8. The Proposal

Faculty of Education

8. The Proposal

The information in this section should be read as a guideline only. Students must work closely with their advisor to develop the proposal.

Effective 2009, when students are ready to begin their work on the MPR or thesis, they must complete either the Application for MRP or Application for Thesis.  These forms can be found on this link:  http://www.brocku.ca/education/currentstudents/graduateed/mastersofed/medforms. Applications are reviewed by the Department, with successful applicants being provided with an override that permits them to register for the MRP (EDUC 5Q91) or thesis (EDUC 5F95). The student works independently with their advisor to develop a research proposal, gain appropriate approval of the proposal from second readers (MRP) or committee members (thesis) and then complete the research exit requirement. Full-time students are expected to complete the MRP in three terms and the thesis in a maximum of five (including public defence).


In a preliminary consultation, the advisor and the student determine the nature of the question the student wishes to address, the approach the student wishes to take in addressing the question, a methodology that is appropriate for the approach, and a format that is appropriate for the methodology.

The proposal is intended to specify what the student wishes to study, why this is worth studying, who stands to benefit from the results of the study, how the investigation will unfold, and why this is an appropriate approach to the investigation. Usually the proposal is written in future tense (as the work is not yet done), except for the review of relevant literature which is written in the past tense. Some advisors, however, prefer to follow APA guidelines, or those of their chosen style guide, regarding tense.

Many development plans are available for formatting the proposal, and no one scheme is "the best" choice for all cases. Students should select a plan that is suited to the type of research they are planning to conduct. Advisors often have preferred formats for proposal outlines, and students should pay careful attention to their advisor's suggestions.

8.1 Paper Format

This format is appropriate for studies using qualitative methodology or for innovative projects. The paper format typically yields a 20-30 page proposal that organizes the information under appropriate headings. Although students should follow their advisor's suggestions for the headings that will be used to guide the development of the proposal, the following outline is one that has proven helpful in the past. The page length under each heading is an indication of the minimum pages expected for that section.


1/2 to 1 page

This section states what the investigation is about. It is a brief and concise overview of what the student plans to study and how this area of investigation is situated in an educational and/or social context.

Literature Review
4 to 8 pages

This section is a brief, critical review of the literature that pertains to the topic under investigation. Because of the nature of this assignment, students may propose to review certain areas of the literature and not actually include a detailed review in this document. The review should be organized conceptually or thematically, which sets out a framework that can serve as a preliminary guide for the investigation.

More recent articles should dominate the review. The most useful databases for academic research in Education are ERIC, CBCA Complete, Academic Search Premier, Sociological Abstracts, and PsycINFO; however, other subject-specific resources for all disciplines taught at Brock are also available.


Conceptual Framework

½ to 1 page

In this section, students specify the set of concepts that capture the dominant themes underpinning the area of research interest. The concepts may be derived from the themes or concepts used to organize the review of the literature. Alternatively, students may select a conceptual framework that has been previously developed and described in a scholar's published work. Regardless of the source or sources, the conceptual framework should be used to develop the empirical questions, to structure data collection instruments, and to organize initial data analysis.

Problem/Research Context
1 to 2 pages

This is the reason for doing the study. It should be derived directly from the literature or from compelling personal or professional reasons for pursuing the investigation. It could be related to one or more of the following situations:

A professional conundrum
A current debate in the field
A gap in the literature
A lack of recent studies
A lack of Canadian studies
Inconclusive results
Ambiguous terminology and/or definition
Poor measurement devices (weak instrumentation)
Missing factors
Debatable statistical analyses

Purpose Statement
1/2 to 1 page

This is the most crucial component. A poorly defined purpose statement will invariably lead to a weak project or thesis. In general, there are two components to every problem. The first is a general statement telling the reader exactly what is expected to be the research focus. The second component is more specific. Often, it is stated in the form of a series of empirical questions, that reflect the conceptual framework developed from the review of the literature or selected from an author's published work.

The purpose should be of real interest to the student as it will "live with them" for at least one year. If the work does not inspire deep intellectual passion or curiosity, it might result in a weak project.

Methodology/Research Design
1 - 2 pages

The student uses this section to describe the research design chosen to frame the study (e.g., case study, experimental design, field research, narrative, action research) and to justify this design by linking characteristics of the design, as found in the research methods literature, to aims and objectives of the student's investigation. This section also outlines and describes the chosen methodology or approach (e.g., positivist, interpretivist, critical theory) underpinning the design and the methods (e.g., qualitative, quantitative, conceptual, philosophical) by which data will be collected and analyzed. This section requires explicit links to information from research methods literature.

Data Collection
1 - 2 pages

This section specifies the instrument that should be used to collect data and the procedures that will be followed. Instruments can be borrowed from others or developed by the researcher. For quantitative studies, if students develop their own questionnaire, it should be pilot tested and checked for content and face validity. If instruments are borrowed, written permission must be sought for use. If possible, students should only use instruments that are valid and reliable. Statements about validity and reliability must be included in the proposal.

