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Research Proposal: Methods, Literature Review, and Research Question

Guidance for Conducting Research

Please use this guidance in conjunction with all the material provided for you on the Healthcare 2 Blackboard site, the advice provided in the assessment workshop and by your supervising tutor. You must decide on your research question and the methods you are going to propose to use. You should have read widely using relevant research text books to gain a depth and breadth of knowledge of the research process and the methods used to create new knowledge and evidence to support practice. You should have also completed the research workbook reading and exercises as this will provide support in completing this assessment. You should use a range of literature and resources throughout your research proposal related to evidence based practice and research methods. These should be used to demonstrate your understanding of research methods and help to justify your choice of design/methods.

This assessment is not about a quality improvement project; it is a research project using the research process to structure a research proposal. The end result of the research may be an improvement in quality if the evidence/knowledge gained is used to support a change in practice or new understandings.

The following proposal sets out a (type of study) research protocol to … the next bit will depend on your choice of methodology/method/participants. (50 words)


When writing a research proposal for funding and ethical approval it is helpful to assume that a lay person will read the document as part of the review process and may not be familiar with some terminology therefore you need to define terms and clearly set out the context of your study. Remember at level 5 we are looking for critical analysis and not description and explanation. Although you will need to explain how you would conduct your study the critical analysis comes from the justification you provide and the critical analysis of supporting literature.

Make sure that the practice issue or clinical problem on which you are basing your study is stated clearly and is focused. A brief description of the clinical area might be appropriate to explain the context. The extent and the significance of the issue might be demonstrated by providing data to demonstrate the extent of the problem and policy documents or guidelines might explain why the issue is significant. Try to make sure that the scope of your study is well defined and not too wide. In this section you will also need to provide any definitions to ensure the focus of the study is clear. (300 words)

Search strategy and literature review

Importance of Critical Analysis and Justification

You will need to set out a clear and well written search strategy which another researcher should be able to replicate.  This strategy needs to be supported by relevant literature.

  1. You could start by setting out why a search strategy is needed for a research proposal and how this should be conducted using relevant literature to support.
  2. You then need to set out how you decided on your search question/search terms and use a relevant tool to do this: PEO/PICO/FINER/SPIDER. You must cite the authors for these tools and justify why the chosen tool was appropriate to your search/study. You could use a small table to set out the tool and the search terms you decided  upon.  
  3. You will also need to consider Boolean operators/use of and/truncation etc.
  4. The next issue is the data bases you have used and why these are appropriate. 
  5. The limits applied – such as language, country, date range, abstract availability etc.
  6. You will need to detail the outcome of each search and the number of paper retrieved. 
  7. You will need inclusion and exclusion criteria to determine which papers retrieved from the search are relevant to your literature review. 
  8. You can use a PRISMA diagram in your appendices to set out the search outcome and how you came to your final papers. 
  9. You can present a summary of the papers included.
  10. You will need to discuss which critiquing tool/s you have used to critique the studies included in your review. 
  11. Remember another person should be able to follow your search strategy and conduct the same This helps to demonstrate the rigour and robustness of your proposal to the reviewer. (400 words depending on use of tables/diagrams).
Literature review

This is an important part of this work and a range of literature relevant to the problem you have identified should be considered; there is no magic number of papers which is ok to include. The literature review should set out the extant knowledge related to your search question/research question not just the few papers you come across on Google scholar or from an unstructured search. Essentially, the more refined you make your search strategy will determine and focus the relevance of the papers retrieve. You may need to expand or confine your search as appropriate. The literature review should set out the extant knowledge related to your search question/research question not just the few papers you come across on Google scholar or from an unstructured search.

You should demonstrate that you know how to find appropriate sources of literature in a structured way, from relevant sources and that you have a thorough understanding of the evidence base relating to the topic of the proposal. You must ensure that you critically appraise the literature. You should show that you have identified the strengths of the current evidence and any gaps, weaknesses or limitations of the methods used in the literature. This will set out the need for your proposed study in that you will contribute to the evidence for this aspect of practice/knowledge.

