The Research Proposal

The purpose of a research proposal is to explain why the topic you have chosen is an important one to study. In the research proposal, you should identify the dependent variable you've selected as well as any independent variables that you've discovered so far. A short list of independent variables isn't a problem at this point since the next step (the literature review) will focus on finding independent variables. When considering why your dependent variable is worth studying, ask yourself several questions:

  • Who cares about this? Who could use the results of my research?
  • Why is it significant to these people/groups?
  • Does it impact the W&L community? (This can serve as a good way to introduce the topic during the presentation.)
  • Have there been any developments concerning my dependent variable in the news lately?
  • How could my research be useful to people?

Sources for finding a topic:

Choosing a Research Topic

  1. Choose a topic that interests you personally.
    You are going to spend an enormous amount of time and energy on this project, so choose a topic that will motivate you and be personally fulfilling.
  2. Pick a topic that others have researched. Do some exploratory research to find out what has been done.
    If, when you review the literature, you can find no relevant articles...there is probably a reason. Find something else to study - committing to a topic and then discovering that there is no data guarantees that your life will be miserable!
  3. Be flexible. Unforeseen circumstances may require a shift of focus. It is highly likely that you will want to modify your topic at least once as you progress through the research process. Too little published information may require that you broaden your topic. Too much information may require that you narrow you topic.
  4. It is perfectly acceptable to replicate a published study using different data.
  5. Talk with your instructor.
  6. Keep in mind that the project requires you to ask the hardest question of all: WHY?
  7. Don't forget that interviews with experts are often valuable for establishing the importance of a topic as well as revealing possible independent variables.
  8. See other suggestions below.

The Research Process

Most "research methods" writers treat research as a sequential process involving several discrete steps. But none of them claim that research requires completion of each step before going to the next; iterations and skipping occur. Some steps are begun out of sequence, some are carried out simultaneously, and some may even be omitted. Despite these variations from a linear sequence, the idea of a sequence is useful for developing a project and for keeping track of one's progress as the project unfolds.

The outline below models a sequence of the research process you can undertake. The very first step--identification of the research question or hypothesis--is the critical activity in the sequence. A familiar quotation from Albert Einstein supports this view:

The formulation of a problem is far more often essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science. Albert Einstein and L. Infield, The Evolution of Physics (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1938), p. 95.

  1. Explore: Formulate the research question or hypothesis to be tested.
  2. Propose: Obtain authorization to do the research.
  3. Design: Explain in detail the steps you intend to undertake in order to answer the research question and confirm that the topic is doable in the time available to you.
  4. Capture and Prepare the Data: (covered in Working with Data)
  5. Analyze: Identify a subset of multiple regression equations that answer the research question and then choose the best equation from among the equations in the subset. (covered in Working with Data)
  6. Report: In writing, and orally. (covered in Presentation)

Suggestion from John Tombarge

  • Do some exploratory research to find out what has been done before you settle on a topic.
  • Talk others and see what suggestions they have.
  • Selecting a topic: before selecting a topic, be sure to look for published scholarly research on the topic and check to see what data is actually available. Don't assume that because something is in the news that scholarly research has been completed. Also, don't assume that just because scholarly research has been done on the topic that you will be able to get your hands on the data. Many scholars have access to data that is not generally available, and they are not always free to share this data. Don't invest a lot of time and work in a topic that can't be completed. Many topics that are initially contemplated would be good for a graduate thesis or Ph.D. dissertation.
  • Changing topics: there comes a time in all significant research projects when the temptation to change topics comes up. Sometimes this is the best thing to do; however, if you change topics every time it seems like it is necessary, you will never finish a research project! It is a good idea to talk to objective people before dumping your work.
  • There is no limit to the number of questions you can ask at the Reference Desk in the Library or the number of librarians you ask. Many students have found it helpful to contact several librarians about a topic if answers seem not to be forthcoming. I encourage you to contact me directly if you have questions regarding your research in business or economics, but you are also free to ask any of the other librarians especially if your topic fits in with their areas of specialization.
    • Mary Abdoney - Science
    • Richard Grefe - Government sources, Politics and Social Sciences
    • Yolanda Merrill - Arts and Humanities
    • Vaughan Stanley - History
    • John Tombarge - Business and Economics
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