Applied Social Work Research Proposal I. Problem and Objectives What exactly do you want to study? Why is it worth studying? Specify in precise terms the objectives of your proposed study. The objectives should be in the form of a brief listfor example, if you have two objectives, simply indent and number each of them, with a sentence or two after each number. Your objectives likely will be in the form of seeking answers to the research questions of your study and should reflect the attributes of well-posed research questions. They need to be narrow and specific, answerable by observable evidence, and feasible to investigate and answer. Most important, you need to explain how the answers to your research questions have significance for practice and policy. When discussing the importance of the study, cite facts. For instance, if you are proposing to study homelessness, then you might want to cite figures from prior studies that assessed the number of homeless individuals in the nation or in a particular city or state. Or you might describe concrete examples taken from previous case studies so that the subject of your study and its purpose are not vague abstractions. When discussing significant implications for policy or practice, be specific. For example, if you are proposing to study factors that influence school dropout, dont just make vague statements such as, By identifying why some children drop out of school and others do not, we can develop new policies and programs to deal with this problem. Spell out in detail how certain kinds of findings would imply specific policy or program alternatives. Thus, you might say something like: If we find that the absence of positive male role models is an important factor that contributes to the dropout problem among males of a particular ethnic group, then this may imply the need to hire more male teachers of that ethnicity or to create a special alternative program in which such male role models work exclusively with boys on academic material as well as on issues such as what it means to be a man…. II. Literature Review Your literature review should be thorough in informing readers about the studys topic, yet not so long and detailed that it becomes tedious. You will be required to identify, describe, and cite a minimum of five research studies that are related to your area of interest and the overall design of your research study. Do not cite monotonous, minute details about every relevant study that has ever been doneespecially if the body of existing literature is extensive. If the literature is extensive, concentrate on the most recent findings, while also including classic studies (when applicable). Focus only on those studies that have direct relevance to your study. And even when you focus on the most relevant literature, you should report only the most relevant aspects of those studies. Stick to major themes and succinctly sum up groups of related studies, connecting them to a major theme. If multiple studies have had similar findings, rather than discuss each study separately, you might simply identify the general finding(s) they agreed on, followed by a citation of the authorship and date of each study in parentheses. For instance, you might say something like this (well use fictitious references): Prior studies on the effectiveness of case management with the severely mentally ill have had inconsistent findings. Four studies (Rubin, 1998; Babbie, 1999; Rubin and Babbie, 2000; Babbie, Rubin, and Freud, 2001) found that it is effective. Three studies (Nietzsche, 1998; Scrooge, 1999; Fischer, 2000) found that it is ineffective. The four studies with positive outcomes all used days hospitalized as the dependent variable, whereas the three studies with negative outcomes all used quality of life as the dependent variable…. On the other hand, if you have difficulty finding prior studies that are directly relevant to your proposed research, then you should cite studies that are relevant in an indirect way. Although you dont want to be tedious in reporting the details of each study, you should cite all the relevant ones and be sure to give adequate attention to those that are most relevant to your line of inquiry. You should also avoid writing your literature review in a perfunctory fashion, as if it were just a ritualistic list of studies that you are required to provide in a superficial manner without thoughtful organization. Rather than merely provide a summary listing of what other studies have reported, your literature review should show why you chose your particular line of inquiry and why you conceptualized it the way you did. You should show how your study will relate to, yet go beyond, the previous studies. How has the prior work influenced your proposed or completed study? When reviewers read your research questions and hypotheses, they should not perceive them as coming out of thin air. Having read your literature review, they should see where your hypotheses and variables came from. For example, a common mistake students make when proposing studies to evaluate an intervention is to review the literature on the problem the intervention is aimed at alleviating without showing how the literature led them to choose the particular intervention they want to evaluate instead of other alternative possibilities. Criteria for Critically Appraising Literature Review Sections in Research Proposals Is the review thorough and up to date? Does it point out any general agreements or disagreements among previous researchers? Does it cover relevant theoretical literature? Does it consider whether any of the previous studies are flawed? Does it show how the current or proposed study will relate to, yet go beyond, the previous studies? Is it thorough in summarizing the existing literature without becoming so lengthy and detailed that it becomes tedious? Does it avoid going off on tangential studies of the broad topic area that are not really relevant to the specific focus of the current or proposed study? Does it succinctly sum up groups of related studies, offering the citations for each but without repetitively reporting the details of each? Does it read as a cohesive synthesis rather than