Research Proposal its Purposes Benefits and Process For RN

Afza.Malik GDA

Research Proposal In Nursing Research

Research Proposal its Purposes Benefits and Process For RN

Research Proposal includes its functions, content, significance, requirements and budgeting of research project for RN 

Research Proposal

    Research proposals are documents describing what researchers propose to study, prepared before a project has commenced. Proposals serve to communicate the research problem, its significance, and planned procedures for solving the problem to an interested party. Research proposals are written by both students seeking approval for empirical research projects and by seasoned researchers seeking financial or institutional support. In this section, we provide some general information regarding the content and preparation of research proposals.

Functions of a proposal

    Research proposals are an integral part of most studies, and are typically prepared after a researcher has identified a topic, developed research questions or hypotheses, and undertaken a literature review. Regardless of intended audience (eg, faculty advisers, sponsors), proposals can serve several important functions. Research proposals usually help researchers to clarify their own thinking. 

    By committing ideas to writing, ambiguities about how to proceed can be identified and dealt with at an early stage. Proposals are intended to synthesize researchers' Writing a Research Proposal critical thinking, and can serve to ensure that the research questions and proposed methods are sufficiently refined to warrant initiation of the study. Also, research proposals are reviewed by others who can offer suggestions for conceptual and methodological improvements, and thus represent a mechanism for improving the study's contribution to knowledge. 

    Proposals represent the means for opening communication between researchers and parties interested in the conduct of research. Those parties are typically either funding agencies or faculty advisers, whose job it is to accept or reject the proposed plan, or to demand modifications. An accepted proposal is a two-way contract: those accepting the proposal are effectively saying, “We are willing to offer our (emotional or financial) support, as long as the investigation proceeds as proposed,” and those writing the proposal are saying, "If you will offer support, then I will conduct the project as proposed." 

    Proposals often serve as the basis for negotiating with other parties as well. Proposals can help ensure that all researchers are “on the same page” about how the study is to proceed, and who is responsible for which tasks. Having a shared and agreed-upon document enhances communication among researchers and minimizes the possibility of friction.

Proposal content

    Reviewers of research proposals, whether they are faculty, funding sponsors, or peer reviewers, want a clear idea of what the researcher plans to study, what specific methods will be used to accomplish study goals, how and when various tasks are to be accomplished, and whether the researcher is capable of successfully completing the project. 

    Proposals are usually evaluated on a number of criteria, including the importance of the research question, the contribution of the study is likely to make to an evidence base, the adequacy of the research methods, the availability of appropriate personnel and facilities, and, if money is being requested, the reasonableness of the budget. Proposal authors are usually given instructions indicating how the proposal should be structured. 

    Funding agencies, for example, often supply an application kit that includes forms to be completed and specifies the format for organizing the contents of the proposal. Universities usually issue guidelines for their dissertation proposals. Despite the fact that formats and the amount of detail required may vary widely, there is some similarity in the type of information that is expected in research proposals. 

    The content and organization are broadly similar to that for a research report, but proposals are written in the future tense (ie, indicating what the researcher will do) and obviously do not include results and conclusions.

Front Matter or Case of Proposal

    Proposals typically begin with what is referred to as front matter, which orients readers to the study and, in the case of proposals for funding, contains administrative information. The front matter typically includes, at a minimum, a cover page that indicates the title of the proposed study and the author's name and institution. For dissertations and theses, the cover page may also include the names of the advisory committee members. 

    The proposed title should be given careful thought. It is the first thing that reviewers will see, and should therefore be crafted to create a good impression. The title should be concise and informative, but should also be compelling and interesting. Like report titles, suggestion titles should indicate the phenomena to be studied, and the population of interest.

Abstracts or Research Synopsis

    Proposals almost always begin with a brief synopsis of the proposed project. The abstract helps to establish a frame of reference for reviewers. The abstract should be brief (usually about 200 to 300 words) and should state succinctly the study objectives and methods to be used. Like the title, the abstract should be written with care to create a positive impression: It should persuade reviewers that the study has merit and would be undertaken with rigor. Although an abstract appears at the beginning of a proposal, it is often written last.

The Problem and Its Significance or Benefits

    The problem that the intended research will address is identified early in the proposal. The problem statement should clearly indicate the scope and importance of the problem, conveying any potential application to clinical practice. Care should be taken to be precise and to identify a problem of manageable proportions a broad and complex problem is unlikely to be solvable. 

