The articles in Research Design Review are largely devoted to issues of “quality research design”; specifically, how to build sound research techniques and principles into the design of qualitative and quantitative studies. Creating designs that lead to useful, actionable outcomes is the ultimate goal of research, yet most meaningful research would not get off the ground without a well-reasoned, well-written research proposal. This is why a quality approach to developing the research proposal is essential among researchers in the academic, government, not-for-profit, and commercial sectors responding to RFPs; researchers in search of grant funding; as well as graduate students working toward their theses and dissertations.
A quality approach is particularly important with respect to the qualitative research proposal. While quantitative proposals typically incorporate any number of discussions on quality issues that directly or indirectly justify the proposed study, attention is less frequently given to these considerations in the qualitative proposal.
Preparing a qualitative research proposal around pertinent quality issues requires critical thinking skills aided by a basis with which to examine aspects that potentially may impact the quality of outcomes. One such basis is the Total Quality Framework (TQF) which offers the qualitative researcher various design parameters to consider related to Credibility (data collection), Analyzability (analysis), Transparency (reporting), and Usefulness (next steps). What differentiates the TQF proposal from other proposal formats is the central role that quality design issues play throughout the proposal.
There are eight sections to the TQF proposal.
1. Introduction: A brief overview that sets the stage for the proposed approach, including the topic and particular research question(s) being addressed, how the proposed study will advance thinking in this area, the fundamental methodological approach(es), and, importantly, the priority that will be given to incorporating quality measures via the TQF.
2. Background & Literature Review: A discussion of the population segment of interest as well as earlier research that has been conducted by the sponsoring organization (if appropriate) and research published in professional literature and/or presented at professional conferences. Importantly, the literature review should weigh heavily the reliability and validity of compatible research, i.e., the quality standards that were integrated into the research design. A “Literature Review Reference Summary Evaluation Table”* – that organizes past studies and lays out the strengths and limitations of each as it relates to the TQF – can be very useful for this purpose. This section is essential to providing the necessary context for the researcher’s proposed approach.
3. Research Questions or Hypotheses: The proposal author not only states the specific questions or hypotheses that are the objectives of the research but also explains why these questions/hypotheses merit investigation. Based on the review of earlier research in section #2, these questions/hypotheses may be both substantive and methodological, whereby the proposed research is expected to avoid the quality flaws (as defined by the TQF) of prior studies.
4. Research Design: A detailed account of each aspect of the research design from a quality perspective. Because every key aspect of the design has some role in the quality of research outcomes, the proposal should explicitly discuss elements of the TQF throughout this section. The broad areas covered are: method and mode, scope and data gathering, analysis, ethical considerations, and dissemination of findings.
5. Research Team: A discussion of the researcher and other members of the research team. This consists of: each team member’s name (if appropriate), title, and affiliation; the basis by which each team member was chosen, including his/her experience and knowledge of the subject matter and/or population segment as well as skills; the role each team member will play in conducting the research; and the principal researcher’s philosophical or theoretical orientation (as appropriate) and its impact on how the study will be conducted. Importantly, this section highlights how the research team will ensure credibility in the data collected, completeness and accuracy of the data analysis and interpretation, the transparency of the final deliverables, and usefulness of the research outcomes.
6. Research Deliverables: A description of the documents and details that will be included at the conclusion of the proposed research. An example of what this might include is discussed in 25 Ingredients to “Thicken” Description & Enrich Transparency in Ethnography. This section emphasizes the value in transparency as a fundamental component of the TQF and how the documents/details that will be included in the final deliverables will provide the users of the research with a clear and accurate account of what occurred.
7. Limitations of the Proposed Research: A critique of the proposed research from a quality standpoint, i.e., a TQF perspective. By acknowledging the imperfections in the proposed study, the author takes the “high road” and strengthens the idea that the proposed approach is the “best” one given the available resources, and demonstrates that the researcher will fully account for these limitations when drawing final interpretations of the data.
8. Research Schedule & Cost Estimate: The proposed schedule and cost estimate are outlined with special mention given to the necessary time and costs associated with the TQF research approach. This section outlines the scheduling and cost considerations related to such matters as: obtaining quality lists to sample participants, the ease or difficulty in gaining cooperation from participants, training (e.g., for data collection and analysis), verification procedures, and compiling the final deliverables.