Rev. Isaac Boaheng
Posted 15th September 2020

The quality of a research proposal is usually an indication of a candidate’s level of maturity and preparedness for conducting the proposed research. It is therefore important that the researcher takes his/her time to prepare an excellent proposal before submitting it to the supervisor or the research committee. In my first article on the research proposal, I dealt with some aspects of an academic research proposal. In the present article, I consider research design and methodology, limitation(s) and delimitation(s) (scope of the research), literature review, organization of study, the definition of terms, ethical issues, bibliography; and timetable for the research. Readers are encouraged to read the first article as well to be able to get a holistic view of the subject matter discussed.

Research design and methodology
The research design is the general approach used in addressing the research problem. One must carefully choose the most suitable research design for the kind of research to be undertaken (Smith 2008:153). The design must cover areas like the type of research being undertaken, the steps and their sequence, and the nature of the data involved (literary or empirical).

A research methodology is directly linked to research design. The design deals with a broad overview of the steps required to solve the research problem whilst the methodology takes it up from there and describes the steps, methods, and procedures the researcher intends to take in solving the research problem. There are three common methodological approaches. The first is for more traditional empirical research methods, the second is for emergent (or exploratory) research designs, and the third is for literature-based research. The methods and procedures to be used differ according to the nature of the researcher’s field of study. A traditional experiment will require detailed specifications of the design, the variables, and the measures that are going to be used. In the case of a purely literature-based study, the methodology must include the kind of sources the researcher intends to consult as well as how he/she intends to engage with these sources. For an empirical study, there is the need to give details about the methods, to justify them, and to give details about the where, when, and who of the methods. If the methodology involves an interview, state what the purpose of your interview is, its structure, as well as who you will interview, when, and where. State why you have chosen to use this method and the people involved.

Examples of methods for field research data collection include the following.
Questionnaire: A series of questions and other prompts (written or printed) to gather information from a statistically significant number of subjects. These questions may be open or closed, quantitative or qualitative. More often than not it is designed for statistical analysis of the responses.
Interview: A personal conversation where questions are asked and answers are given. The interview can be structured or unstructured.
Case study: A case study is the collection of detailed information about a particular participant or a group. The analysis and conclusions are based on a particular subject studied.
Observation: A simple observation refers to the researcher observing the subjects and taking notice of certain things related to his/her research. In participant observation, the researcher both observes and participates in the activities of the subjects at the same time.
Focus group discussion: A group discussion to find out what the discussion panel thinks about a particular subject matter.

Limitations and Delimitations (Scope of the Research)
Limitations are restrictions that are beyond the researcher’s control. They usually place restrictions on the method and conclusions. Limitations may come from the instrument used. The researcher may be limited by the instrument used to read his/her observation to the first decimal place even though he/she may wish to read to the second or third decimal place for the sake of accuracy. Taking readings to one decimal place, therefore, becomes a limitation in experiments conducted using such instruments.

Delimitation refers to self-imposed boundaries or limits within which the study will be conducted. They are choices made by the researcher which put some restrictions on the scope of the research.  These boundaries may be geographical, historical, and ideological, or some other boundary. The researcher is expected to justify why he/she chooses to delimit his/her study the way he/she does it. Defining the scope of the research helps the researcher to focus on the precise issue he/she intends to consider.

Literature Review
Hart (1998:13) defines literature review as: the selection of available documents (both published and unpublished) on the topic, which contain information, ideas, data, and evidence written from a particular standpoint to fulfill certain aims or express certain views on the nature of the topic and how it is to be investigated, and the effective evaluation of these documents concerning the research being proposed.

A literature review is an account of previous works undertaken by accredited scholars and researchers on a particular topic. The literature review is based on the assumption that knowledge accumulates and that we learn from, and build on, what others have done. It is expected to describe the relationship among different works and to locate the current study within the context of existing literature. It is built from secondary sources such as edited books, journal articles, monographs, databases, dissertations/theses, newspapers, conference proceedings, empirical studies, government reports, historical records, statistical handbooks, policy guides. It includes the current knowledge including substantive findings, as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to a particular topic. In the review of literature, the researcher must provide information about what was done, how it was done (what method(s) were used),and what results were generated about the subject under study as well as what suggestions were made for further research. The literature review helps the researcher to add to what has been done and to avoid pitfalls in the previous approaches.  By noting the previous attempts by other scholars, the researcher is guarded against duplication of effort.

A literature review must not be taken as an annotated bibliography in which you summarize each book/article that you have reviewed. Even though the literature review contains what the researcher has read on the subject, it goes well beyond merely summarizing this literature. The researcher should identify and explain the strength and weaknesses/limitations of the approaches to the study. One of the most useful aspects of the literature review is that it helps the researcher develop a good conceptual/theoretical framework for his/her own study.

Three kinds of literature reviews can be identified. The first is an integrated research review, which examines previous works in a particular area of interest and identifies the relationship among the works being examined. In a theoretical review, the researcher examines the various theories which researchers have put forward concerning a particular topic. In a thematic review, the researcher examines materials on a particular topic thematically.