    The proposal needs to describe clearly how the proposed research will contribute to knowledge and to the enhancement of evidence-based practice. The proposal should indicate the expected generalizability of the research, its contribution to theory, its potential for improving nursing practice, and possible applications or consequences of the knowledge to be gained.

    Background of the Problem A section of the proposal is usually devoted to a description of how the intended research builds on an existing base of evidence, and how, if appropriate, it is linked to a conceptual model. The background material should strengthen arguments about the study's significance, orient readers to what is already known about the problem, and indicate how the proposed study will augment that knowledge; it should also serve as a demonstration of the researcher's command of current knowledge in a field. 

    This section should, however, be tightly written to provide a strong foundation for the new study, and should not merely be a long catalog of earlier work. An integrated and critical review of existing research and theory relevant to the project should provide a solid rationale for the new study.

Hypothesis or Objectives

    Specific, achievable objectives provide the reader with clear criteria against which the proposed research methods can be assessed. Objectives stated as research hypotheses or specific models to be tested are often preferred. Whenever the theoretical background of the study, existing knowledge, or the researcher's experience permits an explicit prediction of outcomes, these predictions should be included in the proposal. In exploratory or descriptive research, which may not have hypotheses, the objectives may be most conveniently phrased as questions.

Method or Research Design

    The explanation of the research methods should be thorough enough that readers will have no question about how research objectives will be addressed. A thorough method section includes the following:

1. The research design, including a discussion of comparison group strategies, methods of controlling extraneous variables, number of data collection points, and so on; in a qualitative study, the research tradition should be described.

2. The experimental intervention (if applicable), including a description of both the treatment and the control group condition.

3. The sampling plan, including the specific sampling design, recruitment of study participants, definition of the population with exclusion or inclusion criteria, and number of participants expected.

4. Data collection methods and operational definitions of key variables (in proposals for funding, actual instruments are sometimes included in an appendix).

5. Procedures to be adopted, such as what equipment will be used to administer a treatment or collect data, how participants will be assigned to groups, and so on.

6. Strategies for coding, storing, reducing, and analyzing data, including any software to be used.

7. Methods of safeguarding human (or animal) subjects, including methods of maintaining confidentiality, securing informed consent, and minimizing risks. The description of methods should also include a discussion of the rationale for the proposed methods, potential methodologic problems, and intended strategies for handling such problems.

The Work Plan or Work Flow 

    Researchers often describe their proposed plan for managing the flow of work on the project. Researchers indicate in the work plan the sequence of tasks to be performed, the anticipated length of time required for their completion, and the personnel required for their accomplishment. Work plans indicate how realistic and thorough researchers have been in designing their studies. In proposals for theses and dissertations, a detailed work plan is unnecessary, but a time table or tentative schedule is usually required.

Personnel or Research Agencies 

    In proposals to funding agencies, the qualifications of key project personnel are described, and curricula vitae are usually appended. The research competencies of the project director and other team members are typically given major consideration in evaluating such proposals. Funders will scrutinize such factors as the researchers' training and education, experience, publications, and track record of doing research.

Facilities or Requirements

    Proposals should document what special facilities or equipment will be required by the project, and whether they will be available. Access to physiologic instrumentation, laboratories, clinical records, data processing equipment, special documents, and study participants should be described to reassure sponsors or advisers that the project can proceed as planned. The willingness of the institution with which the researcher is affiliated to allocate space, equipment, services, or data should also be indicated.

Budget or Finance Requirement

    Budgets translate project activities into monetary terms, and are an extremely important part of research proposals requesting financial support; they are sometimes included in student proposals as well. Budgets are statements of how much money will be required to accomplish the various tasks. A well-conceived work plan greatly facilitates the preparation of the budget. An example of a budget is presented later in this chapter.

Proposals for Qualitative Studies

    Preparing proposals for qualitative research detailing special challenges. The main issue is that the nature of the inquiry and the standard demands of a proposal put researchers into what Morse and Field (1995) describe as a paradoxical situation: “Researchers have deliberately selected a qualitative method because little is known about the area—yet how can they write about, for instance, how they are going to analyze data when the nature of the data are not known?” 

    Decisions for qualitative studies evolve in the field, and therefore it is seldom possible to provide detailed or in-depth information about such matters as sample size, data collection strategies, data analysis, and so on. Enough detail needs to be provided on data analysis, however, that the reviewers will have confidence that the researcher will do justice to the data collected (Morse & Richards, 2002). For example, if a computer program will be used to help analyze the data, the specific software should be identified and also the rationale for choosing it.

