Proposals should be grounded in foundational research that lays a foundation for understanding the development and scope of the issue.
  • Failure to delimit the contextual boundaries of your research [e.g., time, place, people, etc.]. As with any research paper, your proposed study must inform the reader how and in what ways the study will examine the problem.
  • Failure to develop a coherent and persuasive argument for the proposed research. This is critical. In many workplace settings, the research proposal is intended to argue for why a study should be funded.
  • Sloppy or imprecise writing, or poor grammar. Although a research proposal does not represent a completed research study, there is still an expectation that it is well-written and follows the style and rules of good academic writing.
  • Too much detail on minor issues, but not enough detail on major issues. Your proposal should focus on only a few key research questions in order to support the argument that the research needs to be conducted. Minor issues, even if valid, can be mentioned but they should not dominate the overall narrative.

As you are browsing through the databases the library subscribes to as well as other websites, pay close attention to the terminology you see being most frequently used, and remember that the databases don't always use the same terms people use when talking about topics. Make sure to jot topics down or even email them to yourself as you see them.

Some helpful guidelines:

  • Choose a problem or issue you want to learn more about.
  • Why is this topic important not just to myself, but to others?
  • How is it important or significant?
  • What problem(s) will it help solve?
  • How does it build upon (or maybe even refute) research already conducted?

In general, a compelling research proposal should document your knowledge of the topic and demonstrate your enthusiasm for conducting the study. Approach it with the intention of leaving your readers feeling like, "Wow, that's an exciting idea and I can’t wait to see how it turns out!"

Places to view topics or alerts: