This article throws light upon the fifteen main contents of a research proposal. The contents are: 1. Executive Summary 2. Problem Statement 3. Research Objectives 4. Literature Review 5. Importance/Benefits of the Study 6. Research Design 7. Data Analysis 8. Nature and Form of Results 9. Qualifications of Researchers 10. Budget 11. Schedule 12. Facilities and Special Resources 13. Project Management and a Few Others.
Content # 1. Executive Summary:
The executive summary allows a busy manager or sponsor to understand quickly the thrust of the proposal. It is essentially an informative abstract, giving executives the chance to grasp the essentials of the proposal without having to read the details. The goal of the summary is to secure a positive evaluation by the executive who will pass the proposal on to the staff for a full evaluation.
As such, the executive summary should include brief statements of the management dilemma and management question, the research objectives/research questions, and the benefits of your approach. If the proposal is unsolicited, a brief description of your qualifications is also appropriate.
Content # 2. Problem Statement:
This section needs to convince the sponsor to continue reading the proposal. You should capture the reader’s attention by stating the management dilemma, its background, and consequences, and the resulting management question. The management question starts the research task. The importance of researching the management question should be emphasised here if a separate module on the importance/ benefits of study is not included later in the proposal.
In addition, this section should include any restrictions or areas of the management question that will not be addressed. Problem statements too broadly defined cannot be addressed adequately in one study. It is important that the management question be distinct from related problems and that the sponsor see the delimitations clearly. Be sure your problem statement is clear without the use of idioms or clinches.
Content # 3. Research Objectives:
This module addresses the purpose of the investigation. It is here that you layout exactly what is being planned by the proposed research. In a descriptive study, the objectives can be stated as the research question. Recall that the research question can be further broken down into investigative questions. If the proposal is for a causal study, then the objectives can be restated as a hypothesis.
The objectives module flows naturally from the problem statement, giving the sponsor specific, concrete, and achievable goals. It is best to list the objectives either in order of importance or in general terms first, moving to specific terms (i.e., research question followed by underlying investigative questions). The research questions (or hypotheses, if appropriate) should be set off from the flow of the text so they can be found easily.
The research objectives section is the basis for judging the remainder of the proposal and, ultimately, the final report. Verify the consistency of the proposal by checking to see that each objective is discussed in the research design, data analysis, and results sections.
Content # 4. Literature Review:
The literature review section examines recent (or historically significant) research studies, company data, or industry reports that act as a basis for the proposed study. Begin your discussion of the related literature and relevant secondary data from a comprehensive perspective, moving to more specific studies that are associated with your problem. If the problem has a historical background, begin with the earliest references.
Avoid the extraneous details of the literature; do a brief review of the information, not a comprehensive report. Always refer to the original source. If you find something of interest in a quotation, find the original publication and ensure you understand it. In this way, you will avoid any errors of interpretation or transcription.
Emphasise the important results and conclusions of other studies, the relevant data and trends from previous research, and particular methods or designs that could be duplicated or should be avoided. Discuss how the literature applies to the study you are proposing; show the weaknesses or faults in the design, discussing how you would avoid similar problems. If your proposal deals solely with secondary data, discuss the relevance of the data and the bias or lack of bias inherent in it.
The literature review may also explain the need for the proposed work to appraise the shortcomings and hide informational gaps in secondary data sources. This analysis may go beyond scrutinising the availability or conclusions of past studies and their data, to examining the accuracy of secondary sources, the credibility of these sources, and the appropriateness of earlier studies.
Content # 5. Importance/Benefits of the Study:
This section allows you to describe explicit benefits that will accrue from your study. The importance of “doing the study now” should be emphasised. Usually, this section is not more than a few paragraphs.
If you find it difficult to write, then you have probably not understood the problem adequately. Return to the analysis of the problem and ensure, through additional discussions with your sponsor or your research team, or by a re-examination of the literature, that you have captured the essence of the problem.
