SHGM38 - Anatomy of a research proposal assignment

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SHGM38 - Anatomy of a research proposal assignment

This guide is not intended to be a prescriptive list, but to give some tips you may wish to consider as part of developing your proposal for the SHGM38 assignment

What are we looking for in your proposal? 

The reason why we ask you to produce a research proposal for your assignment in this module is to assess whether the learning outcomes for this module are met. This is achieved through your presentation of your understanding and application of the research process you will undertake to address the research question you have set out to answer.

In a nutshell, the research proposal is your opportunity to tell us the following:

  1. Why this is an important/relevant area to ‘research’ in your area (e.g., related to your chosen programme, such as a public health issue of concern) (context/background)?
  2. What is ‘known’ about the topic at present, i.e., what other research has been undertaken, what are the strengths/ what are the weaknesses (literature review)?
  3. What is the research question (or aim/objectives)?
  4. What is the plan (methodology/ethics)?
  5. What will you do to ensure that people have confidence in the research (reliability/validity)?
  6. What    have   you    read    and    referenced   to   support    your   research    proposal (references/bibliography)?

The marker has to ensure you have written clearly, comprehensively (e.g., covered all the ‘basics’ expected in a proposal) and convincingly to have the confidence that your proposal will be scientifically good enough and importantly ethically ‘sound’ to potentially* submit for ethical approval and then carry out the studyYour marker wants you to do well (!) so help us out here - do not make it difficult by writing a proposal which is hard to follow, does not flow well and/or is missing bits of essential information.

The 4Cs of a Coherent Research Proposal.

SHGM38 - Anatomy of a research proposal assignment


Can the marker easily read your proposal?

Is the proposal presented in clear and accessible language, that a non-expert in the topic (but experience in designing, conducting and evaluating research) could understand what, where why and how of what you intend to do.

This does not mean complicated language - a good proposal is simple, straightforward and succinct - in essence you tell a good ‘academic’ story about what your research will be about.


Can the marker follow your research story from start to finish? Have you covered all the key sections that are expected in your proposal (see the information on CANVAS about the proposal headings).


Can you convince the marker this is a proposal ‘worthy’ of MSc level?

Is there enough information for the reader to follow that you have provided a good case (rationale) for undertaking the research question/aim AND your chosen approach to answering it (Methods)


Can your makers be confident that this proposal will result in a good study?

Does it meet the criteria for an MSc level assignment and provide sufficient foundation to potentially conduct the proposed study? SHGM38 - Anatomy of a research proposal assignment

- these are two key questions your marker is trying to answer in awarding you the mark and providing feedback.

*Not all proposal will turn into MSc dissertations, but you should still produce a proposal that potentially/theoretically form the basis of a future dissertation. So, if you are planning to undertake interviews (for example), then ensure it takes into account potential issues about recruitment and access. SHGM38 - Anatomy of a research proposal assignment. Your proposal must demonstrate it could (potentially) translate into the design, conduct and analysis of an actual research project.

Do not neglect the basic foundations of your research proposal!

Many proposals loose marks because they have not covered the basics of content, structure and format. Research proposals in real-life (e.g., funding applications) often have a fixed structure and word limit and good attention to editing is expected – this is why we have given you strong guidance on what headings to include.

Remember the basics:

Use the structure we have provided. We have done this to make it easier for you

  • Arm yourself with a basic research textbook and the lecture materials - they are there to guide you.

  • Keep to the word limit - the success here is to get across complex material succinctly

- there is only so much a marker can do if they simply cannot follow your argument- this is about clear academic writing style. Do not use words/phrases you don’t understand as it will come across in your writing.

  • Keep focused – this is not asking for a regurgitation of what you know about research and the research process – that will be shown through applying your knowledge and understanding in presenting and choosing the methods that best answer your research question.
  • Ensure your proposal is fully referenced and we expect to see expansion in your reading and application beyond the lectures.
  • Ensure you write in an appropriate academic style, considering structure, flow and language.

Every research proposal is a little different because they ask different questions and/or use different methods, but there are some very common ingredients to ‘baking’ a good research proposal. SHGM38 - Anatomy of a research proposal assignment

Title: SHGM38 - Anatomy of a research proposal assignment

The basic requirements of a title are that it reflects the ‘main’ focus of the proposal presented

- try to avoid being too ‘clever’ and/or ‘creative’ in making your title.

Does your title say what is in the tin (proposal) such as the population, question and main study method (and outcomes) to be covered?

Your title may be better developed once you have drafted the main content so you can ensure that in (about 10-15 words) it tells the marker what the proposal will be about.

Common mistakes made are:

  • The title doesn’t reflect what the proposal is about e.g. it states a survey questionnaire yet the data collection approach is interviews.
  • It tries to be catchy rather than reflect content.
  • It is too long –can you read it quickly without pausing – if not, neither can the marker.

Background/Justification to the research

This is where you ‘hook’ in the marker into the case/rationale for the research. Have an introductory statement or two where you set out the problem to be addressed - very much like you would in a usual ‘assignment’. Be clear on defining what your problem is and ensure it becomes clear what the focus is. SHGM38 - Anatomy of a research proposal assignment

What is the context? e.g., is there a particular policy or practice context which your research ‘sits’ within? You may want to bring in a particular theory to underpin your research (e.g., in a public health or health promotion intervention something like behaviour change may be relevant). Is the focus going to be on a specific population or setting?

This is about providing your maker with a sufficient orientation (location) to what the proposal will be about. Like a good plot line to a story - you give enough detail to get your audience to want to read more!

Literature review

The literature review is NOT a repetition of your background. This is where you need to demonstrate your understanding of the current research (evidence) base related to your (focused) question/aim AND your summary (critical evaluation) of the current evidence base which demonstrates a clear link to your research question/aim.

Previous assignments have required critical appraisal and evaluation skills and so you should be practiced in understanding and applying these skills to this section of your proposal.

Think about:

A short summary (no more than a few lines) of how you chose the evidence to provide a thorough review- it is not expected to be a full systematic review but it should not just be a quick summary of general points with just one or two references. Try and pull out the most up- to date and relevant evidence on your topic. This could be a combination of systematic review and and/or individual studies.

Is there is not a lot of literature out there then you can say so. You may need to look at ‘related’ research in a similar population. This is where you may then decide to take a very inductive or exploratory approach to your research question and methods simply because there isn’t much evidence out there, but you need to convince the marker this is the case. SHGM38 - Anatomy of a research proposal assignment This is why we encourage you to choose a topic where there is at least ‘some’ evidence base to review. 

Try and draw out the key points e.g., what evidence is there relevant to your research question

– do not provide a description/paraphrase of ‘this study said this and that study said that’.

Synthesise (pull together) the main arguments.

Alongside this, critically review the evidence in terms of strength/weaknesses and what ‘gaps’ are there - and this can then enable the reader to follow how your research proposal will try and plug one of these gaps.

Be like Goldilocks - not too much, not too little - just enough to demonstrate this important area of your proposal, but not that it becomes so ‘large’ it does not leave you enough room to write the rest of the proposal.

Research question AND/OR Aim and Objectives

We don’t mind how you write these (see lecture 2) but please make sure it is clear and explicit that they are there!

Too many times we see proposals without any questions or aim/objectives. Another classic ‘mistake’ is muddling up questions/objectives which do not connect. SHGM38 - Anatomy of a research proposal assignment. You can put them between your background and literature review OR after your literature review, but make sure they are before your detailed account of your methods.

They need to:

  • Connect with the case for the research built up in the background/review.
  • Use clear terminology which then follow into the choice of study design!
  • Give clear purpose to the research (e.g., the aim and main question) followed by questions/objectives that let you achieve the purpose/aim- all of which connect to each other 
  • Be limited - as a rule of thumb no more than 3-4 questions/objectives will be expected.
  • Written clearly and concisely - spending time on getting the research questions right is really important as these ‘frame’ the rest of the proposal.

Methods Research Design

This is where you need to go back to the lectures/textbook and wider reading. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Use tried and tested (and simple) approaches. Look at the most appropriate methodology/approach to address your question. SHGM38 - Anatomy of a research proposal assignment. Make sure this is coherent and well connected. We unfortunately read proposals where the question suggests ‘quantitative methodology’ yet the proposal details ‘qualitative’.

You can choose mixed methods but be aware this is much more complex to write well in balancing the detail and connection in answering your question/aim. You can use mixed methods if you wish, but we will be expecting this to be a well organised and coherent explanation of all your chosen methods.