     Even literature reviews for qualitative proposals are typically lean because there is not much prior research about the phenomenon of interest. Qualitative researchers, therefore, must persuade reviewers that the topic is important and worth studying, that they are sufficiently knowledgeable about the challenges of field work and adequately skillful in eliciting rich data, and, in short, that the project would be a very good risk . Tripp Reimer and Cohen (1991) warn researchers that poorly defined qualitative jargon used in a proposal is especially susceptible to criticism. 

    Morse and Richards (2002) stress that there must be methodological congruence throughout a qualitative proposal. Each qualitative tradition uses its own particular perspective and strategies to achieve its analytic goals, and the proposal must reflect in a systematic fashion the assumptions, questions, data collection strategies, and analytic methods of the chosen tradition. Sandelowski, Davis, and Harris (1989), Morse (1994), and Morse and Field (1995) offer advice on strategies of developing successful qualitative research proposals.

Tips on proposal preparation

    Although it would be impossible to tell readers exactly what steps to follow to produce a successful proposal, we can offer some advice that might help to minimize the anxiety and trepidation that often accompany the proposal preparation. Some tips are especially relevant for researchers preparing proposals for funding.

Selection of an Important Problem

    There is probably nothing more critical to the success of a proposal than selecting a problem that has clinical, theoretical, or social significance. The proposal must make a persuasive argument that the proposed research could make a notable contribution to an important topic. Kuzel (2002), who shared some lessons about securing funding for a qualitative study, noted that qualitative researchers could profit by taking advantage of certain “hot topics” that have the special attention of the public and government officials. 

    Proposals can sometimes be cast in such a way that they are linked to topics of national concern, and such a linkage can help to secure a favorable review. Kuzel used as an example his funded study of quality of care and medical errors in primary care practices, with emphasis on patient perspectives. 

    The proposal was submitted at a time when the US government was putting additional resources into research to enhance patient safety, and noted that there was little doubt that “the reframing of 'quality' under the name of 'patient safety' has captured the stage and is likely to have an enduring effect on what work receives funding” . This advice about being sensitive to political realities is equally true for quantitative research.

Review of a Successful Proposal

    Although there is no substitute for actually writing a proposal as a learning experience, novice proposal writers can often profit considerably by seeing the real thing. The information in this chapter provides some guidelines, but reviewing a successful proposal can do more to acquaint neophyte researchers with how the pieces fit together than all the textbooks in the world. 

    Chances are some of your colleagues or fellow students have written a proposal that has been accepted (either by a funding sponsor or by a dissertation committee), and many people are glad to share their successful efforts with others. Also, proposals funded by the federal government are usually in the public domain. That means that you can ask to see a copy of proposals that have obtained federal funding by writing to the sponsoring agency.     

    In recognition of the need of beginning researchers to become familiar with successful proposals, several journals have published proposals in their entirety (with the exception of administrative information such as budgets), together with the critique of the proposal prepared by a panel of expert reviewers. For example, the first such published proposal was a grant application funded by the Division of Nursing entitled, “Couvade: Patterns, Predictors, and Nursing Management” (Clinton, 1985). 

    A more recent example is a proposal for a study of comprehensive discharge planning for the elderly (Naylor, 1990). Brown and her colleagues (1997) published a report on their resubmission of a grant application that was not originally funded, and how they responded to reviewers' critiques. Morse and Field's (1995) book includes in an appendix a full qualitative proposal that was funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR). Finally, some books that offer advice on writing dissertations include a full dissertation proposal (eg, Madsen, 1991).

Input From Key People

    Faculty advisers and staff at funding agencies are good sources to tap when preparing a proposal. Students should have a firm grasp of their adviser's expectations before they begin to write a proposal. Gray (2000), in her tips on grantsmanship (the set of skills involved in securing project funding) urges researchers to “talk it up” , that is, to call program staff in agencies and foundations, or to send letters of inquiry about possible interest in a project. 

    Gray also notes the importance of listening to what these people say and following their recommendations. Kuzel (2002) also suggests seeking the advice of researchers who have had experience with the proposal development process. He noted that, “There is no substitute for people who can speak from experience” . For students, peers who suggest, we can offer some advice that might help to minimize the anxiety and trepidation that often accompany the suggestion preparation. Some tips are especially relevant for researchers preparing proposals for funding. 

