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Key Elements of the Research Proposal
These are the key elements of a research proposal.  Click on each to learn more about each element.
Title Page | Introduction | Procedure or Methodology | References | Appendices

title page


The title page provides the first impression for your audience of your proposal.  Your title must be complete and it should provide the focus of your investigation.  Be sure that the title gives a glimpse of the nature of the proposed investigation and includes the key ideas. 

1. Your title should serve as a mini-abstract of your investigation and should put the most important words first.

For example:

  • Title No. 1  "Left-handness in students and its relationship to learning preferences" implies that the focus will be on "left-handness."
  • Title No. 2  "Learning preferences in students and the connection to left-handness"  implies that the focus will be on "learning preferences."

Word choice and syntax are so precise in a research proposal title that some researchers create the titles for their projects last in the proposal writing process.  They do this so that they can be as precise as possible in their wording and sentence structure in order to best represent their investigation.

The following list contains example of research proposal titles in a variety of fields of investigation.  Review each to see the phrasing and terms that are commonly used on title pages.   
  • A linguistic analysis of slang used in Eminem album song lyrics 
  • A study of the role of cultural materials in contemporary graphic design
  •  Changing factors for team support in English football: How geographic determinants play a role in determining match attendance 
  •  ‘You Looks Like Youse Yo’ Own Daughter’: Figuring (in)fertility and maternity in Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • The effects of estrogen, alcohol, and age on the astrocytes in female rats following an inflammatory stimulus
3. When a title page is created, it often is arranged in this format:   Example of title page.pdf
4. This website provides formatting tips to assist you in the general layout and design of a research proposal title page.  It also contains general guidelines and further descriptions for the parts of a research proposal.

REFLECTION:  In your Reflection Journal, explain why the title is so important to a research proposal.  You may include information from above or from your own ideas and experiences.  Your response should be 2-3 paragraphs in length. 


Clear Statement of the Problem

Purpose of the Study


Significance of the Investigation

Literature Review

Questions or Hypothesis

Your introduction is very important, actually the most important part of your proposal.  If your introduction gets your audience's attention, they will stay with you throughout your proposal.   An effective introduction discusses the meaningfulness of the study with presentation of problem or issue.  It also serves as an argument advocating the need of study for your chosen object and gives a clear insight into your intentions. Thus the introduction presents a background and statement of context for your investigation.

The rest of your proposal supports this section.  It doesn’t need to be overly long, a few paragraphs should be enough, but it is the most critical as it establishes the nature, context, and scope of your project.  Key parts of the Introduction often become a part of a research abstract that may be used when you present your completed investigation and conclusions to an audience.  Although these aspects of an introduction are described separately, some parts may, in reality, be combined together when the actual proposal is written. 


All introductions include these items in some form in the introduction.

  • Clear Statement of the Problem
  • Purpose of the Study   
  • Definitions 
  • Significance of the Investigation
  • Literature Review
  • Questions or Hypothesis
B.. The way that Introductions are crafted is as individualized as the proposal that follows.  You will see actual introductions later when you begin to review Research Proposals for specific disciplines, but here are some "How To" procedures from research courses that explain the construction of the Introduction paragraph.  As you read the samples below, compare and contrast the requirements of each instructor in order to determine the common features of Introductions.
  • Begin with something interesting, e.g., a quote or story, to capture the reader's interest.
  • Introduce your question or curiosity. What is it that you want to know or understand? How did you get interested in the topic? If your question has evolved since you have begun, describe the process.
  • Tell why there's a need for the study. Cite relevant literature that calls for the need for the research in this area, or demonstrates the lack of attention to the topic. In your own words, describe how you think this study will be useful.
  • Describe the intended audience for your research (e.g., the public, family therapists).
  • Describe your research product. What form will the report take (e.g., scholarly manuscript, magazine article for the public, script for a documentary video)?
  • Conclude the introduction with an overview of your proposal.
2.  Introduction (2 pages) 
  • \What is the topic of your research?
  • What area of sociology is concerned with questions related to your research interest?
  • Formulate your research question(s) or the problem you want to address as clearly as possible. What is research goal, for example descriptive, exploratory, explanatory, evaluation?
  • Explain how you came to this question/problem based on your previous interests (research you might have been involved in, other courses you have taken, your work experience, discussions, etc.).
  • Explain the assumptions you are making in researching your question. Explain the concepts you are using; what indicators/variables will you need to measure these? What is your hypothesis and your independent/ dependent variables? Or what are you trying to explain?
  • Share tentative thesis (argument) (your best answer to the research question based on your work to date)
  • What is the significance of this research question? Explain why this research is worth pursuing. Why is answering this research question important?
3. Introduction
  • This section sets the context for your proposed project and must capture the reader's interest.
  • Explain the background of your study starting from a broad picture narrowing in on your research question.
  • Review what is known about your research topic as far as it is relevant to your thesis
  • Cite relevant references.
  • The introduction should be at a level that makes it easy to understand for readers with a general science background, for example your classmates.

REFLECTION:  Based on the three examples, what are the characteristics that most introductions seem to have in common?  What are key differences that you noticed among the three?  Why do you think that these differences exist?  Answer these questions as an entry in your Reflection Journal,

Back to Introduction

 Clear Statement of the Problem

The most important aspect of a research proposal is the clarity of the research problem. For a short statement, it certainly has a lot of power.  The statement of the problem is the focal point of your research. It should state what you will be studying, whether you will do it through experimental or non-experimental investigation, and what the purpose of your findings will be.  As a part of the Introduction, effective problem statements answer the question “Why does this research need to be conducted?” 

