MA SOCIAL WORK – DISSERTATION MODULE 2020-21
Research Proposal – Guidance
The research proposal forms a part of your dissertation assessment. It is weighted at 10% of the overall Dissertation Module credits. The usual MA marking criteria and range of marks (1-100%) apply. Marks under 50% are deemed to have failed and require resubmission to be able to proceed to completing the dissertation.
It will inform your early thinking about your research design and planning for the dissertation. If you choose to do an empirical research study it will inform the development of your ethics application.
Word Length – 2,500 words Maximum.
Submission Date – to be confirmed (depending on how COVID-19 issues and the shape of the academic year develop).
A research proposal is an outline of planned research. The aim of a research proposal is to describe and justify a proposed research project. The research proposal will inform the reader about:
• The general topic area (Background and context of your research).
• Why the research is worth doing (Rationale).
• The aims of the research, and research questions (Focus).
• How the question/problem will be investigated (Methodology).
It is important that the proposed research is both feasible and ethical and these issues must be acknowledged and discussed within the research proposal.
Structure and Content of the Research Proposal
This needs to clearly identify the focus of your research.
Literature Review and Background Information
This section will indicate the focus of the research and what experience and/or interests attracted you to it. It should provide the reader with information about why the research is important and give a flavour of the literature. It provides the context for the research aims which should be clearly stated.
State clearly your primary research question. You may choose to have a single research question, or to include supplementary questions that relate to the primary overarching question.
This section needs to explain the approach you will be taking to explore and seek to answer your research question(s). If it is an empirical study will the research adopt qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods? You need to justify why this is appropriate, both in terms of the theoretical thinking that informs your work, the framework of values within which the research is located and the context of the research. Links should be made between your methodology and your research aims. If you are doing a literature based dissertation you need to indicate your initial thinking about searching the literature, search terms you might use, and mention the kind of database(s) you may search on. Try doing a modest search (eg of one bibliographic data base) and writing about what you found. Discuss the kinds of literature and research studies (quantitative / qualitative) that are likely to be most valuable to answering your question(s).
Make reference to theory and the philosophical underpinnings of your approach: positivism / interpretivism; ontology and epistemology. This is a social work dissertation so you may bring in whatever relevant theory you wish.
Data Collection and Analysis
Here you should indicate the methods which you will use to collect your data. If your study is empirical you should say which data collection methods are most appropriate and why. You are not expected to provide detailed knowledge of specific methods at this stage but should explain broadly which methods will be adopted and why they are most suited to your project. You must also include discussion about why other methods are inappropriate in order to illustrate the point. For example if you plan to use a questionnaire rather than individual interviews say why this is; for a qualitative study you might state why you are going to gather data from particular participants (and not others). Include why you are not doing a literature based or empirical study, why that approach is not the most productive for your topic/research question(s). You should include a clear statement of your approach to the data analysis, e.g. will your analysis be quantitative or qualitative, or both? Will you be applying any particular statistical tests, generating descriptive statistics, or generating themes?
If your dissertation is literature based your methodology will incorporate extensive searching of bibliographic data bases and critical appraisal of key publications you identify. Because you are not doing empirical data gathering you will not be adopting a qualitative or quantitative methodology as such, but your research questions(s) will mean that particular research approaches are relevant to your work. You should therefore demonstrate knowledge of the research methods that have been used by researchers in the literature you are using by commenting on the kinds of studies you expect to be most relevant to your research question(s): qualitative, quantitative and/or mixed. Don’t forget, you need to justify as well as describe your methodology and the kinds of research you will include.
Access, Ethics and Sampling
You need to explain how you will gain access to your data. For literature based dissertations the ‘data’ is publications: journal articles, books, reports and so on. There are systematic ways of searching for literature by using bibliographic data bases and as suggested above, you will need to explain this and ideally do a bit of searching as part of the proposal. For literature based dissertations you do not have to apply for ethical approval for your work because you are not engaging with people and sensitive issues concerning vulnerability and confidentiality. For empirical dissertations you need to say who your participants will be and how will you contact them. How big a sample will you aim for and what kind of sample (eg convenience, purposive), in effect, what is your sampling strategy? What are the ethical implications of your study, are there particular issues to be considered when accessing and researching the participants? How does your proposal reflect research ethics principals?
Referencing your Proposal
You are expected to reference your proposal in the same way that you would any other piece of work and this should reflect both the subject area and the research methods literature. The latter should be used to support your research design and justify the decision you have made. References are not included in the word count.
MA SOCIAL WORK – DISSERTATION MODULE 2020-21