Setting out the literature review into themes can be an effective way of organizing the relevant evidence.   You should be able identify the themes within the literature following your critique of each paper; arranging the papers into a table can help with this process. At the end of each theme a short summary setting out the gap/relevance to your proposal will enable you to direct the reader through the review of the literature.

At the end of the review once you have included all the themes you can draw the summaries together into a short narrative conclusion or summary which sets out what is known on your topic and the gap, strengths and weaknesses. You should be able to compare studies and draw together or synthesize the literature to highlight any unanswered questions or gaps. The gaps in evidence should clearly justify the need for your proposed study. It is at this point that your actual research question becomes defined as it is related to the gap/limitations/weaknesses in the extant evidence which you have identified.

Developing a Search Strategy for Literature Review

The review of the literature should also inform the research method for the proposed study; this could be because you may wish to replicate a study with a different participant group or it may be that you want to add rich deep qualitative data to the limitations presented on a topic by quantitative data. It should be clear in the proposal how you have used the findings from the literature review to both develop the research question (or hypothesis) and design the research study (1,500 words).

What is a research question?

A research question is a clear, focused, concise, complex and arguable question around which you center your research. You should ask a question about an issue that you are genuinely curious about.

Why is a research question essential to the research process?

Research questions help writers focus their research by providing a path through the research and writing process. Your research question is the basis of all future decisions i.e which paradigm you will use; which methodology; which data collection method; your subjects/participants/sample; data analysis etc.

The specificity of a well-developed research question helps writers avoid the “all-about” paper and work toward supporting a specific, arguable proposal that clearly explains the way in which the study will be conducted.

Steps to developing a research question:

  • Choose an interesting general Choose a broad topic about which you genuinely would like to know more. An example of a general topic might be “personal care and aesthetic in the acute healthcare setting’.
  • Do some preliminary research on your general Do a few quick searches in current periodicals and journals on your topic to see what’s already been done and to help you narrow your focus. What questions does this early research raise? It could be focused quite clinically on fundamentals of care and personal hygiene or it could be about how patients feel when they are not able to continue with their normal beauty regime.
  • Consider your For most college papers, your audience will be academic, but always keep your audience in mind when narrowing your topic and developing your question. Would that particular audience be interested in this question?
  • Start asking Taking into consideration all of the above, start asking yourself open- ended “how does it feel” and “why does it happen” “how often does it happen” questions about your general topic.

Research question

The research question should be stated as a question. It is based not just in the identified practice issue but must also be based on your review of relevant literature. The research question should then be able to be answered by the research method that you propose. If you are doing a quantitative study including an intervention, you may decide to use a hypothesis instead of a research question. This is fine, but make sure you understand the purpose and format of a hypothesis fully, including when one should be used.

The research question needs to be focused but you should also bear in mind that this is a research proposal so should not be overly focused on a local issue but needs to be realistic and not overly ambitious. Much better to have a simple idea and do it well than poorly address an overly complicated question.

Designing your research question
  • What is already known about your chosen topic (what are the important research findings, policy publications, or other evidence?). What are the gaps in knowledge?
  • Why is this an important topic?
  • What do you hope to achieve by doing this study?
  • What questions is your proposed study seeking to answer?
  • What will your study be intended to do (e.g. to understand, to measure, to predict )?
  • Who will be involved in your study?

Is your research question focused? Research questions must be specific enough to be well covered in the space available.

Is your research question complex? Research questions should not be answerable with a simple “yes” or “no” or by easily-found facts. They should, instead, require both research and analysis on the part of the writer.

Themes and Synthesizing Literature Review

Sample Research Questions

Unclear: Why are social networking sites harmful?

Clear: How are online users experiencing or addressing privacy issues on such social networking sites as MySpace and Facebook?

The unclear version of this question doesn’t specify which social networking sites or suggest what kind of harm the sites are causing. It also assumes that this “harm” is proven and/or accepted. The clearer version specifies sites (MySpace and Facebook), the type of harm (privacy issues), and who the issue is harming (users). A strong research question should never leave room for ambiguity or interpretation.