It is just one sentence (with several paragraphs of elaboration).  In it, you are looking for something wrong, something that needs close attention, or something where existing methods no longer seem to be working.

  • Example of a problem statement:

"The frequency of job layoffs is creating fear, anxiety, and a loss of productivity in middle management workers."

In your wording, be succinct and on target. Give a short summary of the research problem that you have identified.  A research proposal may not be considered acceptable or credible if you fail to clearly identify the problem.  Your biggest difficulty might be narrowing the topic since the topic is still relatively unfamiliar to you.  Your Literature Review should be a helpful source. 

While the problem statement itself is just one sentence, it is always accompanied in the larger Introduction by several paragraphs that help to elaborate and that may include other elements of the research proposal.  You might present persuasive arguments as to why the problem is important enough to study or include the opinions of others (politicians, futurists, other professionals). Explain how the problem relates to business, social or political trends by presenting a bit of evidence from your Literature Review that demonstrates the scope and depth of the problem. Try to give dramatic and concrete illustrations of the problem. After writing the Introduction, however, make sure you can still easily identify the single sentence that is the problem statement.

Use this tutorial to help you to understand the components of a problem statement.

REFLECTION:  Can you clearly identify the statement of problem in a study?  In your Reflection Journal briefly describe two studies that you read about when completing your review of the literature.  Identify the statement of problem in each.  Evaluate the statement for each based on the characteristics explained above in a paragraph or two in your journal.

Return to Introduction

Purpose of the Study

This describes the goals and objectives that are the targets and desired outcomes of work done by you to find answers to the problem or issue under investigation.    

The purpose often starts with a single goal statement that explains what the study intends to accomplish. A few typical statements are:

The goal of this study is to...
      ... overcome the difficulty with ...
      ... discover what ...
      ... understand the causes or effects of ...
      ... refine our current understanding of ...
      ... provide a new interpretation of ...
      ... understand what makes ___ successful or unsuccessful

It is then followed by a paragraph which describes the objectives that support the goal of the research investigation. 

The words goal and objective are often confused with each other. They both describe things that a person may want to achieve or attain; however, each is different in its scope.  Goals are more global in nature, affecting larger populations over longer time frames.  They are the big vision and are more general in wording.  Objectives are more specific and defined in nature.  They are time-related to achieve a certain task, and are the measurable outcomes of activities undertaken to achieve goals; they are described as achieved or not achieved. Objectives should align with a study’s goals.

The following chart can help you in determine whether a statement that you have written is a goal or an objective.

  Goal  Objective 
What is the meaning of the statement? 

The purpose toward which an investigation is directed. 

Something that one's efforts or actions are intended to attain or accomplish; purpose; target 
What is the time frame of the statement?  Long term  Short term 
How would you measure the action described in the statement?  Cannot be measured  Can be measured  
What is the type of outcome of the action described in the statement? Intangible  Tangible 
What kind of action is described in the statement? Generic action  Specific action 
What overall plan is the statement describing? Broad plan  Narrow plan 
Statement example The after-school program will help children read better. The after-school remedial education program will assist 50 children in improving their reading scores by one grade level as demonstrated on standardized reading tests administered after participating in the program for six months.

REFLECTION:  Which do you think are easier to craft, goals or objectives?  Why?  Explain your answer in 2-3 paragraphs in your Reflection Journal.  Be sure to include specific ideas from the content above and your own ideas and experiences. 

Return to Introduction


Be sure that your proposal is understandable to a general reader who does not know much about your field of investigation.  This section gives the definition of important terms and concepts that are usually stated in the objectives, hypothesis, and research questions.  Define subject-specific and technical terms.  If you are using words that are different in meaning in the context of your experiment from traditionally accepted meanings, define the terms.  Be sure to refer to authoritative sources in your definitions.

Explain any operational definitions, the definitions that you have created just for your study.  An example of an operational definition is: "For the purpose of this research, improvement is operationally defined as posttest score minus pretest score".

The clearest way to arrange your definitions page is to arrange terms in alphabetical order, with definitions stated in complete sentences.

The following is an example of a definition section from a proposal entitled "Self-directed learning readiness and life satisfaction among older adults."  

Definition of Key Terms

Life Satisfaction – a self reported assessment of one’s overall psychosocial well-being. It is a combination of (a) personality factors such as mood and self-concept, (b) more socially-related factors such as the nature of one’s social interactions, (c) perceived health, and (d) financial security.

Older Adult – for the proposed study, older adult is defined as any person who is at least 65 years of age.

Self-Directed Learning – a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.

Self-Directed Learning Readiness – the degree to which one perceives oneself to possess the attitudes and skills needed to be an effective self-directed learner. It is measured in the proposed study through the Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale (SDLRS), developed by Guglielmino (1977).

Explore the following excellent sources for defining terms:

REFLECTION:  Write one paragraph for each of the sources linked above in your Reflection Journal, describing what is there and how you might be able to use it.   