as a list of prior studies? Does it help the reader understand why the particular line of inquiry was chosen and the rationale for how it was conceptualized? III. Conceptual Framework In the conceptual framework section of your proposal, you clearly specify and provide rationales for your research questions, hypotheses, variables, and operational definitions. You should justify why and how you chose each of the following facets of your proposal: Research Question(s) Hypothesis (es) Variable(s) Operational Definition(s) Your explanation should flow in part from your literature review. It also should show the logic of your own thinking about the inquiry, as well as how your study goes beyond and builds (upon the prior literature. For example, if none of the previous studies supporting an intervention to prevent child abuse included Mexican Americans in their sample, you could refer to those studies (which were in your literature review), and the absence of Mexican Americans in their samples, as the rationale for your point of departure. Suppose all of the previous studies only looked at the reduction of out-of-home placement of children as the sole indicator of success, and none assessed whether the children who were kept in their homes were actually better off than those placed elsewhere. Even if this issue has not been raised in the previous literature, you can raise it yourself in presenting your conceptual framework and explaining your reasoning. You would thus show how your study improves on the methods of prior studies in this regard, as well as explain to your readers why you chose your particular variables and why you chose to operationally define them the way you did. IV. Measurement In the section on measurement you elaborate on how you will measure the variables that you have identified and operationally defined in your conceptual framework. This section should flow smoothly from the operational definitions in your conceptual framework, and you should make sure that you are not too redundant and repetitive regarding the specifying of your operational definitions and your measurement procedures. For example, if you plan to operationally define child well-being as a score on a validated instrument for assessing the well-being of children in families at risk for abuse, avoid repeating the detail about that scale in both the conceptual framework and measurement sections of your proposal. Instead, you might simply mention that scores on the scale will be your operational definition, and then later, in your measurement section, go into detail about the nature of the scale, how it is scored, what subscales it contains, and its reliability and validity. Regardless of whether you are using existing scales or measurement instruments you may have developed yourself, you should include a copy of each in an appendix to your proposal. V. Study Participants (Sampling) Who or what will you study to collect data? Identify any inclusion or exclusion criteria you will use. Will it be appropriate to select a sample? If so, how will you do that? If you will be conducting an exploratory, qualitative study, you will need to use your judgment in identifying and observing variations (such as age, ethnicity, class) among participants as you go alongensuring that you have tapped into the range of those variations. If your aim is to conduct a survey for purposes of estimating frequencies of characteristics in the population (for instance, determining the unemployment rate), then you will need to select a probability sample. If you must use nonprobability sampling procedures, you will need to justify that, including attention to the chances that your sample will be biased and unrepresentative of your target population. What efforts will you make to try to offset or avoid those potential biases? Regardless of whether you use probability or nonprobability sampling procedures, you will need to address issues associated with sample attrition and refusal to participate. What special efforts will you make to enhance recruitment and retention of participants? You will also need to justify the projected size of your sample VI. Design and Data-Collection Methods How will you collect the data for your study? Will you conduct an experiment or a survey? Will you use qualitative observation methods, conduct a historical study, or focus on reanalyzing statistics already created by others? Regardless of which design you employ, be sure to address the key methodological issues that we discussed previously in the chapter on the design you employ. Regardless of which design you use, describe when, where, and by whom your data will be collected with each instrument. What expertise and experience qualifications will you seek in your data collectors? How will you recruit and train them? What will be done to avoid or minimize bias among them? What about feasibility issues, such as agency cooperation with your proposed procedures or the amount of time it will take for respondents to complete your instruments or interviews? VII. Data Analysis Spell out the kind of analysis you plan to conduct. If you anticipate the use of specific statistical analytic techniques, identify, describe, and justify your choice. Perhaps your intention is to conduct a qualitative data analysis. Describe how you will do that. Provide a detailed rationale for the selection of each data analysis procedure. If you must use procedures in which you lack sufficient expertise, it is advisable to seek guidance from your course instructor regarding writing this section of your proposal. VIII. [Additional Components] Dissemination of Information Plans for disseminating the results of your research that are appropriate for the professional practice setting you have selected, presentations at professional conferences, publications, or agency meetings attended by those whose practice or research can be guided by your findings. References Make sure to use appropriate APA style citations for each of your references. Appendix Example of scale(s), measurement instrument(s), surveys, or qualitative interview guides or questions you would use in your proposed study.
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