For qualitative studies, students must outline the questions they expect to ask in an interview or the types of items they will look for in an observation. These must be accompanied by an explanation of how the student decided on these questions/items (e.g., from specific concepts in the literature, from a previous study, from some other source). If the students plan to analyze documents, the proposal must specify which documents will be collected, where they can be found, and how the documents advance the investigation.

Sample and Population/Site and Participant Selection
1 - 2 pages

When relevant, this must be identified for all research designs. Students should specify the type of sampling that is expected to be employed and should describe the steps that will be taken to gain access and to solicit participation. Sampling options include:

Simple random sampling
Stratified random sampling
Cluster sampling
Systematic sampling
Convenience sampling
Purposive sampling
Snowball sampling
Reputational sampling

Data Analysis

The proposal must indicate how the student plans to analyze the data in order to generate answers to the research question. It is helpful to think about analysis in relation to the empirical questions listed in the Purpose section. Students should consider which elements of data are likely to address each of the empirical questions and what they might do with the data to derive an answer.

Quantitative analyses should be attached to research hypotheses and can include descriptive, parametric, and nonparametric statistics. The type of test that will be used should be specified for each hypothesis, and students might also provide a preliminary version of the form within which the findings will be displayed: chart, graph, and/or table. It is essential that quantitative terminology and statistical tests are clearly understood and appropriately used in the research proposal. Therefore, students planning on using quantitative methodology are well advised to take an advanced statistics course (e.g., EDUC 5P82) or consult with a quantitative researcher prior to writing the proposal.

Qualitative analyses can be approached from a within-case and/or cross-case perspective and using an inductive and/or deductive approach. The type of analysis should be matched to the purpose of the study and to specific study questions. Students should also give some consideration to how the data will be organized and displayed. It is essential that qualitative terminology and analytic tools are clearly understood and appropriately used in the research proposal. Therefore, students planning on using qualitative methodology are well advised to take a qualitative research course (e.g., EDUC 5P95) or to consult a qualitative researcher prior to writing the proposal.

Scope and Limitations of the Study
1/2 to 1 page

This section is intended to set out the parameters or boundaries within which the study is being conducted. In quantitative studies these are concerned with the external and internal reliability and validity of the work. In qualitative research these include a discussion of the researcher's preconceptions, credibility, trustworthiness, and epistemological stance.

Every undertaking has specific conceptual limitations and the researcher must acknowledge their existence. External validity is related to selection, testing, and treatment biases. Internal validity is confined largely to experimental studies. Here, concern is with the effects of extraneous variables on the dependent variable. Factors to consider include a) maturation; b) statistical regression; c) experimental mortality; and/or d) deviations in the procedures for data collection;

In qualitative studies, the researcher's preconceptions must be addressed with regard to their previous experiences in the area under investigation, their social location vis à vis those researched, and their understanding of the situation prior to undertaking the work. The epistemological stance includes a discussion of the tradition of research within which they have chosen to work and a clear indication of the assumptions upon which this work is based.

No one investigation can encompass all the relevant factors, sites, people, or issues embedded in a topic of study. Researchers, therefore, must delimit their study by establishing specific boundaries within which they will collect data. Students must acknowledge their boundaries in terms of site and sample limits, time limits, data collection limits, and any other delimitation they impose on their work. Each of these choices will limit the extent to which the results can be applied. Students must acknowledge these limitations and indicate why they are appropriate for the chosen research design.

Importance of the Study
1-2 pages

The proposal should describe the potential impact of the study on participants, on the field, and on the knowledge base. It is helpful to think in terms of why this study needs to be conducted, who stands to benefit from the results, and how those benefits might be expressed. Potential implications for practice and/or recommendations for changes that might emerge from the results could be noted.

Ethical Considerations
1-2 pages

The proposal should include a discussion of the ways in which the participants might be at risk in this study and the steps taken to protect their rights. Reference should be made to the ethical review processes that must be conducted prior to commencement of the study, including seeking approval from the Brock University Research Ethics Review Board and other relevant Research Ethics Review Boards.

1/2 page

The proposal should inform the reader of how distribution of results, conclusions, and/or recommendations will be made. This can be achieved through workshops, presentations, newsletters, and/or journal articles. Students should identify specific venues for dissemination.

1/2 to 1 page

This section states:

The cost factor: All necessary resources required to complete the study should be listed to generate an expected expense. For example:
printing fees for permission forms and or surveys if applicable
envelopes and mailing fees
The time factor: List all stages of the study and state what needs to be done at each stage and how much time is required to complete each stage.
Accessibility of data: State how much traveling is required or how much time is needed to secure resources.
Inconvenience to participants: State whether they are going to be expected to travel or detained for extended periods of time.

8.2 Chapter Format

The proposal can follow the outline used for the first three chapters of the completed MRP or thesis. This format is most appropriate for studies using quantitative or qualitative methodologies or for evaluative or developmental projects. The following is a typical outline for the chapter format. Page length for the various headings will be similar to the page length outlined in the Paper Format section (8.1).