Significance of the Investigation

An explanation of the significance of a study may include the meaning of the research work to you personally and should include how your research benefits or impacts others in part or whole.  Discuss what people or groups of people might benefit from reading your research. Show how this project is significant to developing a body of knowledge.  If your investigation will contribute to a portion of a larger investigation, describe that larger investigation as well.  

Continue with more indepth exploration of this section.

REFLECTION:  Can you clearly identify the significance of the investigation for studies you have read in your review of the literature?  Select three studies from your literature review readings.  Briefly describe each, and explain the significance of each of those investigations.  Write one paragraph for each study in your Reflection Journal.

Return to Introduction

Literature Review

Your literature review is already completed (Step 3) and can be included here.  The literature review develops broad ideas of what is already known in a field, and what questions are still unanswered.  This process will assist you in furthering narrowing the problem for investigation, and will highlight any theories that may exist to support developing hypotheses.  You must show that you have looked through the literature and have found the latest updates in your field of study in order for a proposal to be convincing to an audience.  This process also helps you to be sure that your investigation is not just “reinventing the wheel.”  A discussion of the present understanding and/or state of knowledge concerning the problem or issue sets the context for your investigation.

Return to Introduction

Questions or Hypothesis

Questions and hypotheses are testable explanations that are proposed before the methodology of a project is conducted, but after the researcher has had an opportunity to develop background knowledge (much like the literature review that you just finished).  Although research questions and hypotheses are different in their sentence structure and purpose, both seek to predict relationships.  Deciding whether to use questions or hypothesis depends on facts such as the purpose of the study, the approach and design of the methodology, and the expected audience for the research proposal. 

A research question proposes a relationship between two or more variables.  Just as the title states, it is structured in form of a question.  There are three types of research questions: 

  • A descriptive research question seeks to identify and describe some phenomenon. 

An example:  What is the ethnic breakdown of patients seen in the emergency room for non- emergency conditions.

  • A differences research question asks if there are differences between groups on some phenomenon. 

For example:  Do patients who receive massage experience more relief from sore muscle pain than patients who take a hot bath?

  • A relationship question asks if two or more phenomena are related in some systematic manner. 

For example:  If one increases his level of physical exercise does muscle mass also increase?

A hypothesis represents a declarative statement, a sentence instead of a question, of the cause-effect relationship between two or more variables.  Make a clear and careful distinction between the dependent and independent variables and be certain they are clear to the reader. Be very consistent in your use of terms. If appropriate, use the same pattern of wording and word order in all hypotheses.  

While hypotheses come from the scientific method, to see how political scientists use hypotheses, imagine how you might use a hypothesis to develop a thesis for this paper:  Suppose that we asked "How are presidential elections affected by economic conditions?"  We could formulate this question into the following hypothesis: "When the national unemployment rate is greater than 7 percent at the time of the election, presidential incumbents are not reelected."

Hypotheses can be created as four kinds of statements.

  1. Literary null—a “no difference” form in terms of theoretical constructs.
    For example, “There is no relationship between support services and academic persistence of nontraditional-aged college women.” Or, “There is no difference in school achievement for high and low self-regulated students.”
  2. Operational null—a “no difference” form in terms of the operation required to test the hypothesis.
    For example, “There is no relationship between the number of hours nontraditional-aged college women use the student union and their persistence at the college after their freshman year.” Or, “There is no difference between the mean grade point averages achieved by students in the upper and lower quartiles of the distribution of the Self-regulated Inventory.”
    The operational null is the most used form for hypothesis-writing.
  3. Literary alternative—a form that states the hypothesis you will accept if the null hypothesis is rejected, stated in terms of theoretical constructs. In other words, this is usually what you hope the results will show.
    For example, “The more that nontraditional-aged women use support services, the more they will persist academically.” Or, “High self-regulated students will achieve more in their classes than low self-regulated students.”
  4. Operational alternative—Similar to the literary alternative except that the operations are specified.
    For example, “The more that nontraditional-aged college women use the student union, the more they will persist at the college after their freshman year.” Or, “Students in the upper quartile of the Self-regulated Inventory distribution achieve significantly higher grade point averages than do students in the lower quartile.”

Regardless of which is selected, questions or hypotheses, this element of the research proposal needs to be as specific as possible in whatever field of study you are investigating.  It should be realistic and feasible, and be formulated with time and resource constraints in mind. 

REFLECTION:  Identify some of the Questions or Hypothesis within studies you have read in your Literature Review.  How do you think that the researchers were able to determine these were sound propositions to make? Are there things that you disagreed with in the questions or hypothesis, or that you would do differently?   What did you learn from reviewing your literature review that might be helpful when you write your own paper? Record your response in your Reflective Journal.

Return to Introduction


Design Approach

Type of Design Used

Role of the Researcher

Data Collection and Analysis


Reliability and Validity of Methods and Results


Resources and Materials




Final Product

Do you know that the key element of your research proposal will be its methodology section? 

Imagine this: You are competing with several other organizations for grant money to conduct an investigation into a new treatment for cancer.  You will need to convince the grant foundation that their money will be well spent, and that you will manage this investigation well. How can they believe that you will produce results if you do not tell them about the methods you intend to use in order to assess and study your research and data?  Will you conduct experiments, or will you study existing groups of individuals? Will you collect numerical data or anecdotes?  How will you know that you have tested the correct populations of people or that your reasoning was sound?  Based on your research proposal's methodology, the grant foundation will either approve or disapprove your investigation, and will determine the amount of your grant.
It is time to examine and study research proposal methodology.    A research proposal's methodology outlines the strategy for conducting an investigation in order to answer a research question.  As a part of an overall research project proposal, the researcher will need to plan out and share the procedures that will be used  in the investigation. 

