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Survey Research: Design and Presentation

The goal of a proposal is to demonstrate that you are ready to start your research project by presenting a distinct idea, question or issue which has great interest for you, along with the method you have chosen to explore it.

The process of developing your research question is related to the literature review. As you discover more from your research, your question will be shaped by what you find.

The clarity of your idea dictates the plan for your dissertation or thesis work. 

From the University of North Texas faculty member Dr. Abraham Benavides:

a research question should pass the so what test think about the potential impact of the research you are proposing

Elements of a Thesis Proposal

(Adapted from the Department of Communication,  University of Washington)

Dissertation proposals vary but most share the following elements, though not necessarily in this order.

1. The Introduction

In three paragraphs to three or four pages very simply introduce your question. Use a narrative to style to engage readers.  A well-known issue in your field, controversy surrounding some texts, or the policy implications of your topic are some ways to add context to the proposal.

2. Research Questions

State your question early in your proposal. Even if you are going to restate your research questionas part of the literature review, you may wish to mention it briefly at the end of the introduction.

Make sure if you have questions which follow from your main question that this is clearly indicated. The research questions should include any boundaries you have placed on your inquiry, for instance time, place, and topics. Terms with unusual meanings should be defined. 

3. Literature Synthesis or Review

The proposal must be described within the broader body of scholarship around the topic. This is part of establishing the significance of your research. The discussion of the literature typically shows how your project will extend what’s already known.

In writing your literature review, think about the important theories and concepts related to your project and organize your discussion accordingly; you usually want to avoid a strictly chronological discussion (i.e., earliest study, next study, etc.).

What research is directly related to your topic? Discuss it thoroughly.

What literature provides context for your research? Discuss it briefly.

In your proposal you should avoid writing a genealogy of your field’s research. For instance, you don’t need to tell your committee about the development of research in the entire field in order to justify the particular project you propose. Instead, isolate the major areas of research within your field that are relevant to your project.

4. Significance of your Research Question

Good proposals leave readers with a clear understanding of the dissertation project’s overall significance. Consider the following:

  • advancing theoretical understandings 
  • introducing new interpretations
  • analyzing the relationship between variables 
  • testing a theory 
  • replicating earlier studies 
  • exploring the whether earlier findings can be demonstrated to hold true in new times, places, or circumstances 
  • refining a method of inquiry.

5. Research Method

The research method that will be used involves three levels of concern:

  • overall research design
  • delineation of the method
  • procedures for executing it.

At the outset you have to show that your overall design is appropriate for the questions you’re posing. 

Next, you need to outline your specific research method. What data will you analyze? 

How will you collect the data? Supervisors sometimes expect proposals to sketch instruments (e.g., coding sheets, questionnaires, protocols) central to the project. 

Third, what procedures will you follow as you conduct your research? What will you do with your data? A key here is your plan for analyzing data. You want to gather data in a form in which you can analyze it. [In this case the method is a survey administered to a group of people]. If appropriate, you should indicate what rules for interpretation or what kinds of statistical tests that you’ll use.

6. Tentative Dissertation Outline

Give your committee a sense of how your thesis will be organized. You can write a short (two- or three-sentence) paragraph summarizing what you expect to include in each section of the thesis.

7. Tentative Schedule for Completion

Be realistic in projecting your timeline. Don’t forget to include time for human subjects review, if appropriate .

8. References

If you didn’t use footnotes or endnotes throughout, you should include a list of references to the literature cited in the proposal.

9. Selected Bibliography of Other Sources

You might want to append a more extensive bibliography (check with your supervisor). If you include one, you might want to divide it into several subsections, for instance by concept, topic or field.