develop a  research proposal

Develop a Research Proposal


Writing the Proposal - Data Collection Instrumentation

Most of what you have done up until now has been theoretical.  Now you need to define the “how” of your actual research process, and its outcome. You go through some decision-making stages to help you with this part of your research proposal.  On one level, the research process can appear to be relatively simple - if you carry out the basic steps methodically and carefully, then you should arrive at useful conclusions. However, the nature of research can be very complex and when you are reading textbooks on research methodology you will come across many unfamiliar words and terms. We will look, once again, at types of research and explain some of the terms.

1. Types of research

The main different types of research can be classified by its process, its purpose, and its outcome.

a. You have already decided on your process. The process of the research can be classified as qualitative and qualitative.

b. You have also decided on the purpose of your research, based on its outcome. The purpose of the research can be classified as basic, applied, and practical.

c.  Additionally, your purpose can be described in a different way, based on the kinds of methods that it uses. 

  • The purpose of the research also can be classified as:
    • exploratory
    • descriptive
    • analytical
    • predictive.

2.  Purposes of Research (another view in order to plan for methodology)

Review these in more detail below.  As you review each, consider whether the description fits the way you envisioned your research investigation.  Also consider how the data collection and data methods are described, and what types of analyses of the data are recommended.  This will help you to make very important decisions for your own study

  • Exploratory research This is conducted when there are few or no earlier studies to which references can be made for information. The aim is to look for patterns, ideas or hypotheses rather than testing or confirming a hypothesis. In exploratory research the focus is on gaining insights and familiarity with the subject area for more rigorous investigation later. It is likely that you will be drawing on previous studies and so pure exploratory research is not generally appropriate for studies at this level – it is more appropriate for postgraduate research. However, it is possible that you may carry out an initial survey to establish areas of concern (exploratory research) and then research these issues in more depth, perhaps through interviews, to provide a deeper understanding (explanatory research).
  • Descriptive research  This describes phenomena as they exist. It is used to identify and obtain information on the characteristics of a particular issue. The data collected are often quantitative, and statistical techniques are usually used to summarize the information. Descriptive research goes further than exploratory research in examining a problem since it is undertaken to be certain of and to describe the characteristics of the issue. A research investigation may include descriptive research, but it is likely that it will also include one of the following two types (explanatory or predictive) as you are required in to go beyond description and to explain or predict.
  • Analytical or explanatory research This is a continuation of descriptive research. The researcher goes beyond merely describing the characteristics, to analyze and explain why or how something is happening. Thus, analytical research aims to understand phenomena by discovering and measuring causal relations among them.
  • Predictive research Predictive research goes further by forecasting the likelihood of a similar situation occurring elsewhere. It aims to generalize from the analysis by predicting certain phenomena on the basis of hypothesized, general relationships. Predictive research provides ‘how’, ‘why’, and ‘where’ answers to current events as well as to similar events in the future. It is also helpful in situations where ‘What if?’ questions are being asked.
3. Process of Research

There is no consensus about how to actually undertake most research.  Now you are ready to think about planning your overall approach to collecting data. Data is effectively another word for information that can be found through secondary or primary data collection.  It is important that you understand all the various ways of collecting data so that you can decide which to use for your own research.

It is also worth remembering at this stage that all methods of data collection can supply quantitative data (numbers and statistics) or qualitative data (usually words or text). You have, however, selected from the two main traditions of approaching a research topic – quantitative and qualitative. Here are some tips about which methods work best for each type. 

  • Quantitative research Your research will take an objective position, and your approach will be to treat phenomena as hard and real. You may favor methods such as surveys and experiments, and will attempt to test hypotheses or statements with a view to generalizing from the specific data that you collect. This approach typically concentrates on measuring or counting and involves collecting and analyzing numerical data and applying statistical tests.
  • Qualitative research Your view of the phenomena to be investigated should be more personal. You will use methods such as personal accounts, unstructured interviews and participant observation to gain an understanding of the underlying reasons and motivations for peoples’ attitudes, preferences or behaviors. With this approach, the emphasis is more on generating hypotheses from the data collection rather than testing a hypothesis.