In this section you will review different approaches, designs, procedures, and methods for investigating your area of research.  Specific tools will be described and evaluated so that you can determine which ones will help you to meet your research goals. 

Design Approach

The overall design of a research project consists of its methods and procedures.  Research design can be described as Qualitative or Quantitative in approach.  It is also possible to have a mixture of the two approaches, both in overall design and in the specific methods used in the investigation.

All researchers, including you, need to understand the full nature of both quantitative and qualitative approaches to research and evaluation methodologies in order to appropriately select the overall design that best fits your investigation. While described as distinct terms, qualitative and quantitative approaches to research methods and design are complementary and can overlap often. 

Return to Procedure or Methodology

Type of Design Used

What are the main types of qualitative approaches to research?

While there are many different investigations that can be done, a study with a qualitative approach generally can be described with the characteristics of one of the following three types:

Historical research describes past events, problems, issues and facts.  Data are gathered from written or oral descriptions of past events, artifacts, etc.  It describes “what was” in an attempt to recreate the past.  It is different from a report in that it involves interpretation of events and its influence on the present.  It answers the question: “What was the situation?” 

Examples of Historical Research

  • A study of the factors leading to the historical development and growth of cooperative learning
  • A study of the effects of the historical decisions of the United States Supreme Court on American prisons
  • A study of the evolution of print journalism in the United States through a study of collections of newspapers
  • A study of the historical trends in public laws by looking recorded at a local courthouse

Ethnographic research develops in-depth analytical descriptions of current systems, processes, and phenomena and/or understandings of the shared beliefs and practices of a particular group or culture.  This type of design collects extensive narrative data (non-numerical data) based on many variables over an extended period of time in a natural setting within a specific context. The background, development, current conditions, and environmental interaction of one or more individuals, groups, communities, businesses or institutions is observed, recorded, and analyzed for patterns in relation to internal and external influences.  It is a complete description of present phenomena.

One specific form of ethnographic research is called a case studyIt is a detailed examination of a single group, individual, situation, or site. 

A meta-analysis is another specific form.  It is a statistical method which accumulates experimental and correlational results across independent studies.  It is an analysis of analyses.

Examples of Ethnographic Research:

  • A case study of parental involvement at a specific magnet school
  • A multi-case study of children of drug addicts who excel despite early childhoods in poor environments
  • The study of the nature of problems teachers encounter when they begin to use a constructivist approach to instruction after having taught using a very traditional approach for ten years
  • A psychological case study with extensive notes based on observations of and interviews with immigrant workers
  • A study of primate behavior in the wild measuring the amount of time an animal engaged in a specific behavior

Narrative research focuses on studying a single person and gathering data through the collection of stories that are used to construct a narrative about the individual’s experience and the meanings he/she attributes to them.

Examples of Narrative Research:

  • A study of the experiences of an autistic student who has moved from a self-contained program to an inclusion setting
  • A study of the experiences of a high school track star who has been moved on to a championship-winning university track team

REFLECTION:  In your Reflective Journal freewrite for one minute, listing as many terms and concepts associated with qualitative methodology that you can recall.  Use those terms to jog your memory as you write a one paragraph summary of what you understand the qualitative approach to research design to be.  Do NOT look back at the information on this website, and do NOT try to write a dictionary definition.  Just your own words and ideas.

Return to Procedure or Methodology

Role of the Researcher

Determine what your role will be in the collection of the research material.  In this section describe your major tasks in your research procedure. Explain whether you will be an unobtrusive observer, a participant observer, or a collaborator.  Evaluate how your own bias may affect the methodology, outcomes, and analysis of findings.

Many times this element of the research Proposal will be affected by Ethics.  In addition, this section is often interwoven in a narrative design explanation with other elements of the proposal.

Review the excerpt below from a research proposal.  See if you can identify how the researcher has defined his or her role in the investigation from the narrative explanation that is provided.

Research Design and Procedures

Following these lines of thinking, a qualitative study of the social world of full-time adult undergraduates is proposed, using semi-structured interviews as the primary research approach. It is proposed to begin the interviewing process in the fall of 1996. They will begin with unstructured questions such as the following: "What has it been like to be a full-time student at Central College?" Often, with only an occasional question from me for clarification, it is anticipated that the adults will talk about a wide variety of topics throughout an extended interview.

It is anticipated that up to 30 interviews and any necessary follow-up interviews will be conducted during that academic year. In addition, follow-up clarifying interviews will be conducted with at least a dozen of these students during the second academic year after I have completed some data analysis and obtained a beginning understanding of the findings.

All interviews will be tape-recorded and, based on four pilot interviews already conducted, are expected to vary in length from 45 minutes to one hour and 45 minutes. The interviews will be informal and open-ended, and carried out in a conversational style.

I will write field notes in conjunction with the interviews, follow-up interviews, observations, and casual encounters with subjects. Memoranda also will be written while listening to taped interviews, typing transcripts, and reflecting upon a particular interview. In addition to the interviews and follow-up interviews, I expect to obtain other data throughout the study, such as comments from administrative and teaching colleagues, papers or other materials subjects care to give to me, and ongoing literature review.