Organization of the Study
This has to do with the outline of the various chapters. For literature-based research, each chapter may be devoted to a key aspect of the research problem. The example below shows the organization of work for literature-based research on the Matthean Beatitudes.
Chapter 1: General Introduction
Chapter 2: Background and Context of the Beatitudes
Chapter 3: Exploring the Message of the Matthean Beatitudes
Chapter 4: Implications of the Message of the Beatitudes for Discipleship
Chapter 5: Summary, Conclusion, and Recommendations

To put some flesh on this, the researcher wrote under “Organisation of the study” as follows:
This study is organized in five (5) chapters as follows. The first chapter deals with the statement of the problem, the purpose of the study, the significance of the study, research questions, scope of the study, methodology, and limitation. The second chapter looks at the historical-cultural background as well as the literary context of the text, while the third chapter employs the exegetical method to explore the meaning of the Beatitudes. The fourth chapter draws lessons from the Beatitudes for contemporary discipleship. Finally, the fifth chapter provides the summary and conclusion of the entire study and recommendations both for future researchers and for the church (Boaheng 2017:5-6).

A typical outline for empirical research may be as follows:
Chapter 1: General Introduction
Chapter 2: Theoretical Framework/ Literature review
Chapter 3: Research Design and Methodology
Chapter 4: Research Findings and Analysis
Chapter 5: Summary, Conclusion, and Recommendations

Definition of Terms (if applicable)
This part of the proposal defines all terms that are pivotal to the understanding of the study. These include uncommon technical terms, terms with more than one attested meaning in scholarly literature, and terms the researcher is using with slightly different connotations from its standard use in scholarly literature. There is no limit to the number of terms to define. Smith (2008:145) prescribes “as many as necessary, but as few as possible.” In some cases, there may be no need to define any term. In the course of the work, less pivotal terms that are introduced can be defined as and when they first occur in the work.

Ethical Issues
To research ethically, certain considerations must be taken. Some institutions (especially in the field of medicine) and certain types of research require rigorous ethical clearance before the investigator can begin. State what ethical considerations you will take in this section. Examples may include:

  1. No persons will be forced to participate against their will.
  2. The names and inputs of participants will be kept confidential.All participants will be protected from any physical, emotional, and spiritual discomfort by the researcher ensuring that their responses remain confidential and unanimous.
  3. All sources will be acknowledged in this study.

The research proposal must have a comprehensive reference list or bibliography written per standard academic writing procedures. The bibliography should be a shortlist of the key relevant literature in the area and must be presented in alphabetic order preferably according to classification such as manuscripts, books, journals, commission reports, newspapers, etc. The bibliography needs not to be extensive at this stage, but it should indicate the texts that are important and relevant for your project.

The kind of material consulted is very crucial in any serious academic work. I give three guidelines. First, do not consult out-dated works. I recommend that most of the works consulted should be from the last 10-15 years. Works that were published more than 25 years ago may be consulted only when they are seminal works in the field. Second, consult academic resources rather than popular and devotional ones. Devotional books are usually about the subjective experiences and views of the writer rather than well researched objective views that characterize academic books. Third, in addition to general works, consult as many monographs as possible. A commentary on the New Testament will not treat Paul’s view on justification in Romans 3 as much as an article of Romans 3 will do.

Timetable for Research
This refers to a schedule of activities from start to completion of the research. The time frame must be realistic, allocating sufficient time for various activities and also for revising, editing, and producing the final text. An example is shown below.

Period Activity
18/11/15 to 18/12/15 Proposal and chapter one
19/12/15 to 29/1/16 Draft of chapter two
Literature review
1/2/16 to 28/2/16 Draft of chapter three
Gathering of primary data
Interviews and focused group discussions
1/3/16 to 31/3/16 Draft of chapter four
Engagement with data
1/4/16 to 30/4/16 Correction of draft thesis printing, binding, and submission

Criteria for Judging Research Proposal
Different supervisors and examiners look-out for different things when judging the quality of a research proposal. However, in general, the following questions are usually considered in examining proposals (University of the Western Cape n.d. 6):

  1. Does the researcher have a clear idea of what [he/she] plan[s] to research?
  2. Does the proposal have a focus? Is it the topic worthy of academic study and significance?
  3. Does the researcher demonstrate an adequate understanding of the debates in the literature on this topic? Is the project feasible?
  4. Does the researcher have a realistic idea of how [he/she is] going to tackle the investigation?
  5. Is it doable within the time constraints? Does the bibliography and referencing conform to accepted conventions? Is it technically faultless?

This brief article has discussed aspects of the guidelines one needs in writing a research proposal. Researchers must not peculiarities in their departments and institutions and adjust the guidelines given in this paper to suit their research contexts.  Certainly, this discussion will go a long way to help researchers come out with acceptable proposals that will help produce focused and well-written research papers.

Boaheng I 2017. The Matthean Beatitudes: Lessons for Contemporary Discipleship.
Unpublished Short Essay Submitted to the Methodist Church Ghana, 2017.
Hart C 1988. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination. Los Angeles: SAGE.
Smith KG 2008. Academic Writing and Theological Research: A Guide for Students. Johannesburg: South African Theological Seminary Press.
University of the Western Cape n.d. Research Proposal Guide: Developing and submitting a research proposal. Accessed from: file/appdata/local/temp/research_proposal-1.pdf

This article is published with the kind courtesy of the author—Isaac Boaheng (Rev.), an ordained minister of the Methodist Church Ghana, a Master of divinity graduate of the Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon Accra -Ghana and a Translator with the Bible Society of Ghana.

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