Qualitative and quantitative research methods are not clear-cut nor mutually exclusive – most research draws on both methods. Both approaches can generate quantitative and qualitative data.  The difference between the two methods is in the overall form and in the emphasis and objectives of the study. The following chart might help you to decide what approach to use with certain methods and tools:





Find out what to investigate.

When research ideas are needed.

Emphasis on understanding.

Focus on understanding from respondents’ point of view.

Know what to investigate.

When research results are needed.

Emphasis on testing and verification.

Focus on facts and/or reasons.


Flexible and informal.

Do not need to know in advance specific topics or questions – these should ‘emerge’.

Small sample size.

Structured and formal.

Must know in advance what questions to ask/areas to cover – they are ‘imposed’.

Large sample size.



Unstructured interviews.

Document analysis.

Particular observation (called ethnographic studies).



Surveys   — [Structured interviews and Questionnaires.]

Non-participant observation.




Explanatory and give depth.


Not easily processed.

Not explanatory and lack depth.

Mainly numerical.

More easily processed, for example, coding.


Hypotheses and ideas.

Not firm.

Danger of subjective interpretation.


Can be quantified.

Interpretation more objective.

It is important to remember that all methods of data collection can supply quantitative data (numbers, statistics or financial) or qualitative data (usually words or text).  

While selecting your tools and specific methods in the next step of this web site , keep in mind that most tools can be used qualitatively or quantitatively.

Specific Tools and Strategies for My Methodology

As you review each type of instrumentation, consider if you would use it to collect data for your own investigation, and whether you would use it to collect qualitative data or quantitative data.  You might get concerned about the methodologies used for your research. You should, however, just think of the question or hypothesis; that itself stipulates a kind of methodology to be used. So if you have a question that is about, trying to find out people's opinions - trying to engage with the subtle manners of their everyday life - you may want to go down a qualitative path. However, if you want to measure something, do direct comparisons. You are more likely to want to go down a quantitative path. As such there is often a marked divide in students' minds between qualitative and quantitative approaches. That again doesn't reflect the reality. It is perfectly appropriate and possible to triangulate (do three different ways )the methodologies and use more than one basic approach.  Read the following story if you want to see how both approaches were used in one design. 

In a study of computer-assisted writing classrooms, Snyder (1995) employed both qualitative and quantitative approaches. The study was constructed according to guidelines for quantitative studies: the computer classroom was the "treatment" group and the traditional pen and paper classroom was the "control" group. Both classes contained subjects with the same characteristics from the population sampled. Both classes followed the same lesson plan and were taught by the same teacher in the same semester. The only variable used was the computers. Although Snyder set this study up as an "experiment," she used many qualitative approaches to supplement her findings. She observed both classrooms on a regular basis as a participant-observer and conducted several interviews with the teacher both during and after the semester. However, there were several problems in using this approach: the strict adherence to the same syllabus and lesson plans for both classes and the restricted access of the control group to the computers may have put some students at a disadvantage. Snyder also notes that in retrospect she should have used case studies of the students to further develop her findings. Although her study had certain flaws, Snyder insists that researchers can simultaneously employ qualitative and quantitative methods if studies are planned carefully and carried out conscientiously.

There are four possible models of integrating qualitative and quantitative methods in research.

  1. In the first approach, qualitative methods contribute to the development of quantitative instruments, such as the use of focus groups in questionnaire construction The second model consists of a primarily quantitative study that uses qualitative results to help interpret or explain the quantitative findings.
  2. The second model consists of a primarily quantitative study that uses qualitative results to help interpret or explain the quantitative findings.
  3. In the third approach, quantitative results help interpret predominantly qualitative findings, as when focus group participants are asked to fill out survey questionnaires at the session.
  4. In the fourth model, the two methodologies are used equally and in parallel to cross-validate and build upon each other's results.

More example of models

During the formative research stage, in which the goal is to learn as much as possible about how the target audience thinks and behaves in relation to the issue being addressed, a host of research methods provides many different data "viewpoints" for seeing the big picture. Exploratory research conducted at the beginning of the project reviews previous research involving both quantitative and qualitative data and can include interviews with those who have previously attempted to address the issue. This research will help in the initial development of the project strategy to delineate the parameters of the project, steer the selection of the target audience, specify the potential behaviors to be promoted and identify lessons learned and potential pitfalls. Focus groups conducted for exploration also yield valuable qualitative data regarding the target audience, providing insights into their language, issues and obstacles they identify, and meanings attributed to beliefs and behaviors.

