Research Proposal

The TQF Qualitative Research Proposal: Method & Mode

TQF proposal method and mode

As discussed in “A Quality Approach to the Qualitative Research Proposal,” one of the eight sections of the Total Quality Framework (TQF) proposal is Research Design. Within this section of the proposal, there are six areas to be covered by the researcher:

  • Method and Mode
  • Scope and Data Gathering
  • Analysis
  • Ethical Considerations
  • Dissemination of Findings
  • Summary of the Research Design

The following is a modified excerpt from Roller & Lavrakas (2015, pp. 338-339) describing the Method and Mode area of the Research Design section:

The proposal author should identify the method(s), and the mode(s) within the method(s), that will be used to contact study participants, gain their cooperation, and gather data for the proposed study. The proposal should go on to support the selection of the methods and modes by outlining the strengths—alone and in comparison to other approaches—with the acknowledgment of the limitations of the proposed design.

As an example, a researcher proposing a face-to-face and phone in-depth interview (IDI) study of African American and Hispanic high school students in a particular school district would discuss the advantages of the IDI method in terms of the ability to establish rapport and develop a strong interviewer–interviewee relationship, thereby reducing the potential for bias (e.g., distortion in the interviewees’ responses) and increasing the credibility of the data. This researcher would elaborate by linking the choice of method and modes to the research objectives. For instance, the researcher would explain that the goal of understanding the deep-seated factors that impact academic performance requires a research approach that is both personal in nature and creates a trusting environment wherein the interviewer can gather detailed, meaningful responses from the students to potentially sensitive questions, such as disruptive influences outside of school (e.g., family life).

The researcher would then explain that no other qualitative method (or quantitative method) could effectively gain the depth of information sought by the proposed IDI study, but also acknowledges that the success of the study will hinge on well-thought-out techniques for sampling participants and gaining cooperation from the target population (examples of which should be included in the proposal). And finally, the researcher would note that the face-to-face IDI method costs more and adds time to the study completion compared to other IDI modes, stating that this is one of the reasons that some of the IDIs will be conducted via phone.

For a discussion of the Scope and Data Gathering area of the Research Design section, see “The TQF Qualitative Research Proposal: Credibility of Design.”

Roller, M. R., & Lavrakas, P. J. (2015). Applied qualitative research design: A total quality framework approach. New York: Guilford Press.

Writing Ethics Into Your Qualitative Proposal

A qualitative research proposal is comprised of many pieces and parts that are necessary to convey the researcher’s justification for conducting the research, how the research will be conducted (including the strengths and limitations of the prTQF Proposaloposed approach), as well as what the sponsor of the research can expect in terms of deliverables, timing, and cost. The eight sections of the Total Quality Framework (TQF) proposal are discussed briefly in this 2015 post in Research Design Review. One of the sections in the TQF proposal is Design. This is where the researcher discusses the research method and mode along with Scope and Data Gathering (consistent with the TQF Credibility component), and analysis (including aspects of processing and verification as described by the TQF Analyzability component). Another important part to the Design section is a discussion of the ethical considerations associated with the proposed research.

Every research proposal for studying human beings must carefully consider the ethical ramifications of engaging individuals for research purposes, and this is particularly true in the relatively intimate, in-depth nature of qualitative research. It is incumbent on qualitative researchers to honestly assure research participants their confidentiality and right to privacy, safety from harm, and right to terminate their voluntary participation at any time with no untoward repercussions from doing so. The proposal should describe the procedures that will be taken to implement these assurances, including gaining informed consent, gaining approval from the relevant Institutional Review Board, and anonymizing participants’ names, places mentioned, and other potentially identifying information.

Special consideration should be given in the proposal to ethical matters when the proposed research (a) pertains to vulnerable populations such as children or the elderly; (b) concerns a marginalized segment of the population such as people with disabilities, same-sex couples, or the economically disadvantaged; (c) involves covert observation that will be conducted in association with an ethnographic study; or (d) is a narrative study in which the researcher may withhold the full true intent of the research in order not to stifle or bias participants’ telling of their stories.

Furthermore, the researcher should pay particular attention to ethical considerations when writing a proposal for a focus group study. The focus group method (regardless of mode) brings together (typically) a number of strangers who are often asked to offer their candid thoughts on personal and sensitive topics. For this reason (and other reasons, e.g., the moderator may be sharing confidential information with the participants), it is important to gain a signed consent form from all participants; however, the reality is that there is no way the researcher can totally guarantee confidentiality. These and other associated ethical considerations should be discussed in the Design section of the focus group proposal.

Evaluating Quality Standards in a Qualitative Research Literature Review

A December 2015 article in Research Design Review discusses “A Quality Approach to the Qualitative Research Proposal.”  The article outlinesquality-image the eight sections of a “TQF proposal,” i.e., a proposal whereby quality design issues – specifically, related to the four components of the Total Quality Framework – play a central role throughout the writing of each proposal section.  This approach enables the researcher to be mindful of the considerations that go into developing, implementing, and reporting a qualitative research study that is built on quality standards.  The TQF proposal can then live on beyond the proposal phase to inform the researcher as he/she goes about executing the proposed design.

The second section of the TQF proposal is called “Background and Literature Review” and is devoted to giving the reader the context in which to situate the relevance of the proposed study as well as details of the target population and past research efforts with the population segment and/or research topic.   When conducting a literature review for a TQF proposal, it is worthwhile for the researcher to use a reference table or matrix that helps to evaluate each relevant study according to the steps that were taken to maximize Credibility (e.g., representativeness of the sample, validity of the data), Analyzability (i.e., completeness and accuracy of the data processing and verification), Transparency (i.e., completeness and disclosure of the study details), and Usefulness (i.e., the ability to do something of value with the outcomes).

This literature review evaluation table is predicated on the idea that not all qualitative research studies are equally reliable and valid.  In addition to keeping track of the relevant research unearthed in his/her investigation, the literature review table allows the researcher to efficiently evaluate the quality standards that were employed in these studies, along with their strengths and limitations from a quality standpoint, and determine which studies to cite in the proposal.

Further, a revised table comprised of just those references actually cited in the proposal is a useful addition to the proposal itself.  This table provides proposal readers with a convenient way to view cited references in conjunction with the researcher’s comments related to each study’s strengths and limitations from a TQF perspective.

An example of a partial Literature Review Reference Summary Evaluation Table for a proposed study on physician-patient relations is shown below.

lit-review-table

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