A research proposal is exactly what it says on the tin – a short and to the point summary of the research project you intend to carry out. However, it not just describes what you are going to research and what results you expect to get. It also should detail the current state of knowledge on the subject, delineate the existing body of research and point out other recent works and debates related to it. Most importantly, it should prove that your proposed research is original, valuable for the advancement of knowledge on the topic (and, preferably, in adjacent disciplines as well) and viable.
It is worth mentioning that there is no universally accepted standard for research proposals. Each discipline, including Education, has its own broadly delineated format for this type of paper, and further differences are possible based on the preferences of your college in general and faculty mentor in particular. For example, some schools state that it should be about 3 pages long, others set the size of 1500-2000 words, some require it to have a clearly defined structure, others simply list the things you have to mention and let you do it in any order, without subheadings. The structure and order we give in this guide doesn’t necessarily fully coincide with the demands of your school. It is, however, enough to get you started and can be easily modified depending on the requirements of your college.
Picking a Topic for Your Research Proposal in Education: Important Issues
Education is a peculiar discipline to work with as a student, because you write about the environment in which you currently exist. This isn’t true for any other discipline and leaves a certain imprint on all research – it is easier to have your own insights and obtain them directly from your own experience and interactions with others.
Before you commit yourself to anything, make sure your proposed research is:
- Original. Check if anybody else carried out similar or identical project. You don’t want to end up recompiling the findings of other people. Use services like EBSCO, Google Scholar or Sweet Search to find projects that may have already covered your topic;
- Valuable. Your research should have something more going for it beyond it being interesting to find out. For example, you have noticed that students at your teaching practice schools are bored by their history lessons. You may want to research if the problem goes beyond just one school, and if there is something to alleviate it – i.e., you are looking for a solution to a real issue, not going on a wild goose chase;
- Feasible. All research requires resources: time, funding, equipment, etc. What you propose should have a reasonable return on investment: potential findings should be proportional to the sum you offer to spend.
Here are some tactics that you can use when looking for a topic:
1. Check out Recent Developments
Education is a constantly developing field: new findings and proposals are made every day, new methods are introduced, new strategies become part of a broader paradigm. You may stumble on a viable topic just by keeping up to date with recent developments. E.g., you encounter a proposition to introduce changes into high school curriculum to make it less test-dependent. What can the effect be? Are there any potential problems? What do teachers and students think about it?
2. Keep an Eye on Existing Practices
Over the course of your teaching practice, you are likely to see situations and arrangements characteristic only of the school you are dealing with. They may be positive or negative, and you can either research the ways of bringing them under spotlight for broader adoption or resolving them.
3. Look at What Requires Further Research
Most papers end up pointing out the areas that need further research. You may simply look through a bunch of recently published studies and identify a direction that appeals to you.
4. Turn to International Practices
Educational practices differ wildly depending on the culture and the country. Studying methods and techniques applied abroad can provide valuable insights you won’t be able to find in a familiar environment.
5. Listen to Those Directly Involved with Education
Teachers, students, parents, professors, tutors – all of them have something valuable to say, you simply have to listen carefully. E.g., you hear a group of your fellow students discussing the college’s plans for new sports facilities, and they disagree whether this expansion is useful or necessary. You may research the issue and its further implications on the role of college sports for different groups within the student body.
Here are a few examples of viable topics:
- The Methods for the Development of Critical Thinking among Middle School Students;
- Possible Applications of Virtual Reality Technology in High School Biology Classes;
- Multicultural Education and the Teacher’s Role as a Mediator between Different Cultures;
- The Effects of Dress Code and Uniform on the Student Performance in High School;
- Effects of Single-Sex Schools on Academic Performance.
Before You Start Writing: Preparing to Write an Education Research Proposal
1. Study and Clarify the Guidelines
As we have already stated, the guidelines for writing a research proposal differ dramatically from school to school. Even if you have already written a successful proposal, there is no guarantee that your current one uses the same structure. Study the guidelines carefully and, if there are any ambiguities, clarify them with a relevant staff member.
2. Prepare Information Sources
Literature review is a significant part of a research proposal, and you have to pay special attention to finding enough viable sources of useful information before you commit to a topic. Try using academic databases, preferably the ones dealing specifically with literature on education, like ERIC.
3. Write a Plan
The amount of time one typically spends writing a research proposal can be anything from a day to a few months. Whatever the case is, it is easier to write when you already have an idea of what and when to mention. Your plan may differ from a simple succession of things to mention to a detailed description of each section of the proposal. Write what suits you better, but write something.