You then need to start thinking of how you can answer your question
  • Will your research be objective or will it focus on the subjective experiences of the people involved?
  • What kind of research approach/design is most appropriate given your research questions (e.g. qualitative or quantitative)?

Remember! The research question is the starting point which determines all the decisions you make in your research proposal from this point. The words used/what you want to achieve/who/how all sit within the question and force you down a certain decision making path. A good research proposal is one which is congruent and based on appropriate and suitably justified decisions.

Aim and objectives

An important issue for your research proposal is the way in which aims and objectives are presented. In your research proposal the aim and objectives need to clearly inform the reader what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it.  The aim should be written as a broad statement - it is the way in which you clearly set out the purpose of the study. What you want to accomplish not why or how it will be achieved. The aim restates/rewords the question. The Objectives should be how you will attain the purpose - when developing new knowledge you will undertake operational tasks which will allow you to achieve the aim. Usually there are two or three objectives for a proposed study.  These should be focused and presented in a numbered format.

Aims and objectives should be realistic, clear and succinct. 

For example:

Title: A qualitative exploration of student nurses' experience of academic supervision.

Question: How do students experience academic supervision for the Healthcare 2 module?

Aim: to explore student's experience of supervision during the Healthcare 2 module.

  1. To determine what students perceive to be assignment supervision and
  2. To explore students' engagement with supervision prior to assignment
  3. To determine how students use information provided during supervision to improve their academic performance (50 words).

To demonstrate knowledge of research and the different philosophical and theoretical perspectives which underpin the different approaches you should include the following:

  1. A consideration of your chosen approach – positivist/quantitative or naturalistic/interpretive/qualitative and why this is appropriate for you research

  2. Your chosen methodology, particularly if a qualitative approach is selected as the theoretical perspective embedded in the methodology also guides the approach to research; e. ethnography is about the study of a culture and is characterised by observation. Phenomenology is about exploring the lived experience of the participants (300 words).

Method/data collection

The research method chosen should be able to answer the research question. The design you choose is likely to be influenced by the research evidence you have found in the literature review. It is important that you justify very clearly your choice of method, including the strengths and weaknesses of the approach. We are looking for evidence that you understand a range of research methods and can explain and justify the approach you have chosen in preference to other methods. Remember, there should be clear alignment between the research question and every aspect of the research design. Justification should be provided with reference to the research methods literature.

Developing a Strong Research Question

The chosen data collection method needs to be described in detail, including a review of any data collection tools you are proposing to use and the process of collecting data. You should incorporate into your proposal the topics that would be addressed in your data collection tool(s) or else provide a draft of the data collection tool as an appendix. The data collection process should be replicable by anyone wanting to use your proposal to carry out a research study.

Whatever approach you propose, you should provide detail and critical analysis. You should demonstrate understanding of a range of options, and justification of the approach chosen, with reference to the research methods literature.  For example, if you are using one-to-one interviews, then make it clear whether these are structured, semi-structured or unstructured and why (400 words).

Data analysis

The data analysis section should include a detailed discussion of data analysis and show that you have a good understanding of what analysis approach would be suitable for the method you are using, with reference to the research methods literature. You should also give an indication of what you would be looking for in the data analysis. For example if you are using a quantitative approach you should describe and justify the processes used to manage the data and the tests that would be appropriate to answer the research questions, such as descriptive statistics, correlation, etc. If you are using a qualitative approach you should describe and justify the processes used to manage and organize the data and how meaning will be elicited from the data, such as the use of framework analysis (300 words depending on the approach used).

Sampling and recruitment

You need to explain and discuss the sampling approach and recruitment of participants. This should be explained in depth and step by step so that the reader can follow exactly how sampling and recruitment will be done, and who will recruit participants. Bear in mind that the sampling should clearly align with the research method. Justification should be provided with reference to the research methods literature.

Some other points to consider include the need to demonstrate:

  • Understanding of any limitations of the sample you propose to access,
  • Justification of the sample size and where the sample is to be drawn from,
  • Clear explanation of how and when recruitment to the study is done, and by whom,
  • Acknowledgement of  any  potential  sources  of  bias  and  the  steps  taken  to address/minimize bias as far as possible  (300 words).