REFLECTION:  In your Reflection Journal answer the following in a 2-3 paragraph response. How does the researcher characterize his or her role in the research process, both directly and indirectly, in the proposal? 

Return to Procedure or Methodology

Data Collection and Analysis Procedures: Sampling and Instrumentation 

Design and describe a specific methodology consistent with your academic discipline, your purpose, your mode of investigation, and your type.  This section of your proposal should explain the details of the proposed plan.  You should discuss how you will go about exploring your problem or issue and what specific tools and methods that you would use.  If you are not the only person working on the project, you need to explain who else is involved.

There are many devices that you can use to collect your data.  Click to see a larger version of the chart.
Research Tools

Each section links to a separate page which would includes:  Pros/Cons, Guide, Resources, Examples and Tools.

Pros/Cons Pros/Cons Pros/Cons Pros/Cons Pros/Cons Pros/Cons
Guide Guide Guide Guide Guide Guide
Resources Resources Resources Resources Resources Resources
Examples Examples Examples Examples Examples Examples
Tools Tools Tools   Tools Tools

Return to Procedure or Methodology


Ethics must be considered in all phases of a research project, from brainstorming ideas, to fundraising grants, to designing studies, to conducting interviews, and right through to final publication of final results.

The National Institute of Environmental Heath Science and the National Institutes of Health have a thorough consideration of all aspects of research ethics for all types of research designs in the article, “What is Ethics in Research & Why is It Important?” by David B. Resnik, J.D., Ph.D. 

As you read the article, generate a list of all of the various ways in which ethics impacts the research process.

Read "What is Ethics in Research & Why is It Important?"

REFLECTION:  Which one of all of the concerns related to research ethics is the most important to remember?  Why?  Defend your choice in an informal essay of at least five paragraphs in your Reflection Journal.  Although you are only defending one concern, you should also refer others in your essay as well.

Now use tutorials, case studies, and other resources to allow you to clarify your understanding of ethical concerns in research.

REFLECTION:  Go through one of the tutorials linked above.  Which one did you select?  Why?  What did you learn that might prepare you to consider ethics for your own research investigation?  Describe your thoughts in 2-3 paragraphs in your Reflection Journal. 

Return to Procedure or Methodology

Reliability and Validity of Methods and Results

You need to convince your reader that your methods and results are both reliable and valid.  The more results prove consistent over time and reflect accurate representations of the total populations under study, the more scientifically reliable they are. If the results of a study can be reproduced under a similar methodology, then the research methods are considered to be reliable. 

Validity determines whether the research truly measures what it was intended to measure, or how truthful the research results are. In other words, does the research instrument allow you to hit "the bull’s eye" of your research objectives? Researchers generally determine validity by asking a series of questions, and will often look for the answers in the research of others.  Each type of research design has its own standards for reliability and validity.


Researchers argue that maintaining the trustworthiness of qualitative research depends on the same issues of quantitative studies known as validity and reliability. While it is difficult in qualitative research to prove validity and reliability through reproducing the same results over and over, like a researcher can do in quantitative research, some qualitative researchers believe that the concept of dependability and consistency in results can develop a sense of validity for qualitative research.


Consistency of data is achieved when the steps of the research are verified through examination of such items as raw data, data reduction products, and process notes. Because it is more difficult to define reliability and validity in qualitative terms, many researchers have developed their own concepts of validity and have often generated or adopted what they consider to be more appropriate terms, such as, quality, rigor and trustworthiness. The idea of discovering truth through measures of reliability and validity is replaced by the idea of trustworthiness, which is “defensible”and establishing confidence in the findings.  


Triangulation is one test for improving the validity and reliability of research or evaluation of findings. As the name implies, triangulation is a strategy that controls bias and helps to establish valid conclusions because it uses at least three (thus, the "tri-" prefix) different types of methods or tools to collect data from which conclusions are made.  Many researchers argue that triangulation strengthens a study by combining methods. This can mean using several kinds of methods or data, including using both quantitative and qualitative approaches.  By using at least three different methods, the researcher is about to obtain multiple, diverse perceptions of a single concept.


Many research tools and models have their own tests for reliability and validity built in to their basic procedures and methodologies.  As you explore and apply these methods to your own research investigation, always question if you are implementing them in a way that makes the process and the results reliable and fair.


More resources on this topic:


REFLECTION:  In your Reflection Journal, sketch a visual representation of what triangulation means in a general sense.  You may use a drawing program or import a clip art.  By creating or selecting a visual definition of a term, you will have provided yourself another way to remember the meaning of the term. 


Quantitative methodology frames its concerns about validity and reliability using the terms internal and external

1.  Internal validity concerns the soundness of an investigation. In particular, studies of cause and effect need to be internally valid. Causal studies include clinical trials, experiments or quasi-experiments. To demonstrate causality, three conditions should be met:

a. The cause must precede the effect
b. The size of the effect varies with the size of the causal factor
c. Other causes for the effect can be ruled out.


a. Food poisoning may be the cause of stomach pain if eating the food preceded the pain. If the pain was present before eating the suspected food then the food could not be the viewed as a possible cause.

b. The second condition for establishing causality would be fulfilled if the degree of pain experienced varies with the amount of the food consumed, i.e. the greater the amount of food consumed, the worse the pain experienced.

c. Finally, other alternative explanations must be ruled out, such as distention or other non-bacterial diseases.

