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University of Dublin Trinity College School of Business Graduate Research Programme (2012-2013) Guidelines for Developing a Research Proposal1

The Research Proposal must not exceed 10 pages (excluding title page, tables, figures, samples of research instruments, and references, but including all other written appendices). It should be left justified, 1.5 lines, with a font size of 11 points. The Research Proposal needs to fully adhere to one of the standard citation style guides used in the area of the proposed research, and it must be accompanied by a complete reference list. A Research Proposal which does not adhere to these requirements will not be distributed for review and will be returned to the intending applicant. The guidelines below are designed to help you, the applicant, to develop your ideas and to provide some structure to the task of writing a sound Research Proposal. The guidelines are not immutable, but they reflect the expectations of the School of Business. If you diverge from this format, you should justify why you have done so. 1. Research Topic / Research Question The research topic or research question is the impetus for any research. The topic should be stated clearly and succinctly in one or two sentences, or, alternatively, as a clear question. Sometimes, a Research Proposal is based on a very small number of closely related questions. The topic or research question should indicate an area worthy of research, and your Research Proposal should include a sound justification of why it deserves research attention. Framing the research topic or question is often difficult. You need to ask yourself whether your proposed problem or research question is really the question to be asked and answered. The framing of the topic/question is crucial in setting up the research, although it is common for researchers to revisit it repeatedly and reformulate it as the research progresses. The way in which the research topic or question is conceptualised, framed and communicated is probably the single most important aspect of your Research Proposal. A Research Proposal that fails to clearly define the topic/question will be unlikely to impress! 2. Research contribution Research is an outcome-oriented process unless your research provides a contribution, its value for the larger research community is severely limited2. The intended contribution should be made explicit in
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Issued: 13 April 2012 For a discussion of a broad variety of potential research contributions, see for example Phillips & Pughs How to th get a Ph.D., 4 ed., 2005 (especially p. 61ff.).



your Research Proposal. It will be useful for Readers in evaluating your Research Proposal as a whole and your research methodology in particular. 3. Research context and background To provide a justification for your proposed research, it is both necessary and useful to identify its background and to locate it within its context. This can be done by specifying your interests or concerns that have generated your interest, by appreciating theoretical or conceptual developments, by evaluating related literatures or professional/organisational practice, by discussing practical considerations, by providing a historical appreciation of the investigated phenomenon, by analysing the stakeholders affected by the phenomenon and/or possibly interested in the proposed research, or by other ways of contextualising the research. In any case, you should summarise the influences which come into play to shape your research idea. The justification should also lead you to question your own assumptions about why the problem is significant, and why you want to make the contribution you have specified. 4. Overview of the consulted and reviewed literature A brief overview of the most relevant and important contributions should be given, together with an identification and appreciation of other relevant bodies of knowledge. It is not useful to provide a complete literature review. Any body of literature that is identified but not briefly reviewed should be assessed for its potential impact on the proposed work. In this part of your Research Proposal, it may be useful to indicate any particular value that your literature review will provide over and above a description of extant theory and research. A brief (and incomplete) checklist for this part of your Research Proposal: Have you identified existing research and its relationship with your topic? Have you highlighted the relevant theoretical perspectives? Have you identified key ideas, concepts and/or constructs? Have you spelled out review work that you intend to do but have not done yet, and justified its importance? Have you specified and briefly discussed the theoretical framework you intend to employ? 5. Research Model / Hypotheses Your Research Proposal should specify the research model that guides your investigation. Making this model explicit is necessary for your Readers to understand your Research Proposal, but it is also of profound importance for a well-planned project. If you propose exploratory research or plan to employ a grounded theory or other inductive approach, this (or the next) section must explicitly deal with your values, preconceptions, potential or actual biases, or other influences that can possibly affect the proposed research. This section will likely grow out of your literature review, and may be an integral part of it. It is thus not necessary in all cases to have a separate section specifying your research model and hypotheses, but such relevant information must be a prominent part of your Research Proposal.


6. Methodology In the simplest terms, your methodology comprises the methods that you employ to answer your research questions. There is no deterministic link between research question and methodology. Rather, your methodology will be the result of a series of choices that you will need to make and justify. Good Research Proposals provide a solid description of the proposed methodological approach, identify the key assumptions underlying this approach, and justify the choices inherent in the above. It is particularly useful to develop, to execute and to reflect upon a short pilot study in order to demonstrate the feasibility your proposed methodological approach. If you plan to work with largely quantitative data, you will likely discuss sampling, instrumentation, and data collection and analysis methods. If you are proposing research employing largely qualitative data, you will need to address and describe how you plan to collect, manage, and analyse your qualitative data (e.g., specify your approach to developing coding schemes). An action research methodology needs to be described in terms of planning a process and the outcomes of different phases of the process. 7. Research Plan and Timeline Your Research Proposal should include an outline of the proposed time frame of the different stages of the research, as well as of any proposed formal progress review dates. If your Research Proposal describes research that is underway already, it should specify exactly what steps have been started and/or completed already.