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University of Washington Health Sciences Library

SOC W 505/506 Foundations of Social Welfare Research

Information on Writing a Research Proposal

From the Sage Encyclopedia of Educational Research, Measurement and Evaluation:

Research proposals are written to propose a research project and oftentimes request funding, or sponsorship, for that research. The research proposal is used to assess the originality and quality of ideas and the feasibility of a proposed project. The goal of the research proposal is to convince others that the investigator has (a) an important idea; (b) the skills, knowledge, and resources to carry out the project; and (c) a plan to implement the project on time and within budget. This entry discusses the process of developing a research proposal and the elements of an effective proposal.

For a graduate student, a research proposal may be required to begin the dissertation process. This serves to communicate the research focus to others, such as members of the student’s dissertation committee. It also indicates the investigator’s plan of action, including a level of thoroughness and sufficient detail to replicate the study. The research proposal could also be considered as a contract, once members of the committee agree to the execution of the project.

Requirements may include:  an abstract, introduction, literature review, method section, and conclusion.  A research proposal has to clearly and concisely identify the proposed research and its importance. The background literature should support the need for the research and the potential impact of the findings.

The method section proposes a comprehensive explanation of the research design, including subjects, timeline, and data analysis. Research questions should be identified as well as measurement instruments and methods to answer the research questions. Proposals for research involving human subjects identify how the investigators will protect participants throughout their research project. 

Proposals often require engaging in an external review either by an external evaluator or advisory board consisting of expert consultants in the field. References are included to provide documentation about the supporting literature identified in the proposal. Appendixes and supplemental materials may also be included, following the sponsoring organization’s guidelines. As a general rule, educational research proposals follow the American Psychological Association formatting guidelines and publishing standards. If funding is being requested, it is important for the proposal to identify how the research will benefit the sponsoring organization and its constituents.

The success of a research proposal depends on both the quality of the project and its presentation. A proposal may have specific goals, but if they are neither realistic nor desirable, the probability of obtaining funding is reduced. Similar to manuscripts being considered for journal articles, reviewers evaluate each research proposal to identify strengths and criticisms based on a general framework and scoring rubric determined by the sponsoring organization. Research proposals that meet the scoring criteria are considered for funding opportunities. If a proposal does not meet the scoring criteria, revisions may be necessary before resubmitting the proposal to the same or a different sponsoring organization.

Common mistakes and pitfalls can often be avoided in research proposal writing through awareness and careful planning. In an effective research proposal, the research idea is clearly stated as a problem and there is an explanation of how the proposed research addresses a demonstrable gap in the current literature. In addition, an effective proposal is well structured, frames the research question(s) within sufficient context supported by the literature, and has a timeline that is appropriate to address the focus and scope of the research project. All requirements of the sponsoring organization, including required project elements and document formatting, need to be met within the research proposal. Finally, an effective proposal is engaging and demonstrates the researcher’s passion and commitment to the research addressed.

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