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Essential Ingredients of a Good Research Proposal for Undergraduate and Postgraduate Students in the Social Sciences:

Essential Ingredients of a Good Research Proposal for Undergraduate and Postgraduate Students in... As part of the requirements for the award of degrees in higher education institutions, students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels normally carry out research, which they report in the form of dissertations or theses. The research journey commences with the selection of a research topic and the preparation of a proposal on the selected topic. Experience has shown that students tend to encounter difficulties in writing research proposals for their supervisors because they do not fully comprehend what constitutes a research proposal. The purpose of this article is to take students through a step-by-step process of writing good research proposals by discussing the essential ingredients of a good research proposal. Thus, it is not a didactic piece—the aim is to guide students in research proposal writing. In discussing these ingredients, relevant examples are provided where necessary for ease of understanding. It is expected that on reading this article, students should be able to: (a) demonstrate knowledge and understanding of what research is all about and its challenging nature; (b) display an enlarged comprehension of research gap(s), problem or question(s), aim, objectives, and hypotheses as well as their distinguishing characteristics; (c) demonstrate a good understanding of the relevant elements to be considered in the constituent sections of a good research proposal; and (d) comprehend the elements of a research proposal that should feature in the final written dissertation or thesis. Keywords essential ingredients, research, social sciences, writing a good proposal Thus, any research conducted must make an original contri- Introduction bution to the existing body of knowledge in the relevant Students pursuing studies in academic institutions (particu- discipline. larly, universities) both at the undergraduate and postgradu- There are two main types of research, which are scien- ate levels are required to conduct an independent piece of tific/academic research and research that is more or less car- research and present in the form of a dissertation or thesis as ried out by people in their daily lives, known as common part of the requirements for awarding academic degrees. It is sense research. In distinguishing between these two types of expedient at this stage to explain what research means and its research, Lundberg (1942) explains that nearly all people in types because that provides a context for the ensuing dis- the course of their daily lives may systematically observe, course. Research is a careful, systematic, and patient investi- classify, and interpret data, which is a form of research. For gation in some field of knowledge, undertaken to establish instance, a potential purchaser of a particular model of a car facts or principles; it is a structured inquiry that utilizes an may systematically investigate about the performance of the acceptable scientific methodology to collect, analyze, and car before finally making a decision to purchase it and this interpret information to solve problems or answer questions constitutes research. Lundberg, however, observes that this and to create new knowledge that is generally applicable (Burns, 1997; Grinnell, 1993; Kumar, 2011). Similarly, according to Research Assessment Exercise (2005), research 1 Liverpool John Moores University, UK is an original and systematic inquiry or investigation into a Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration, Accra, Ghana subject to gain knowledge and understanding of a phenome- Corresponding Author: non. Research can, therefore, simply be described as a jour- Raymond Talinbe Abdulai, School of Built Environment, Liverpool John ney embarked upon that leads to the discovery of new Moores University, Byrom Street, Liverpool L3 3AF, UK. knowledge or revision of facts, theories, and applications. Email: R.Abdulai@ljmu.ac.uk This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License Creative Commons CC BY: (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (http://www.uk.sagepub.com/aboutus/openaccess.htm). 2 SAGE Open type of research is different from scientific research because research cannot be over-emphasized as it determines the of the degree of formality, rigorousness, verifiability, and validity of research findings. In terms of empirical issues, general validity of the latter. The essential features of aca- any conclusions drawn should be based on hard evidence demic research are that it should, as far as possible, be con- collected from real-life experiences or observations (Kumar, trolled, rigorous, valid and verifiable, empirical, critical 2011). It, however, needs to be noted that in conducting aca- (Kumar, 2011), reliable, systematic, arguable, and demic research, not all data will be based on real-life experi- challengeable. ences or observations as there can be desktop research, which Regarding the concept of control, in real life, many fac- is considered later. Regarding critical issues, critical scrutiny tors can affect an outcome and, therefore, in exploring the of the procedures or methods used is crucial to a research causality in relation to, for example, two variables, it is inquiry; that is, the process and procedures adopted must be important that the study is set up in a manner that minimizes able to withstand critical scrutiny (Kumar, 2011). the effects of other factors affecting the relationship (Kumar, Academic research is also systematic, arguable, and chal- 2011). This, Kumar notes, can be achieved to a large extent lengeable. This is because what is to be addressed or investi- in the physical sciences because most of the research is con- gated [that is, the research problem or question(s)] must, first ducted in a laboratory setting. He, however, opines that in the of all, be established based on the research gap(s) identified social sciences, it can be extremely difficult to control exter- in the relevant literature. Second, how the research problem nal factors as the research is carried out on issues relating to or question(s) are to be addressed has to be determined. human beings living in a society where such controls are Third, data will be collected, presented, and analyzed using impossible and it will, thus, be necessary to quantify their appropriate data analysis tools and the research findings dis- impact. It appears, Kumar assumes, that such impacts can cussed. Finally, conclusions and appropriate recommenda- always be quantified. However, it might not be possible in all tions will be made. Thus, conducting research is a systematic cases and even where they can be quantified, an issue that process that involves the realization of milestones and deliv- may arise will relate to the appropriate technique to be used erables. As aptly observed by Kumar (2011), the procedures and these constitute some of the challenges in the research adopted to undertake an investigation follow a certain logical process. sequence and, therefore, the different steps cannot be taken In terms of the rigorousness of academic research, scru- in a haphazard manner—some procedures must follow oth- pulousness on the part of the research is required to ensure ers. Timescales and resources for research are normally tight. the procedures followed to address problems or find answers Any research to be conducted will be time-bound and, thus, to questions are relevant, appropriate, and justified (Kumar, the researcher has no infinite time, neither has he got limit- 2011; Lundberg, 1942). These authors observe that the less resources for the research; these constitute challenges degree of rigor will vary markedly between the physical and that are normally referred to as research limitations or con- social sciences. The concept of validity and verifiability straints. Other research challenges that might be encountered implies that the conclusions, which are made based on the in the research process include issues relating to the particu- research findings, should be correct and can be verified by lar research methodology used and accessibility to data. It is, the researcher and others (Kumar, 2011). Validity is about the thus, very important to comprehend these research chal- study’s success at measuring or investigating what the lenges and to acknowledge them in the research process. researcher sets out to measure or investigate (internal valid- There are two main forms of academic research based on ity) and the extent to which the research findings can be the sources of data. The first one is desktop research, which applied to new settings (external validity) (Bell & Bryman, is any research conducted where the source of data is solely 2011; Bryman, 2012; Bryman & Cramer, 2005; Creswell, published and unpublished materials; that is, the research 2003, 2009; Curtis & Curtis, 2011; Lincoln & Guba, 2000; relies heavily on secondary data. Examples will include Szafram, 2012). Albeit other types of validity exist, it suf- information from books, journal articles, published and fices that only internal and external validity is mentioned unpublished dissertations and theses, reports, databases, because the object is to briefly define the concept. newspapers, and magazines. The second one is empirical Reliability refers to the extent to which a test or any mea- research where data are gathered via direct experience, suring procedure yields the same results on repeated trials observation, experimentation, interviews, and question- (Bell & Bryman, 2011; Bryman, 2012; Creswell, 2003, 2009; naires—this type of research, therefore, uses mainly primary Creswell & Miller, 2000; Curtis & Curtis, 2011; Farrell, data. It is possible to conduct academic research, which is an 2011; Krippendorff, 2013; Lincoln & Guba, 2000). It is, amalgam of the two and, therefore, they are not watertight therefore, about consistency. It is when research procedures closed boxes. or tools used by different researchers yield consistent mea- The preoccupation of this article is academic research surements that researchers are able to satisfactorily draw since it is that type of research that students in universities conclusions, formulate theories, or make claims about the are normally required to conduct and report in a dissertation generalizability of their research findings (Creswell, 2003, or thesis form. The research journey normally commences 2009). Thus, the importance of reliability in academic with the selection of a research topic from a subject or an Abdulai and Owusu-Ansah 3 area of interest and the preparation of a research proposal on topics from lecturers based on their research interests may be the selected topic. A research proposal clarifies the thoughts available for the students to choose from. One advantage of the researcher. Furthermore, it aids him to organize his with this route is that the student is able to settle on a topic ideas into a coherent statement of research intent regarding within a shorter period of time in comparison with the first what is to be investigated, how it will be investigated, and the one above. The other advantage is that in the supervision significance/importance of what is to be investigated. It also process, the lecturer will be in a much better position to offer offers him an opportunity to convince an assessor or any expert advice providing the student who has chosen one of other reader that the proposed research can be conducted the topics of a particular lecturer is allocated to that lecturer within a given time frame and resources. to supervise. This significantly enhances the quality of super- The purpose of this article is to discuss the essential ingre- vision and ultimately contributes in enhancing student satis- dients of a good research proposal. The experience of the faction and experience. However, the latter advantage cannot authors in teaching research methodology and supervising be achieved if the student is not finally allocated to the lec- students at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels turer whose topic has been chosen by the student and this shows that students tend to find it difficult understanding the happens in some cases in universities. The experience of the essential ingredients of a research proposal and for that mat- authors in coordinating dissertations also shows that this ter, find it difficult to write good research proposals. Thus, route to selecting research topics can be problematic in some there is the need to explain such ingredients in more detail cases, especially, when the student is facing difficulties in the and to provide relevant examples where necessary for ease of course of conducting the research; they tend to use the fact comprehension. The article is, therefore, not a didactic that the topics were given to them by their lecturers as an piece—rather, the purpose is to guide students in research alibi for their problems. proposal writing. These ingredients are research topic, Whichever route is used to select a topic, it is very impor- research background and gap(s), research aim and objec- tant to seriously consider the availability of relevant data and tives, research methodology, research significance/impor- its accessibility for the research in the decision making pro- tance, research program, and references, which are treated in cess. Table 1 provides examples of good and bad research that order. Elements of the research proposal that are sup- topics. posed to feature in the final written dissertation or thesis are also considered before the article is concluded. Research Background Various terms are used to describe the research background Research Topic or background to research section, for example, “broad dis- As indicated above, the research proposal is prepared on a cussion” (Holt, 1998), “rationale” (Hart, 2001; Naoum, selected research topic but the topic will emanate from an 2013), “purpose” (Naoum, 2006), and “introduction.” area of interest. An area of interest could, for instance, be real Research is conducted to address an existing problem or estate management or construction management. Such broad question(s), which has not been addressed before and, there- subject areas will form the basis of a preliminary exploration fore, irrespective of the terminology that is used to describe to be carried out about the subject by reading the relevant the section, it provides a context for the research, by identify- literature. The preliminary reading enables the potential ing the research problem or research question(s), which researcher to familiarize himself with the subject area and to requires a kind of mini literature review. Thus, the terminol- help him gain a sense of its scope and complexity. Once ogy used to describe the section does not actually matter. A some background knowledge is gained, the next stage is to literature review is a “systematic, explicit, and reproducible narrow the subject area by formulating a topic that can be method of identifying, evaluating, and synthesising the exist- thoroughly investigated within a given period of time. At the ing body of completed and recorded work produced by topic formulation stage, the potential researcher should be researchers, scholars, and practitioners” (Fink, 2005, cited in able to articulate at least a tentative topic for the research to Booth, Papaioannou, & Sutton, 2012, pp. 2-3). In other be conducted. Selecting a topic via this route can serve as a words, it is a process of searching and describing or critically motivator and driver for the research. Topics that seem inter- analyzing any secondary data that relate to a particular sub- esting and perhaps meet the career aspirations of the student ject, field, discipline, or topic. Thus, a literature review is can be identified and pursued. In using this route, it may be simply about making references to the works of other people helpful to confer with colleagues and lecturers in terms of either in a descriptive or critical and analytical manner. It is a what one intends to pursue for their input. Admittedly, select- process and there are two types: descriptive literature review and critical and analytical literature review. ing a topic through this route takes a lot of time. Based on what literature review means, it is inappropriate Regarding, particularly, undergraduate and master’s dis- to use “literature review” as a title or heading of a section in sertations there is another route for selecting a research topic. a research proposal or a chapter in a dissertation or thesis This is where students fashion their topics based on the albeit it is commonly used that way. For instance, Naoum research interests of particular lecturers; indeed, a list of 4 SAGE Open Table 1. Examples of Good and Bad Research Topics. Research topic Remarks 1 To examine the performance of REITs Badly phrased research topic—it is phrased like a research aim or objective. It is also too broad. It could be turned into a good and well phrased research topic as in 2 below. 2 An investigation into the performance of UK REITs from 2007 to 2014 OR Well and appropriately phrased variously An examination of UK REITs’ performance from 2007 to 2014 OR UK and specific—scope defined regarding REITs’ performance from 2007 to 2014 geographical location and time period. 3 Impacts of new retail developments on existing inner city shopping centers Well and appropriately phrased variously and high street shops: A case study of Liverpool One in Liverpool, the and specific—scope defined regarding United Kingdom OR Examining the impacts of new retail developments geographical location and time period. on existing inner city shopping centers and high street shops: A case study of Liverpool One in Liverpool, the United Kingdom OR An investigation into the impacts of new retail developments on existing inner city shopping centers and high street shops: A case study of Liverpool One in Liverpool, the United Kingdom 4 A comparative study of construction procurement methods in Italy and Well phrased and specific regarding the Germany countries of comparison. 5 Assess the re-development of Liverpool Central Docks Badly phrased research topic. It could be turned into a good and well phrased research topic as in 2 and 3 above. 