Thus a causal study is internally valid or has good internal validity if the effects observed can be correctly attributed to the treatments administered or to the independent variable. This implies that variables have been controlled, and any possible error or bias due to those variables have been removed or reduced.

2. External validity refers to the extent to which the results of an investigation can be generalized to other samples or situations. There are two types of external validity:

a. Population validity
b. Ecological validity

a. Population validity concerns generalizing from the sample, a part of an identified group from which you want to make a conclusion, to the population, the group about whom you want to make the conclusion. Limits to population validity may arise when the population one wishes to generalize to is not the same population from which the sample was taken.


A study on controlling hypertension draws a random sample of 50 male patients from a population attending the general practice X. Its findings can be really only be generalized to the population of male patients attending that surgery and NOT to ALL male patients with hypertension attending different surgeries or in different parts of a country.

b. Ecological validity refers to generalizing findings to other situations, settings or conditions.


Drug A may relieve acute pain due to injury but not the type of pain induced by laboratory means.
Patients may be able to make a cup of tea in a rehabilitation unit but not in their own homes.
Programs to break addiction to alcohol may not be successful in cases of addiction to heroin.

External validity depends on the use of appropriate basic concepts of sampling and sample size. Probability sampling methods are more likely to result in selecting a sample that is representative of the population that the researcher wishes to study. Non-probability methods usually do not ensure a representative sample but may be appropriate for some studies depending on the study aims.

An adequate sample size reduces the likelihood of sampling error. The following tool is helpful in generating appropriate sample sizes.

This abstract from the National Institutes of Health details the degree to which sample size and population sample characteristics can demonstrate the reliability of conclusions drawn from data.

For more information about Reliability and Validity in Quantitative studies, visit the resources below. 

REFLECTION:  In your Reflection Journal create a T-chart, either using a table or drawing tool.  On one side list as many details about validity that you can recall.  On the other side, list details about sampling.  After you have done this from memory, re-skim some of the material above and the preceding web page.  Add more details to your chart.  These are complex, complicated ideas.  Creating this T-chart will begin to help you to digest this advanced material. 

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You want to be sure that your investigation is feasible for the timeframe that you have.  Inexperienced researchers tend to underestimate the amount of time that the various stages of research will take. Be generous when working out time frames and check them with a more experienced researcher.  In order to do this, you need to map out what you will do and when you will do it.  You also have to keep your goals and objectives for the proposal in mind when setting deadlines for progress and consider what benchmarks you will use to determine your progress.  This may take the form of a chart, timeline or flowchart (or any other organizer you choose).

Give an overview of when you are going to do each specific step of your project.  This does not need to be a day-to-day list, but it should give an overview biweekly or monthly.  Be sure to include time to review and synthesize your data or reflect on the overall study.  You should include time to prepare the final research product as well.

Consider the following questions when setting up your schedule:

  • When will your research start and finish?
  • Are there particular stages to the research - e.g. piloting, then main research?  screening interviews, then a main study?  If there are stages, what are they?
  • What objectives have I set for this investigation?  Are they addressed in the timeline? 
  • Is the timetable realistic?
  • Is it influenced by external constraints or deadlines?
  • How will you provide regular updates and progress reports and to whom will you provide them?  How will you demonstrate progress?

One way to organize yourself is to create a basic table in a Word document or do look at other templates.

There are also online calculators that will assist you in setting deadlines for phases of the research process.

Reviewing samples of other research investigation timelines can give ideas for what you would like to include in your own schedule and how you will budget your time.  Study the following example to see how this researcher organized his timeline.

Management Plan

This section presents my schedule, costs, and qualifications for completing the proposed research. This research culminates in a formal report, which will be completed by December 5, 1997. To reach this goal, I will follow the schedule presented in Figure 1. Since I already possess literature on the subject of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste site, most of my time will be spent sorting through the literature to find key results, and presenting those results to the audience.

research timetable

Now review a few more.  Consider how each was organized and what components were included

REFLECTION:  Based on your exploration of the timetables above, what are the key requirements for a research proposal's timetable?  What are some of the differences that you observed?  Why do you think that these differences exist?  Answer these questions in several paragraphs in your Reflection Journal. 

The following web applications could also assist you in the creation of your timeline and help you to remind yourself of when deadlines are approaching.

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Resources and Materials

List the equipment and resources that are already available that you expect to use in your study.  Itemize what other equipment and resources you will need to complete the investigation.  You must identify the resources you will need to complete the project with a clear understanding of each stage of your project. Be sure to consider people, materials, and equipment/tools in your explanation. While exhaustive details are not required for a general proposal, an assessment of the potential resource requirements is essential for good research planning. A proposal that neglects resource use or underestimates the resources required suggests a poorly thought out project.

The materials and equipment that you need for your research investigation will vary based on your methodology.  The following questions should help guide you in determining what you should include in this section of your proposal.

*What apparatus are you going to use?

*What materials are you going to use?

*Are you going to administer any tests? If so, which ones?

*Are there any special supplies you require?

*Do you need an apparatus or device to observe or record behavior?

*Will you need access to any special supervision, staff, or advisors?

*Do you need any special training, knowledge, or certifications?