Writing a Properly Structured Research Proposal in Education
The set of sections you are to include can be different (or you may be instructed to write a freeform proposal, without dividing it into parts), but typically, the structure includes the following (not necessarily in this order and sometimes recompiled differently):
- preliminary section;
- research background and discussion;
- supplementary sections.
Here you introduce your topic and provide a context for your future research. Start with a few general remarks delineating the frame of reference: you can point out the importance of the topic or provide a definition of a concept crucial for your research. For example: ‘Since the revival of single-sex education in the United States in 2006, there hasn’t been a clear consensus among the researchers on potential benefits and drawbacks of this approach’.
Don’t forget to clearly state your research question and intention after a few introductory sentences. Remember – it is just a proposal, you don’t have to provide in-depth background information, only the bare minimum necessary to understand the issue. Taking too long fleshing out the context is a common mistake, so try to state the question before the end of the second paragraph. Don’t spread it thin over the entire introduction, keep it to one sentence. E.g., ‘I will explore the influence of single-sex education on academic achievement based on the results of three systematic studies on 2658 high school students’.
2. Literature Review
Here you mention previous research on the topic, establishing a broader context for your project. Its function is twofold. Firstly, you recognize the work of other scholars who covered the topic before you and demonstrate that you are familiar with the existing body of knowledge on the subject. Secondly, you show what exactly is new and original about the research you propose. Typically, you have to establish one of the following positions for your project:
- It fills in the gap in the existing knowledge;
- It further develops the existing theory or idea by building on its results;
- It adds to the sum of existing knowledge through a more detailed study or using a different method;
- It seeks to disprove an existing theory.
Mention at least 4 to 6 other studies. Make sure they are relevant, and you don’t add them for the quantity’s sake. When mentioning other authors, use their names and the publication date (e.g., Jackson and Queendale, 2006). You will provide full citations later, in the bibliography.
In this section, you describe your general approach to research, including individual methods, techniques and processes you intend to use. In addition to showing the nature of your research, it serves another purpose – other people should be able to replicate your study. Therefore, you should describe your methods in enough detail. If you use someone else’s methodological framework, give references to the studies you have borrowed it from. All the supporting materials you’ve gathered (graphs, diagrams, statistics, charts, etc.) go here as well. Don’t forget to mention any limitations of the proposed research you can envision at this stage.
Here you give full citations of all the works you have mentioned in the rest of the proposal. Usually they are listed alphabetically, starting with the surname of the author. However, your college may be using a different approach, so make sure to clarify this point before you start compiling it.
Post-Writing Tips: What to Do after You Have Finished Your Research Proposal
Most likely, you will have to write more than one iteration of your research proposal. However, it is always a good idea to try and bring the number of rewritings to a minimum. Careful and systematic post-writing work can help with it.
1. Check the Proposal’s Structure
Have you omitted any of the prescribed sections? Have you given each of them sufficient attention?
2. Check the Word/Page Count
Make sure you do not exceed the limit, but try to stick as close to it as possible. If you have 2000 words to work with, you will not be treated favorably if you use half as much.
3. Check Your Style
A research proposal should be concise and straightforward. Your job is not to impress the readership with your beautiful writing, but to get your idea through. Here are some things you should try to avoid:
- Long multi-clause sentences and huge paragraphs. Go over the entire text and simplify it wherever possible. Break sentences and paragraphs up into bite-sized chunks;
- Overly long words where they are not necessary. Unless you use a term that doesn’t have a literary analogue, try to keep to shorter and simpler synonyms;
- Avoid passive voice. There are situations in which passive voice is preferable to active, but they are not numerous. Usually passive voice is the sign of poor style or trying to make your writing look more scientific.
4. Check Your Writing for Mistakes
Spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors can easily ruin the impression made even by an excellent research proposal, and it is doubly so when you write about education as you are supposed to demonstrate ideal knowledge of English. Go over the text a few times, use a proofreading tool, hire a professional proofreader or at least ask a friend with good command of English to check the text for you.
5. Bring Your First Draft to Your Adviser
He/she will probably point out a number of things to change or improve. However, all your previous preparations will ensure that minor problems are ironed out, and you can concentrate on important issues.
We hope that this guide will be of help the next time you have to prepare a research proposal for your education project. With its help, it shouldn’t take nearly as much time as it usually does!