Research methods: Building a knowledge base
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Research methods: Building a knowledge base
Malec, T. & Newman, M. (2013). Research methods: Building a knowledge base. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc. ISBN-13: 9781621785743, ISBN-10: 1621785742.
1.6 Writing a Research Proposal
After reviewing the literature and putting considerable thought into planning a study, the next step is to prepare a research proposal. The goalof any research proposal is to present a detailed description about the research problem and the methods with which you think that theresearch should be conducted. Research proposals are extremely important because they are key to unlocking the research project (Leedy &Ormrod, 2010). They may determine whether you receive approval or funding, so they need to clearly articulate the purpose of the researchand persuade the audience it is worthwhile. If research proposals do not clearly and specifically define the research problem and methods, theproject might not be accepted. Therefore, it is imperative that the research proposal include “a clearly conceived goal and thorough, objectiveevaluation of all aspects of the research endeavor” (Leedy & Ormrod, 2010, p. 117).
Research proposals can range from three pages for some grant applications to more than 30 pages (e.g., for a dissertation or federal grant).They may or may not require an abstract and will have a different format for institutional review board (IRB) approval (see Section 1.7, Ethics inResearch). For our purposes, in general, research proposals follow a standard format. The following is an example you might use:
- Title/Cover Page
- Introduction or Statement of the Problem
- The research problem
- The statement of the problem and possible subproblems
- The purpose statement
- Hypotheses and/or research questions
- Independent and dependent variables
- The assumptions
- The importance of the study
- Review of the Literature
- Research methodology
- Participants and participant selection
- Data collection procedures
- Data analysis techniques
- Strengths and limitations
- Ethical considerations
Research proposals are written like research articles in APA style, which is favored in academia. The language must be clear and precise, inparagraph format, and written in a professional, academic manner. Unlike stories or memoirs, proposals are not intended to be creative literaryworks; rather, they should set down certain facts. Organized with headings and subheadings, the proposal should clearly and specifically explainthe research problem, who the participants will be and how they will be selected, what data collection methods will be used, and how the datawill be analyzed and interpreted. Research proposals are required for all theses and dissertations. If you are currently working on a master’sthesis or doctoral dissertation, your university or committee chair may have a specific format for you to follow that may differ slightly from theformat presented in this book. An example of an APA formatted proposal is provided in the Appendix .
Formatting the Research Proposal
As mentioned previously, research proposals are written in APA style and follow an organized format. Although there are different ways toformat a proposal, most follow a similar format to the one that is discussed in this book. The following sections will discuss the specifics offormatting of your proposal as well as the content that should be included within each section.
Headings and Subheadings
Writing a proposal in APA style may seem complicated at first; however, the format is similar to a research paper or any academic paper that isrequired to be written in APA style. APA style uses a unique heading and subheading system that separates and classifies sections of researchpapers. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association Sixth Edition (2010) utilizes five heading levels; although all headinglevels may not be used, it is important to follow them in sequential order:
- Level 1: Centered, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Heading
- Level 2: Left-aligned, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Heading
- Level 3: Indented five spaces, boldface, lowercase heading with a period.For Level 3 headings, the body text begins after the period.
- Level 4: Indented five spaces, boldface, italicized, lowercase heading with a period. For Level 4 headings, the body text begins after theperiod.
- Level 5: Indented five spaces, italicized, lowercase heading with a period . For Level 5 headings, the body text begins after the period.
