Research Proposal for Masters Class
LENGTH: This proposal should be no more than 3,000 words, excluding title/contents page,
appendix and bibliography, but including text in tables and footnotes. You are recommended to
use single line spacing and a plain serif (e.g. Times New Roman) or sans serif (e.g. Arial) font in
font size 11. Advisory lengths for each section of the assignment are provided in brackets
FORMAT: A Microsoft Word or PDF document, with numbered pages.
CONTENT: There is no one ‘correct’ way to write a research design, but here are some
GUIDELINES you should consider. In general, please be as specific as possible about your
questions and hypotheses, definitions, case selections and strategies, measurement and
variables coding etc., and methods of data analysis. We all feel uncertain about whether we’re
‘getting it right’ when we put together a research design, but don’t let uncertainty stand in the way
of specificity! Explain important uncertainties, rather than hiding them.
1. Background/literature review (~2 pages)
Don’t be tempted to dedicate ‘too much’ space to the background/literature review section.
Around two pages should suffice. An effective literature review is one that shows how your
research question(s) is situated in the relevant literature in your field, not one that demonstrates
that you have read a lot of that literature. So don’t include lots of literature on related topics that
are not specifically relevant to your contribution. The literature review introduces us to the
broader landscape of research that gives rise to your research question(s), which are in a sense
your ‘point of departure’ from what has already been published.
The literature review can begin with a wide angle view, but it should move quite quickly to focus
on research/concepts/theory/controversies in those areas that are relevant to your research
questions. Because the literature review ought to set up your research questions, those
questions should emerge quite organically from the literature review section. In other words, the
‘fit’ between the literature review and the research questions should be obvious.
2. Research questions (~1 short paragraph [equivalent])
Research questions may be exploratory or confirmatory, inductive or deductive, descriptive or
explanatory, or may not tidily correspond to any of these categories. Regardless of which of
these they are, they need to be clearly and explicitly stated (e.g. set out or listed as an
overarching research question with sub-questions) and should be clearly motivated by the
content of the preceding background/literature review section. And make sure that they are
actually questions (rather than statements or assumptions)!
3. Data collection plan (~1-3 pages)
You need to be very clear in describing the data/evidence that you are using and how the
variables or concepts are measured and/or coded. Describe and justify, as concretely as
possible, your proposed case selection and/or sampling strategies and the data collection
methods you propose to use, within the practical limitations of your project and timeframe. What
are the strengths and weaknesses of the choices that you have made?
4. Data analysis plan (~1-3 pages)
Given the decisions you have made about your topic, research questions and data collection –
what are the most appropriate forms of analysis? Here you should discuss the analytic method
and how it helps answer the question. Note that software is not a method: we do not care if you
use Nvivo or Stata, we do care if you use thematic analysis or logistic regression.
5. Potential findings, impact and relevance of the study (~0.5-1 page)
As this is a piece of research design you cannot describe the findings of your study. However, we
would like you to anticipate how you could expect your research to make a difference (to the
topic and/or disciplinary field at hand and taking into account the type/s of research question/s
posed). What findings do you expect, and what findings, if any, would be surprising or contradict
your expectations/theoretical stance? How could such findings, whether expected or unexpected,
impact the academic literature/policy/practice/public life [as relevant to your topic and design]?
6. Limitations and further research (~0.5-1 page)
Here you should discuss the limitations of your design as currently conceived. There are different
kinds of limitations. One kind to consider is how aspects of your research design limit what you
can know, or claim, as part of your outcomes. For example, questions on internal and external
validity are common limitations, as are reliability and validity of measurement. You may only be
doing part 1 of what is a 3- part research project. You may be doing what is effectively a pilot
study. Another limiting factor can be ethical issues that arise from your research design.
Please include proper in-text citations and a reference list, consistently using a standard
reference format. You are advised to provide references for both the substantive and the
methodological content of your proposal. We would typically expect to see around one page of
cited references listed.