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Formulating a research proposal

Chapter 4

Formulating a research proposal to answer your aims and objectives and Watson's framework for crafting research

Your institution or course will almost certainly require you to produce a research proposal prior to setting out on your dissertation or research project.

This can vary from a simple statement of intent to a full-blown assignment or piece of assessment, which might include things like:

  • A working title, encapsulating the aims, scope and strategy of your study
  • A critical literature review of your research area, out of which you may be expected to derive research questions
  • A short statement of your overall research perspective or strategy
  • Specific aims and objectives for your study
  • How you would intend to gain access to appropriate sites, data or participants for your study
  • The methods of data collection you intend to use and a justification of their appropriateness, strengths and weaknesses in relation to your study, including relevant references to the literature
  • How you would construct your sample frame and an outline of your sampling strategy
  • An indication of what type of analysis you would wish to perform on your data
  • Any problems you might anticipate (e.g. in access or sampling, etc.) and how you might resolve these
  • A consideration of any ethical or professional issues raised by your proposals
  • A research timetable or timeline

To see video clips of students talking about their experiences of formulating a research proposal, click here

General advice on writing proposals:

  • You should avoid making your research ideas too vague as this generally leads to too wide a range of issues to cover - your overall task will probably be to present a coherent review which should enable you to refine your possible research ideas into specific and viable research questions
  • Just because you don't yet have a clear idea of what you want to do does not mean you cannot write a clear research proposal, you can still present a coherent plan which should enable you to address your questions realistically
  • Though it may be impossible for you to accurately predict levels of access available to you and consequently to determine a precise sample frame, you should still be able to propose what kinds of access would be needed and rough estimates of the ideal sample frame and sampling strategy needed in order to collect the kind of data you propose

Web link: - Research Proposal - advice on developing research proposals or outlines from the ABC Study Guide by Andy Roberts.

A 'What, Why, and How' Framework for Crafting Research

Source: Watson (1994b: S80). Reprinted with permission of Wiley Publishing. see Figure 4.3

Exercise: Doing a Research Project

Consider the following situation:

Developing a turnaround strategy for Amber Products Ltd.

For the last three years, Amber, a manufacturer of standard engineering parts based in Honley, has been losing market share. Its share declined from 10% of the UK market in 2012 to 4% in 2017, with associated loss of turnover and profits. This proposal is designed to address this problem and to recommend an appropriate turnaround strategic plan to regain long-term market share and company viability. This project is of particular interest because the author is Marketing Manager of the company and, unless the appropriate action is taken, the company will cease trading with the resultant loss of jobs.



Design a research proposal which would outline the way you would intend to do the research to provide an answer to the above situation.

There are a variety of ways to tackle the situation outlined above. One way is as follows:

Research questions

Some questions to be addressed by the research include:

  • What are the causes of the loss of market share, both internal and external?
  • Why has it occurred?
  • What can be done to stop arrest the decline in market share?
  • How can a recovery plan be implemented effectively?

Aims and Objectives

The overall aim of the research is to develop a turnaround strategy for Amber Products Ltd.

The specific objectives of the research are:

  • To critically appraise the literature on turnaround strategy with particular reference to engineering firms in a UK environment
  • To assess the causes of a loss in market share using Amber Products Ltd. as a case study
  • On the basis of the literature review and the research, to recommend a turnaround strategy for the company


The research stance will be to take a mainly positivist approach as it is envisaged that there is a real, observable cause(s) for a decline and, based on the research, recommendations can be made and turn around the situation through a process of deduction. The researcher's philiospohy will, therefore be, that there is an observable reality that can be captured and explained.

The research strategy will be descriptive, based on a case study approach using a 'mixed methodology'.

The methodology will include the following:

  • Review of the appropriate literature on strategic turnaround from academic books, journals, and the internet and a search for any parallel cases reviewed in the literature, professional journals, and magazines
  • Secondary data search for any information on the subject and case in libraries, websites, etc,
  • Primary research which will include both qualitative and quantitative research:
        1. In-depth interviews with directors of the company and customers to ascertain their views on the causes of decline and remedies which will be used to inform the quantitative research
        2. Quantitative research which will involve administering a closed questionnaire by personal interview to a sample of the company's key employees and customers to ascertain their views on the causes of decline and recommendations to stop it
        3. Sample will be convenience based on four in-depth interviews with company directors and four key customers. Quantitative research will be with 10 key employees and 20 key customers
        4. Location of interviews will be in key sales areas i.e. Birmingham, Dagenham, Coventry, and Swindon.
        5. The qualitative data will be analysed using content analysis and the quantitative data using SPSS descriptive and non-parametric tests
        6. Conclusions and recommendations will be drawn from the data and written up into a report
  • Limitations of the research:
        1. Small sample size
        2. Availability of respondents (e.g. company directors)
        3. Time constraints
  • Period of research April to September 2018

GANTT chart of activities

Check your answer