Section headings such as Review of the Literature, Methods, and so forth, are Level 1 headings. Subsection headings such as Participants, DataCollection, and so on, that follow under the section heading Methods, for example, are Level 2 headings. Subsections of subsection headings areLevel 3 through Level 5. The following is an example of the various heading levels you might use in your research proposal:
Introduction (Level 1) The Research Problem (Level 2) Purpose of the Study (Level 2) Hypotheses and/or Research Questions (Level 2) Independent and Dependent Variables (Level 2) Assumptions (Level 2) Importance of the Study (Level 2) Review of the Literature (Level 1) The Cognitive Profile of Learning Disabilities in Reading (Level 2) The Cognitive Profile of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (Level 2) Method (Level 1) Research Methodology (Level 2) Participants (Level 2) Data Collection (Level 2) Instrumentation. (Level 3) WISC-IV. (Level 4) WISC-IV PI. (Level 4) Data Analysis (Level 2) Discussion (Level 1) Strengths and Limitations (Level 2) Ethical Considerations (Level 2) References (Level 1) Appendix (Level 1)
An important guideline to remember is that you should be consistent in your use of heading levels throughout the research proposal. Thus, allheadings with equal importance should follow the same heading level.
The Title Page
A title page is required for all research proposals as its first page. In general, title pages include a running head with the page number, as wellas the abbreviated title of the paper, the student’s name, and the university or institution name. Although some universities may have specificrequirements regarding how the title page is formatted, the following is formatted according to APA style:
Running head: PREMORBID COGNITIVE ABILITIES 1
Estimation of Premorbid Cognitive Abilities in
Children with Traumatic Brain Injury
The running head is a shortened version of the full title and is included in the top margin of the page. The running head is set flush left withthe abbreviated title in all capital letters. On the same line of the running head, the page number is set flush right. The title of the paper, thestudent’s name, and the university affiliation are centered approximately in the middle of the page and formatted in uppercase and lowercaseletters. It is recommended that titles include no more than 12 words.
The Abstract Page
The abstract page is page two of your paper. An abstract is a summary of your proposal and should include the research problem, theparticipants, data collection methods, and any hypotheses or research questions. Abstracts for research proposals are generally between 150and 250 words in length.
The abstract should contain your running head title from the title page as well as the page number. As shown in the example, the first word ofthe abstract is not indented. Thus, the entire abstract is set flush left. Please keep in mind that the title “running head” is dropped after pageone and only the abbreviated title and page number are included, as shown below:
PREMORBID COGNITIVE ABILITIES 2
The present study will review currently available methods for estimating premorbid intellectual abilities inchildren. It examines the potential of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children–Fourth Edition (WISC–IV;Wechsler, 2003) as an estimate of premorbid IQ in children with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Archival data willbe obtained from a sample of 2,200 children aged 6:0–16:11 who participated in the standardization phase ofthe WISC–IV and 43 children aged 6:0–16:11 with a history of moderate or severe TBI who participated in aWISC–IV special group study. First, demographic variables including sex, ethnicity, parent education level, andgeographic region will be entered into a regression analysis to determine a demographic-based premorbidprediction equation for the WISC–IV Full Scale Intelligence Quotient (FSIQ). Second, a logistic regressionanalysis will be used to investigate which WISC–IV subtest–scaled scores improve the differential diagnosis ofTBI versus a matched control group. Third, analysis of variance (ANOVA) will be used to examine whichsubtests yielded the lowest mean scores for the TBI group. It is expected that parental education will be thestrongest predictor of premorbid IQ and that individuals with TBI will have lower scores on Processing Speedand Working Memory indices.
The Introduction Section
The Introduction section begins on page three of your proposal. The primary purpose of the Introduction section is to introduce the reader tothe nature of the study by including necessary background that describes and supports your research problem. The introduction generallyincludes a statement of the research problem, any potential subproblems, the purpose statement, hypotheses and/or research questions,identification of the variables, assumptions of the study, and importance of the study. The introduction typically begins with a statement of theresearch problem area and is followed by a justification for your proposed study. Only research needed to explain the purpose of or need foryour study should be included in this section.
As discussed previously, the purpose statement should include the focus, population, and methodology of the study. Depending upon whetheryour research is quantitative or qualitative, you will want to include your hypotheses and/or research questions next and discuss how yourhypotheses and/or research questions relate to your research problem and purpose statement. You should next review the key independent anddependent variables, followed by a discussion of the assumptions you will make about the research and how the research will be expected tocontribute to the field.