6 Registration of real estate ownership and access to formal capital for small- Well phrased and specific regarding the and medium-scale enterprises: A comparative study of Zambia and the countries of comparison. United Kingdom Note. REIT = real estate investment trust. (2013) has used it as a section heading in a sample research establish the nexus between what is proposed to be researched proposal. In writing a research proposal, dissertation, or the- and what has already been studied, (d) improves research sis, elements of literature review can be found in any section methodology, and (e) enables the researcher to show how his or chapter once references are cited in that section or chapter findings contribute to the existing body of knowledge and, even if it is a single reference that is cited. Under the research therefore, helps to contextualize the research findings. background section of a research proposal, for example, a Purposes (b) and (c) are of more relevance here—the ratio- mini literature review will be conducted, but the section is nale for a literature review under the research background titled “research background” and not “literature review.” section is to establish the links between what has already Similarly, in the research methodology chapter of a research been researched and what is proposed to be researched, proposal, dissertation, or thesis, references will be cited but thereby, broadening the researcher’s knowledge base as well the chapter will not be titled “literature review.” It will be as to bring more clarity and focus to the research problem or appropriately titled, “research methodology.” Also in MPhil research question(s). and PhD theses, a chapter on a theoretical framework for the The term mini literature review is used in the present con- study is an imperative but the chapter will be titled “theoreti- text to differentiate it from the main analytical and critical cal framework” although it will be a literature review. Indeed, literature review that will be presented in the final disserta- in the empirical data presentation, analysis, and discussion tion or thesis. The mini literature review provides an over- chapter(s) of a dissertation or thesis, there can be elements of view of the key literature sources from which the ultimate literature review; for example, a researcher may establish a main research will draw. Thus, it is the mini literature review finding and compare it with previous findings and in this that will finally be expanded when the dissertation or thesis instance, the reference(s) for the previous findings will be is being written. Research background is the heartbeat of a cited. Therefore, it does not make any sense to title a particu- research proposal and the researcher needs to demonstrate lar section or chapter “literature review”; rather, an appropri- his knowledge of the relevant literature both past and present ate title or heading that captures the contents of the section or by clearly articulating what other researchers have done in chapter should be used. relation to the topic to be investigated, what they have found, A literature review serves various purposes, which have and what aspects have not been researched, known as been identified by Kumar (2011) and Booth et al. (2012) as research gap(s). follows: It (a) provides a theoretical background for the Thus, a clear line between previous studies that have been research, (b) broadens the researcher’s knowledge base and carried out and the research to be undertaken must be shown. brings clarity and focus to the research problem, (c) helps to In short, the proposed research should be the point Abdulai and Owusu-Ansah 5 of departure from the existing knowledge; that is, what the research would have been carried out on a particular issue proposed research will do that is different from what has using a particular city or town as a case study and the same been done before must be demonstrated. The overarching research could be conducted using a different city or town aim of the research background section is, therefore, to within the same country. Albeit it will be the same topic that establish research gap(s), which will then form the basis of is being investigated, the conditions in the different countries the research problem or question(s) to be addressed. Research or different parts of the same country will be different, which gap(s) may take two main forms as follows. will influence the research. Comparing issues. A fourth form of research gap will relate to A Situation Where No Research Has Been comparing issues. Thus, from the literature to be reviewed, it Conducted in Relation to the Topic Under will be possible to discover that research has never been con- Consideration ducted on a topic already investigated on a comparative basis and this will be a research gap. This form of research gap Where this situation is established via the mini literature could, for example, relate to geographical locations where review, it will form the basis of the research problem or research has never been carried out on a topic on a compara- question(s). This may easily apply to the physical sciences. tive basis using different geographical locations. However, in the social sciences, it may be difficult (although not impossible) for it to apply as invariably; a form of Where a topic has two or more dimensions but research has only research would have been conducted in relation to a topic. been conducted in relation to one or some of them. For instance, However, where it is possible to establish that research has an issue such as constraints of accessibility to formal capital never been conducted in relation to a particular topic under for investment will have demand and supply side constraints. consideration, it will form the research gap. It is, therefore, possible that although a lot of research would have been conducted on this issue, all the studies might have A Situation Where Research Has Been concentrated on, for example, the demand side in various countries with no research that has looked at the supply side Conducted Into a Topic Under Consideration constraints. This will, thus, constitute a research gap. but to a Certain Extent or From a Particular When the mini literature review is being carried out, it is Perspective the above forms of research gaps that one needs to be search- It is this situation that normally applies in the social sciences. ing. Once the research gap(s) are established, an appropriate Under this broad form of research gap, different sub-research research problem can be formulated. The research problem gaps can be encountered including those discussed below. formulation is a very critical stage in the research process. As Kerlinger (1986) aptly and succinctly puts it, “If one wants to Historical. The research gap can be historical where research solve a problem, one must generally know what the problem has been conducted on a topic a long time ago with no other is. It can be said that a large part of the problem lies in know- research conducted on the topic since then. The same topic ing what one is trying to do” (p. 17). The researcher needs to could be researched today as it is possible that with the have a clear idea regarding what he wants to find out about effluxion of time, the conditions that existed at the time of and not what he thinks he must find (Kumar, 2011). However, the original investigation into the topic might have changed. what the prospective researcher wants to find about should not have been investigated in the existing literature. An issue Where a topic has been researched from the perspective of a or phenomenon becomes a research problem because it exists particular discipline. For example, a topic could have been and has not been researched (or some aspects of it have not investigated by a planner but has never been considered by been researched) before. Consequently, the mere fact that an an economist and, thus, it can be investigated by the econo- issue or phenomenon exists does not make it a research prob- mist from the perspective of economics. Because these lem—for the issue to become a research problem, the poten- researchers will have different subject backgrounds, they tial researcher needs to demonstrate that the phenomenon has will be wearing different lenses and, therefore, will investi- not been investigated or some aspects of it have not been gate the topic from different perspectives in accordance with investigated in the existing literature. Thus, for all intents their training. and purposes, the research problem is simply, a re-articula- tion of the research gap(s), which can alternatively be stated Where a topic has been researched in relation to a particular by posing relevant research question(s) that have to be geographical location. Regarding this situation, a topic could answered. The research problem or research question(s) will have, for instance, been investigated using Holland as a case in turn form the basis of the research aim and objectives for study but research has never been conducted into that topic investigation. using Italy as a case study—this will, therefore, constitute a It is important to end the research background section research gap. It could even apply to the same country where with a statement of the research problem or research 6 SAGE Open question(s). The research problem or research question(s) It is not uncommon to see statements such as the follow- can also be stated in a sub-section of its own. Indeed, the ing: “to gain knowledge and understanding or to understand whole research background section need not be presented in . . .” (see, for example, Farrell, 2011) and “to make recom- a monolithic manner. It can have sub-sections with appropri- mendations” as statements of research objectives. However, ate headings as required. It is possible to identify two or such statements cannot be research objectives. Regarding the more problems or questions from the mini literature review. first phrase, the overarching purpose of conducting research However, when this scenario arises but the researcher wishes is to gain knowledge and understanding of a phenomenon or to concentrate on some of the research problems or ques- to understand a phenomenon or issue but that knowledge and tions, the research scope or boundary needs to be defined or understanding is gained after research objectives have been clearly stated to show, which of them will be addressed in the investigated and it is those objectives that need to be formu- research. Due to the fact that a form of literature has to be lated and stated. Similarly, in terms of the second phrase, reviewed, relevant references must be cited in this section. recommendations are made after research objectives have Therefore, personal unsubstantiated statements cannot be the been investigated and based on the research findings. Thus, basis of research gap(s) and for that matter, research problem recommendations are an end product of investigating objec- or research question(s). tives. When research is conducted and reported, recommen- dations will be made any way and so it is needless to tell the reader the obvious. Research Aim and Objectives It is also not uncommon to see research objectives and The experience of the authors bespeaks that some students hypotheses (hypothesis for singular) stated in dissertations or tend to have difficulties differentiating between research aim theses, and indeed, authors such as Farrell (2011) and Naoum and objectives. A research aim is basically a purpose state- (2013) create the impression that research objectives and ment that defines the trajectory or route and destination of hypotheses need to be stated in a research proposal. This, research. It is simply a catchy re-statement of the research however, is problematic. A hypothesis has been defined by topic and, thus, when the research topic has been appropri- Kinnear and Gray (1994, 2008) as a provisional supposition ately phrased and very clear, it is easy to state the research that a variable has a causal effect on another variable. It is a aim. The research aim is meant to address the research suggested explanation for a group of facts or phenomenon problem or question(s). It needs to be clearly stated in one to either accepted as a basis for further verification or accepted three sentences and only one research aim is needed even at as likely to be true (Holt, 1998). Fellows and Liu (2008) also the master’s and PhD levels because as earlier indicated, a define it as a statement, conjecture, speculation, or an educa- research aim is catchy re-statement of the research topic and tive guess, which is a reasonable suggestion of a causal rela- the researcher will be dealing with only one research topic. tionship between two variables. The realization of the research aim will, however, require Based on the above definitions, a hypothesis can be the pursuit of individual measurable objectives, which should described as a testable proposition about the relationship that also be clearly stated. Thus, research objectives are a transla- exists between two or more variables, concepts, or events. A tion of the aim into operational statements and tell the reader null hypothesis means there is no relationship between the how the overall research aim will be realized or achieved. In variables, concepts, or events. It is a research objective that the statement of research objectives, specificity and unambi- is re-phrased as a research hypothesis and vice versa. For guity are important; that is, the objectives need to be specific example, an objective such as “to examine the impact of and should be stated in an unambiguous manner. In addition, price on demand for goods and services” (which can also be research objectives need to be realistic and it should be pos- phrased as “to investigate the extent to which price affects sible to investigate them within a specified period of time the demand for goods and services”) could be re-phrased into because, as already noted supra, research will have to be car- a hypothesis such as “price affects the demand for goods and ried out within a given time frame. The research objectives services” or “price is a determinant of demand for goods and should leave the reader in no doubt as to what the proposed services.” Thus, once research objectives are stated, it is not research precisely seeks to investigate. necessary to state hypotheses or when hypotheses are stated, Research objectives could be stated in bullet points or it is needless to state research objectives; stating the two will numbered and typically between three and five objectives be tautological. Research objectives or hypotheses serve the will suffice even at the PhD level. Research aim and objec- same purpose. Normally, research objectives are investigated tives are appropriately phrased using verbs such as “to inves- while hypotheses are tested but the process of investigating tigate,” “to examine,” “to evaluate,” “to assess,” “to research objectives or testing hypotheses is the same and the determine,” “to develop,” “to measure,” “to explore,” and so end results are also the same. on. Such verbs are used to show that the research is “do- Statement of research objectives or hypotheses (but not able” (Farrell, 2011) and will be critical and analytical in both) in a research proposal and for that matter, in a disserta- nature rather than descriptive. Examples are shown in tion or thesis is a sine qua non. This is because the research Table 2. objectives or hypotheses drive or determine the rest of what Abdulai and Owusu-Ansah 7 Table 2. Relationship Between Research Topic, Aim, and Objectives. Example 1 Research topic Registration of RE ownership and accessibility to formal capital for SMEs: A comparative study of Botswana and the Netherlands Research aim The aim of the study is to investigate the impact of RE ownership registration on SMEs’ accessibility to formal capital on a comparative basis between Botswana and the Netherlands. Research objectives The achievement of the above research aim will require the pursuit of the following objectives: To examine the nature of capital constraints among SMEs; To assess the impact of RE ownership registration on SMEs’ access to capital; To evaluate the factors responsible for rejecting SMEs’ capital demand by banks and other financial institutions and the importance of RE ownership registration relative to other factors; and To investigate the differences (if any), which exist between the two countries regarding the effects of RE ownership registration on SMEs’ access to capital. Example 2 Research topic Impacts of NRDs on existing inner city shopping centers and other city center retail areas: A case study of L1 in Liverpool, the United Kingdom Research aim The aim of the research is to examine the impacts of NRDs on existing inner city shopping centers and other city center retail areas using L1 in Liverpool as a case study Research objectives The above aim will be achieved by pursuing the following objectives: To examine vacancy rates in Liverpool’s existing inner city shopping centers and other city center retail areas since the opening of L1 in 2008; To assess the level of sales experienced by retailers in Liverpool’s existing inner city shopping centers and other city center retail areas since L1 was opened; To investigate the changes in occupation of retail space in Liverpool’s existing inner city shopping centers and other city center retail areas since the opening of L1; and To explore the management strategies adopted by existing inner city shopping center managers and individual shop managers with regard to coping with competition, retaining current business, and attracting new business. Note. RE = real estate; SMEs = small- and medium-scale enterprises; NRDs = new retail developments; L1 = Liverpool one. is to be done. The chapters on: (a) critical and analytical review of the main literature (an expansion of the mini litera- Research Gap(s) ture review in the research proposal) including the develop- ment of an appropriate theoretical framework (for MPhil and PhD theses); (b) research methodology; (c) data presenta- Research Problem or Question(s) tion, analysis, and discussion; and (d) summary of research findings or conclusions, limitations, and recommendations will all be based on the research objectives or hypotheses. Research Aim For example, a discussion of the research methodology including the design of research instrument for data collec- tion must be linked to the research objectives or hypotheses Research Objectives or Hypotheses and the research objectives or hypotheses will form the themes in data presentation, analysis, and discussion. Furthermore, in the summary of research findings or conclu- Figure 1. Order of activities. sions, limitations, and recommendations chapter, the sum- mary of research findings will be linked to the research objectives or hypotheses to establish the extent to which the Second, to address the research problem or questions(s), a objectives or hypotheses have been investigated or tested. It research aim is formulated. Finally, to realize the research is, therefore, inconceivable for a dissertation or theses not to aim, specific, unambiguous, measurable, achievable, realis- have research objectives or hypotheses. tic, and time-bound (SUMART) individual objectives are Thus, in summary, first of all, the research problem or formulated to be investigated or alternatively, hypotheses are research question(s) are to be identified and stated based on formulated to be tested. This order of activities is illustrated the research gap(s) established in the mini literature review. diagrammatically in Figure 1. 