Information learned from the initial focus groups can then be used to inform questionnaire construction for a population survey to collect hard numbers for baseline data. The survey will also help to segment the target audience based upon its distribution across the stages of behavior change, as described by the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change (Prochaska and DiClemente, 1983), or other characteristics. In addition, commercial marketing databases, while quantitative in nature, provide highly detailed profiles of target audience segments for message development and channel selection.

The messages and materials developed based upon the exploratory research should be pretested using both qualitative and quantitative methods so that the results provide depth of understanding as well as generalizability. Focus groups provide a valuable means to pretest messages and materials, for audience members can provide spontaneous reactions and explain their responses. This method, however, can only indicate trends and cannot yield hard quantitative data needed for definitive decision making. If enough focus groups are conducted and participants are considered representative of the target audience, a survey questionnaire may be administered either before or after the focus group to collect numerical data as well.

A central-site intercept survey, in which potential audience members are approached in a public area and asked to respond to a quick questionnaire, provides another method of pretesting materials. The fast turnaround nature of this method and high volume of responses makes it ideal for testing draft executions of materials such as print or television ads prior to production and implementation. This method is considered semi-quantitative because respondents are not selected from a random sample, but questions are usually closed-ended and tabulated statistically. Final decisions, such as choosing from among several possible ads, can be made based on the numbers this method yields.

Integrating Process Evaluation
Upon implementation of the program, process evaluation helps to keep the project on track and signals when changes are needed in the program strategy. The most common data collection activity in this phase involves counting--materials distributed, number of people attending activities, broadcasts of the television or radio ads, media coverage of events, phone calls to the organization--to ensure that the project proceeds as intended. Other quantitative tracking mechanisms, such as consumer surveys, identify whether the program's message is reaching the target audience and is getting its attention and motivating action. In an ongoing multi-year project, this may be a repetition of the population survey conducted at the beginning; for a shorter-term project, a survey may target a very specific audience segment.

Qualitative process evaluation methods can include periodic interviews or focus groups with target audience members to assess their progress toward behavior change. Through these activities, participants may inform program administrators of unforeseen barriers or opportunities to adopting the behavior that need to be addressed to increase chances of success. Observations of audience members may also provide clues to needed changes in program strategy or messages in case they are using the product in an unsafe manner or performing the target behavior incorrectly. The quantitative and qualitative process research can be conducted simultaneously to collect and react to data.

Integrating Outcome Evaluation Both types of research are instructive in identifying the program outcomes. A repeat of the quantitative population survey will provide an indication of whether the program realized its objectives in raising awareness, changing attitudes and initiating behavior change. Related decreases in morbidity and mortality or other major indices will be more difficult to claim without also conducting a matched community intervention study, with the only difference between the communities being the presence of the social marketing program.

In the end, the quantitative data emerging from the survey are generally used as the final arbiters of success. However, qualitative research can point out successes that may have occurred on a more human scale through anecdotes about how the social marketing program made a difference in someone's life. Focus groups, interviews and other methods of collecting individual people's stories and responses to the campaign are valuable in learning which components of the program were successful and how the next project can be improved. Both types of research are necessary to assess the full extent of the program's impact upon the target audience.

Conclusion Integrating quantitative and qualitative research methods lends depth and clarity to social marketing programs. This combination of approaches is necessary because of the wide range of data needed to develop effective communications. However, the potential for problems exists when attempting to combine such divergent research paradigms; one may end up not doing either type of research well. This integrative approach therefore requires a research team with expertise in both types of methods. Using multiple approaches can also be time-consuming, labor-intensive and expensive. Another obstacle, which will likely change as social marketing gains in usage, is that combining multiple methods is still not widely accepted as a viable research strategy--at least in mainstream public health circles. As social marketers demonstrate that such research is necessary to fully understand and address many health-related issues, the research norms and scientific dogma regarding appropriate methods may shift to a new, more integrative paradigm.

Investigate each tool below and complete your planning guide if you choose to use that specific instrumentation in your study.  Be sure to specify if you will use it qualitatively or quantitatively.  That will help you to understand how you will actually use the tool in your investigation.  You may also want to consult with the basic information about research tools that you studied in Elements of the Proposal.

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