A research is an investigation. In the investigation you will need to choose a specific area of interest and focus your research efforts and attention on it.
Usually you will need to prepare a research proposal. And the proposal is itself an action plan in which you spell out, in logical steps, the activities you will need to carry out in order to bring your research to fruition.


Research Area and Research Title/Main Research Question/Hypothesis

Many students have problems writing research proposal. In many of the cases where students have reported difficulties writing their proposals the problems have been that students confuse Research Area and Research Title/Main Research Question/Research Hypothesis: they do not mean the same thing and are therefore not interchangeable.

Some examples would help to clarify the differences between Research Area and Research Title/Main Research Question/Research Hypothesis.

Example 1

Research Area:
National Vocational Qualification Framework, equality, inclusion and access

Research Title/Main Research Question: how does the national Vocational Qualification Curricular Framework provide access to bilingual students?

Example 2
Research Area:

The Experience of Learning, the Quality of Provision, Managing students’ Learning Experience, Managing the learning Environment

Research Title:
The development of Quality Standards in Further education Colleges: the case of Oakhill College of Technology.

From the foregoing examples you can see that a Research Area is the broad subject, conceptual and/or theoretical area and that your Research Title/Main Research Question/Hypothesis is a strand that you have drawn from the broadness of the Research Area. Thus you can visualise your research and hence the Research Title/Main Research Question/Research Hypothesis, as the case may be, as a straight and logical pathway which you have constructed through the broadness of the Research Area in order to investigate specific aspects within the Area.

And you are more likely to avoid the confusion that was mentioned above by doing some preliminary literature reviews of the theories and researches which have been done within the Research Area you have chosen. The reviews will help you to develop your initial thinking about your Research Title/Main Research Question/Research Hypothesis; your Research Aims and Objectives; your Research Questions; your Methodological Approaches, and the Rationale of the research.

The research Proposal
As you would have gathered from the foregoing a research proposal should set out the following in clear and unambiguous terms:
• The Research Area you want to study in your research
• The Research Title/Main Research Question/Research Hypothesis you want test in your research
• The theoretical foundations of the research
• The Aims and Objectives of the research
• The Research Questions
• The Methodology
• The Rationale for the research

Most universities have pre-printed Research Proposal forms which would contain all or some of the above subheadings.
An example of a Research Proposal form together with brief explanations of each subheading follows below:

Research Area
Here you will need to define in precise terms the theoretical, subject conceptual areas within which your research is located. For example, a general statement such as: my Research Area is Education does not define an area. Instead you need to be specific: Nursery Education; Primary Education; Secondary Education; Post-Compulsory Education.

Research Title
In this part of the proposal you should state, quite clearly, the title or the main research question or the hypothesis of your research. Again general statements are unhelpful. For example, if you have chosen secondary education as your Research Area, then you need to state clearly the question you are trying to answer or the hypothesis you are trying to test.

Alternatively you may want to research the assessment of a particular subject for example Information Technology (IT) in further education colleges or you may want research specific area of state policy for example the policy of inclusion in further education colleges. Again you need to be quite specific and define precisely the research question or the hypothesis you are trying to test.

The theory
As I have mentioned earlier the reviews of the theories and literature underpinning your research will help you to appreciate the researches that have been done in the area. It would also give your readers a flavour of your research intention within the field.
Therefore you should discuss your literature reviews and explain the theoretical rationale for your research. You should discuss and explain how the literature supports your Main Research Question and/or hypothesis.

In the further education colleges example above your literature reviews should focus on assessment theories; researches on the assessment of Information Technology curriculum; researches on the roles of assessment in education; researches on the types and methods of assessment with particular reference to IT education.

The Aims and Objectives of the Research
Here you will need to state the precise intention of your research. This means that you state clearly what you and your research are about. You must focus your research Aims and Objectives on the achievement of your Main Research Question or Research Hypothesis, if any.

Again using the example of further education colleges’ assessment of IT you could state your aims and objectives as follows:
• To investigate
• To explore
• To evaluate
• To document
• To examine
• To measure
• To refute

The Research Questions
Here you need to describe the information you would need to find out to help you to answer your main research question. This means that you should formulate the specific questions you need to ask and find answers to in order to achieve the Aims and Objectives of your research.

Again using the IT assessment as an example you could pose the following questions:
How do colleges measure the learning and attainment of Year 12 students on IT curriculum?
What methods do colleges use in the differentiation of the assessment of year 12 students on IT curriculum?

Here you need to address three broad issues:
• The research design: the design of the research means that you specify whether you plan to use case studies or survey or both.
• Data collection: this means that you should specify what kinds of data you are going to collect and how you plan to collect them: you may specify ethnographic and quantitative data.

In our example of further education above you could plan to collect ethnographic and quantitative data.
You could then specify that you would use primary and secondary research methods.
What then follows from the above is that you would define your research instruments:
Ethnographic interviews with teachers, managers and students
Questionnaires administered to teachers, managers and students
Documentary analysis of assessment records and colleges’ assessment policies

The Rationale
Put simply you need to justify your research. This means that you need to explain why you thought your research is necessary.
Again recalling our example of further education colleges’ assessment of IT curriculum you would have to persuade your readers that your research is necessary because it leads to the formulation, design and implementation of alternative approaches to the assessment of IT Curriculum in further education colleges.

We have briefly described some of the basic considerations involved in the design and writing of research proposals. What we have described is not a fixed template because research proposals are fluid and they depend on the University requirements. Nevertheless we have tried to cover much of the basic grounds.