8 SAGE Open collection; (c) sampling issues; (d) construction of research instrument for primary data collection (design of question- Research Gap(s) naires and interview schedules or guides), data collection procedures (research methods), ethics, and pilot studies; (e) data presentation, analysis, and discussion; and (f) validation Research Problem or Question(s) of research findings. In this section, the elements of research methodology are treated at a theoretical level first to provide an appropriate context before a consideration of what needs Research Aim to be incorporated in the research methodology section in a research proposal. In the social sciences, there are three research methodolo- Research Objectives or Hypotheses gies that can be used to conduct academic research. These are: (a) quantitative research methodology, also known as the traditional, positivist, or empiricist research approach; (b) Figure 2. Addressing research problem or question(s) qualitative research methodology, which is variously referred to as the constructivist, naturalistic, interpretative, postposi- tivist, or postmodern perspective approach; and (c) mix The order of research problem or question(s), aim, and methodologies and the other terminologies for it are multi- objectives has been considered by Naoum (2013). However, methodology and pragmatic approach—it is an amalgam of Naoum’s order is problematic as he appears to be putting the quantitative and qualitative research methodologies in one cart before the horse, particularly, where he places research study. The distinguishing features of quantitative and quali- questions as follows: research aim; research objectives; and tative research methodologies are provided in Table 3. key research questions. Naoum’s order of activities suggests Research methodology is considered by some authors to that it is the research questions that address research objec- be the same as research design whereas others treat research tives, when it is the other way round. As noted earlier, design as a sub-set of research methodology. Kumar (2011), research is conducted to address a particular research prob- for example, defines a research design as a plan, structure, lem or questions. Thus, the research problem or question(s) and strategy of investigation so conceived as to obtain must first of all be established at the outset based on the answers to research problems or questions. Thus, he consid- research gap(s) and when this is done, the research aim and ers research methodology to be the same as research design objectives or hypotheses will then be formulated to address where he differentiates between qualitative and quantitative the research problem or questions(s). Therefore, research research designs (also see, for example, Kerlinger, 1986, and objectives or hypotheses are investigated or tested to achieve Creswell, 2009, 2013). However, the explanation of research the research aim and once the research aim is realized or design by authors such as Thyer (1993), Selltiz et al. (1962), achieved, it implies the research problem or question(s) Bell and Bryman (2011), and Bryman (2012) shows that it is would have been addressed and for that matter, the research a sub-set of research methodology. Bryman (2012), for gap(s) would have also been filled. Consequently, diagram- instance, defines it as the framework for collecting data and matically, the arrows in Figure 1 will be reversed from the analysis—the focus here is only data collection and analysis. base as follows in Figure 2. Albeit the literature is ambivalent regarding the distinction between research methodology and research design, the authors of this article are of the opinion that they are the Research Methodology same and can be used interchangeably. The research aim and objectives or hypotheses that are based Regarding research paradigm and methodology, there is a on the research problem or question(s) considered above will difference between them. A research paradigm is a collection tell the reader what exactly the researcher intends or wants to of assumptions and beliefs that guide the path of conducting investigate. This section offers the researcher the opportunity research and interpreting findings (Koshy, Koshy, & to explain how the research will be carried out. Thus, research Waterman, 2010). Thus, it can be described as a matrix of methodology (also known as research approach) is the strat- theoretical mind-sets that underpin a research methodology egy of investigation, which is about the whole dissertation or or approach. For example, an assumption in the quantitative thesis from the beginning to the end including how the research methodology is that knowledge (epistemology) is research objectives have been founded from the research real and exists (ontology) there in the world that can be problem, how the literature review has been carried out, pilot objectively and quantitatively measured and that is an ele- studies, data collection, analytical methods, and the process ment of a research paradigm in the quantitative research of developing findings and conclusions (Farrell, 2011). It is, methodology. Epistemological and ontological issues are therefore, a gamut of various issues that are: (a) strategies treated later. In terms of the qualitative research methodol- of inquiry; (b) theoretical/secondary and primary data ogy, the assumption is that knowledge is real and exists there Abdulai and Owusu-Ansah 9 Table 3. Characteristics of Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methodologies. Quantitative research methodology Qualitative research methodology 1 It is an inquiry into a social or human problem based It is an inquiry process of comprehending a social or human normally on testing a theory composed of variables, problem based on building a complex holistic picture formed with measured with numbers, and analyzed using statistical words, reporting detailed views of informants and conducted in a procedures to determine whether the predictive natural setting. generalizations of the theory hold true. 2 It views truthfulness or reality to exist in the world, It views truthfulness or reality to exist in the world that can be which can be objectively measured. subjectively measured. 3 In terms of the relationship between the investigator and The inquirer normally goes to the site of the target participants what is being investigated, the quantitative research to conduct the research. This enables the researcher to develop methodology holds that the researcher should remain a level of detail about the individual or place and to be highly distant and independent of what is being researched to involved in the actual experiences of the participants. ensure an objective assessment of the situation. 4 It is not value-laden as the researchers’ values are kept It is value-laden as the personal self becomes inseparable from the out of the study. researcher self. 5 The entire process uses the deductive form of reasoning The reasoning adopted in qualitative research is largely inductive. or logic wherein theories and hypotheses are tested Various aspects or categories emerge from those under in cause-and-effect order. Concepts, variables, and investigation rather than are identified a priori by the researcher. hypotheses are chosen before the study begins and This emergence provides information leading to patterns or remain fixed throughout the study. The intent of the theories that help explain a phenomenon. Theory or hypotheses study is to develop generalizations that contribute are, therefore, not established a priori. The research objectives to the theory and that enable one to better predict, may change and be refined as the inquirer learns what question explain, and comprehend a phenomenon. to ask and to whom. The methodology is, therefore, emergent rather than tightly pre-figured. 6 Regarding research methods (particularly, primary data Interviews are used for primary data collection and the questions collection procedures), questionnaires are used and asked are mainly open-ended where no optional responses are the questions asked are largely closed-ended where provided. optional responses are provided. 7 There is descriptive and inferential numeric analysis of Collection of text data, description, and analysis of text or pictures/ data using statistical packages. images, representation of information in figures and tables, all inform qualitative research. Data are coded and analyzed using qualitative software packages. Source. Compiled from Bryman (1998); Locke, Spirduso, and Silverman (2000); Mertens (2003); Bell (2005); Creswell (2003, 2009, 2013); O’Leary (2013); Charmaz (2014); and Flick (2014). in the world that can be subjectively and qualitatively mea- collected over long periods of time. Measurements are taken sured and that is also an element of a research paradigm in on each variable over two or more distinct time periods. the qualitative research methodology. This permits the measurement of change in variables over time. Strategies of Inquiry Experiments. The basic intent of an experiment is to test the Various types exist in quantitative, qualitative, and mixed impact of a treatment or an intervention on an outcome (the methodologies, which have been considered by authors such effect—dependent variable), while controlling all other fac- as Clandinin and Connelly (2000), Babbie (2000), Creswell tors (the determinants or causes—independent variables) (2003, 2007, 2009, 2013), Bell and Bryman (2011), Farrell that might influence that outcome. Experimental strategies (2011), Grbich (2013), Naoum (2013), Urquhart (2013), and are normally used in the physical sciences where the experi- Coghlan and Brannick (2014), and summarized as follows. ments are laboratory-based. However, they can be used in the social sciences—when they are used in the social sciences, Surveys. A survey is a system of gathering information and the experiment is field-based. includes cross-sectional and longitudinal studies that use mostly questionnaires, interviews, and observation for data Ethnography. This is where the researcher studies an intact collection. In a cross-sectional survey, all the data on rele- cultural group in a natural setting over a prolonged period of vant variables are collected at the same time or within a rela- time by collecting primarily observational data. The research tively short time frame. It, therefore, provides a snapshot of process is flexible and typically evolves contextually in the variables included in the investigation at one particular response to the lived realities encountered in the field point in time. However, in longitudinal surveys, data are setting. 10 SAGE Open Grounded theory. In grounded theory, the researcher attempts is to use quantitative data and results to assist in interpreting to derive a theory of a process, action, behavior, or interac- qualitative findings. tion grounded in the views of participants in the study. This Alternatively, the study may begin with a quantitative process involves multiple stages of data collection and the research approach followed by the collection and analysis of refinement and interrelationship of categories of qualitative data. Priority is typically given to the quantitative information. data and the two research methodologies are integrated dur- ing the interpretation phase of the study. This procedure is Case study. It is an in-depth systematic investigation of a termed a sequential explanatory strategy. The purpose of a phenomenon (which can be a program, an event, an activity, sequential explanatory strategy typically is to use qualitative a process, a geographical location, one or more individuals, results to assist in explaining and interpreting the findings of etc.) by a researcher. The cases are bounded by time and a primarily quantitative study. It is better suited for explain- activity and researchers collect detailed information using a ing relationships. It can be, especially, useful when unex- variety of data collection procedures over a sustained period pected results arise from a quantitative study. In this case, the of time. qualitative data collection that follows can be used to exam- ine these surprising results in more detail. Phenomenology. It is the study of everyday life. In phenome- nological studies, the investigator identifies the “essence” of Concurrent procedure. Unlike a sequential procedure above human experiences concerning a phenomenon as described where the researcher begins with one methodology and fol- by participants in a study. Comprehending the “lived experi- lows with another in stages, in a concurrent procedure, the ences” marks phenomenology as a philosophy as well as an investigator converges quantitative and qualitative data to approach and the procedure involves studying a small num- provide a comprehensive analysis of the research problem. ber of subjects or participants via extensive and prolonged In this design, the investigator collects both quantitative and engagement to develop patterns and relationships of mean- qualitative data at the same time during the data collection ing. In this process, the researcher “brackets” his experiences stage and then integrates the information in the analysis and to understand those of the participants in the study. interpretation of the overall results. The researcher may nest one form of data within another and this is called a concur- Narrative research. It is a form of inquiry in which the rent nested strategy. Given less priority, a quantitative researcher studies the lives of individuals and asks one or research methodology is embedded or nested within a promi- more individuals to provide stories about their lives. The nent qualitative research methodology or the vice versa. This information is then re-told or re-storied by the researcher into nesting may mean that the embedded research methodology a narrative chronology. addresses a different issue than the dominant research meth- odology or seeks information from different levels. The data Action research. Action research, variously known as partici- collected from the two research methodologies are mixed patory action research, community-based study, co-operative during the analysis phase of the project. inquiry, action science, problem-solving research, and action The concurrent nested strategy is often used so that the learning, is the study of a social situation carried out by those researcher can gain broader perspectives as a result of using involved in that situation to improve both their practice and two approaches rather than using only one research method- the quality of their understanding of the situation. Practitio- ology. For example, a primarily qualitative research design ners, industrialists, and students from the professional back- could embed some quantitative data to enrich the description grounds normally adopt this strategy of inquiry by identifying of the sample participants. a problem in the course of their work and to investigate it in order to propose changes that will improve an existing Transformative procedure. In this procedure, the researcher situation. uses a theoretical lens as an overarching perspective within a research design that contains both quantitative and qualita- Sequential procedure. In a sequential procedure, the researcher tive data. The theoretical perspective can be based on, for seeks to elaborate on or expand the findings of one research instance, ideologies such as advocacy. Within this lens could methodology with another research methodology. This may be a data collection method that involves a sequential or con- involve beginning with a qualitative research methodology current strategy. The perspective is reflected in the research for exploratory purposes and following up with a quantita- problem or research question(s). tive research methodology. When the researcher begins with qualitative research methodology followed by quantitative Reflection on strategies of inquiry. Sequential, concurrent, and research methodology, it is termed a sequential exploratory transformative procedures are strategies of inquiry in the strategy. Here, priority is given to the qualitative aspect of multi-methodology. However, in terms of the other strate- the study. The findings of the two phases are then integrated gies, as Farrell (2011) aptly notes, they “are not closed during the interpretation phase. The purpose of this strategy boxes” (p. 77) and can, therefore, fit into quantitative or Abdulai and Owusu-Ansah 11 qualitative studies. For example, surveys and case studies questions to be asked depend on the answers the respondent can be strategies in both quantitative and qualitative research. gives to an initial question. It is assumed that the respondents Sometimes, surveys or case studies are referred to as research have particular experiences or are knowledgeable about methodology. However, from the preceding discourse, they some subjects on which they can elaborate. The respondents are not research methodologies by themselves—they are are, thus, referred to as key informants and purposively cho- rather strategies of inquiry within research methodologies. sen. Semi-structured interviews are more formal in compari- In making a decision as to the methodology to use and son with unstructured interviews in that specific questions subsequently, the strategy of inquiry to adopt, researchers are asked although they are not asked in any specific order need to consider their philosophical stance regarding episte- and normally, no interview schedule is used. Regarding mological and ontological issues (Koshy et al., 2010). structured interviews, an interview schedule is prepared Epistemology is the theory of knowledge and it presents a where questions are presented in the same order and with the view and justification for what can be regarded as knowl- same wording to all the respondents. Interviews can be con- edge; that is, what can be known and the criteria that knowl- ducted on one-to-one or focus group basis. Focus groups/ edge must satisfy to be called knowledge rather than beliefs group interviews are open discussions between members of a (Blaikie, 1993). What people say, how what they say is inter- group and the researcher. preted, and what they do are all important regarding, for It is the preceding data collection procedures that are example, an action researcher for knowledge creation (Koshy often referred to as research methods. The questionnaires et al., 2010). Ontology, is about the theory of being and its and interview schedules or guides prepared are known as the mandate is the development of strategies that can illuminate research instrument for primary data collection. the components of people’s social reality; that is, about what exists, what it looks like, the units that make it up, and how Sampling Issues these units interact with each other (Blaikie, 1993). For instance, within action research, researchers would consider In the collection of primary data, a sample population (sam- this reality as socially constructed and not external and inde- ple size) is normally selected from the target total population pendent and the stories they tell will be based on subjective (sampling frame) and surveyed. In using questionnaires as accounts from the people who live within their environ- the research instrument and, particularly, where they are ment—thus, the methods of data collection they use will be administered via the Internet or post, one way to determine consistent with their ontological stance (Koshy et al., 2010). the sample size is to distribute the questionnaires to all mem- bers of the sampling frame or a pre-determined sub-popula- tion of the sampling frame. The number of completed Types of Data and Research Methods questionnaires that are returned constitutes the response rate As earlier indicated, there are two main types of data that can and that becomes the sample size. However, in geographical be used in the above three research methodologies. These locations where the Internet or postal system is not well are: (a) secondary data, which refers to any published and developed, this technique of determining the sample size unpublished material (e.g., materials from books, journals, may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement. newspapers, reports, magazines, undergraduate and post- In the light of the above problem, other methods that can graduate dissertations or theses, online materials, databases, be explored are probability and non-probability sampling video and audio recordings, photographs, films, and com- techniques. The other name for probability sampling is ran- puter-based programs)—thus, a literature review is part of dom sampling. Random sampling generally incorporates secondary data collection; and (b) primary data—it is “first some type of systematic selection procedure to ensure that hand” information gathered via procedures such as observa- each unit or element in the sampling frame has an equal tion, interviews, questionnaires, and direct experiences. The chance of being selected. The use of random sampling is questionnaires (normally used in quantitative studies) can be based on an implicit assumption that a sampling frame can administered via mail/post, fax, Internet (web-based or be established. Thus, where it is not possible to determine the email), or face-to-face whereas interviews (often used in sampling frame or an adequate sampling fame does not exist, qualitative studies) can be conducted face-to-face, over the random sampling cannot be used. Examples of random sam- phone, or using a voice-over-IP service such as Skype. pling are simple random sampling, systematic sampling, Interviews can be unstructured, semi-structured, or struc- stratified sampling, and cluster sampling, which have been tured, and the difference between them has been explained extensively covered in the works of authors such as Morse by authors such as Abdulai (2010) and Naoum (2013) as fol- (1994) and Lincoln and Guba (2000). lows. Unstructured interviews (also called intensive, infor- Non-probability sampling focuses on volunteer potential mal, or in-depth interviews) are like journalistic interviews subjects, easily available potential subjects, or those who just with a guide prepared on the areas or issues one intends to happen to be present when the research is carried out. There ask questions about. There are, therefore, no specific ques- is no any systematic selection procedure. Non-random sam- tions or specific order. The wording and sequence of ples are mostly used in qualitative studies, pilot studies, and 12 SAGE Open market research, consulting with experts or in circumstances sheet (PIS), which contains all the information the partici- where adequate sampling frames are unavailable (Lincoln & pant needs to make an informed decision about participation Guba, 2000; Morse, 1994). Accidental, volunteer, quota, pur- (Curtis & Curtis, 2011; O’Leary, 2013). However, before posive, and snowball sampling techniques are examples of data collection commences, ethical approval will have to be non-random sampling, which are also well treated by the obtained from the researcher’s institution. above authors. Data Analysis and Validation of Research Findings Design of Research Instrument for Primary Data After gathering the relevant data for the research, it has to be Collection and Pilot