    Selection of an Important Problem There is probably nothing more critical to the success of a proposal than selecting a problem that has clinical, theoretical, or social significance. The proposal must make a persuasive argument that the proposed research could make a notable contribution to an important topic. Kuzel (2002), who shared some lessons about securing funding for a qualitative study, noted that qualitative researchers could profit by taking advantage of certain “hot topics” that have the special attention of the public and government officials. 

    Proposals can sometimes be cast in such a way that they are linked to topics of national concern, and such a linkage can help to secure a favorable review. Kuzel used as an example his funded study of quality of care and medical errors in primary care practices, with emphasis on patient perspectives. 

    The proposal was submitted at a time when the US government was putting additional resources into research to enhance patient safety, and noted that there was little doubt that “the reframing of 'quality' under the name of 'patient safety' has captured the stage and is likely to have an enduring effect on what work receives funding” . This advice about being sensitive to political realities is equally true for quantitative research.

Justification of decisions

    Proposals often fail because they do not provide reviewers with confidence that key decisions have a justifiable rationale. Almost every aspect of a proposal involves a decision the selected problem, the qualitative research tradition proposed, the population under study, the research site, the sample size, the data collection procedures, the comparison group to be used, the extraneous variables to be controlled, the analytical procedures to be used, the personnel who will work on the project, and so on. 

    These decisions should be made carefully, keeping in mind the costs and benefits of alternative decisions. When you are satisfied that you have made the right decision, defend your decision by sharing the rationale with reviewers. In general, insufficient detail is more detrimental to the proposal than an overabundance of detail, although page constraints may make full elaboration impossible.

Attending to Evaluation Criteria

    When funding is at stake, the funding agency often provides information about the criteria that reviewers use to make funding decisions. In some cases, the criteria are simply a list of factors that reviewers must take into consideration in making a global assessment of the proposal's quality. In other cases, however, the agency specifies exactly how many points will be assigned to different aspects of the proposal. 

    As an example, in 2001 the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD; an institute within NIH) requested proposals for studies about the behavioral and environmental risk factors for childhood drowning. The guidelines indicated that competing proposals would be evaluated in terms of four factors: technical approach, past performance, cost, and small disadvantaged business participation, with technical approach being of paramount importance. Technical evaluation criteria, together with the points to be allocated for each, included the following:

1. Understanding of project requirements. Offerors shall demonstrate a clear understanding of the nature of the problem, the purpose of the research, the realities of data collection and data management, and problems that may impede the research and possible solutions. (0 to 30 points)

2. Previous experience. Offerors shall provide evidence that they have previous experience with epidemiologic studies that have used a case-control design, and with the tasks involved in the coordination and implementation of multi-site studies. (0 to 30 points)

3. Qualifications of personnel. Key personnel shall have practical expertise and experience in the design and conduct of case-control studies and collection of population-based data. The offerors shall allocate sufficient professional and other staff effort to accomplish the study. (0 to 25 points)

4.Facilities. Offerors shall demonstrate that adequate facilities and software will be employed for data collection, data management, and analysis. (0 to 15 points In this example, a maximum of 100 points was awarded for the technical approach of each competing proposal. The proposals with the highest scores would ordinarily be most likely to obtain funding, unless other factors such as cost made the proposal noncompetitive .

    Therefore, researchers should pay particular attention to those aspects of the proposal that contribute most to an overall high score.In this example, it would have made little sense to put 85% of the proposal development effort into a description of the facilities, when A maximum of 15 points could be given for this aspect.Different agencies establish different criteria for various types of research projects.Wise researchers learn what those criteria are and pay careful attention to them in developing their proposals.

The Research Team or Team

    For funded research, it is prudent to be judicious in putting together a research team: Reviewers often give considerable weight to the qualifications of the people who will conduct the research. In the example cited earlier, a full 25 of the 100 points were based on the expertise of the research personnel and their time allocations. The person who is in the lead role on the project (the principal investigator, or PI) should carefully scrutinize the qualifications of the research team. 

    It is not enough to have a team of competent people; it is necessary to have the right mix of competence. A project team of three brilliant theorists without statistical skills in a project that proposes sophisticated multivariate techniques may have difficulty convincing reviewers that the project would be successful. Gaps and weaknesses can often be compensated for by the judicious use of consultants. 

