Raising the Bar in Qualitative Research Proposals

Back in 2011, a post in Research Design Review described a quality framework that is recommended as a guide to researchers in their qualitative research designs.  This post – “Four Components of the Quality Framework for Qualitative Research Design” – talks about the benefits of grounding qualitative design in a framework by which the researcher can “judge the efficacy” as well as “examine the sources of variability and establish critical thinking in the Raising the barprocess of qualitative research design.”  The four components of the quality framework (QF) revolve around the idea that all qualitative research must be: credible, analyzable, transparent, and ultimately useful.

In the current post, qualitative researchers are encouraged to put the QF to work in a very important applied arena – i.e., the crafting and evaluating of research proposals.  For instance, a QF approach to qualitative research deserves prominence in: (a) the proposals written by graduate students working towards their theses and dissertations; (b) proposals written by researchers in the academic, government, not-for-profit, and commercial sectors responding to clients’ requests for proposal (RFPs); and (c) proposals written for grants.  Taking a quality perspective in the research proposal raises the bar on the critical thinking skills utilized by researchers in the preparation of qualitative research proposals, as well as the criteria by which proposal guidelines and RFPs are written, and the processes by which these proposals are evaluated by reviewers.

A research proposal guided by a quality framework (QF) differs from other research proposal formats in one overarching way – quality-design issues play a central role throughout the proposal and in any evaluation of the proposal.  For example, from the outset, a QF proposal couches the introductory discussions concerning research objectives and the significance of the proposed research around the component of Usefulness and its emphasis on new insights, next steps, and transferability about which the researchers, clients, and other users can be confident.   Among other purposes, the literature review section of a QF research proposal discusses past research in the literature from the point of view of the four framework components, highlighting how the proposed new research will improve on earlier work by incorporating a fundamental quality assessment of the reliability and accuracy of previous studies being reviewed.  In the method section, a QF research proposal elaborates on the discussion of data collection from the standpoint of the Credibility component – where population coverage and measurement issues such as interviewer bias or inter-observer reliability play important roles – and data analysis in terms of the Analyzability component, where the focus is on the critical areas of processing (e.g., transcriptions) and verification (e.g., peer debriefings and triangulation).  And, unlike most qualitative research proposals, a QF research proposal includes a section specific to Transparency with an emphasis on the final deliverables, how the researcher plans to provide complete disclosure (“thick description”) in the research report document, and a rundown of the supporting materials that will also be included, e.g., the reflexive journal, interview guide, and the like.

A QF research proposal may very well result in a lengthier proposal than is now typical but the result is a more complete and compelling document that more fully informs the person reviewing the proposal and, as importantly, forces the qualitative researcher to think carefully about each aspect of the research from the standpoint of credibility, analyzability, transparency, and its ultimate usefulness.


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