Before writing a proposal, you have to decide on how you will answer the research question. Brainstorm to imagine how you might investigate the question if there were no limits in place.
But there are limits! Limits include time, money, environment, equipment you can access, and ETHICS. The Institutional Review Board is the organization that oversees the ethical components of research design. In particular, the IRB application process forces researchers to predict the amount of harm that participants may encounter as a result of the experiment and to justify that harm in light of what will be gained AND what the researchers will do to mitigate harm.
To prepare you to write the proposal itself, you first want to begin planning your strategy and thinking through the various steps. To do this, use an "Experiment Plan" - we'll use a straightforward word document (click "experiment plan" link to open .doc file).
The Research Proposal
Research proposals are the next step after an experiment plan. Proposals are written before research is begun with the intent of ensuring that the experimental protocol is practicable and ethical; in other words, proposals are judged for whether the investigator has enough experience and resources to complete the project and whether the protocol protects participants and/or mitigates potential harm. Proposals are formal documents, but may be required in situations ranging from class assignments to multi-million dollar initiatives.
Proposals contain the following basic parts, each of which may have a somewhat different label depending on instructor or funding agency requirements (proposals may also include title, abstract, hypotheses, predicted results):
- Signficance/Objective - this is the introduction to the proposal - it is brief and contains the following:
- Topic + General Significance (1 sentence)
- Key Ideas leading to Gap/Motivation (2-3 sentences)
- Research Question (1 sentence)
- Why RQ matters (1 sentence) OR Hypotheses
- Literature Review - this is the background material, may include both published literature and unpublished lab results for which documentation can be provides - overall goal of lit review is to justify necessity of proposed research, therefore must cover key ideas and must clearly demonstrate motivation for research - organize using subheadings
- Participants - who is your target population?
- Procedure - how will research be conducted?
- Materials - list of actual materials, equipment, instruments, budget, etc. - provide copy of survey instrument