Writing the Proposal
Arguments Presented in a Proposal
It is helpful to consider early in planning the study the major points that need to be addressed in a proposal. These points—or topics—all need to be interconnected to provide a cohesive picture of the entire project. For us, these topics seem to span all proposals, whether the project is qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods. We think that a good place to start is by examining Maxwell’s (2013) list of the core arguments that need to be advanced in any proposal. We will summarize them in our own words:
- What do readers need to better understand your topic?
- What do readers need to know about your topic?
- What do you propose to study?
- What is the setting, and who are the people you will study?
- What methods do you plan to use to collect data?
- How will you analyze the data?
- How will you validate your findings?
- What ethical issues will your study present?
- What do preliminary results show about the practicability and value of the proposed study?
These nine questions, if adequately addressed in one section for each question, constitute the foundation of good research, and they could provide the overall structure for a proposal. The inclusion of validating findings, ethical considerations (to be addressed shortly), the need for preliminary results, and early evidence of practical significance focus a reader’s attention on key elements often overlooked in discussions about proposed projects.
Format for a Qualitative Proposal
Beyond these nine questions, it is also helpful to have an overall outline or general structure for topics that will be included in a proposal for a study. Unquestionably, in qualitative research, no one structure for a qualitative proposal prevails. We do think, however, that a couple of general outlines would be helpful, especially for the student who has never written a thesis or dissertation project. Here we propose two alternative models. Example 4.1 is drawn from a constructivist/interpretivist perspective whereas Example 4.2 is based more on a participatory–social justice model of qualitative research.
In this example, the writer includes introduction, procedures, ethical issues, preliminary findings and expected impact of the study. A separate section reviewing the literature may be included, but it is optional, as discussed in Chapter 3. Several appendixes may seem unusual. Developing a timeline for the study and presenting a proposed budget provide useful information to committees, although these sections would be highly recommended, but optional in proposals. Also, because the number and type of chapters in qualitative research is highly variable, a summary of the proposed content of each chapter in the final study would be useful.
This format is similar to the constructivist/interpretivist format except that the inquirer identifies a specific participatory–social justice issue being explored in the study (e.g., oppression, discrimination, community involvement), advances a collaborative form of data collection, and mentions the anticipated changes that the research study will likely bring.
Format for a Quantitative Proposal
For a quantitative study, the format conforms to sections typically found in quantitative studies reported in journal articles. The form generally follows the model of an introduction, a literature review, methods, results, and discussion. In planning a quantitative study and designing a dissertation proposal, consider the following format to sketch the overall plan (see Example 4.3).
Example 4.3 is a standard format for a social science study (see Miller & Salkind, 2002), although the order of the sections, especially in the use of theory and the literature may vary from study to study (see, for example, Rudestam & Newton, 2014). This format, however, represents a typical order of topics for a quantitative proposal.
Format for a Mixed Methods Proposal
In a mixed methods design format, the researcher brings together approaches that are included in both the quantitative and qualitative formats. An example of such a format appears in Example 4.4 (adapted from Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011, 2018). Similar elements are found in a set of standards for publishing a mixed methods journal article being advanced by the American Psychological Association (Levitt et al., in press).
This format shows that the researcher poses both a purpose statement and research questions for quantitative and qualitative components, as well as mixed components. It is important to specify early in the proposal the reasons (rationale) for the mixed methods approach and to identify key elements of the design, such as the type of mixed methods study, a visual diagram of the procedures, and both the quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis steps. All of these parts could make the mixed methods proposal lengthier than either the qualitative or quantitative proposal.