Joan L. Bottorff, PhD, RN
Professor and CIHR Investigator
School of Nursing, UBC
Phone: (604) 822-7438

Purpose of a Research Proposal

  • Communicates research plan to others (e.g., funding agencies)
  • Serves as a detailed plan for action
  • Serves as a contract between investigator and funding bodies when proposal approved

Qualitative Research: Basic

  • Reality is complex, constructed and ultimately subjective
  • Research is an interpretative processes
  • Knowledge is best achieved by conducting research in the natural setting

Qualitative research

  • Qualitative research is unstructured.
  • Qualitative designs are “emergent” rather than fixed.
  • The results of qualitative research are unpredictable.

Kinds of Qualitative Research

  • Grounded theory
  • Ethnography (critical ethnography, institutional ethnography, ethnomethodology, ethnoscience, etc.)
  • Phenomenology
  • Narrative Inquiry
  • Others

The Challenges for Qualitative

  • Developing a solid convincing argument that the
  • study contributes to theory, research, practice, and/or policy (the “so what?” question)
  • Planning a study that is systematic, manageable, and flexible(to reassure skeptics):– Justification of the selected qualitative method– Explicit details about design and methods, without limiting the project’s evolution – Attention to criteria for the overall soundness or rigor of the project

Questions a proposal must answer

  • Why should anyone be interested in my research?
  • Is the research design credible, achievable, and carefully explained?
  • Is the researcher capable of doing the research?

To answer these questions:

  • Be practical (practical problems can not easily be brushed off)
  • Be persuasive (“sell” your proposal)
  • Make broad links (hint at wider context)
  • Aim for crystal clarity (avoid jargon, assume nothing, explain everything)

Sections of Typical Qualitative

– Introduce topic and significance
– Statement of purpose, research questions/objectives
Review of Literature
– Related literature and theoretical traditionsDesign and Methods
– Overall approach and rationale
– Sampling, data gathering methods, data analysis
– Trustworthiness (Soundness of the research)
– Ethical considerations
Dissemination Plan

Introducing the Study – 1st para

Goal: capture interest in the study
– Focus on importance of study (Why bother
with the question?)
– Clear and concise (details will follow later)
– Synopsis of the primary target of the study
– Persuasive logic backed up with factual

The Problem/Research Question

  • The problem can be broad, but must be specific enough to convince others that it is worth focusing on.
  • Research questions clearly delineated (sometimes with sub-questions)
  • Scope of the research question(s) needs to be manageable within the time frame and context of the study.

Purpose of the Qualitative Study

  • Discovery?
  • Description?
  • Conceptualization (theory building)?
  • Sensitization?
  • Emancipatory?
  • Other?

Literature Review

  • Selective and persuasive – building a case for what is known or believed, what’s missing, and how the study fits in.
  • Literature is used to demonstrate openness to complexity of phenomenon, rather than funneling toward an a priori conceptualization.

Methods – challenges here

  • Quantitative designs are often more familiar to reviewers
  • Qualitative researchers have a different language

Methods section

Orientation to the Method:
– Description of the particular method that will
be used and its creators/interpreters
– Rationale for qualitative research generally
and for the specific method to be used.

Qualitative Studies are Valuable for

  • that delves in-depth into complexities and processes
  • on little-known phenomena or innovative systems
  • on informal and unstructured processes in organizations
  • that seeks to explore where and why policy and local knowledge and practice are at odds
  • on real, as opposed to stated, organizational goals
  • research that can not be done experimentally for practical or ethical reasons
  • for which relevant variables have not been identified


Purposive or theoretical sampling
– The purpose of the sampling
– Characteristics of potential types of persons, events or
processes to be sampled
– How decisions about sampling will be made.
Sample size
– Estimates provided based on previous experience,
pilot work, etc.
Access and recruitment

Data Collection and Analysis

  • Types: Individual interviews, participant observation, focus groups, personal and public documents, internet-based data, videos, etc. (all vary with different traditions)
  • Analysis methods vary depending on qualitative approach
  • Add DETAILS and MORE DETAILS about how data will be gathered and processed (procedures should be made public, not magical)

Data Management & Analysis

  • How will data be keep organized and retrievable?
  • How will data be “broken up” to see something new?
  • How will the researchers engage in reflexivity
  • (e.g., be self-analytical)?
  • Convinces the reader that the researcher is
  • sufficiently knowledgeable about qualitative
  • analysis and has necessary skills.

Trustworthiness (Soundness of the

Reflected throughout the proposal.
And address this specifically, using relevant
criteria for the qualitative approach used.
Examples of strategies used:
– Triangulation
– Prolonged contact with informants, including
continuous validation of data
– Continuous checking for representativeness of data
and fit between coding categories and data
– Use of expert consultants

Examples of Strategies for Limiting
Bias in Interpretations

  • Include plan to search for negative cases
  • Describe how analysis will include a purposeful examination of alternative explanations
  • Using members of the research team to critically question the analysis
  • Planning to conduct an audit of data collection and analytic strategies

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