develop a research proposal

Develop a Research Proposal


Planning the Methodology - Qualitative Variables

A variable is any entity that can take on different values. OK, so what does that mean? Anything that can vary can be considered a variable. For instance, age can be considered a variable because age can take different values for different people or for the same person at different times. Similarly, country can be considered a variable because a person's country can be assigned a value.  Because quantitative research is rooted in the scientific method, specific terminology for that process must be used. 

Quantitative studies often explore variables other than one specific intervention or treatment that might have affected a subject or sample group outcome.

Variables are defined in the following ways:

  • An independent variable is manipulated in a study by you, nature, society, etc.  It can be any aspect of the environment that is investigated for the purpose of examining its influence on the dependent variable. 
  • A dependent variable is measured in a study.  This variable is not manipulated by the researcher, but is affected by the independent variable.
  • An experimental or treatment group is the group that receives the influence of the independent variable, and differs from the control group in the dependent variable.

Consider how the following researcher incorporate her discussion of variables with her explanation of the instruments of measurement that she used.  Notice how the variables are described and what language and phrasing she uses:

Data Collection Procedures

In the proposed study, two instruments will be employed to measure one independent variable, one dependent variable, and three moderator (demographic) variables. These are outlined below.

  • Independent Variable – Life satisfaction, the independent variable in this study, will be measured by the Salamon-Conte Life Satisfaction in the Elderly Scale (SCLSES). Developed by Salamon and Conte (1981), the SCLSES is a self-report inventory that focuses on three aspects of daily living. These include (a) taking pleasure in daily activities, (b) regarding life as meaningful, and (c) self-concept. It is a 44-item instrument; 40 of the items comprise a Likert scale measure of life satisfaction, while the other items are measures of possible moderating variables. The authors report a reliability coefficient of .93 for the entire scale. They did not talk about the instrument’s validity. Even given this latter limitation, the SCLSES, it would appear, offers much potential as an approach to measuring the variable of life satisfaction.
  • Dependent Variable – The dependent variable in this study is self-directed readiness. It is measured through the use of the Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale (SDLRS). This is a 58-item Likert scale, developed by Guglielmino (1977) to determine the extent to which subjects perceive themselves to possess the skills frequently associated with self-directed learning. Guglielmino reported a reliability coefficient of .87 for the scale. In addition, both internal and predictive validity of the instrument have been demonstrated to be high. Hassan (1981) used the SDLRS with a sample of 102 individuals that included 39 people at least 60 years of age. She did not find a significant relationship between age and self-directed learning readiness. Thus, it would appear the SDLRS is appropriate for use with older adults as a means of identifying variance across the population.
  • Moderator Variables – In addition to the above independent and dependent variables, three secondary independent or moderator variables will be considered. According to Tuckman (1978), a moderator variable is as follows:
    • . . . that factor which is measured, manipulated, or selected by the researcher to discover whether it modifies the relationship of the independent variable to an observed phenomenon (p. 63).

Thus, the moderator variables can determine the extent to which the relationship between the two major variables is influenced by secondary factors. In this study the moderator variables of age, gender, and residential status will be included.

Interestingly enough, variables themselves can be categorized as qualitative or quantitative, depending on how they are measured, not the type of study design in which they are used.  Thus, within a quantitative study, the variables could be a mix of qualitative and quantitative, depending on how they are measured by the researcher.  Variables that are measured on a numeric or quantitative scale are considered quantitative.  A country’s population, a person’s shoe size, or a car’s speed are all quantitative variables. Ordinal, interval and ratio scales for reporting data are also quantitative. A deeper explanation, along with an illustrative example, can be found here

And now, with all of this information about variables, you will need to make some decisions about the variables that will be used in your investigation.  Plan your ideas in Crafting the Proposal:  III. The Methodology (Quantitative) to begin to make decisions about variables for inclusion in your research proposal. 

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