Studies presented, analyzed, and discussed. A starting point is nor- mally to clean, transcribe (if recordings were done during the In designing a research instrument, it is important to note that data collection stage), and to code the data in an appropriate questions are asked to solicit information that will enable the statistical package such as STATA or SPSS (quantitative investigation of research objectives (or testing of hypothe- studies) or qualitative data analysis software package such as ses). There is, therefore, the need for the research instrument NVivo (qualitative studies) for analysis. Content analysis can to be explicitly linked to research objectives. When a ques- be carried out where appropriate. It is a tool used to deter- tion is being constructed, it is critical to ask oneself how the mine the presence of certain words or concepts within texts response to that question will help in investigating a particu- or sets of texts by quantifying and analyzing the presence, lar research objective or part of it. Indeed, it might be useful meanings, and relationships of such words and concepts to sectionalize the whole research instrument thematically (Palmquist, Carley, & Dale, 1997). There are two types, based on the research objectives in order to ensure that most, which are conceptual and relational analyses. if not all, of the information that is needed to address the At an advanced level such as MPhil and doctoral studies, objectives is obtained. it is important to validate research findings albeit this is not A pilot study is described by Bell (1996, cited in Naoum, normally required at the undergraduate or MSc levels. Two 2013) as getting the bugs out of the research instrument so common procedures that are used to validate findings are that subjects in the main study will not experience difficul- explained as follows. One procedure is triangulation where ties in completing it and for a preliminary analysis to be car- two or more techniques are used in the investigation of a ried out to determine whether or not the wording and format phenomenon to enhance confidence in the ultimate findings. of questions will present difficulties when the main data are For example, the research methodologies, including data col- collected and analyzed. It, therefore, provides a trial run that lection procedures, data sources, and survey participants can involves testing the wording of questions, identifying ambig- be triangulated to validate the findings. The second proce- uous questions, testing the data collection method, and mea- dure is to withhold a percentage of the data collected that is suring the effectiveness of standard invitation to respondents then presented and analyzed later and compared with the ini- (Naoum, 2013). At the MPhil and PhD levels, a pilot study tial findings. This procedure, however, appears problematic can be carried out although this might not be possible for as it is actually a continuation of data presentation, analysis, undergraduate dissertations due to time constraints. and discussion and not research validation in the real sense because it is the same data set that is used, just that the data Ethical Issues are analyzed at a different time. In conducting research (laboratory-based or field-based), there is the need to normally ensure people are not harmed What to Include in the Research Methodology physically or emotionally and that is what ethical consider- Section ations are about. The researcher has a responsibility to ensure that research participants are protected (O’Leary, 2013). Under the research methodology section, a detailed treat- Apart from not doing harm, there is also the need to be truth- ment of all the research methodological issues is not needed ful to the process (Coghlan & Brannick, 2014). Curtis and since it will be considered in the research methodology chap- Curtis (2011) observe that the most important aspect of an ter during the write-up stage of the dissertation or thesis. ethically appropriate research is voluntary informed consent. What is required in this section is for the researcher to laconi- In terms of recruiting participants, Curtis and Curtis explain cally demonstrate awareness of the research methodology the following: voluntary as the notion of free will; informed process in the social sciences in a logical manner. Thus, any as referring to the provision of enough information about consideration of the theoretical issues should be as brief as what will be asked of them; and consent as the formal pro- possible by concentrating on the important and salient issues cess, which they affirm that they have been provided with all that will inform how the research will be conducted. The the information they require and are agreeing to take part out research methodologies available in the social sciences of their own free will. The process of gaining informed con- should be briefly explained and a justification provided for sent includes the provision of a participant with information the choice of a particular methodology. Abdulai and Owusu-Ansah 13 The selection of a research methodology needs to be program can be indicated in a tabular form or diagrammati- explicitly linked to the research objectives or hypotheses. cally, for example, in the form of a Gantt chart and it can be Therefore, there is the need to explain clearly how each of embedded in the research program section or added as an the research objectives will be investigated. If it is one appendix. research methodology that will be adopted to investigate all the stated research objectives, then the linkage will be obvi- References ous and does not need an explanation. However, where the multi-methodology will be adopted, there has to be an expla- In the above sections, relevant references will have been nation regarding which research methodology will be used to cited in-text where necessary in accordance with a particular address which of the research objectives. For instance, if referencing style. It is in this section that the full references there are four stated research objectives, the quantitative will be provided in accordance with the same referencing research methodology might be used to investigate two of style used for the in-text citations. The references should be the research objectives whereas the qualitative research listed in an alphabetical order. Sources from which one can methodology may be used to investigate the remaining draw information are varied as alluded to above. However, it research objectives, and this needs to be explained and justi- is not advisable to rely heavily on websites as they are often fied. Following on, the strategy of inquiry, research methods, not considered a good source of materials. Thus, websites and research instrument to be used, how the survey partici- should be used sparingly. The most highly regarded sources pants will be selected, and how the data to be collected will of materials are academic journals (including online jour- be analyzed should be explicated. If a pilot study will be car- nals) and research monographs, followed by text books. ried out, it should be indicated. Also, it should be indicated Quantity, quality, and currency of references are of impor- that ethical issues will be considered and that before the pri- tance here. mary data collection process begins, ethical approval will be There can also be a bibliography section, which should be obtained. Finally, it will be necessary to state that the first titled “Bibliography” after the references section. The dic- part of the research methodology will consist of a critical tionary definition does not differentiate between references review of the relevant literature in order to, among other and bibliography. However, in academic writings, there is a things, identify the appropriate theoretical framework for the difference between the two albeit some authors use them research and to help in designing the rest of the research interchangeably perhaps based on the dictionary definition. methodology. Research methodology can be likened to the As Farrell (2011) explains, references are everything cited in “foundation” of a building in construction and, therefore, the dissertation. Thus, references that are specifically cited needs to be robust; if it is weak, the research will also be in-text will be fully listed under references. However, Farrell weak. describes bibliography as everything that has been read or browsed, which is relevant to the subject area but has not been cited. It is, therefore, any material that is consulted to Research Significance/Importance help shape the ideas of the researcher but has not been used in a manner to warrant in-text citation. For example, if a stu- The importance of the research must be considered by justi- dent consults somebody’s dissertation or thesis to gain ideas fying the need for the research. This will require some refer- regarding how to appropriately phrase a research topic, the ence to be made to the research gap(s), problem, or student cannot cite that person in stating his research topic in question(s), and an explanation of how the proposed research his dissertation or thesis. However, to acknowledge that per- will contribute to existing body of knowledge (novelty) as son, the full reference to that dissertation or thesis will be well as explaining how the outcomes of the research are listed under bibliography. Similarly, references that may be likely to benefit the following stakeholders where applica- relevant to the research but have not been used in a manner ble: (a) academia, (b) individuals and communities, (c) to warrant in-text citation will be listed under bibliography industry and commerce, and (d) policymakers nationally and for further reading. internationally. Research Proposal Components That Research Program Are Supposed to Feature in the Final As earlier indicated, time and resources regarding, particu- Thesis or Dissertation larly, pecuniary legacy for the conduct of any research are normally limited. Thus, there is the need for a research pro- Based on experience, some students, especially, at the under- gram. It indicates the principal or milestone activities to be graduate and master’s levels, reproduce all the contents of carried out and the time line for such activities. The research the research proposal in the introductory chapter of the dis- program will be used by the supervisor to monitor the prog- sertation, which is inappropriate. The introductory chapter is ress made by the student once the research commences so named “Chapter One” and its title is “Introduction.” The that any issues can be identified and addressed. The research main relevant sections in this chapter are: (a) research 14 SAGE Open background; (b) research aim and objectives; (c) research Bell, E., & Bryman, A. (2011). Business research methods (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. methodology; (d) summary of main research findings, limita- Bell, J. (2005). Doing your research project: A guide for first- tions, and recommendations; (e) research significance/impor- time researchers in education, health and social science. tance; and (f) structure/organization of dissertation. The Maidenhead, UK: McGraw-Hill. introductory chapter serves a dual purpose by first, setting the Blaikie, N. (1993). Approaches to social inquiry. London, England: appropriate scene for the research conducted and second, Polity. encapsulating what was researched and why it had to be Booth, A., Papaioannou, D., & Sutton, A. (2012). Systematic researched, how it was researched, what was found, limita- approaches to a successful literature review. Los Angeles, CA: tions, and the way forward or recommendations; that is, it SAGE. provides a snapshot of the research that has been conducted. Bryman, A. (1998). Quantitative and qualitative research strategies Sections of the research proposal that should appear in the in knowing the social world. In T. May & M. Williams (Eds.), dissertation or thesis are the “research background,” “research Knowing the social world (pp. 138-157). Buckingham, UK: Open University Press. aim and objectives,” “research methodology,” and “research Bryman, A. (2012). Social research methods (4th ed.). Oxford, UK: significance/importance,” of course, with appropriate amend- Oxford University Press. ments where necessary because the main literature review Bryman, A., & Cramer, D. (2005). Quantitative data analysis with would have been carried out and the whole research con- SPSS 12 and 13. London, England: Routledge. ducted. The contents of the research methodology section in Burns, R. B. (Ed.). (1997). Introduction to research methods (2nd this chapter are supposed to be very laconic as there will be a ed.). Melbourne, Australia: Longman Cheshire. chapter devoted to it in the dissertation or thesis. Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing grounded theory (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative enquiry: Conclusion Experience and story qualitative research. San Francisco, CA: This article has considered the essential elements of a good Jossey-Bass. Coghlan, D., & Brannick, T. (2014). Doing action research in your proposal for both undergraduate and postgraduate students in own organization (4th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. the social sciences and it is hoped that the students would Creswell, J. W. (2003). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative find it intellectually stimulating and insightful. and mixed methods approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Although a theoretical framework, which is about the rel- SAGE. evant theory or theories that underpin a particular study, is an Creswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: imperative at a more advanced level such as MPhil or PhD, it Choosing among five approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, has not been considered above. This is because settling on a CA: SAGE. relevant underpinning theory or theories is difficult, takes Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, time, and will not normally crystallize at the research pro- and mixed method approaches (3rd ed.). London, England: posal writing stage until the main literature has been criti- SAGE. cally reviewed following the commencement of the research. Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). London, England: Thus, what is required at the mini literature review stage is SAGE. for the prospective researcher to bear in mind that a theoreti- Creswell, J. W., & Miller, D. L. (2000). Determining validity in cal framework has to be ultimately developed if it is an qualitative inquiry. Theory Into Practice, 39, 124-130. MPhil or doctoral research. Curtis, B., & Curtis, C. (2011). Social research: A practical intro- duction. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. Declaration of Conflicting Interests Farrell, P. (2011). Writing a built environment dissertation: The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect Practical guidance and examples. Oxford, UK: Wiley- to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. Blackwell. Fellows, R., & Liu, A. (2008). Research methods for construction Funding (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. Flick, U. (2014). An introduction to qualitative research (5th ed.). The author(s) received no financial support for the research and/or Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. authorship of this article. Grbich, C. (2013). Qualitative data analysis: An introduction. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. References Grinnell, R. (Ed.). (1993). Social work research and evaluation (4th Abdulai, R. T. (2010). Traditional landholding institutions in sub- ed.). Itasca, IL: F.E. Peacock. Saharan Africa—The operation of traditional landholding Hart, C. (2001). Doing a literature search. London, England: institutions in sub-Saharan Africa: A case study of Ghana. SAGE. Saarbrücken, Germany: Lambert Academic Publishing . Holt, G. (1998). A guide to successful dissertation study for stu- Babbie, E. (2000). The practice of social research (9th ed.). dents of the built environment (2nd ed.). Wolverhampton, UK: Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. University of Wolverhampton. Abdulai and Owusu-Ansah 15 Kerlinger, F. N. (1986). Foundations of behavioural research (3rd non-literary texts. In C. Roberts (Ed.), Text analysis for ed.). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. the social sciences: Methods for drawing statistical infer- Kinnear, P. R., & Gray, C. D. (1994). SPSS for Windows made ences from texts and transcripts (pp.55-69). Hillsdale, NJ: wimple. East Sussex, UK: Lawrence Erlbaum. Lawrence Erlbaum. Kinnear, P. R., & Gray, C. D. (2008). SPSS 16 made simple. East Research Assessment Exercise. (2005). Rae 2008: Research Sussex, UK: Lawrence Erlbaum. Assessment Exercise—Guidance on submissions. London, Koshy, E., Koshy, V., & Waterman, H. (2010). Action research in UK: Higher Education Council of England (HEFCE), Scottish healthcare. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. Higher Education Funding Council, Higher Education Funding Krippendorff, K. (2013). Content analysis: An introduction to its Council for Wales, and Department for Employment and methodology (3rd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. Learning. Kumar, R. (2011). Research methodology: A step-by-step guide for Selltiz, C. Jahoda, M. Deutsch, M. & Cook, S. W. (1962) Research beginners. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. methods in social relations (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Holt, Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (2000). Paradigmatic controversies, Rinehart & Winston . contradictions and emerging confluences. In N. K. Denzin & Szafram, R. (2012). Answering questions with statistics. Los Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd Angeles, CA: SAGE. ed., pp. 163-188). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. Thyer, B. A. (1993). Single systems research design. In R. M. Locke, L. F., Spirduso, W. W., & Silverman, J. J. (2000). Proposals Grinnell (Ed.), Social work research and evaluation (pp. 94- that work: A guide for planning dissertations and grant pro- 117). Itasca, IL: F.E. Peacock. posals (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. Urquhart, C. (2013). Grounded theory for qualitative research: A Lundberg, G. A. (1942). Social research: A study in methods of practical guide. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. gathering data (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Longmans, Green. Mertens, D. M. (2003). Mixed methods and the politics of human Author Biographies research: The transformative–emancipatory perspective. In A. Raymond Talinbe Abdulai, PhD, MPhil (Cantab), PGCertHE, Tashakkori & C. Teddlie (Eds.), Handbook of mixed methods BSc (First Class), is a Senior Lecturer in Real Estate at Faculty of in the social and behavioural sciences (pp. 100-120). Thousand Technology and Environment, Liverpool John Moores University, Oaks, CA: SAGE. Liverpool, UK. He has published extensively in reputed academic Morse, J. M. (1994). Designing funded qualitative research. In N. journals, edited textbooks, and conference proceedings as well as K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative authored six textbooks. Raymond is the Editor-in-Chief of Journal research (pp. 220-235). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. of International Real Estate and Construction Studies, indexed in Naoum, S. G. (2006). Dissertation research & writing for construc- Cabell’s Directory of Publishing Opportunities in Economics and tion students (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Butterworth-Heinemann Finance. Naoum, S. G. (2013). Dissertation research & writing for construc- tion students. Abingdon, UK: Routledge. Anthony Owusu-Ansah, PhD, MSc, BSc (First Class), is a O’Leary, N. (2013). The essential guide to doing your research Lecturer in Finance at Business School, Ghana Institute of project (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), Accra, Ghana. Palmquist, M. E., Carley, K. M., & Dale, T. A. (1997). Two appli- He has published considerably in reputed academic journals, con- cations of automated text analysis: Analyzing literary and ference proceedings, and edited textbooks. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png SAGE Open SAGE

