Why write a proposal?
There are a number of reasons for preparing a research proposal. In the case of funded research it is quite simply that there will be no funding without one. All funding bodies have their own framework for a submission of a research proposal; in many cases these frameworks are now in electronic form and very structured, often restricting the writer to a specific number of characters in each section. (For an example see Pickard (2009).) These proposal frameworks are created to ensure that all the necessary requirements of the funding body are covered in the proposal and to provide uniformity when examining their merits. This is usually a highly competitive arena and proposals will be seen by a number of referees, who will rate each one according to a predefined, criterion-based evaluation. Proposals that achieve the highest grades will usually be funded according to the budget available. This approach to bidding for research funding is clearly defined and the purpose of submitting the proposal is very clear. However, the role of a research proposal is far more extensive than this; it has a very important function in the research process whether or not funding is an issue. It may be that even though actual funding is not available, you will need to convince your line manager or tutor that this is a viable and worthwhile research project, one that is worthy of your time and effort. Smallscale, work-based projects are still costly. Even without direct funding, there is your time to consider, resources that may be needed and possibly the time of potential participants if they are in the same organization.
Academic research such as a dissertation will always require some form of proposal. Sometimes this is assessed as part of a taught course of study, other times it is an intrinsic part of a dissertation module. This chapter will not discuss specific proposal frameworks such as those provided by research funding bodies. Here we will look at the various elements of a research proposal: what needs to be said, why it needs to be said and how best to say it.