Will you need any special literature or guides? 

What access to facilities will you need that are outside of your school?  Inside of your school?

Examples from Actual Proposals 

A. Apparatus

Data on answer speed and call handling time was attained utilizing the Northern Telecom Meridian Max call reporting system. A daily prayer log sheet was used as a self report by prayer intercessors.

B. Materials

Electromyography equipment (stimulator, pre-amplifier, amplifier, display screen, recording device), electrode leads, surface disposable electrodes, conductant gel, skin preparation solution, alcohol swabs, tape measure, recording paper, plotter pens, thermometer.


Supervision is available from the School of Theatre, and while there is no special equipment needed, there are special requirements for access to documents unique to the project. The principal documents required for this project are published libretti of the musicals of Peter Stone, personal papers of Peter Stone, and interviews and archival footage. Materials that cannot be acquired (such as out-of-print libretti) or accessed via the Internet (such as archival video footage) will be sourced by visiting institutions that hold the material. Central to this will be the personal papers of Stone (at the University of California, Los Angeles), correspondence held in the archives of the Dramatists Guild of America (New York), and oral histories, video-recordings of interviews and archival footage of performances (New York). These unique documents are not available on interlibrary loan and must be consulted in-person.

This website lists the many resources that some universities offer to students who are completing research investigations.  The files may provide ideas for the types of resources and materials that you may need in your own investigation.

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Your list of budget items and the calculations you have done to arrive at a dollar figure for each item should be summarized.  A narrative portion of the budget is used to explain the line items in the budget.  Projects that include travel or need large amounts of funding should be specific about benefits and reasons for the cost.

You will be expected to detail the costs of the project, including the cost of all resources such as travel, accommodation and equipment.

Budgetary considerations are important for all students, especially if you have limited access to funds. You need to ensure your project is feasible and establish where the funds will be coming from to finance it.

Narrative Example:
Given that all my sources are available through the University of Wisconsin library system, there is no appreciable cost associated with performing this review, unless one takes into consideration the amount of tuition spent on maintaining the university libraries. The only other minor costs are photocopying articles, creating transparencies for my presentation, printing my report, and binding my report. I estimate these expenses will not exceed $20.

Sample Budget (Narrative Form)

Cost Information

(Note: The evaluation panel reviews cost information after considering the technical aspects of the proposals. The responsibility for evaluation of costs often rests primarily with the contracting officer, who relies on input from other members of the evaluation panel.)

  • Is the overall cost within the rate of your (the contracting agency's) budget?
  • What is the relationship between the cost figures and equivalent items in the technical proposal?
  • Are the personnel costs reasonable according to the tasks to be performed?
  • Are the appropriate personnel assigned to perform the appropriate tasks?
  • Have expenditures been set aside for subcontracting requirements such as data processing?
  • If a large-scale questionnaire must be mailed, has an adequate sum been set aside for postage?
  • Have costs for development of instruments, purchase of materials, such as scoring sheets, etc., been included?
  • Does the travel seem reasonable when compared to the tasks to be accomplished?
  • If consultants or experts are included, is their daily rate reasonable and within the proper financial range for your agency? Is the proposed time reasonable?
  • If appropriate, have costs for local personnel been included?

Data-based examples:

Example entry

Item Unit cost Total
Equipment rental and purchase
Digital voice recorder $150 $150
Transcription machine (hire) $130 $130
Materials and supplies
Lithium batteries (4) $7 $28
1 GB memory stick $95 $95
Stationery $100 $100
Telephone and Internet charges $200 $200
Postage $50 $50
Indirect costs
TOTAL   $753

REFLECTION:  Beside calculating costs, what other benefits does planning a budget provide a researcher?  Explain your ideas in a one-paragraph response in your Reflection Journal.

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Limitations are influences that the researcher can not control

Limitations are shortcomings, conditions or influences that cannot be controlled by the researcher that place restrictions on your methodology and conclusions. Any limitations that might influence the results should be mentioned.

Things to think about:

  • - your analysis
  • - the nature of self-reporting
  • - the instruments you utilized
  • - the sample 
  • - time constraints 

In qualitative research these limitations will often be that the findings cannot be generalized to the larger population.  This is especially true when the definition of the population is broad (ex:  elderly women)


Implementing Communication Strategies in Listening/Speaking Classes at the Foreign Language Center- Cantho University (Dang Thi Kim Mai)

Although this research was carefully prepared, I am still aware of its limitations and shortcomings.

First of all, the research was conducted in the two intermediate classes which have lasted for eight weeks. Eight weeks is not enough for the researcher to observe all of the students’ speaking performance in their classes. It would be better if it was done in a longer time.

Second, the population of the experimental group is small, only thirty-five students and might not represent the majority of the students of the intermediate level.

Third, since the questionnaire designed to measure the students’ attitude towards the use of communication strategies might give useful information about the impacts of communicative strategies; it seems not to provide enough evidence of the students’ actual behaving to communication skills in their speaking performance.

In addition, since the assessment of the pretest and post test was conducted by the author herself, it is unavoidable that in this study, certain degree of subjectivity can be found. In fact, it would have been sort of objective if it had been decided by two or three examiners.

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Delimitations are choices made by the researcher which should be mentioned.