This section also requires you to understand what is most troubling to your sponsor. If it is a potential union activity, you cannot promise that an employee survey will prevent unionisation. You can, however, show the importance of this information and its implications.
This benefit may allow management to respond to employee concerns and forge a linkage between those concerns and unionisation. The importance/benefits section is particularly important to the unsolicited external proposal. You must convince the sponsoring organisation that your plan will meet its needs.
Content # 6. Research Design:
Up to now, you have told the sponsor what the problem is, what your study goals are, and why it is important for you to do the study. The proposal has presented the study’s value and benefits. The design module describes what you are going to do in technical terms.
This section should include as many subsections as needed to show the phases of the project. Provide information on your proposed design for tasks such as sample selection and size, data collection method, instrumentation, procedures, and ethical requirements. When more than one way exists to approach the design, discuss the methods you rejected and why your selected approach is superior.
Content # 7. Data Analysis:
A brief section on the methods used for analysing the data is appropriate for large scale contract research projects and doctoral theses. With smaller projects, the proposed data analysis would be included within the research design section.
Describe your proposed treatment and the theoretical basis for using the selected techniques. The object of this section is to assure the sponsor you are following correct assumptions and using theoretically sound data analysis procedures.
This is often an arduous section to write. By use of sample charts and dummy tables, you can make it easier to understand your data analysis. This will make the section easier to write and easier to read.
The data analysis section is important enough to contract research that you should contact an expert to review the latest techniques available for your use. If there is no statistical or analytical expertise within your company, be prepared to hire a professional to help with this activity.
Content # 8. Nature and Form of Results:
Upon finishing this section, the sponsor should be able to go back to the problem statement and research objectives and discover that each goal of the study has been covered.
One should also specify the types of data to be obtained and the interpretations that will be made in the analysis. If the data are to be turned over to the sponsor for proprietary reasons, make sure this is reflected. Alternatively, if the report will go to more than one sponsor, that should be noted.
This section also contains the contractual statement telling the sponsor exactly what types of information will be received. Statistical conclusions, applied findings, recommendations, action plans, models, strategic plans, and so forth are examples of the forms of results.
Content # 9. Qualifications of Researchers:
This section should begin with the principal investigator. It is also customary to begin qualifications with the highest academic degree held. Experience in carrying out previous research is important, especially in the corporate market place, so a concise description of similar projects should be included.
Also important to business sponsors is experience as an executive or employee of an organisation involved in a related field. Often businesses are reluctant to hire individuals to solve operational problems if they do not have practical experience. Finally, relevant business and technical societies to which the researcher belongs can be included where this information is particularly relevant to the research project.
The entire curriculum vitae of each researcher should not be included unless required by the RFP. Instead, refer to the relevant areas of experience and expertise that make the researchers the best selection for the task.
Content # 10. Budget:
The budget should be presented in the form the sponsor requests. For example, some organisations require secretarial assistance to be individually budgeted, whereas others insist it be included in the research director’s fees or the overhead of the operation.
In addition, limitations on travel, per diem rates, and capital equipment purchases can change the way in which you prepare a budget. Typically, the budget should be no more than one to two pages. Table below shows a format that can be used for small contract research projects. Additional information, backup details, quotes from vendors, and hourly time and payment calculations should be put into an appendix if required or kept in the researcher’s file for future reference.
The budget statement in an internal research proposal is based on employee and overhead costs. The budget presented by an external research organisation is not just the wages or salaries of their employees but the person-hour price that the contracting firm charges.
The detail presented may vary depending on both the sponsor’s requirements and the contracting research company’s policy.
One reason why external research agencies avoid giving detailed budgets is the possibility that disclosures of their costing practices will make their calculations public knowledge, reducing their negotiating flexibility. Since budget statements embody a financial work strategy that could be used by the recipient of the bid to develop an independent work plan, vendors are often doubly careful.
