• Document: How to prepare a research proposal
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How to prepare a research proposal Every theological research project should begin with a research proposal. Before writing a thesis or a dissertation, your proposal needs to be approved by a panel of experts. A professor may require you to submit a brief proposal for a term paper. Even if a project does not require a formal proposal, you will benefit from preparing one for yourself; it will focus your thoughts and give your research direction. The ability to conceptualise and write a quality proposal is the mark of a man ready to do independent research. In this chapter, we are going to look at the research proposal as a whole—its value, components and preparation. The two chapters that follow will each tackle one of the two main parts of the proposal, the research problem and the research plan, in greater detail. The value of a research proposal A research proposal “is a document that outlines how you propose to undertake your research studies” (Mouton 2001:44). Essentially, it outlines what you will research and how you will research it. The “what” part is called the problem; the “how” part we call the plan. A proposal describes a problem and sets out a logical, systematic plan to solve it. Whether it is a 1-page outline for your own use or a detailed doctoral proposal, writing the research proposal is the most difficult and the most important part of the entire research project! If you rush through this step, you will have a poorly conceived research problem and plan. This makes the rest of the study difficult. On the other hand, if you invest time and effort to produce a first- class proposal, the rest of the study should fall into place. The greatest value of a proposal is that it keeps the research project on course. It gives direction and focus to the project. It prevents you taking rabbit trails—time consuming, energy sapping digressions. If you invest the time and energy at the start of your project to think through what you will research and how you will go about it, formulating a clear picture in your mind of your 1 Smith, How to prepare a research proposal destination and the route you will take to get there, your journey should go without delay or detour. For example, if you carefully and precisely formulate your research problem, keeping it narrow and focused and identifying which aspects to include and exclude, you dramatically reduce the amount of reading you need to do. This saves time. If your problem is vague and fuzzy, you will read five times as much because you have no clear yardstick to distinguish what you must read from what you need not read. Similarly, if you think through the essential steps you must take to solve the problem, you reduce the chance of wasting time gathering data not necessary to solve the problem. In short, prepare a good proposal and your research will flow; prepare a poor one and it will flop. An old adage—“failing to prepare is preparing to fail”— certainly applies to research. Yet students often do a poor job of preparing their proposals. Why? Partly due to ignorance, that is, not understanding the nature of research well enough to plan the project. I suspect over-eagerness is an even bigger cause. In their haste to get on with “the real work”, they slap together a poorly conceived proposal. Preparing a quality proposal is hard work. It requires much reading and reflection. It is time-consuming. However, in the long run, it saves time. So, I urge you, invest quality time in the proposal. Prepare it well. What you sow into the proposal, you will reap in the thesis. If you are convinced of the value of preparing the proposal properly, you will be wondering what elements should go into a research proposal. Views differ from one researcher to another. In the next section, I shall present my preferred breakdown of the elements that belong in a proposal. The elements of a research proposal A research proposal consists of two main parts: the research problem and the research plan. The first part, the research problem, addresses “the what” of the study; it describes the problem the researcher will attempt to solve. Part two, the research plan, focuses on “the how” of the study; it explains how the researcher will go about solving the research problem. Let us examine each part. 2 Smith, How to prepare a research proposal Part 1: The research problem The first part of the proposal should state the research problem with the utmost focus and clarity. The problem the researcher will attempt to solve needs to be defined and delimited with such precision as to leave no confusion or ambiguity as to what the research is about and what it aims to accomplish. The more clearly and precisely the research problem is laid out, the more focus the research will have. Your problem should be so clearly stated that anyone anywhere in the world (who reads English) may rea

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