The length of the introduction can vary based on your university, committee chair, or instructor’s requirements. In general, the introductionsection ranges anywhere from 3 to 5 pages to 15 to 25 pages. The more detailed information you include in your proposal, the closer you willbe to completing your thesis or dissertation.
The Literature Review Section
The primary purpose of the literature review is to provide theoretical perspectives and previous research findings on the research problem youhave selected (Leedy & Ormrod, 2010). As a researcher, you should investigate your topic extremely well so that you have a thoroughunderstanding about the research problem area. Thus, your literature review should contain both breadth and depth, and clarity and rigor, inorder to support the need for your research to be conducted. Any reader of your literature review should be able to comprehend theimportance of your research problem and the difference the research will make to the field. Keep in mind that a literature review is not simplya collection of summaries, abstracts, or annotated bibliographies but rather a thorough analysis and synthesized review of the research and howeach piece of research builds upon the other.
According to Levy and Ellis (2006), a literature review should go through the following steps: (a) methodologically analyze and synthesize qualityliterature, (b) provide a firm foundation to a research topic, (c) provide a firm foundation to the selection of research methodology, and (d)demonstrate that the proposed research contributes something new to the overall body of knowledge or advances the research field’sknowledge base (p. 182). Remember: Your literature review should provide a theoretical foundation and justification for your proposed study.
A good literature review does not simply report the literature but evaluates, organizes, and synthesizes it (Leedy & Ormrod, 2010). Whenreading and reviewing existing literature, it is important to critically evaluate what has already been done and what the findings showed. Do notjust take what the authors say at face value; instead, evaluate whether the findings support the methods that were used and the analyses thatwere conducted.
In addition to evaluating the literature, you must organize it. This means grouping the literature according to your subproblem areas, researchquestions, or variables being assessed. For example, if conducting a study on the demographic predictors of special education, you would wantto group your literature based on the various demographic variables and the influences that they may have on placement in special education.Finally and most importantly, you must synthesize the diverse perspectives and research results you’ve read into a cohesive whole (Leedy &Ormrod, 2010). Leedy and Ormrod (2010) discuss several approaches to synthesizing information, including the following:
- comparing and contrasting the literature
- showing how the literature has changed over time
- identifying trends or similarities in research findings
- identifying discrepancies or contradictions in research findings
- locating similar themes across the literature
The following example shows a paragraph synthesizing the literature. Note that the review does not include summaries of the articles but ratherdisplays similarities found in the research:
Several studies have examined the relationship between demographic variables and cognitive functioning.Research has shown that demographic variables such as socioeconomic status and education level are closelyrelated to scores on cognitive tests and contribute significantly to variance in IQ scores (Crawford, 1992;Kaufman, 1990). Utilizing this close relationship, Wilson et al. (1978) developed the first regression equation topredict premorbid IQ using the WAIS standardization sample. The equation included age, sex, race, education,and occupation and accounted for 53% of the variance in the Verbal IQ, 42% of the variance in thePerformance IQ, and 54% of the variance in the Full Scale IQ. Cross-validation studies have confirmed theWilson et al. equation to be a useful predictor of premorbid IQ. The equation has been used to predictoutcome from closed head injury (Williams, Gomes, Drudge, & Kessler, 1984), to estimate British WAIS scores(Crawford, Stewart et al., 1989), and to estimate premorbid functioning among healthy adults (Goldstein, Gary,and Levin, 1986). Although the use and application of Wilson’s formula has tended to overpredict high scoresand underpredict low scores, the formula appears to provide adequate predictions for those within theaverage range of functioning.
An example of a compare-and-contrast synthesized review would look like the following:
As with all regression-based methods, a number of limitations are present in the use of demographic-basedprediction models. As Karzmark, Heaton, Grant, and Matthews (1985) found in their use of the Wilson et al.formula to predict WAIS IQ scores, demographic equations tend to overestimate and underestimate IQ scoresfor individuals who are one standard deviation or more from the population mean. Research has shown strongcorrelations between specific demographic variables and measured IQ scores, but Bolter, Gouvier, Veneklasen,and Long (1982) found the Wilson et al. equation to be limited in its ability to predict groups of head injuredindividuals and controls.