Essential Ingredients of a Good Research Proposal for Undergraduate and Postgraduate Students in the Social Sciences:

SAGE Open , Volume 4 (3): 1 – Aug 22, 2014

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Abstract

As part of the requirements for the award of degrees in higher education institutions, students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels normally carry out research, which they report in the form of dissertations or theses. The research journey commences with the selection of a research topic and the preparation of a proposal on the selected topic. Experience has shown that students tend to encounter difficulties in writing research proposals for their supervisors because they do not fully comprehend what constitutes a research proposal. The purpose of this article is to take students through a step-by-step process of writing good research proposals by discussing the essential ingredients of a good research proposal. Thus, it is not a didactic piece—the aim is to guide students in research proposal writing. In discussing these ingredients, relevant examples are provided where necessary for ease of understanding. It is expected that on reading this article, students should be able to: (a) demonstrate knowledge and understanding of what research is all about and its challenging nature; (b) display an enlarged comprehension of research gap(s), problem or question(s), aim, objectives, and hypotheses as well as their distinguishing characteristics; (c) demonstrate a good understanding of the relevant elements to be considered in the constituent sections of a good research proposal; and (d) comprehend the elements of a research proposal that should feature in the final written dissertation or thesis. Keywords essential ingredients, research, social sciences, writing a good proposal Thus, any research conducted must make an original contri- Introduction bution to the existing body of knowledge in the relevant Students pursuing studies in academic institutions (particu- discipline. larly, universities) both at the undergraduate and postgradu- There are two main types of research, which are scien- ate levels are required to conduct an independent piece of tific/academic research and research that is more or less car- research and present in the form of a dissertation or thesis as ried out by people in their daily lives, known as common part of the requirements for awarding academic degrees. It is sense research. In distinguishing between these two types of expedient at this stage to explain what research means and its research, Lundberg (1942) explains that nearly all people in types because that provides a context for the ensuing dis- the course of their daily lives may systematically observe, course. Research is a careful, systematic, and patient investi- classify, and interpret data, which is a form of research. For gation in some field of knowledge, undertaken to establish instance, a potential purchaser of a particular model of a car facts or principles; it is a structured inquiry that utilizes an may systematically investigate about the performance of the acceptable scientific methodology to collect, analyze, and car before finally making a decision to purchase it and this interpret information to solve problems or answer questions constitutes research. Lundberg, however, observes that this and to create new knowledge that is generally applicable (Burns, 1997; Grinnell, 1993; Kumar, 2011). Similarly, according to Research Assessment Exercise (2005), research 1 Liverpool John Moores University, UK is an original and systematic inquiry or investigation into a Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration, Accra, Ghana subject to gain knowledge and understanding of a phenome- Corresponding Author: non. Research can, therefore, simply be described as a jour- Raymond Talinbe Abdulai, School of Built Environment, Liverpool John ney embarked upon that leads to the discovery of new Moores University, Byrom Street, Liverpool L3 3AF, UK. knowledge or revision of facts, theories, and applications. Email: R.Abdulai@ljmu.ac.uk This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License Creative Commons CC BY: (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (http://www.uk.sagepub.com/aboutus/openaccess.htm). 2 SAGE Open type of research is different from scientific research because research cannot be over-emphasized as it determines the of the degree of formality, rigorousness, verifiability, and validity of research findings. In terms of empirical issues, general validity of the latter. The essential features of aca- any conclusions drawn should be based on hard evidence demic research are that it should, as far as possible, be con- collected from real-life experiences or observations (Kumar, trolled, rigorous, valid and verifiable, empirical, critical 2011). It, however, needs to be noted that in conducting aca- (Kumar, 2011), reliable, systematic, arguable, and demic research, not all data will be based on real-life experi- challengeable. ences or observations as there can be desktop research, which Regarding the concept of control, in real life, many fac- is considered later. Regarding critical issues, critical scrutiny tors can affect an outcome and, therefore, in exploring the of the procedures or methods used is crucial to a research causality in relation to, for example, two variables, it is inquiry; that is, the process and procedures adopted must be important that the study is set up in a manner that minimizes able to withstand critical scrutiny (Kumar, 2011). the effects of other factors affecting the relationship (Kumar, Academic research is also systematic, arguable, and chal- 2011). This, Kumar notes, can be achieved to a large extent lengeable. This is because what is to be addressed or investi- in the physical sciences because most of the research is con- gated [that is, the research problem or question(s)] must, first ducted in a laboratory setting. He, however, opines that in the of all, be established based on the research gap(s) identified social sciences, it can be extremely difficult to control exter- in the relevant literature. Second, how the research problem nal factors as the research is carried out on issues relating to or question(s) are to be addressed has to be determined. human beings living in a society where such controls are Third, data will be collected, presented, and analyzed using impossible and it will, thus, be necessary to quantify their appropriate data analysis tools and the research findings dis- impact. It appears, Kumar assumes, that such impacts can cussed. Finally, conclusions and appropriate recommenda- always be quantified. However, it might not be possible in all tions will be made. Thus, conducting research is a systematic cases and even where they can be quantified, an issue that process that involves the realization of milestones and deliv- may arise will relate to the appropriate technique to be used erables. As aptly observed by Kumar (2011), the procedures and these constitute some of the challenges in the research adopted to undertake an investigation follow a certain logical process. sequence and, therefore, the different steps cannot be taken In terms of the rigorousness of academic research, scru- in a haphazard manner—some procedures must follow oth- pulousness on the part of the research is required to ensure ers. Timescales and resources for research are normally tight. the procedures followed to address problems or find answers Any research to be conducted will be time-bound and, thus, to questions are relevant, appropriate, and justified (Kumar, the researcher has no infinite time, neither has he got limit- 2011; Lundberg, 1942). These authors observe that the less resources for the research; these constitute challenges degree of rigor will vary markedly between the physical and that are normally referred to as research limitations or con- social sciences. The concept of validity and verifiability straints. Other research challenges that might be encountered implies that the conclusions, which are made based on the in the research process include issues relating to the particu- research findings, should be correct and can be verified by lar research methodology used and accessibility to data. It is, the researcher and others (Kumar, 2011). Validity is about the thus, very important to comprehend these research chal- study’s success at measuring or investigating what the lenges and to acknowledge them in the research process. researcher sets out to measure or investigate (internal valid- There are two main forms of academic research based on ity) and the extent to which the research findings can be the sources of data. The first one is desktop research, which applied to new settings (external validity) (Bell & Bryman, is any research conducted where the source of data is solely 2011; Bryman, 2012; Bryman & Cramer, 2005; Creswell, published and unpublished materials; that is, the research 2003, 2009; Curtis & Curtis, 2011; Lincoln & Guba, 2000; relies heavily on secondary data. Examples will include Szafram, 2012). Albeit other types of validity exist, it suf- information from books, journal articles, published and fices that only internal and external validity is mentioned unpublished dissertations and theses, reports, databases, because the object is to briefly define the concept. newspapers, and magazines. The second one is empirical Reliability refers to the extent to which a test or any mea- research where data are gathered via direct experience, suring procedure yields the same results on repeated trials observation, experimentation, interviews, and question- (Bell & Bryman, 2011; Bryman, 2012; Creswell, 2003, 2009; naires—this type of research, therefore, uses mainly primary Creswell & Miller, 2000; Curtis & Curtis, 2011; Farrell, data. It is possible to conduct academic research, which is an 2011; Krippendorff, 2013; Lincoln & Guba, 2000). It is, amalgam of the two and, therefore, they are not watertight therefore, about consistency. It is when research procedures closed boxes. or tools used by different researchers yield consistent mea- The preoccupation of this article is academic research surements that researchers are able to satisfactorily draw since it is that type of research that students in universities conclusions, formulate theories, or make claims about the are normally required to conduct and report in a dissertation generalizability of their research findings (Creswell, 2003, or thesis form. The research journey normally commences 2009). Thus, the importance of reliability in academic with the selection of a research topic from a subject or an Abdulai and Owusu-Ansah 3 area of interest and the preparation of a research proposal on topics from lecturers based on their research interests may be the selected topic. A research proposal clarifies the thoughts available for the students to choose from. One advantage of the researcher. Furthermore, it aids him to organize his with this route is that the student is able to settle on a topic ideas into a coherent statement of research intent regarding within a shorter period of time in comparison with the first what is to be investigated, how it will be investigated, and the one above. The other advantage is that in the supervision significance/importance of what is to be investigated. It also process, the lecturer will be in a much better position to offer offers him an opportunity to convince an assessor or any expert advice providing the student who has chosen one of other reader that the proposed research can be conducted the topics of a particular lecturer is allocated to that lecturer within a given time frame and resources. to supervise. This significantly enhances the quality of super- The purpose of this article is to discuss the essential ingre- vision and ultimately contributes in enhancing student satis- dients of a good research proposal. The experience of the faction and experience. However, the latter advantage cannot authors in teaching research methodology and supervising be achieved if the student is not finally allocated to the lec- students at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels turer whose topic has been chosen by the student and this shows that students tend to find it difficult understanding the happens in some cases in universities. The experience of the essential ingredients of a research proposal and for that mat- authors in coordinating dissertations also shows that this ter, find it difficult to write good research proposals. Thus, route to selecting research topics can be problematic in some there is the need to explain such ingredients in more detail cases, especially, when the student is facing difficulties in the and to provide relevant examples where necessary for ease of course of conducting the research; they tend to use the fact comprehension. The article is, therefore, not a didactic that the topics were given to them by their lecturers as an piece—rather, the purpose is to guide students in research alibi for their problems. proposal writing. These ingredients are research topic, Whichever route is used to select a topic, it is very impor- research background and gap(s), research aim and objec- tant to seriously consider the availability of relevant data and tives, research methodology, research significance/impor- its accessibility for the research in the decision making pro- tance, research program, and references, which are treated in cess. Table 1 provides examples of good and bad research that order. Elements of the research proposal that are sup- topics. posed to feature in the final written dissertation or thesis are also considered before the article is concluded. Research Background Various terms are used to describe the research background Research Topic or background to research section, for example, “broad dis- As indicated above, the research proposal is prepared on a cussion” (Holt, 1998), “rationale” (Hart, 2001; Naoum, selected research topic but the topic will emanate from an 2013), “purpose” (Naoum, 2006), and “introduction.” area of interest. An area of interest could, for instance, be real Research is conducted to address an existing problem or estate management or construction management. Such broad question(s), which has not been addressed before and, there- subject areas will form the basis of a preliminary exploration fore, irrespective of the terminology that is used to describe to be carried out about the subject by reading the relevant the section, it provides a context for the research, by identify- literature. The preliminary reading enables the potential ing the research problem or research question(s), which researcher to familiarize himself with the subject area and to requires a kind of mini literature review. Thus, the terminol- help him gain a sense of its scope and complexity. Once ogy used to describe the section does not actually matter. A some background knowledge is gained, the next stage is to literature review is a “systematic, explicit, and reproducible narrow the subject area by formulating a topic that can be method of identifying, evaluating, and synthesising the exist- thoroughly investigated within a given period of time. At the ing body of completed and recorded work produced by topic formulation stage, the potential researcher should be researchers, scholars, and practitioners” (Fink, 2005, cited in able to articulate at least a tentative topic for the research to Booth, Papaioannou, & Sutton, 2012, pp. 2-3). In other be conducted. Selecting a topic via this route can serve as a words, it is a process of searching and describing or critically motivator and driver for the research. Topics that seem inter- analyzing any secondary data that relate to a particular sub- esting and perhaps meet the career aspirations of the student ject, field, discipline, or topic. Thus, a literature review is can be identified and pursued. In using this route, it may be simply about making references to the works of other people helpful to confer with colleagues and lecturers in terms of either in a descriptive or critical and analytical manner. It is a what one intends to pursue for their input. Admittedly, select- process and there are two types: descriptive literature review and critical and analytical literature review. ing a topic through this route takes a lot of time. Based on what literature review means, it is inappropriate Regarding, particularly, undergraduate and master’s dis- to use “literature review” as a title or heading of a section in sertations there is another route for selecting a research topic. a research proposal or a chapter in a dissertation or thesis This is where students fashion their topics based on the albeit it is commonly used that way. For instance, Naoum research interests of particular lecturers; indeed, a list of 4 SAGE Open Table 1. Examples of Good and Bad Research Topics. Research topic Remarks 1 To examine the performance of REITs Badly phrased research topic—it is phrased like a research aim or objective. It is also too broad. It could be turned into a good and well phrased research topic as in 2 below. 2 An investigation into the performance of UK REITs from 2007 to 2014 OR Well and appropriately phrased variously An examination of UK REITs’ performance from 2007 to 2014 OR UK and specific—scope defined regarding REITs’ performance from 2007 to 2014 geographical location and time period. 3 Impacts of new retail developments on existing inner city shopping centers Well and appropriately phrased variously and high street shops: A case study of Liverpool One in Liverpool, the and specific—scope defined regarding United Kingdom OR Examining the impacts of new retail developments geographical location and time period. on existing inner city shopping centers and high street shops: A case study of Liverpool One in Liverpool, the United Kingdom OR An investigation into the impacts of new retail developments on existing inner city shopping centers and high street shops: A case study of Liverpool One in Liverpool, the United Kingdom 4 A comparative study of construction procurement methods in Italy and Well phrased and specific regarding the Germany countries of comparison. 5 Assess the re-development of Liverpool Central Docks Badly phrased research topic. It could be turned into a good and well phrased research topic as in 2 and 3 above. 