Monday, July 29, 2013


Basics of a research design or proposal

 Research designs and proposals tell the reader what you intend to learn, why you think it is a good thing to know, and, most important,  how you plan to accomplish acquiring knowledge about the topic.  Proposals and designs differ mainly in their readers or audiences.   Sources of funding and dissertation committees read proposals, while the main audiences for designs are other researchers.  This is not a firm distinction; it is mostly a matter of emphasis.

Your design/proposal for this course should be about 10 double-spaced pages long (15 pages, or 4000 words, is the absolute upper limit).  The paper will be submitted electronically: and MS Word file attached to an e-mail.  Comments will be returned to you by e-mail. 

A research design/proposal should contain the following elements:

1.      Introduction, in which you explain what you want to study and why that is important.  A key feature of this section will be your research question.  Here you might also say a few words about how you propose to conduct the study. 
·         This should be a page or two in length.

2.      Review of the literature on your subject.  In this review, you review what we already know about your subject and how your study would add to it.  As part of this explanation, your review will also often talk about the methods used by previous research on the subject.
      This review should discuss at least 10 recent and representative research articles on the subject and should explain how they were selected.  Try to find an article on your subject that is a review of the literature or a meta-analysis, and don’t hesitate to use secondary sources in addition to (not instead of) research articles. 
      Your review should be organized by theme, ideas, concepts, conclusions, or types of evidence—anything but by article (“in the first article I read it said . . . in the second article I read it said . .  .”). 
·         This section should roughly 2 to 4 pages long.

3.      The methods section is, of course, the heart of the matter.  It should be a plan of work for learning what you want to know about your subject.  This should include sufficient details about 1. where you'll get your evidence, 2. how you'll gather it, 3. how much of it you need, and 4. how you'll analyze it once you've gathered it.  "Sufficient" in this case means enough details that you (or someone else) really could use your plan to guide the research activities.
      You can use any of the designs discussed in our texts.  Be sure to use the texts’ discussions when constructing your design.  For example, if the text explains potential problems—e.g., with validity (internal or external), with reliability, or with unwanted variance that needs to be controlled--of a particular design, be sure to address these. 
  • This section should be approximately 4 to 5 pages long.

Notes:  Your proposal/paper probably will not have much of a conclusion since you won't actually be the doing research; it is a proposed study.  Your design does not have to be confined to something you could do this semester.  It may be best for you to think of it as a design or a proposal for a dissertation; this would be a plan of work that would extend over a few semesters.


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