Page length for the various headings will be similar to the page length outlined in the Paper Format section (8.1).

Background of the Problem
Statement of the Problem Situation
Purpose of the Study
Empirical Questions or Research Hypothesis
Theoretical Framework
Importance of the Study
Scope and Limitations of the Study

This section is a critical review of the literature that pertains to the topic. The chapter should be sufficiently comprehensive to map out the literature foundation on which the study is situated. The review should be organized conceptually or thematically, which establishes a framework for the investigation.More recent articles should dominate the review. The most useful databases for academic research in Education are ERIC, CBCA Complete, Academic Search Premier, Sociological Abstracts, and PsycINFO; however, other subject-specific resources for all disciplines taught at Brock are also available.


Introduction - remind the reader of the purpose of the study, its importance, and the general methodological decision.
Research Design - describe and justify the design choice (e.g. experimental, quasi-experimental, survey, case study, phenomenology, ethnography, descriptive, interpretative, evaluative, developmental)
Site and Participant Selection - include as in Paper Format
Data Collection - include as in Paper Format
Data Analysis - include as in Paper Format
Reliability and Validity/Establishing Credibility - describe the steps that will be taken to enhance the quality of the data and the knowledge claim arising from the data
Methodological Assumptions - include as in Paper Format
Ethical Considerations - include as in Paper Format
Summary and/or Restatement of the Purpose

8.3 Portfolio Format

One innovative MRP option is the completion of an academic portfolio, which is a selective record of the student's learning and accomplishments attained during the Master of Education program. Except for margins, font, formatting matters and reference to identifying information, the artifacts are to be included in the document as they were submitted during the courses in which they were completed. Students should therefore ensure that all selected artifacts are as free as possible of grammatical, spelling, and style errors. Proofreaders who review the final portfolio document will not edit the artifacts or make any revision suggestions for them. This version of the proposal has been adapted to guide portfolio planning, but it can also be modified to guide proposal development for other innovative project formats.

This chapter positions the portfolio in relation to the area of academic focus of the portfolio, the theoretical concepts that organize the collection and analysis of the artifacts, and the significance of the portfolio for academic and professional development. It should include the following sections:

Preamble and focus (overarching topic or theme)
Purpose of the portfolio
Conceptual framework and process of artifact selection
Rationale or significance
Outline of the remainder of the document

This chapter positions the portfolio in relation to the literature from the area of study, which is explored through the student's educational philosophy and personal experiences. The chapter includes

Educational philosophy: beliefs, assumptions, values, understandings (derived from and analyzed through literature sources)
Personal and professional autobiography: history, experiences, decisions, directions, and dreams (grounded in and reflected on through literature sources)
Chapter summary

In preparation for this chapter, students might consider writing a current resume, which includes education, experience, awards, professional development, professional memberships, and other salient information. The resume can be included as an appendix.

Artifacts should be selected to reflect the focus of the portfolio as outlined in Chapter One and should demonstrate the student's learning in relation to the themes presented in the conceptual framework. Students should include material from courses, assignments, and activities that represent diverse learning experiences. The chapter should begin with a description of the process by which the artifacts were selected. Each artifact should be preceded by a summary of the artifact, a statement about the course for which the artifact was completed, and an overview of the knowledge and/or skills gained from the artifact.

Items to consider as potential artifacts include

Term papers
Class assignments
Article critiques
Internship reports
Literature reviews
Personal correspondence
Photographs and graphic organizers

The chapter concludes with a summary that consolidates the learning from the artifacts in relation to the overarching topic or theme of the portfolio.

8.4 Question Format

An abbreviated version of the proposal can be constructed by following a W5-H framework. This version is most appropriate for innovative projects, small-scale descriptive studies, action research, or conceptual analyses. It is expected to yield a 10 to 15 page proposal.


Identify the topic under investigation and the research questions being explored. Literature will help to situate the investigation in an appropriate knowledge base and in relation to other studies, researchers, and authors.


Describe the reasons why this topic has been chosen. Include a description of the educational and social contexts for the investigation, the specific problems or puzzles that led to the investigation, the importance of the study, and the potential impacts or benefits of the study. Literature should be used to frame relevant contexts and to describe and analyze current debates in the field of study.


Outline how the investigation will unfold. Describe the methodology that will be used or the procedures that will be followed to complete the exploration. Indicate what texts or data will be used to support the investigation and how the texts or data will be collected, used, and analyzed. Specify why this type of investigation has been selected and why it is appropriate for the topic or for the current knowledge base in the field or the academy.

Where and Who?

If relevant, describe where the investigation will take place, who is expected to participate as the work progresses, and why such participation is appropriate. Indicate how participants will be recruited, what will be expected of participants, and how their interests will be protected.


Set out the steps that will be followed, the timeframe within which the steps are expected to occur, and the feasibility for completing them.

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