6 Registration of real estate ownership and access to formal capital for small- Well phrased and specific regarding the and medium-scale enterprises: A comparative study of Zambia and the countries of comparison. United Kingdom Note. REIT = real estate investment trust. (2013) has used it as a section heading in a sample research establish the nexus between what is proposed to be researched proposal. In writing a research proposal, dissertation, or the- and what has already been studied, (d) improves research sis, elements of literature review can be found in any section methodology, and (e) enables the researcher to show how his or chapter once references are cited in that section or chapter findings contribute to the existing body of knowledge and, even if it is a single reference that is cited. Under the research therefore, helps to contextualize the research findings. background section of a research proposal, for example, a Purposes (b) and (c) are of more relevance here—the ratio- mini literature review will be conducted, but the section is nale for a literature review under the research background titled “research background” and not “literature review.” section is to establish the links between what has already Similarly, in the research methodology chapter of a research been researched and what is proposed to be researched, proposal, dissertation, or thesis, references will be cited but thereby, broadening the researcher’s knowledge base as well the chapter will not be titled “literature review.” It will be as to bring more clarity and focus to the research problem or appropriately titled, “research methodology.” Also in MPhil research question(s). and PhD theses, a chapter on a theoretical framework for the The term mini literature review is used in the present con- study is an imperative but the chapter will be titled “theoreti- text to differentiate it from the main analytical and critical cal framework” although it will be a literature review. Indeed, literature review that will be presented in the final disserta- in the empirical data presentation, analysis, and discussion tion or thesis. The mini literature review provides an over- chapter(s) of a dissertation or thesis, there can be elements of view of the key literature sources from which the ultimate literature review; for example, a researcher may establish a main research will draw. Thus, it is the mini literature review finding and compare it with previous findings and in this that will finally be expanded when the dissertation or thesis instance, the reference(s) for the previous findings will be is being written. Research background is the heartbeat of a cited. Therefore, it does not make any sense to title a particu- research proposal and the researcher needs to demonstrate lar section or chapter “literature review”; rather, an appropri- his knowledge of the relevant literature both past and present ate title or heading that captures the contents of the section or by clearly articulating what other researchers have done in chapter should be used. relation to the topic to be investigated, what they have found, A literature review serves various purposes, which have and what aspects have not been researched, known as been identified by Kumar (2011) and Booth et al. (2012) as research gap(s). follows: It (a) provides a theoretical background for the Thus, a clear line between previous studies that have been research, (b) broadens the researcher’s knowledge base and carried out and the research to be undertaken must be shown. brings clarity and focus to the research problem, (c) helps to In short, the proposed research should be the point Abdulai and Owusu-Ansah 5 of departure from the existing knowledge; that is, what the research would have been carried out on a particular issue proposed research will do that is different from what has using a particular city or town as a case study and the same been done before must be demonstrated. The overarching research could be conducted using a different city or town aim of the research background section is, therefore, to within the same country. Albeit it will be the same topic that establish research gap(s), which will then form the basis of is being investigated, the conditions in the different countries the research problem or question(s) to be addressed. Research or different parts of the same country will be different, which gap(s) may take two main forms as follows. will influence the research. Comparing issues. A fourth form of research gap will relate to A Situation Where No Research Has Been comparing issues. Thus, from the literature to be reviewed, it Conducted in Relation to the Topic Under will be possible to discover that research has never been con- Consideration ducted on a topic already investigated on a comparative basis and this will be a research gap. This form of research gap Where this situation is established via the mini literature could, for example, relate to geographical locations where review, it will form the basis of the research problem or research has never been carried out on a topic on a compara- question(s). This may easily apply to the physical sciences. tive basis using different geographical locations. However, in the social sciences, it may be difficult (although not impossible) for it to apply as invariably; a form of Where a topic has two or more dimensions but research has only research would have been conducted in relation to a topic. been conducted in relation to one or some of them. For instance, However, where it is possible to establish that research has an issue such as constraints of accessibility to formal capital never been conducted in relation to a particular topic under for investment will have demand and supply side constraints. consideration, it will form the research gap. It is, therefore, possible that although a lot of research would have been conducted on this issue, all the studies might have A Situation Where Research Has Been concentrated on, for example, the demand side in various countries with no research that has looked at the supply side Conducted Into a Topic Under Consideration constraints. This will, thus, constitute a research gap. but to a Certain Extent or From a Particular When the mini literature review is being carried out, it is Perspective the above forms of research gaps that one needs to be search- It is this situation that normally applies in the social sciences. ing. Once the research gap(s) are established, an appropriate Under this broad form of research gap, different sub-research research problem can be formulated. The research problem gaps can be encountered including those discussed below. formulation is a very critical stage in the research process. As Kerlinger (1986) aptly and succinctly puts it, “If one wants to Historical. The research gap can be historical where research solve a problem, one must generally know what the problem has been conducted on a topic a long time ago with no other is. It can be said that a large part of the problem lies in know- research conducted on the topic since then. The same topic ing what one is trying to do” (p. 17). The researcher needs to could be researched today as it is possible that with the have a clear idea regarding what he wants to find out about effluxion of time, the conditions that existed at the time of and not what he thinks he must find (Kumar, 2011). However, the original investigation into the topic might have changed. what the prospective researcher wants to find about should not have been investigated in the existing literature. An issue Where a topic has been researched from the perspective of a or phenomenon becomes a research problem because it exists particular discipline. For example, a topic could have been and has not been researched (or some aspects of it have not investigated by a planner but has never been considered by been researched) before. Consequently, the mere fact that an an economist and, thus, it can be investigated by the econo- issue or phenomenon exists does not make it a research prob- mist from the perspective of economics. Because these lem—for the issue to become a research problem, the poten- researchers will have different subject backgrounds, they tial researcher needs to demonstrate that the phenomenon has will be wearing different lenses and, therefore, will investi- not been investigated or some aspects of it have not been gate the topic from different perspectives in accordance with investigated in the existing literature. Thus, for all intents their training. and purposes, the research problem is simply, a re-articula- tion of the research gap(s), which can alternatively be stated Where a topic has been researched in relation to a particular by posing relevant research question(s) that have to be geographical location. Regarding this situation, a topic could answered. The research problem or research question(s) will have, for instance, been investigated using Holland as a case in turn form the basis of the research aim and objectives for study but research has never been conducted into that topic investigation. using Italy as a case study—this will, therefore, constitute a It is important to end the research background section research gap. It could even apply to the same country where with a statement of the research problem or research 6 SAGE Open question(s). The research problem or research question(s) It is not uncommon to see statements such as the follow- can also be stated in a sub-section of its own. Indeed, the ing: “to gain knowledge and understanding or to understand whole research background section need not be presented in . . .” (see, for example, Farrell, 2011) and “to make recom- a monolithic manner. It can have sub-sections with appropri- mendations” as statements of research objectives. However, ate headings as required. It is possible to identify two or such statements cannot be research objectives. Regarding the more problems or questions from the mini literature review. first phrase, the overarching purpose of conducting research However, when this scenario arises but the researcher wishes is to gain knowledge and understanding of a phenomenon or to concentrate on some of the research problems or ques- to understand a phenomenon or issue but that knowledge and tions, the research scope or boundary needs to be defined or understanding is gained after research objectives have been clearly stated to show, which of them will be addressed in the investigated and it is those objectives that need to be formu- research. Due to the fact that a form of literature has to be lated and stated. Similarly, in terms of the second phrase, reviewed, relevant references must be cited in this section. recommendations are made after research objectives have Therefore, personal unsubstantiated statements cannot be the been investigated and based on the research findings. Thus, basis of research gap(s) and for that matter, research problem recommendations are an end product of investigating objec- or research question(s). tives. When research is conducted and reported, recommen- dations will be made any way and so it is needless to tell the reader the obvious. Research Aim and Objectives It is also not uncommon to see research objectives and The experience of the authors bespeaks that some students hypotheses (hypothesis for singular) stated in dissertations or tend to have difficulties differentiating between research aim theses, and indeed, authors such as Farrell (2011) and Naoum and objectives. A research aim is basically a purpose state- (2013) create the impression that research objectives and ment that defines the trajectory or route and destination of hypotheses need to be stated in a research proposal. This, research. It is simply a catchy re-statement of the research however, is problematic. A hypothesis has been defined by topic and, thus, when the research topic has been appropri- Kinnear and Gray (1994, 2008) as a provisional supposition ately phrased and very clear, it is easy to state the research that a variable has a causal effect on another variable. It is a aim. The research aim is meant to address the research suggested explanation for a group of facts or phenomenon problem or question(s). It needs to be clearly stated in one to either accepted as a basis for further verification or accepted three sentences and only one research aim is needed even at as likely to be true (Holt, 1998). Fellows and Liu (2008) also the master’s and PhD levels because as earlier indicated, a define it as a statement, conjecture, speculation, or an educa- research aim is catchy re-statement of the research topic and tive guess, which is a reasonable suggestion of a causal rela- the researcher will be dealing with only one research topic. tionship between two variables. The realization of the research aim will, however, require Based on the above definitions, a hypothesis can be the pursuit of individual measurable objectives, which should described as a testable proposition about the relationship that also be clearly stated. Thus, research objectives are a transla- exists between two or more variables, concepts, or events. A tion of the aim into operational statements and tell the reader null hypothesis means there is no relationship between the how the overall research aim will be realized or achieved. In variables, concepts, or events. It is a research objective that the statement of research objectives, specificity and unambi- is re-phrased as a research hypothesis and vice versa. For guity are important; that is, the objectives need to be specific example, an objective such as “to examine the impact of and should be stated in an unambiguous manner. In addition, price on demand for goods and services” (which can also be research objectives need to be realistic and it should be pos- phrased as “to investigate the extent to which price affects sible to investigate them within a specified period of time the demand for goods and services”) could be re-phrased into because, as already noted supra, research will have to be car- a hypothesis such as “price affects the demand for goods and ried out within a given time frame. The research objectives services” or “price is a determinant of demand for goods and should leave the reader in no doubt as to what the proposed services.” Thus, once research objectives are stated, it is not research precisely seeks to investigate. necessary to state hypotheses or when hypotheses are stated, Research objectives could be stated in bullet points or it is needless to state research objectives; stating the two will numbered and typically between three and five objectives be tautological. Research objectives or hypotheses serve the will suffice even at the PhD level. Research aim and objec- same purpose. Normally, research objectives are investigated tives are appropriately phrased using verbs such as “to inves- while hypotheses are tested but the process of investigating tigate,” “to examine,” “to evaluate,” “to assess,” “to research objectives or testing hypotheses is the same and the determine,” “to develop,” “to measure,” “to explore,” and so end results are also the same. on. Such verbs are used to show that the research is “do- Statement of research objectives or hypotheses (but not able” (Farrell, 2011) and will be critical and analytical in both) in a research proposal and for that matter, in a disserta- nature rather than descriptive. Examples are shown in tion or thesis is a sine qua non. This is because the research Table 2. objectives or hypotheses drive or determine the rest of what Abdulai and Owusu-Ansah 7 Table 2. Relationship Between Research Topic, Aim, and Objectives. Example 1 Research topic Registration of RE ownership and accessibility to formal capital for SMEs: A comparative study of Botswana and the Netherlands Research aim The aim of the study is to investigate the impact of RE ownership registration on SMEs’ accessibility to formal capital on a comparative basis between Botswana and the Netherlands. Research objectives The achievement of the above research aim will require the pursuit of the following objectives: To examine the nature of capital constraints among SMEs; To assess the impact of RE ownership registration on SMEs’ access to capital; To evaluate the factors responsible for rejecting SMEs’ capital demand by banks and other financial institutions and the importance of RE ownership registration relative to other factors; and To investigate the differences (if any), which exist between the two countries regarding the effects of RE ownership registration on SMEs’ access to capital. Example 2 Research topic Impacts of NRDs on existing inner city shopping centers and other city center retail areas: A case study of L1 in Liverpool, the United Kingdom Research aim The aim of the research is to examine the impacts of NRDs on existing inner city shopping centers and other city center retail areas using L1 in Liverpool as a case study Research objectives The above aim will be achieved by pursuing the following objectives: To examine vacancy rates in Liverpool’s existing inner city shopping centers and other city center retail areas since the opening of L1 in 2008; To assess the level of sales experienced by retailers in Liverpool’s existing inner city shopping centers and other city center retail areas since L1 was opened; To investigate the changes in occupation of retail space in Liverpool’s existing inner city shopping centers and other city center retail areas since the opening of L1; and To explore the management strategies adopted by existing inner city shopping center managers and individual shop managers with regard to coping with competition, retaining current business, and attracting new business. Note. RE = real estate; SMEs = small- and medium-scale enterprises; NRDs = new retail developments; L1 = Liverpool one. is to be done. The chapters on: (a) critical and analytical review of the main literature (an expansion of the mini litera- Research Gap(s) ture review in the research proposal) including the develop- ment of an appropriate theoretical framework (for MPhil and PhD theses); (b) research methodology; (c) data presenta- Research Problem or Question(s) tion, analysis, and discussion; and (d) summary of research findings or conclusions, limitations, and recommendations will all be based on the research objectives or hypotheses. Research Aim For example, a discussion of the research methodology including the design of research instrument for data collec- tion must be linked to the research objectives or hypotheses Research Objectives or Hypotheses and the research objectives or hypotheses will form the themes in data presentation, analysis, and discussion. Furthermore, in the summary of research findings or conclu- Figure 1. Order of activities. sions, limitations, and recommendations chapter, the sum- mary of research findings will be linked to the research objectives or hypotheses to establish the extent to which the Second, to address the research problem or questions(s), a objectives or hypotheses have been investigated or tested. It research aim is formulated. Finally, to realize the research is, therefore, inconceivable for a dissertation or theses not to aim, specific, unambiguous, measurable, achievable, realis- have research objectives or hypotheses. tic, and time-bound (SUMART) individual objectives are Thus, in summary, first of all, the research problem or formulated to be investigated or alternatively, hypotheses are research question(s) are to be identified and stated based on formulated to be tested. This order of activities is illustrated the research gap(s) established in the mini literature review. diagrammatically in Figure 1. 