The initial stages of the research process include development of the research question and delineation of methods of data collection. The success of the project depends on how well these elements have been developed and defined in advance, so that the proper resources are gathered and methods proceed with reliability and validity. The plan that describes all these preparatory elements is the research proposal. The proposal describes the purpose of the study, the importance of the research question, the research protocol and justifies the feasibility of the project.
The proposal can serve several purposes. First, it represents the synthesis of the researcher's critical thinking and the scientific literature to ensure that the research question is refined enough to be studied, that the assumptions and theoretical rationale on which the study is based are logical and that the method is appropriate for answering the question. Second, the well prepared proposal may constitute the body of a grant application when external funding is required. Third, it is part of an application for review by peer or administrative committees. This is the document that will be carefully scrutinized by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) (see Chapter 3). Fourth, the proposal enhances communication among colleagues who may be co-investigators and with consultants whose advice may be needed. Finally, the careful, detailed account of the study procedures serves as a guide throughout the data collection phase to ensure that the researchers follow the outlined rules of conduct. The research proposal, therefore, is an indispensable instrument in initiating and implementing a project.
When proposals are written as part of a grant application for funding from foundations or government agencies, the researcher must obtain the guidelines of the agency to which the proposal will be submitted. Generally, requirements and components of a proposal will be the same for grant applications as they are for academic and clinical institutions; however, to write a successful grant application, the researcher must understand the interests of the funding agency, the extent of available funds, the deadlines for submitting proposals, and the proper format of the application.∗
The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the process of developing and writing a research proposal. The exact format of the proposal will depend on the requirements or instructions of the individuals, clinics, faculty or agencies that will review the project. The order of presentation of material may vary, as may the extent of the information required. The following guidelines are meant to reflect the most common elements of a proposal. A research proposal has two basic parts, as shown in Table 32.1. The first part provides details of the research plan, and the other describes the administrative and personnel support required to carry out the project.
TABLE 32.1WORKING PLAN FOR DEVELOPING A RESEARCH PROPOSAL