Most of the postgraduate candidates do struggle with the idea of how to write a research proposal when they finalize their coursework. Writing a research proposal involves outlining a number of activities that a candidate will undertake in doing a study. The goal of a research proposal to present and justify the need to study a given problem. A research proposal presents practical ways through which a study will be conducted. At Tobit Research Consulting Limited, attention is given to proposal development as part of the training courses. The aim of this course is to equip candidates with practical approaches towards data collection, analysis and presentation. There is need to equip everyone with the skills and knowledge so that they can carry out their own research work.

A standard research proposal has three basic sections referred to as chapters.

  1. Chapter One

This is the introduction to the phenomena under investigation. The chapter sets the background of the study so that a reader can understand why we are here. Developing the background of the study takes a funnel-shape approach, which involves discussing global aspects of the research topic followed by regional and finally local perspective. Some historical developments of the phenomena using recent sources greatly adds value to the research proposal being written.

After writing the background, it is imperative to show the reader the actual problem that motivated the study. In this case, the researcher seeks to answer the question who is being affected? Or who is complaining? The problem is actually the research gap being filled through a given research process. The research gap can be:

  • Conceptual gap
  • Contextual gap
  • Methodological gap

The conceptual gap is concerned about lack of consensus in literature on the dimension of the role of reasoned action. The conceptual framework outlines the relationship between the dependent and independent variables. The topic of the study or even the main independent variable could be the same for two or more studies, but the concepts used are slightly different. This way, the conceptual gap exists. A conceptual gap is a reason why I research in a given area should be carried out. A conceptual gap still occurs when research available has not covered the phenomenon of interest.

The contextual gap, on the other hand, relates to the geographical place or circumstances in which a study was carried out. For example, one researcher could investigate the effect of strategic management practices on performance in SMEs in Nyandarua County and another focus on Kisumu County. Moreover, one study could be based on SMEs and another on government academic institutions. The two examples present contextual gaps in research. These two examples present cases of contextual gaps that can be addressed by replicating studies to other contexts.

When carrying out research, different researchers adopt varied methods to collect and analyze research. Some methods are more applicable to certain research topics while others are not. Hence, this means that a methodological gap will be evident if a method chosen for data collection and analysis of a given subject is not suitable for that phenomenon.

Stating aims and objectives of the study identified the specific intention of writing a research proposal for a given study. The objectives should meet the SMART criteria and exhibit consistency with the topic/phenomenon under investigation. Research questions or hypotheses are developed from the research objectives. The choice of whether to have research objectives or research questions is determined by the nature of data to be collected. Hypotheses are usually associated with quantitative data while research questions are mostly associated with qualitative data although there are instances where research questions can be retained for retained for quantitative data. It depends on the nature of analyses that a researcher intend to carry out.

Chapter one should also provide the justification to the study, scope of the study, and limitations of the study. The chapter is winded up with a section of the structural organisation of the project/thesis.

  1. Chapter Two

This is the second chapter of a research proposal writing exercise. The chapter has three identifiable sections. These are:

            Theoretical review

This section identifies the theories that underpin a given research topic or phenomenon. The theories should be relevant to the study. For example, if your topic is about the effect of the competitive environment on performance of SMEs, one of your theories could be Michael Porter’s Five Forces analysis model. Give a brief history of the theory and explain its relevance to the study. Of most important when discussing theories is to explain its tenets before relating it to the current study.

           Empirical review

Empirical review seeks to link the current study to previous studies. The section identifies studies that have been carried out in the area under consideration. The literature is critiqued based on its methodology, variables of the study, and context in which it was carried out. Through this review, research gaps are indemnified in terms of methodological, contextual and conceptual. When writing an empirical review for a research proposal, it is important to write one study at a time. For example, in the study topic in (i) above, a research could write:

Ismail & Alam (2017) carried out a study on trust, commitment, and competitive advantage in export performance of SMEs. Using a purposeful sampling technique, the researchers selected a sample of 250 employees working for SMEs in Malaysia and administered questionnaires through drop-off and main surveys methods. Findings from the study revealed that trust has a significant relationship with commitment and firm performance. Regardless of the robustness of this findings in informing the current study, there is a contextual gap, implying that further research is necessary for this context.

When writing a research proposal, it is recommended that empirical review focus on the most recent studies particularly those not older than five years. Hence, the analysis should be critical rather than just summarizing a research source. The critique process focuses on identifying consistencies and inconsistencies among a number of studies and explaining how various ways through which studies were done could affect the findings of those studies.

           Theoretical framework

The theoretical framework identifies the relationship between variables and presents an operationalization of variables. A diagram showing a hypothesized interaction of the variables is drawn and explained.

  1. Chapter Three

The third chapter of a research proposal identifies the methodological approaches towards a study. The chapter identifies:

  1. Research design
  2. Target population
  3. Sampling and sampling techniques
  4. Data collection instruments
  5. Pilot test
  6. Validity and reliability tests
  7. Data collection procedures
  8. Data processing and analysis
  9. Presentation of the findings

When writing the methodology, it is necessary to justify it by stating advantages of this method over another. Your research proposal may be rejected if it fails to identify and justify the chosen methods of carrying out the study.

Given the above view of steps towards writing a research proposal, it is possible to start and write a high quality proposal for a study. However, if you need further help on how to write a research proposal, feel free to read more from here.