8 SAGE Open collection; (c) sampling issues; (d) construction of research instrument for primary data collection (design of question- Research Gap(s) naires and interview schedules or guides), data collection procedures (research methods), ethics, and pilot studies; (e) data presentation, analysis, and discussion; and (f) validation Research Problem or Question(s) of research findings. In this section, the elements of research methodology are treated at a theoretical level first to provide an appropriate context before a consideration of what needs Research Aim to be incorporated in the research methodology section in a research proposal. In the social sciences, there are three research methodolo- Research Objectives or Hypotheses gies that can be used to conduct academic research. These are: (a) quantitative research methodology, also known as the traditional, positivist, or empiricist research approach; (b) Figure 2. Addressing research problem or question(s) qualitative research methodology, which is variously referred to as the constructivist, naturalistic, interpretative, postposi- tivist, or postmodern perspective approach; and (c) mix The order of research problem or question(s), aim, and methodologies and the other terminologies for it are multi- objectives has been considered by Naoum (2013). However, methodology and pragmatic approach—it is an amalgam of Naoum’s order is problematic as he appears to be putting the quantitative and qualitative research methodologies in one cart before the horse, particularly, where he places research study. The distinguishing features of quantitative and quali- questions as follows: research aim; research objectives; and tative research methodologies are provided in Table 3. key research questions. Naoum’s order of activities suggests Research methodology is considered by some authors to that it is the research questions that address research objec- be the same as research design whereas others treat research tives, when it is the other way round. As noted earlier, design as a sub-set of research methodology. Kumar (2011), research is conducted to address a particular research prob- for example, defines a research design as a plan, structure, lem or questions. Thus, the research problem or question(s) and strategy of investigation so conceived as to obtain must first of all be established at the outset based on the answers to research problems or questions. Thus, he consid- research gap(s) and when this is done, the research aim and ers research methodology to be the same as research design objectives or hypotheses will then be formulated to address where he differentiates between qualitative and quantitative the research problem or questions(s). Therefore, research research designs (also see, for example, Kerlinger, 1986, and objectives or hypotheses are investigated or tested to achieve Creswell, 2009, 2013). However, the explanation of research the research aim and once the research aim is realized or design by authors such as Thyer (1993), Selltiz et al. (1962), achieved, it implies the research problem or question(s) Bell and Bryman (2011), and Bryman (2012) shows that it is would have been addressed and for that matter, the research a sub-set of research methodology. Bryman (2012), for gap(s) would have also been filled. Consequently, diagram- instance, defines it as the framework for collecting data and matically, the arrows in Figure 1 will be reversed from the analysis—the focus here is only data collection and analysis. base as follows in Figure 2. Albeit the literature is ambivalent regarding the distinction between research methodology and research design, the authors of this article are of the opinion that they are the Research Methodology same and can be used interchangeably. The research aim and objectives or hypotheses that are based Regarding research paradigm and methodology, there is a on the research problem or question(s) considered above will difference between them. A research paradigm is a collection tell the reader what exactly the researcher intends or wants to of assumptions and beliefs that guide the path of conducting investigate. This section offers the researcher the opportunity research and interpreting findings (Koshy, Koshy, & to explain how the research will be carried out. Thus, research Waterman, 2010). Thus, it can be described as a matrix of methodology (also known as research approach) is the strat- theoretical mind-sets that underpin a research methodology egy of investigation, which is about the whole dissertation or or approach. For example, an assumption in the quantitative thesis from the beginning to the end including how the research methodology is that knowledge (epistemology) is research objectives have been founded from the research real and exists (ontology) there in the world that can be problem, how the literature review has been carried out, pilot objectively and quantitatively measured and that is an ele- studies, data collection, analytical methods, and the process ment of a research paradigm in the quantitative research of developing findings and conclusions (Farrell, 2011). It is, methodology. Epistemological and ontological issues are therefore, a gamut of various issues that are: (a) strategies treated later. In terms of the qualitative research methodol- of inquiry; (b) theoretical/secondary and primary data ogy, the assumption is that knowledge is real and exists there Abdulai and Owusu-Ansah 9 Table 3. Characteristics of Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methodologies. Quantitative research methodology Qualitative research methodology 1 It is an inquiry into a social or human problem based It is an inquiry process of comprehending a social or human normally on testing a theory composed of variables, problem based on building a complex holistic picture formed with measured with numbers, and analyzed using statistical words, reporting detailed views of informants and conducted in a procedures to determine whether the predictive natural setting. generalizations of the theory hold true. 2 It views truthfulness or reality to exist in the world, It views truthfulness or reality to exist in the world that can be which can be objectively measured. subjectively measured. 3 In terms of the relationship between the investigator and The inquirer normally goes to the site of the target participants what is being investigated, the quantitative research to conduct the research. This enables the researcher to develop methodology holds that the researcher should remain a level of detail about the individual or place and to be highly distant and independent of what is being researched to involved in the actual experiences of the participants. ensure an objective assessment of the situation. 4 It is not value-laden as the researchers’ values are kept It is value-laden as the personal self becomes inseparable from the out of the study. researcher self. 5 The entire process uses the deductive form of reasoning The reasoning adopted in qualitative research is largely inductive. or logic wherein theories and hypotheses are tested Various aspects or categories emerge from those under in cause-and-effect order. Concepts, variables, and investigation rather than are identified a priori by the researcher. hypotheses are chosen before the study begins and This emergence provides information leading to patterns or remain fixed throughout the study. The intent of the theories that help explain a phenomenon. Theory or hypotheses study is to develop generalizations that contribute are, therefore, not established a priori. The research objectives to the theory and that enable one to better predict, may change and be refined as the inquirer learns what question explain, and comprehend a phenomenon. to ask and to whom. The methodology is, therefore, emergent rather than tightly pre-figured. 6 Regarding research methods (particularly, primary data Interviews are used for primary data collection and the questions collection procedures), questionnaires are used and asked are mainly open-ended where no optional responses are the questions asked are largely closed-ended where provided. optional responses are provided. 7 There is descriptive and inferential numeric analysis of Collection of text data, description, and analysis of text or pictures/ data using statistical packages. images, representation of information in figures and tables, all inform qualitative research. Data are coded and analyzed using qualitative software packages. Source. Compiled from Bryman (1998); Locke, Spirduso, and Silverman (2000); Mertens (2003); Bell (2005); Creswell (2003, 2009, 2013); O’Leary (2013); Charmaz (2014); and Flick (2014). in the world that can be subjectively and qualitatively mea- collected over long periods of time. Measurements are taken sured and that is also an element of a research paradigm in on each variable over two or more distinct time periods. the qualitative research methodology. This permits the measurement of change in variables over time. Strategies of Inquiry Experiments. The basic intent of an experiment is to test the Various types exist in quantitative, qualitative, and mixed impact of a treatment or an intervention on an outcome (the methodologies, which have been considered by authors such effect—dependent variable), while controlling all other fac- as Clandinin and Connelly (2000), Babbie (2000), Creswell tors (the determinants or causes—independent variables) (2003, 2007, 2009, 2013), Bell and Bryman (2011), Farrell that might influence that outcome. Experimental strategies (2011), Grbich (2013), Naoum (2013), Urquhart (2013), and are normally used in the physical sciences where the experi- Coghlan and Brannick (2014), and summarized as follows. ments are laboratory-based. However, they can be used in the social sciences—when they are used in the social sciences, Surveys. A survey is a system of gathering information and the experiment is field-based. includes cross-sectional and longitudinal studies that use mostly questionnaires, interviews, and observation for data Ethnography. This is where the researcher studies an intact collection. In a cross-sectional survey, all the data on rele- cultural group in a natural setting over a prolonged period of vant variables are collected at the same time or within a rela- time by collecting primarily observational data. The research tively short time frame. It, therefore, provides a snapshot of process is flexible and typically evolves contextually in the variables included in the investigation at one particular response to the lived realities encountered in the field point in time. However, in longitudinal surveys, data are setting. 10 SAGE Open Grounded theory. In grounded theory, the researcher attempts is to use quantitative data and results to assist in interpreting to derive a theory of a process, action, behavior, or interac- qualitative findings. tion grounded in the views of participants in the study. This Alternatively, the study may begin with a quantitative process involves multiple stages of data collection and the research approach followed by the collection and analysis of refinement and interrelationship of categories of qualitative data. Priority is typically given to the quantitative information. data and the two research methodologies are integrated dur- ing the interpretation phase of the study. This procedure is Case study. It is an in-depth systematic investigation of a termed a sequential explanatory strategy. The purpose of a phenomenon (which can be a program, an event, an activity, sequential explanatory strategy typically is to use qualitative a process, a geographical location, one or more individuals, results to assist in explaining and interpreting the findings of etc.) by a researcher. The cases are bounded by time and a primarily quantitative study. It is better suited for explain- activity and researchers collect detailed information using a ing relationships. It can be, especially, useful when unex- variety of data collection procedures over a sustained period pected results arise from a quantitative study. In this case, the of time. qualitative data collection that follows can be used to exam- ine these surprising results in more detail. Phenomenology. It is the study of everyday life. In phenome- nological studies, the investigator identifies the “essence” of Concurrent procedure. Unlike a sequential procedure above human experiences concerning a phenomenon as described where the researcher begins with one methodology and fol- by participants in a study. Comprehending the “lived experi- lows with another in stages, in a concurrent procedure, the ences” marks phenomenology as a philosophy as well as an investigator converges quantitative and qualitative data to approach and the procedure involves studying a small num- provide a comprehensive analysis of the research problem. ber of subjects or participants via extensive and prolonged In this design, the investigator collects both quantitative and engagement to develop patterns and relationships of mean- qualitative data at the same time during the data collection ing. In this process, the researcher “brackets” his experiences stage and then integrates the information in the analysis and to understand those of the participants in the study. interpretation of the overall results. The researcher may nest one form of data within another and this is called a concur- Narrative research. It is a form of inquiry in which the rent nested strategy. Given less priority, a quantitative researcher studies the lives of individuals and asks one or research methodology is embedded or nested within a promi- more individuals to provide stories about their lives. The nent qualitative research methodology or the vice versa. This information is then re-told or re-storied by the researcher into nesting may mean that the embedded research methodology a narrative chronology. addresses a different issue than the dominant research meth- odology or seeks information from different levels. The data Action research. Action research, variously known as partici- collected from the two research methodologies are mixed patory action research, community-based study, co-operative during the analysis phase of the project. inquiry, action science, problem-solving research, and action The concurrent nested strategy is often used so that the learning, is the study of a social situation carried out by those researcher can gain broader perspectives as a result of using involved in that situation to improve both their practice and two approaches rather than using only one research method- the quality of their understanding of the situation. Practitio- ology. For example, a primarily qualitative research design ners, industrialists, and students from the professional back- could embed some quantitative data to enrich the description grounds normally adopt this strategy of inquiry by identifying of the sample participants. a problem in the course of their work and to investigate it in order to propose changes that will improve an existing Transformative procedure. In this procedure, the researcher situation. uses a theoretical lens as an overarching perspective within a research design that contains both quantitative and qualita- Sequential procedure. In a sequential procedure, the researcher tive data. The theoretical perspective can be based on, for seeks to elaborate on or expand the findings of one research instance, ideologies such as advocacy. Within this lens could methodology with another research methodology. This may be a data collection method that involves a sequential or con- involve beginning with a qualitative research methodology current strategy. The perspective is reflected in the research for exploratory purposes and following up with a quantita- problem or research question(s). tive research methodology. When the researcher begins with qualitative research methodology followed by quantitative Reflection on strategies of inquiry. Sequential, concurrent, and research methodology, it is termed a sequential exploratory transformative procedures are strategies of inquiry in the strategy. Here, priority is given to the qualitative aspect of multi-methodology. However, in terms of the other strate- the study. The findings of the two phases are then integrated gies, as Farrell (2011) aptly notes, they “are not closed during the interpretation phase. The purpose of this strategy boxes” (p. 77) and can, therefore, fit into quantitative or Abdulai and Owusu-Ansah 11 qualitative studies. For example, surveys and case studies questions to be asked depend on the answers the respondent can be strategies in both quantitative and qualitative research. gives to an initial question. It is assumed that the respondents Sometimes, surveys or case studies are referred to as research have particular experiences or are knowledgeable about methodology. However, from the preceding discourse, they some subjects on which they can elaborate. The respondents are not research methodologies by themselves—they are are, thus, referred to as key informants and purposively cho- rather strategies of inquiry within research methodologies. sen. Semi-structured interviews are more formal in compari- In making a decision as to the methodology to use and son with unstructured interviews in that specific questions subsequently, the strategy of inquiry to adopt, researchers are asked although they are not asked in any specific order need to consider their philosophical stance regarding episte- and normally, no interview schedule is used. Regarding mological and ontological issues (Koshy et al., 2010). structured interviews, an interview schedule is prepared Epistemology is the theory of knowledge and it presents a where questions are presented in the same order and with the view and justification for what can be regarded as knowl- same wording to all the respondents. Interviews can be con- edge; that is, what can be known and the criteria that knowl- ducted on one-to-one or focus group basis. Focus groups/ edge must satisfy to be called knowledge rather than beliefs group interviews are open discussions between members of a (Blaikie, 1993). What people say, how what they say is inter- group and the researcher. preted, and what they do are all important regarding, for It is the preceding data collection procedures that are example, an action researcher for knowledge creation (Koshy often referred to as research methods. The questionnaires et al., 2010). Ontology, is about the theory of being and its and interview schedules or guides prepared are known as the mandate is the development of strategies that can illuminate research instrument for primary data collection. the components of people’s social reality; that is, about what exists, what it looks like, the units that make it up, and how Sampling Issues these units interact with each other (Blaikie, 1993). For instance, within action research, researchers would consider In the collection of primary data, a sample population (sam- this reality as socially constructed and not external and inde- ple size) is normally selected from the target total population pendent and the stories they tell will be based on subjective (sampling frame) and surveyed. In using questionnaires as accounts from the people who live within their environ- the research instrument and, particularly, where they are ment—thus, the methods of data collection they use will be administered via the Internet or post, one way to determine consistent with their ontological stance (Koshy et al., 2010). the sample size is to distribute the questionnaires to all mem- bers of the sampling frame or a pre-determined sub-popula- tion of the sampling frame. The number of completed Types of Data and Research Methods questionnaires that are returned constitutes the response rate As earlier indicated, there are two main types of data that can and that becomes the sample size. However, in geographical be used in the above three research methodologies. These locations where the Internet or postal system is not well are: (a) secondary data, which refers to any published and developed, this technique of determining the sample size unpublished material (e.g., materials from books, journals, may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement. newspapers, reports, magazines, undergraduate and post- In the light of the above problem, other methods that can graduate dissertations or theses, online materials, databases, be explored are probability and non-probability sampling video and audio recordings, photographs, films, and com- techniques. The other name for probability sampling is ran- puter-based programs)—thus, a literature review is part of dom sampling. Random sampling generally incorporates secondary data collection; and (b) primary data—it is “first some type of systematic selection procedure to ensure that hand” information gathered via procedures such as observa- each unit or element in the sampling frame has an equal tion, interviews, questionnaires, and direct experiences. The chance of being selected. The use of random sampling is questionnaires (normally used in quantitative studies) can be based on an implicit assumption that a sampling frame can administered via mail/post, fax, Internet (web-based or be established. Thus, where it is not possible to determine the email), or face-to-face whereas interviews (often used in sampling frame or an adequate sampling fame does not exist, qualitative studies) can be conducted face-to-face, over the random sampling cannot be used. Examples of random sam- phone, or using a voice-over-IP service such as Skype. pling are simple random sampling, systematic sampling, Interviews can be unstructured, semi-structured, or struc- stratified sampling, and cluster sampling, which have been tured, and the difference between them has been explained extensively covered in the works of authors such as Morse by authors such as Abdulai (2010) and Naoum (2013) as fol- (1994) and Lincoln and Guba (2000). lows. Unstructured interviews (also called intensive, infor- Non-probability sampling focuses on volunteer potential mal, or in-depth interviews) are like journalistic interviews subjects, easily available potential subjects, or those who just with a guide prepared on the areas or issues one intends to happen to be present when the research is carried out. There ask questions about. There are, therefore, no specific ques- is no any systematic selection procedure. Non-random sam- tions or specific order. The wording and sequence of ples are mostly used in qualitative studies, pilot studies, and 12 SAGE Open market research, consulting with experts or in circumstances sheet (PIS), which contains all the information the partici- where adequate sampling frames are unavailable (Lincoln & pant needs to make an informed decision about participation Guba, 2000; Morse, 1994). Accidental, volunteer, quota, pur- (Curtis & Curtis, 2011; O’Leary, 2013). However, before posive, and snowball sampling techniques are examples of data collection commences, ethical approval will have to be non-random sampling, which are also well treated by the obtained from the researcher’s institution. above authors. Data Analysis and Validation of Research Findings Design of Research Instrument for Primary Data After gathering the relevant data for the research, it has to be Collection and Pilot Studies presented, analyzed, and discussed. A starting point is nor- mally to clean, transcribe (if recordings were done during the In designing a research instrument, it is important to note that data collection stage), and to code the data in an appropriate questions are asked to solicit information that will enable the statistical package such as STATA or SPSS (quantitative investigation of research objectives (or testing of hypothe- studies) or qualitative data analysis software package such as ses). There is, therefore, the need for the research instrument NVivo (qualitative studies) for analysis. Content analysis can to be explicitly linked to research objectives. When a ques- be carried out where appropriate. It is a tool used to deter- tion is being constructed, it is critical to ask oneself how the mine the presence of certain words or concepts within texts response to that question will help in investigating a particu- or sets of texts by quantifying and analyzing the presence, lar research objective or part of it. Indeed, it might be useful meanings, and relationships of such words and concepts to sectionalize the whole research instrument thematically (Palmquist, Carley, & Dale, 1997). There are two types, based on the research objectives in order to ensure that most, which are conceptual and relational analyses. if not all, of the information that is needed to address the At an advanced level such as MPhil and doctoral studies, objectives is obtained. it is important to validate research findings albeit this is not A pilot study is described by Bell (1996, cited in Naoum, normally required at the undergraduate or MSc levels. Two 2013) as getting the bugs out of the research instrument so common procedures that are used to validate findings are that subjects in the main study will not experience difficul- explained as follows. One procedure is triangulation where ties in completing it and for a preliminary analysis to be car- two or more techniques are used in the investigation of a ried out to determine whether or not the wording and format phenomenon to enhance confidence in the ultimate findings. of questions will present difficulties when the main data are For example, the research methodologies, including data col- collected and analyzed. It, therefore, provides a trial run that lection procedures, data sources, and survey participants can involves testing the wording of questions, identifying ambig- be triangulated to validate the findings. The second proce- uous questions, testing the data collection method, and mea- dure is to withhold a percentage of the data collected that is suring the effectiveness of standard invitation to respondents then presented and analyzed later and compared with the ini- (Naoum, 2013). At the MPhil and PhD levels, a pilot study tial findings. This procedure, however, appears problematic can be carried out although this might not be possible for as it is actually a continuation of data presentation, analysis, undergraduate dissertations due to time constraints. and discussion and not research validation in the real sense because it is the same data set that is used, just that the data Ethical Issues are analyzed at a different time. In conducting research (laboratory-based or field-based), there is the need to normally ensure people are not harmed What to Include in the Research Methodology physically or emotionally and that is what ethical consider- Section ations are about. The researcher has a responsibility to ensure that research participants are protected (O’Leary, 2013). Under the research methodology section, a detailed treat- Apart from not doing harm, there is also the need to be truth- ment of all the research methodological issues is not needed ful to the process (Coghlan & Brannick, 2014). Curtis and since it will be considered in the research methodology chap- Curtis (2011) observe that the most important aspect of an ter during the write-up stage of the dissertation or thesis. ethically appropriate research is voluntary informed consent. What is required in this section is for the researcher to laconi- In terms of recruiting participants, Curtis and Curtis explain cally demonstrate awareness of the research methodology the following: voluntary as the notion of free will; informed process in the social sciences in a logical manner. Thus, any as referring to the provision of enough information about consideration of the theoretical issues should be as brief as what will be asked of them; and consent as the formal pro- possible by concentrating on the important and salient issues cess, which they affirm that they have been provided with all that will inform how the research will be conducted. The the information they require and are agreeing to take part out research methodologies available in the social sciences of their own free will. The process of gaining informed con- should be briefly explained and a justification provided for sent includes the provision of a participant with information the choice of a particular methodology. Abdulai and Owusu-Ansah 13 The selection of a research methodology needs to be program can be indicated in a tabular form or diagrammati- explicitly linked to the research objectives or hypotheses. cally, for example, in the form of a Gantt chart and it can be Therefore, there is the need to explain clearly how each of embedded in the research program section or added as an the research objectives will be investigated. If it is one appendix. research methodology that will be adopted to investigate all the stated research objectives, then the linkage will be obvi- References ous and does not need an explanation. However, where the multi-methodology will be adopted, there has to be an expla- In the above sections, relevant references will have been nation regarding which research methodology will be used to cited in-text where necessary in accordance with a particular address which of the research objectives. For instance, if referencing style. It is in this section that the full references there are four stated research objectives, the quantitative will be provided in accordance with the same referencing research methodology might be used to investigate two of style used for the in-text citations. The references should be the research objectives whereas the qualitative research listed in an alphabetical order. Sources from which one can methodology may be used to investigate the remaining draw information are varied as alluded to above. However, it research objectives, and this needs to be explained and justi- is not advisable to rely heavily on websites as they are often fied. Following on, the strategy of inquiry, research methods, not considered a good source of materials. Thus, websites and research instrument to be used, how the survey partici- should be used sparingly. The most highly regarded sources pants will be selected, and how the data to be collected will of materials are academic journals (including online jour- be analyzed should be explicated. If a pilot study will be car- nals) and research monographs, followed by text books. ried out, it should be indicated. Also, it should be indicated Quantity, quality, and currency of references are of impor- that ethical issues will be considered and that before the pri- tance here. mary data collection process begins, ethical approval will be There can also be a bibliography section, which should be obtained. Finally, it will be necessary to state that the first titled “Bibliography” after the references section. The dic- part of the research methodology will consist of a critical tionary definition does not differentiate between references review of the relevant literature in order to, among other and bibliography. However, in academic writings, there is a things, identify the appropriate theoretical framework for the difference between the two albeit some authors use them research and to help in designing the rest of the research interchangeably perhaps based on the dictionary definition. methodology. Research methodology can be likened to the As Farrell (2011) explains, references are everything cited in “foundation” of a building in construction and, therefore, the dissertation. Thus, references that are specifically cited needs to be robust; if it is weak, the research will also be in-text will be fully listed under references. However, Farrell weak. describes bibliography as everything that has been read or browsed, which is relevant to the subject area but has not been cited. It is, therefore, any material that is consulted to Research Significance/Importance help shape the ideas of the researcher but has not been used in a manner to warrant in-text citation. For example, if a stu- The importance of the research must be considered by justi- dent consults somebody’s dissertation or thesis to gain ideas fying the need for the research. This will require some refer- regarding how to appropriately phrase a research topic, the ence to be made to the research gap(s), problem, or student cannot cite that person in stating his research topic in question(s), and an explanation of how the proposed research his dissertation or thesis. However, to acknowledge that per- will contribute to existing body of knowledge (novelty) as son, the full reference to that dissertation or thesis will be well as explaining how the outcomes of the research are listed under bibliography. Similarly, references that may be likely to benefit the following stakeholders where applica- relevant to the research but have not been used in a manner ble: (a) academia, (b) individuals and communities, (c) to warrant in-text citation will be listed under bibliography industry and commerce, and (d) policymakers nationally and for further reading. internationally. Research Proposal Components That Research Program Are Supposed to Feature in the Final As earlier indicated, time and resources regarding, particu- Thesis or Dissertation larly, pecuniary legacy for the conduct of any research are normally limited. Thus, there is the need for a research pro- Based on experience, some students, especially, at the under- gram. It indicates the principal or milestone activities to be graduate and master’s levels, reproduce all the contents of carried out and the time line for such activities. The research the research proposal in the introductory chapter of the dis- program will be used by the supervisor to monitor the prog- sertation, which is inappropriate. The introductory chapter is ress made by the student once the research commences so named “Chapter One” and its title is “Introduction.” The that any issues can be identified and addressed. The research main relevant sections in this chapter are: (a) research 14 SAGE Open background; (b) research aim and objectives; (c) research Bell, E., & Bryman, A. (2011). Business research methods (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. methodology; (d) summary of main research findings, limita- Bell, J. (2005). Doing your research project: A guide for first- tions, and recommendations; (e) research significance/impor- time researchers in education, health and social science. tance; and (f) structure/organization of dissertation. The Maidenhead, UK: McGraw-Hill. introductory chapter serves a dual purpose by first, setting the Blaikie, N. (1993). Approaches to social inquiry. London, England: appropriate scene for the research conducted and second, Polity. encapsulating what was researched and why it had to be Booth, A., Papaioannou, D., & Sutton, A. (2012). Systematic researched, how it was researched, what was found, limita- approaches to a successful literature review. Los Angeles, CA: tions, and the way forward or recommendations; that is, it SAGE. provides a snapshot of the research that has been conducted. Bryman, A. (1998). Quantitative and qualitative research strategies Sections of the research proposal that should appear in the in knowing the social world. In T. May & M. Williams (Eds.), dissertation or thesis are the “research background,” “research Knowing the social world (pp. 138-157). Buckingham, UK: Open University Press. aim and objectives,” “research methodology,” and “research Bryman, A. (2012). Social research methods (4th ed.). Oxford, UK: significance/importance,” of course, with appropriate amend- Oxford University Press. ments where necessary because the main literature review Bryman, A., & Cramer, D. (2005). Quantitative data analysis with would have been carried out and the whole research con- SPSS 12 and 13. London, England: Routledge. ducted. The contents of the research methodology section in Burns, R. B. (Ed.). (1997). Introduction to research methods (2nd this chapter are supposed to be very laconic as there will be a ed.). Melbourne, Australia: Longman Cheshire. chapter devoted to it in the dissertation or thesis. Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing grounded theory (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative enquiry: Conclusion Experience and story qualitative research. San Francisco, CA: This article has considered the essential elements of a good Jossey-Bass. Coghlan, D., & Brannick, T. (2014). Doing action research in your proposal for both undergraduate and postgraduate students in own organization (4th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. the social sciences and it is hoped that the students would Creswell, J. W. (2003). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative find it intellectually stimulating and insightful. and mixed methods approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Although a theoretical framework, which is about the rel- SAGE. evant theory or theories that underpin a particular study, is an Creswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: imperative at a more advanced level such as MPhil or PhD, it Choosing among five approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, has not been considered above. This is because settling on a CA: SAGE. relevant underpinning theory or theories is difficult, takes Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, time, and will not normally crystallize at the research pro- and mixed method approaches (3rd ed.). London, England: posal writing stage until the main literature has been criti- SAGE. cally reviewed following the commencement of the research. Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). London, England: Thus, what is required at the mini literature review stage is SAGE. for the prospective researcher to bear in mind that a theoreti- Creswell, J. W., & Miller, D. L. (2000). Determining validity in cal framework has to be ultimately developed if it is an qualitative inquiry. Theory Into Practice, 39, 124-130. MPhil or doctoral research. Curtis, B., & Curtis, C. (2011). Social research: A practical intro- duction. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. Declaration of Conflicting Interests Farrell, P. (2011). Writing a built environment dissertation: The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect Practical guidance and examples. Oxford, UK: Wiley- to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. Blackwell. Fellows, R., & Liu, A. (2008). Research methods for construction Funding (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. Flick, U. (2014). An introduction to qualitative research (5th ed.). The author(s) received no financial support for the research and/or Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. authorship of this article. Grbich, C. (2013). Qualitative data analysis: An introduction. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. References Grinnell, R. (Ed.). (1993). Social work research and evaluation (4th Abdulai, R. T. (2010). Traditional landholding institutions in sub- ed.). Itasca, IL: F.E. Peacock. Saharan Africa—The operation of traditional landholding Hart, C. (2001). Doing a literature search. London, England: institutions in sub-Saharan Africa: A case study of Ghana. SAGE. Saarbrücken, Germany: Lambert Academic Publishing . Holt, G. (1998). A guide to successful dissertation study for stu- Babbie, E. (2000). The practice of social research (9th ed.). dents of the built environment (2nd ed.). Wolverhampton, UK: Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. University of Wolverhampton. Abdulai and Owusu-Ansah 15 Kerlinger, F. N. (1986). Foundations of behavioural research (3rd non-literary texts. In C. Roberts (Ed.), Text analysis for ed.). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. the social sciences: Methods for drawing statistical infer- Kinnear, P. R., & Gray, C. D. (1994). SPSS for Windows made ences from texts and transcripts (pp.55-69). Hillsdale, NJ: wimple. East Sussex, UK: Lawrence Erlbaum. Lawrence Erlbaum. Kinnear, P. R., & Gray, C. D. (2008). SPSS 16 made simple. East Research Assessment Exercise. (2005). Rae 2008: Research Sussex, UK: Lawrence Erlbaum. Assessment Exercise—Guidance on submissions. London, Koshy, E., Koshy, V., & Waterman, H. (2010). Action research in UK: Higher Education Council of England (HEFCE), Scottish healthcare. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. Higher Education Funding Council, Higher Education Funding Krippendorff, K. (2013). Content analysis: An introduction to its Council for Wales, and Department for Employment and methodology (3rd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. Learning. Kumar, R. (2011). Research methodology: A step-by-step guide for Selltiz, C. Jahoda, M. Deutsch, M. & Cook, S. W. (1962) Research beginners. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. methods in social relations (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Holt, Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (2000). Paradigmatic controversies, Rinehart & Winston . contradictions and emerging confluences. In N. K. Denzin & Szafram, R. (2012). Answering questions with statistics. Los Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd Angeles, CA: SAGE. ed., pp. 163-188). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. Thyer, B. A. (1993). Single systems research design. In R. M. Locke, L. F., Spirduso, W. W., & Silverman, J. J. (2000). Proposals Grinnell (Ed.), Social work research and evaluation (pp. 94- that work: A guide for planning dissertations and grant pro- 117). Itasca, IL: F.E. Peacock. posals (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. Urquhart, C. (2013). Grounded theory for qualitative research: A Lundberg, G. A. (1942). Social research: A study in methods of practical guide. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. gathering data (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Longmans, Green. Mertens, D. M. (2003). Mixed methods and the politics of human Author Biographies research: The transformative–emancipatory perspective. In A. Raymond Talinbe Abdulai, PhD, MPhil (Cantab), PGCertHE, Tashakkori & C. Teddlie (Eds.), Handbook of mixed methods BSc (First Class), is a Senior Lecturer in Real Estate at Faculty of in the social and behavioural sciences (pp. 100-120). Thousand Technology and Environment, Liverpool John Moores University, Oaks, CA: SAGE. Liverpool, UK. He has published extensively in reputed academic Morse, J. M. (1994). Designing funded qualitative research. In N. journals, edited textbooks, and conference proceedings as well as K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative authored six textbooks. Raymond is the Editor-in-Chief of Journal research (pp. 220-235). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. of International Real Estate and Construction Studies, indexed in Naoum, S. G. (2006). Dissertation research & writing for construc- Cabell’s Directory of Publishing Opportunities in Economics and tion students (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Butterworth-Heinemann Finance. Naoum, S. G. (2013). Dissertation research & writing for construc- tion students. Abingdon, UK: Routledge. Anthony Owusu-Ansah, PhD, MSc, BSc (First Class), is a O’Leary, N. (2013). The essential guide to doing your research Lecturer in Finance at Business School, Ghana Institute of project (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), Accra, Ghana. Palmquist, M. E., Carley, K. M., & Dale, T. A. (1997). Two appli- He has published considerably in reputed academic journals, con- cations of automated text analysis: Analyzing literary and ference proceedings, and edited textbooks.

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Published: Aug 22, 2014

Keywords: essential ingredients; research; social sciences; writing a good proposal

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