On the other hand, Wilson, Rosenbaum, and Brown (1979) compared the hold method of the DeteriorationIndex developed by Wechsler in 1958 against Wilson’s 1978 demographic equation and found the Wilson et al.formula to have a 73% accuracy of classification, while the Wechsler method resulted in only 62% accuracy.Although the demographic-based method may have mixed results at an individual level, cross-validationstudies have shown them to do an adequate job of predicting mean IQ scores at the group level (Vanderploeg,1994).
Remember that writing a literature review takes time and organization. It is important that you thoroughly review the relevant literature youuncovered in your key term search. This can be a painstaking endeavor, but the search should not conclude until you are reasonably sure youhave researched all the critical viewpoints of your research problem. It is also helpful to develop an outline of topics you plan on addressing.
Finally, note that a good literature review is not plagiarized or copied and pasted from other sources, as the Internet makes so tempting. Whenreviewing literature, be sure you summarize the information in your own words and give credit where credit is due. It is sometimes helpful toread the literature and then develop summaries of the articles in your own words. You can then use these summaries to develop your literaturereview. Keep in mind that your literature review is a working draft that will be modified and perfected throughout the research process.
The Method Section
The method section includes a detailed description of the method of inquiry (quantitative, qualitative, or mixed design approach); researchmethodology used; the sample; data collection procedures; and data analysis techniques. The key purpose of the method section is to discussyour design and the specific steps and procedures you plan to follow in order to complete your study. A detailed description of methods isessential in any research proposal because it allows others to examine the efficacy of the study as well as replicate it in the future.
This section discusses whether quantitative, qualitative, or a mixed design approach was used and the rationale for choosing this method ofinquiry. It also includes specific information on the selected research methodology. For example, will your study be utilizing experimentalmethods, quasi-experimental methods, or observational methods? And what is the purpose for selecting that method or methods? Rememberthat you should be making an argument and justifying the type of research methodology you plan to use, regardless of the type of inquiry.
The participant section describes the population of interest and the sample that will be used. In quantitative studies, the sample is intended torepresent the larger population and tends to be larger in size than for qualitative studies. In qualitative studies, the sample may be a smallnumber of participants or even only one participant and is not intended to represent the larger population. In both quantitative and qualitativestudies, this section should discuss the sample in detail: the population you want to learn about; where participants will be recruited or studied;how the participants will be notified about the study; how the participants will be selected (e.g., what type of sampling method will be used,such as random sampling, snowball sampling, etc.); what criteria will be required for inclusion in the study (e.g., age, level of educationobtained, marital status, employment position); and the overall proposed size of the sample. For quantitative studies, when discussing thesample, it is also important to include which demographic information (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity, level of education, socioeconomic status) youwill need to create a representative sample of the entire population. A representative sample ensures that the results can be generalized to theentire population as a whole.
Data Collection Procedures
The data collection section describes how the data will be collected, step by step. This section should detail how informed consent will beobtained from the participants, when the data will be collected and for how long, and what methods or measures will be used to collect thedata. Remember: Providing detailed information is crucial to ensure that others can follow your study and replicate it in the future. Thus, thissection should include a step-by-step description of each of the procedures you will follow to carry out the data collection. Describe the datacollection forms you will use, as well as any survey, research, or testing instruments you may use or develop to collect the data, and therationale for utilizing such procedures. Copies of any forms or instruments used should be included in the Appendix section of your researchproposal.
The data analysis section includes a brief step-by-step description of how the data will be analyzed as well as what statistical methods or othermethods of analysis and software will be utilized. If you are doing quantitative method research, you will want to discuss how the data will beentered into a statistical software program, how the data will be kept confidential, and what statistical analyses will be run. If using qualitativemethods, you will want to discuss the type of qualitative method used, the interview type, interview questions, sample type (e.g., random, convenience), how the data will be reviewed (e.g., how interviews or observations will be reviewed or transcribed), and how the data will becoded.