The budget section of an external agency’s proposal states the total fee payable for the assignment. When it is accompanied by a proposed schedule of payment, this is frequently detailed in a purchase order. Unlike most product sale environments, research payments can be divided and paid at stages of completion. Sometimes a retainer is scheduled for the beginning of the contract, then a percentage at an intermediate stage, and the balance on completion of the project.
It is extremely important that you retain all information you use to generate your budget. If you use quotes from external contractors, get the quotation in writing for your file. If you estimate time for interviews, keep explicit notes on how you made the estimate. When the time comes to do the work, you should know exactly how much money is budgeted for each particular task.
Some costs are more elusive than others. Do not forget to build the cost of proposal writing into your fee. Publication and delivery of final reports can be a last minute expense that can easily be overlooked in preliminary budgets.
Content # 11. Schedule:
Your schedule should include the major phases of the project, their timetables, and the milestones that signify completion of a phase.
For example, major phases may be:
1. Exploratory interviews,
2. Final research proposal,
3. Questionnaire revision,
4. Field interviews,
5. Editing and coding,
6. Data analysis, and
7. Report generation.
Each of these phases should have an estimated time schedule and people assigned to the work. It may be helpful to you and your sponsor if you chart your schedule. You can use a Gantt chart. Alternatively, if the project is large and complex, a critical path method (CPM) of scheduling may be included.
In a CPM chart, the nodes represent major milestones, and the arrows suggest the work needed to get to the milestone. More than one arrow pointing to a node indicates all those tasks must be completed before the milestone has been met.
Usually a number is placed along the arrow showing the number of days or weeks required for that task to be completed. The pathway from start to end that takes the longest time to complete is called the critical path, because any delay in an activity along that path will delay the end of the entire project.
An example of a CPM chart is shown below:
Critical Path: S-1-3-4-7-8-9-E
Time to Complete: 40 days
Content # 12. Facilities and Special Resources:
Often, projects will require special facilities or resources that should be described in detail. For example, a contract exploratory study may need specialised facilities for focus group sessions. Computer-assisted telephone or other interviewing facilities may be required.
Content # 13. Project Management:
The purpose of the project management section is to show the sponsor that the research team is organised in a way to do the project efficiently. A master plan is required for complex projects to show how the phases will all be brought together.
The plan includes following steps:
i. The research team’s organisation.
ii. Management procedures and controls for executing the research plan.
iii. Examples of management and technical reports.
iv. Research team relationship with the sponsor.
v. Financial and legal responsibility.
vi. Management competence.
vii. Tables and charts are most helpful in presenting the master plan.
viii. The relationships between researchers and assistants need to be shown when several researchers are part of the team.
ix. Sponsors must know that lie director is an individual capable of leading the team and being a useful liaison to the sponsor. In addition, procedures for information processing, record control, and expense control are critical to large operations and should be shown as part of the management procedures.
x. The type and frequency of progress reports should be recorded so the sponsor can expect to be kept up-to-date and the researchers can expect to be left alone to do research.
xi. The sponsor’s limits on control during the process should be delineated. Details such as printing facilities, clerical help, or information-processing capabilities those are to be provided by the sponsor.
xii. In addition, right’s to the data, the results, and authority to speak for the researcher and for the sponsor are included.
xiii. Payment frequency and timing are also covered in the master plan.
xiv. Finally, proof of financial responsibility and overall management competence are provided.
Content # 14. Bibliography:
For all projects that require literature review, a bibliography is necessary. Use the bibliographic format required by the sponsor. If none is specified, a standard style manual (e.g., Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for writers of term papers, Thesis, and Dissertations; Joseph Gibaldi and Walter S. Achtert, MIA Handbook for writers of research papers; or the publication manual of the American Psychological Association) will provide the details necessary to prepare the bibliography. Many of these sources also make suggestions for successful proposal writing.
Content # 15. Appendices:
Glossary of terms should be included whenever there are many words unique to the research topic and not understood by the general management community society. This is a simple section consisting of terms and definitions. Also, define any acronyms that you use, even if they are defined within the text.