SLTinfo logo

How to Write a Research Proposal


Writing a research proposal requires clarity about which methodological, ethical and political questions need to be answered at each stage of research. This article presents a table of relevant questions that will assist in the planning of a robust research strategy.

How to write a research proposal

Methodological, ethical and political questions




The bright idea/the foreshadowed problem

What do I know about relevant methods?

Whose interests are involved in this area?

What are the main problems?


What will I be reporting?

For what alternative explanations must I control?

Who might feel threatened by the questions I would be asking?

Does my phrasing of the question, or my selection of topic, prejudge the problems?

How will I disseminate the findings in a way that is meaningful to all stakeholders?

The research questions

Do they flow logically from the domain of interest and from my review of the literature?

Can they be framed in terms of a hypothesis (i.e. an assertion about the relationship between two or more variables)?

Are there other stakeholders who might influence the framing of research questions?

Measures and measuring instruments

How valid is my test, questionnaire, how I have operationalized the variables, etc (i.e. to what extent can I be confident that what I am actually measuring is, in fact, what I intended to measure?)

Do my measures have high internal validity (i.e. do the causal variables actually produce the observed effect)?

Do my measures have high construct validity (i.e. does the test conform to theoretical predictions)?

Do my measures have high content validity (i.e. do my measuring instruments adequately sample the domain of interest)?

Do my measures have high predictive validity (i.e. do my measures allow me to make accurate predictions about future performance)?

Do my measures demonstrate convergent validity (i.e. do several dissimilar measures of the concept that I am investigating correlate well with the measures I have used)?

Do my measures demonstrate discriminant validity (i.e. do my measures discriminate the concept that I am investigating by not correlating with measures of other concepts)?

How reliable are my tests (i.e. to what extent would I achieve consistent results if I applied the same test more than once to the same people under standard condition)?

Is there a risk of damage or embarrassment to subjects?

Is deception a necessary part of my procedures?

Am I able to guarantee confidentiality?

Will I be offering anonymity?

Sample selection

What type of sampling procedure will I use (e.g. probability sampling, cluster sampling, quota sampling)?

How representative is my sample of the whole population from which it is drawn?

What sort of external validity can I claim (i.e. to what extent am I able to generalize beyond the immediate sample or setting)?

What is the nature of the following two types of external validity?

  1. population validity (i.e. to what extent can the results from the research sample be generalized to the population from which it was drawn?)

  2. ecological validity (i.e. to what extent can the results be generalized to other conditions, such as different settings, different treatments, different researchers, and so on?)

Is any group excluded that should participate?

Data collection and analysis

Will the data be sufficient to answer the research questions?

Will they be sufficient to reveal alternative explanations that I may not have considered?

Will they be in a form that can be readily analyzed?

Will they be sufficient to address the problems?

Will they be sufficient to allow an alternative explanation to be argued by interested parties?

Further questions

What other data could I collect using the same resources?

What is the likely effect of my conclusions on research subjects?

What is the likely effect of my conclusions on the various stakeholders?

What additional data will I need to counter any possible objections?

Return to 1

This table is an adaptation and extension of an outline originally set out by Sapsford, R.J. and Evans, J. (1979) Evaluation of research: DE304 Research methods in education and the social sciences Milton Keynes: Open University Press.