The Discussion Section
As emphasized throughout this chapter, one of the most important characteristics of a research proposal is to make a strong case for or justifythe need to study your research problem. In doing so, you will want to discuss the strengths of your research study as well as any limitationsand ethical issues that will need to be considered. It should be noted that some universities require this information to be included in theMethod section. In those cases, you would include strengths, limitations, and ethical considerations after the Data Analysis heading in theMethod section.
Strengths and Limitations
This section is fairly straightforward. It should discuss the implications for future research, practice, and theory as well as any potentiallimitations that might impact the research process or results. Some limitations may include difficulty in obtaining participants, difficulty inobtaining a representative sample, or time and financial constraints.
This section should include any potential issues that might be considered ethical dilemmas. For example, if studying minors, how will you obtainconsent and ensure confidentiality? If studying certain employees, how will you keep information from their supervisors? Or if your study maytrigger emotional trauma, such as memories about abuse, how will you reduce any stress or negative feelings that occur during the study?
The References Section
This section should include all references that were cited within your proposal in alphabetical order and using APA style. Only references usedwithin your proposal should be included on the References page; conversely, there should be no references listed on the References page thatwere not cited in your proposal.
It is important to list all references in correct APA format. The following examples show how to correctly cite journal articles, websites, andbooks according to the APA Publication Manual Sixth Edition:
Example of a journal article with the document ID number included:
Brownlie, D. (2007). Toward effective poster presentations: An annotated bibliography. European Journal of Marketing, 41, 1245–1283.doi:10.1108/03090560710821161
Example of a journal article with no document ID assigned to it:
Kenneth, I. A. (2000). A Buddhist response to the nature of human rights. Journal of Buddhist Ethics, 8. Retrieved fromhttp://www.cac.psu.edu/jbe/twocont.html
Example of a print (or hardcopy) journal article:
Harlow, H. F. (1983). Fundamentals for preparing psychology journal articles. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 55, 893–896.
Example of a textbook:
Calfee, R. C., & Valencia, R. R. (1991). APA guide to preparing manuscripts for journal publication. Washington, DC: American PsychologicalAssociation.
Example of a chapter in a textbook:
O’Neil, J. M., & Egan, J. (1992). Men’s and women’s gender role journeys: A metaphor for healing, transition, and transformation. In B. R.Wainrib (Ed.), Gender issues across the life cycle (pp. 107–123). New York, NY: Springer.
Example of a website:
Keys, J. P. (1997). Research design in occupational education. Retrieved from http://www.okstate.edu
The Appendix Section
The Appendix section should include a copy of any forms that will be used during your research. These include consent forms, instructions forp
Research methods: Building a knowledge base
The background and significance of the problem and a clear statement of the research purpose is provided. The search history is mentioned.
Content is well-organized with headings for each slide and bulleted lists to group related material as needed. Use of font, color, graphics, effects, etc. to enhance readability and presentation content is excellent. Length requirements of 10 slides/pages or less is met.
More depth/detail for the background and significance is needed, or the research detail is not clear. No search history information is provided.
Review of relevant theoretical literature is evident, but there is little integration of studies into concepts related to problem. Review is partially focused and organized. Supporting and opposing research are included. Summary of information presented is included. Conclusion may not contain a biblical integration.
Content is somewhat organized, but no structure is apparent. The use of font, color, graphics, effects, etc. is occasionally detracting to the presentation content. Length requirements may not be met.
The background and/or significance are missing. No search history information is provided.
Review of relevant theoretical literature is evident, but there is no integration of studies into concepts related to problem. Review is partially focused and organized. Supporting and opposing research are not included in the summary of information presented. Conclusion does not contain a biblical integration.
There is no clear or logical organizational structure. No logical sequence is apparent. The use of font, color, graphics, effects etc. is often detracting to the presentation content. Length requirements may not be met
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Research methods: Building a knowledge base