    Another shortcoming of some project teams is that there are too many researchers with small time commitments. It is usually unwise to load up a project staff with five or more top-level professionals who are able to contribute only 5% to 10% of their time to the project. Such projects often run into management difficulties because no one person is ever really in control of the flow of work. Although collaborative efforts are to be commended, you should be able to justify the inclusion of every staff person and to identify the unique contribution that each will make to the successful completion of the project.

Proposal Criticism

    Before formal submission of a proposal, a draft should be reviewed by at least one other person but preferably by more than one. Reviewers should be selected to provide feedback regarding substantive issues, methodological rigor, and style and flow of the writing. If the proposal is being submitted for funding, one reviewer ideally would be someone who is knowledgeable about the funding source and has received funding. 

    If a consultant has been proposed because of specialized expertise that you believe will strengthen the study, then it would be advantageous to have that consultant participate in the proposal development by reviewing the draft and making recommendations for its improvement. In universities, mock review panels are often held before submitting a proposal to the funding agency. Faculty and students are invited to these mock reviews and provide valuable feedback to the researchers on their proposals.

Proposals For Theses And Dissertations

    Sternberg (1981), in his book on doing doctoral dissertations, argues that dissertation proposals are often a bigger hurdle than dissertations themselves, and that many doctoral candidates fail at the proposal development stage rather than at the stage of writing or defending the dissertation. Much of the advice we have offered thus far applies equally to proposals for theses and dissertations as for grant applications, but a few additional pieces of advice might prove helpful.

The Dissertation Committee

    Choosing the right adviser (if an adviser is chosen rather than appointed) is almost as important as choosing the right topic to research. The ideal adviser is one who is a mentor, an expert with a strong reputation in the chosen field, a good teacher, a patient and supportive coach and critic, and an advocate. The ideal adviser is also a person who has sufficient time and interest to devote to your research and someone who is likely to stick with your project until its completion. 

    This means that it might matter whether the prospective adviser has plans for a sabbatical leave, or is nearing retirement. Having consistent guidance throughout the project may be more helpful than having brilliant mentoring for only part of the project and then having to switch horses in midstream. 

    Dissertation committees often involve three or more members. If the adviser lacks certain of the “ideal” characteristics (eg, he or she is a younger faculty member who has not yet firmly established a professional reputation), it is wise to balance those characteristics across committee members by seeking people with complementary talents and qualities. 

    Putting together a group who will work well together and who have no personal antagonism toward each other can, however, be a tricky business. The adviser can usually make useful suggestions about other committee members. Once a committee has been chosen, it is good to develop a working relationship with members and learn about their viewpoints before and during the proposal development stage. This means, at a minimum, becoming familiar with their research and the methodological strategies they have favored. 

    It also means meeting with them and sounding them out with ideas about topics and methods. If the suggestions from two or more members are at odds, it is prudent to seek your adviser's counsel on how to resolve these practices vary from one institution to another and from adviser to adviser, but some faculty require or prefer a written preproposal or prospectus before giving the go-ahead to prepare the full proposal. The prospectus is usually a three- to four-page paper outlining the research questions and the proposed methods.

Content of Dissertation Proposals

    Most dissertation and thesis proposals follow a format roughly similar to the one described earlier in this chapter. Specific requirements regarding length and format vary in different settings, however, and it is important to know at the outset what is expected. Dissertation proposals are typically 20 to 40 pages in length. In some cases, however, committees prefer what Sternberg (1981) describes as a “mini-dissertation,” that is, a document with fully developed sections that can be inserted with minor adaptations into the dissertation itself. 

    For example, the review of the literature, theoretical framework, hypothesis formulation, and the bibliography may be sufficiently refined at the proposal stage that they can be incorporated into the final product. 

    Sternberg argues that literature reviews are often the single most important section of a dissertation proposal (at least for quantitative studies) and thus merit special attention: “There is nothing better than a long, complete, thoughtful review of the literature in conveying to the faculty image (and reality) of a candidate who means business, is in the driver's seat”.

    Although not all committees want lengthy literature reviews, they certainly want to be assured that students are in command of knowledge in their field of inquiry. Dissertation proposals sometimes include elements not normally found in proposals to funding agencies. 

    One such element may be table shells which are designed to show the committee that the student knows how to analyze data and present results effectively. Another element is a draft of the table of contents for the dissertation. The table of contents serves as an outline for the final product, and demonstrates to the committee that the student knows how to organize material.

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