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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 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. A proposal can be likened to a blueprint for a building—providing a foundation to guide the work to its conclusion. Proposals are necessary for both quantitative and qualitative studies.

Whether you are preparing a proposal for a funding agency, a thesis or dissertation, or a non-funded project, proposal guidelines are quite similar. The purpose of this chapter is to describe the process of developing and writing a research proposal.

Purposes of the Research Proposal

A research proposal serves several purposes.

  • 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.

  • The well-prepared proposal constitutes the body of a grant application when external funding is required.

  • The proposal will provide details about the project so that ethical issues can be addressed, the needed expertise and competence of researchers and supportive personnel can be documented, and the feasibility of the project can be substantiated.

  • The proposal serves as 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 7).

  • The proposal enhances communication among colleagues who may be co-investigators and with consultants whose advice may be needed.

  • 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 protocol.

    The research proposal, therefore, is an indispensable instrument in initiating and implementing a project. The exact format depends on the requirements of the institution, funding agency, or academic committee that will review and approve the project. The order of presentation of material may vary, as may the extent of the information that is required.

The Research Team

Research projects are not solo endeavors. As the planning begins, a research team should be recruited to help frame the research question and methods. The team is led by the principal investigator (PI), who has ultimate responsibility for the project, providing leadership for the planning effort and eventual implementation. The PI is typically an experienced investigator with a track record of prior research. In some instances, a co-PI ...

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