Before a researcher starts collecting research data, a research proposal has to be written to design the research process. Regardless of research area, a research proposal should address these 3 main questions:
- What you want to accomplish
- Why you want to do it
- How you want to do it
In this course we are interested in the third point which is “How you want to do the research”, because the method is related to research data. Therefore in the research proposal(1),(2) we need to specify:
- What can already be found in existing scientific literature.
- A review of existing datasets for possible reuse (this might be less relevant for theoretical research).
- The research questions and hypotheses resulting from it.
- How the research data will be collected and analysed (research methods) and how this process is expected to lead to answers to the research questions.
- (Usually) a research planning.
A research method is a way to collect data. During this process the researcher uses tools. The preferred method(s) depend(s) on:
- The research questions.
- The latest scientific knowledge.
- Area of research traditions.
A researcher hardly ever uses one single research method. The method may vary for each phase. A researcher may prefer to use questionnaires first for an overview of the subject and then continue with interviews to gather more information about it.
The table below shows a number of simple examples of frequent research methods, combined with the tool used to carry out the research and the data documentation that may be used during this phase.
A code book(3) is a sort of legend with the data files. It can be used to find data file variables and the meaning of the codes used. The diary and lab journal are used to document the data collection process.
|Research method||Tool||Data documentation|
|Case study||Combination of interviews and observations||Diary|
|Experimental research in a laboratory||Measurement or observation||Lab journal|
Nowadays, funders often require a data management plan to be included in the research proposal, either as a data section or as an annex to the research proposal. Read more about it in the data management planning section.
Below are three Research Proposals. How much attention do these proposals pay to collecting and analysing research data? Which aspects are dealt with and which are neglected?