Quality and Rigour

Quality or rigour in the research study needs to be addressed, and this will vary according to the type of study you are proposing. Validity, reliability and bias are important aspects of rigour in quantitative research. In qualitative research different terms are usually used, such as credibility and trustworthiness. You must set out a section which explores how you will ensure the quality of your study; why can your study methods and the findings produced be trusted as evidence to support practice. Justification should be provided with reference to the research methods literature (200 words).

Ethics and Research governance

Ethical considerations are important and should be discussed in relation to the proposed study. You should demonstrate that you understand ethical principles but not write a ‘story’ about ethics. This should be written as if explaining to an ethics panel exactly how you will inform participants about the study and gain consent (respect for autonomy); maintain confidentiality and protect from harm (non-maleficence). Your research plan should be participant-centered and ensure that participant rights are preserved (beneficence. If you are proposing to carry out research on vulnerable groups (such as children or hospital patients) then you need to think through the ethical issues with respect to the group (justice).

Confidentiality and anonymity in the research proposal should be fully respected by the use of pseudonyms or ID numbers. Data protection/data security must be addressed including the use of secure storage for data. There should be consideration of the relevant permissions that might be required in order to access your participant group, such as permission from gate keepers such as clinical managers.

Remember! Confidentiality in your written submission is extremely important – you must keep both people and organisations anonymous in your proposal (300 words).


A short section where you acknowledge any limitations presented by your proposal to show you have thought about the issues.  Be careful not to set yourself up to destroy the quality or rigour of the study (150 words).

Time frame

Use a table or Gantt chart to set out your study but remember that some parts of the study will run sequentially but you may do other aspects concurrently (50 words).

Final Points!

The proposal should be written in the passive voice and should use an objective academic style. Avoid the use of the first person (I/me) or ‘the author’, ‘the writer’. Remember that this is a proposal – what you will do, so it should be presented in the future tense.

Formatting and presenting your paper

Make sure you have size 12 font size and the same style throughout your paper and spacing should be at 1.5 and the page fully justified. This is written in the san serif font Calabri 12 for the main body and Canbria 13 for headings (style heading 2). Clear headings and sub-headings can help with structuring your proposal and organizing your material and you can also include a contents page. If you use the facility in word to add in headings the contents page can be done automatically: create a new page between your front cover and first page of the proposal and place your cursor in the top left hand corner; click References on top line; click on table of contents; the first option is fine; if you are editing go back to Reference and up- date table and update all. The contents page in this document has been collated using this facility; looks tidy and saves hours of work! There is also a facility for labels for figures and tables which you can use. Make sure you put page numbers into your proposal. All of this will be good practice for your extended essay in Year 3.

Word count

Please indicate your word count on the front cover of your work. Overall word count: 4000 words with up to an additional 10% is allowed (i.e. 4400 maximum). Going over the maximum word count means your work will attract a penalty. The total word count is from the beginning of the introduction to the end of the final section (before the reference list). It does not include any appendices.

The word count suggested above for each section is only an approximate guide and totals to 4,300. There is flexibility depending on the method you have chosen and the need for explanation and justification of your plan. If you do not use the full word count it is likely that you will not fully address the assignment guidelines. You must write succinctly to make best use of the words available; don’t waste words. Typical error – Mason (2018) carried out a research study to explore = 9 words; Mason (2018) conducted a study to explore = 7 words.

Self-evaluation of your proposal

The marking grid/rubric is used to grade the final proposals and can be found in the module handbook and should be  used in conjunction with the other  support provided for the completion of this assessment. This guidance will let you see in detail what each section of your proposal should include. Please check your assignment against the marking grid and supporting materials before you submit and ensure that you have covered each of the aspects required. You need to do this as you complete the assessment and not leave until the last minute so you can make any necessary changes. Also it is important that you use the Turntitin revision site to check your similarity score prior to submission and also address any issues identified relating to poor referencing and paraphrasing. This site is open until all submissions are completed at 4th attempt.

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