Research Proposal Structure
Format & Style
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Using 1.5 or double spacing means the in-text comments in your feedback are easier to see.
Use scientific writing style (clear, precise, concise) – you can see examples in the relevant literature in the area (e.g. Forster & Lavie, 2016).
Your Methods should reflect something you are planning on doing in the future (e.g. “The experiment will…”). When discussing the potential results and implications then use more tentative (conditional) language (e.g. “A statistical difference between condition x and condition y would indicate that…”).
Your research proposal should use the subheadings and follow the structure below. The proposal is very similar to a laboratory report, with some adjustments because you don’t have any data. Therefore, it is important your proposal seeks to justify your research design.
Funnel shaped (just like a lab report):
Provide a brief overview of the research area (not too broad -you need to be concise).
Summarise and critique previous research (e.g. research relating to the distractor task and load theory and research relating to your proposed variable).
State the purpose of the study (aims) and justify why it is important.
Provide a brief overview of the main methods (remember this is not a replication, it is an extension of the Forster & Lavie, 2016).
Explain and justify the research predictions (hypotheses).
This section explains how you propose to conduct your study and obtain your data. Use the same sub-headings as a laboratory report and language reflecting that this is what you are planning to do in the future.
You should provide enough details to allow replication (see Forster & Lavie, 2016 for an example).
State how many participants will complete your study, relevant demographic information of the population being sampled, and how participants will be recruited.
You will not be able to give details like mean age and gender breakdown (as you don’t have the data).
Your study should be inclusive wherever possible (e.g. stating only males and females is problematic as it excludes participants who don’t identify with these gender categories). Only exclude certain groups of participants if there is a good methodological or ethical reason to do so.
Outline your experimental design (repeated measures), dependent variable(s), independent variables and levels of the independent variables as well as any measures you are taking to eliminate confounding variables.
Your design should be consistent with your hypotheses.
Define the exact stimuli you plan to use and how they will be selected or created (use references where appropriate). Provide information about the hardware (e.g. PC) and software (e.g. Inquisit for an online study, EPrime for a lab-based study) used to conduct the experiment and any additional materials.
Describe step-by-step what will happen during the experiment. Unless you have good reason to change this, it should be based on the low perceptual load condition from Experiment 1 in Forster & Lavie (2016), who you can reference. Justify any changes you make.
Remember for each of the levels of your proposed IV, you will need trials with and without distractors, so you may need to present the study using blocks of trials (allocating each of your levels of the IV to a different block).
If you are proposing an online study, you will use different procedures for controlling the size and location of the images on the retina (e.g. using a credit card and virtual chinrest script) than if you are proposing to use the lab (using a chinrest, 50cm string).
Your procedural details should include appropriate ethical procedures.
Even if you don’t have data, you can plan your analyses because you have operationalised your hypotheses and research design. Your analyses should be consistent with your hypotheses and research design.
In this section, firstly specify your criterion for the inclusion of data (e.g. correct and incorrect trials, very slow or fast responses -refer to Forster & Lavie, 2016).
You will then need to describe what levels of the IVs and combinations of levels of the IVs will need to be compared to determine whether your hypotheses were supported. You don’t need to specify any inferential statistics (but you can if you are confident to do so, e.g. interaction).
If relevant, you may also specify any additional comparisons needed to rule out potential confounding variables.
This section needs to focus on the implications of your research (if your data were to support your predictions and if the data didn’t support your predictions).
State how these findings would compare to previous research.
Explain the implications of different findings. Consider:
Would the findings be consistent with existing psychological theory? If not, how would the theory need to be developed?
Could the findings indicate there are problems with the methods typically used in the area? What methodological changes would you therefore recommend?
Would these findings have any impact in the real-world? Would the findings indicate that any changes are needed to real-world practices or policy?
State how the research area could then be developed even further in future studies.
Do not discuss the limitations of your study.
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