Delimitations describe the boundaries that you have set for the study. This is the place to explain:

  • the things that you are not doing (and why you have chosen not to do them)
  • the literature you will not review (and why not)
  • the population you are not studying (and why not)
  • the methodological procedures you will not use (and why you will not use them)

Limit your delimitations to the things that a reader might reasonably expect you to do but that you, for clearly explained reasons, have decided not to do.

Delimitations define the parameters of the investigation. In educational research the delimitations will frequently deal with such items as population/sample, treatment(s), setting, and instrumentation. For example, the study may focus on children in only one grade level or measure aptitude using only a group intelligence test. (Suggestions for Preparing a Dissertation/Thesis Proposal)


  • A researcher chooses to look only at senior college swimmers or adolescents between 18 to 19 years of age.
  • The researcher picks a particular instrument to collect data with or limits the number of questions asked

REFLECTION:  Answer in a two or three paragraph response in your Reflection Journal.  Why is important that a researcher consider both limitations and delimitations when planning his or her methods?  Be sure to include the definitions of the terms and specific details in your writing. 

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Final Product

In the section, the researcher discusses the possible outcomes of the study, its relation to theory and literature, and its potential impact or application.  A description of the possible forms of the final product, e.g., publishable manuscript, conference paper, invention, model, computer software, exhibit, performance, etc., should be outlined.  Be specific about how you intend to share your results or project with others.  Although all of these ideas may change in light of the research process or the final results, it is always good to plan with the end product in mind.

This section may also include an interpretation and explanation of results as related to your question; a discussion on or suggestions for further work that may help address the problem you are trying to solve; an analysis of the expected impact of the findings and product on the audience; or a discussion on any problems that could hinder your creative work.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • In what form will your findings be presented?
  • How will you be disseminating your findings?
  • To whom will you be disseminating your findings?
  • How will you ensure anonymity in any publications?
  • Will you need to create an abstract of your overall investigation?

Consider how this group presented their findings. 


REFLECTION:  Think back to the purposes for research conclusions and findings (basic, practical, and applied).  Explain in a one or two paragraph entry in your Reflection Journal what the connection is between these purposes for research and the final product of the research investigation.  Use specific terms and details in your answer. 

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Keep a running list of all references as you work through the proposal.  You will need to have this list to avoid plagiarism and chances are you will need to go back to certain references throughout the entire research experience.  This includes all textbooks, reference books, journal articles, Internet sources, etc.  Use the appropriate form of citations for your field. 

See the references section from your Literature Review for a comprehensive guide to completing the reference section of your proposal.  You do not need to duplicate the efforts of your Literature Review, but PLEASE remember to add any new references that you utilized for your methodology, data collection tools, etc.


Adding a few appendices  to the end of your proposal allows you to show how thoroughly you have prepared your research project without obliging the reader to wade through all the details. The purpose of an appendix is to display documents which are relevant to main text, but whose presence in the text would disturb rather than enhance the flow of the argument or writing.  Results of the literature search, pilot data, data collection forms, patient information sheets, and consent forms can all be added as appendices to include documents, pilot study material, questions for interviews, survey instruments, explanatory statement to participants,etc.

Some likely parts to incorporate in the appendices are as follows:

  • Distribution Plan - A vital part of the proposal which is the plan for distributing of information about the project to the audience. It can also include financial statements for the funding agencies which want to see standing of the project. This section may include radio broadcasts, training programs, workshops, printed handouts, , presentations, etc.

  • Cooperating Agency Information – If references of different cooperating agencies are given, then try to give some detail about these agencies in appendices like name and address, services or product, names of important personals, etc.
  • Evaluation Tools – It is good to include the copy of evaluation tools planed to use which are used in information gathering like questionnaires, survey, interview, etc.

Appendices have a format to include the following:

  1. Pagination: Each Appendix begins on a separate page.
  2. Heading:If there is only one appendix, "Appendix" is centered on the first line below the manuscript page header. If there is more than one appendix, use Appendix A (or B or C, etc.). Double-space and type the appendix title (centered in uppercase and lowercase letters).
  3. Format: Indent the first line 5-7 spaces.
  4. Example of APA-formatted Appendix 

And now that you have reviewed all of the Elements of the Research Proposal, it is time to start planning for your own.  You are now ready to begin Stage Two: How Do I Write My Own Research Proposal? 

Return to the Stages of the Research Proposal

Unit Overview for Step 4a - Key Elements of a Research Proposal

The unit is designed to teach students about the Elements of a Research Proposal as well as to provide multiple models for students as they prepare to write their own research proposal in Unit 4b. Students will be able to:

  • Explain why a title is so important to a research proposal
  • Identify the characteristics of effective introductions
  • State the problem in a teacher-selected research proposal
  • Summarize the differences between goals and objectives in a research investigation
  • Define subject-specific and technical research terms
  • Cite the significance of investigations included in the literature review
  • Describe the factors that impact the decision to use questions or an hypothesis in the research proposal
  • Compare and contrast qualitative and quantitative research methods
  • Write an extended constructed response characterizing the role of the researcher in the research process
  • Identify the pros and cons of the following data collection and analysis procedures: interview, observations, focus groups, case studies, questionnaires/surveys, and document reviews
  • Generate a list of the various ways in which ethics impacts the research process
  • Define reliability and validity of methods and results
Explain how a timetable and management plan affects the investigation

Additional resources and lesson plans are available through the Research Course wiki.