A good paragraph here makes all the difference to the marker - having confidence you will now describe in detail because of the fit/connection between your question/aim and detailed account of the research process. 

Sample and gaining access

This section has two parts.

First you need to set out your sampling approach (e.g., convenience, purposive, random) with a little explanation as to what this will mean. You should be clear on the population you will sample from and how the sample will be selected e.g., you may set out specific inclusion/exclusion criteria. You should provide a reasonable account of your sample size RELEVANT to your chosen methodology/approach.

Second is your plan to access and recruit your sample. You need to ‘walk’ the marker through the practical issues in how you will get access to your study setting, how you will then seek out your population and assess as eligible and then how they will be recruited e.g., through a gatekeeper. This section will link in with your ethics/governance section, but do not repeat information between these two.

Ethical considerations and research governance.

Again, this is a two-part section (or good size paragraphs).

Section 1 needs to clearly detail the ethical considerations for your research. All research has ethical considerations. The extent to which depends on the topic, population/setting, methods used

Ensure you cover all the main aspects to make sure you provide a convincing case that you understand these issues and importantly, how you will manage these in your research process (e.g., confidentiality, data protection).

Section 2 should detail the approval processes you need to follow as relevant to your area/setting. Only publicly accessible data (e.g., national statistics which are readily available on-line) will typically not need formal ethical approval. Others will need appropriate approvals- see your lecture for more detail. Research governance may have formal requirements (e.g., research conducted in UK NHS), but again, if you are accessing data/sites you must detail how you will obtain permission to do so.

Data collection and approach to analysis

Again, a two- part section!

Data collection – think of this as another careful walk through what you will do. It seems like stating the obvious and it is exactly that!

Can the marker follow exactly what you will do to collect the data you need to address your question/aim?


  1. What data will you collect (e.g., any outcomes, experiences) which reflect your question/objective?
  2. How will you collect them (e.g., what is your data collection tool such as a questionnaire or interview schedule)?
  • Will this be done face-face or on-line or other way of obtaining the data?
  1. Who will you collect data on? –related to your sample but ensure its clear who you will collect data about.
  2. When will you collect data (e.g., if your study is a cross sectional design it is usually once; if longitudinal a few times) - is there specific timeframes when you will collect data?
  3. Why have you chosen these data collection approaches e.g., are you using a questionnaire used in a previous study/ if you are using an interview schedule how have you chosen your topics/questions to ask? (hint- you can put a copy of your proposed questionnaire/interview schedule in an appendix). SHGM38 - Anatomy of a research proposal assignment

Data analysis

It is as important to tell the marker what you will do with the data once collected because this tells the marker how you will apply your knowledge of your chosen methodology/approach through describing the analysis to be done.

A common limitation is very limited information is given to the analysis section OR the analysis proposed does not connect with the question/aim and method described.

Do include a statement on how you intend to manage your data e.g.,

- will you transcribe interviews?

- will you choose a particular statistical package to help organise and analyse your quantitative data?

Please refer to your lectures on data analysis relevant to your research method

We advise keeping it simple and follow a previously reported analysis approach (e.g., Braun and Clark for thematic analysis) or common pathway for statistical analysis (e.g., description of variables before further exploration/testing). If you are taking a mixed method approach you need to explain the analysis for all components (e.g. questionnaire + interviews).

Reliability/Validity and Trustworthiness: SHGM38 - Anatomy of a research proposal assignment

Refer to the lecture and ensure your section on ‘rigour’ reflects the method chosen (e.g., whether quantitative or qualitative). Look at the key categories and explain how your methods will demonstrate each category e.g., reliability or dependability.

Strength and limitations

No research is perfect. There are methodological and practical issues in all. At MSc level we do not expect a randomised controlled trial to be undertaken across the UK (or elsewhere) so it is absolutely fine to state that you have perhaps chosen a convenience sample or chosen to undertake limited interviews because of time/resources etc.

The marker is expecting you to consider (reflect) on what you see are the strengths of your proposal (e.g., it is a study done in a population which has not been considered in the literature) and limitations (e.g., a convenience sample).

These last two sections only need to be a paragraph or two. But they should provide a balanced ‘critique’ from you on what you have done to ensure the study will be of good quality whilst also recognising the limitations of what you propose to do.


Here, you need to present a simple table setting out the key milestones e.g., parts of the research journey such as obtaining ethical approval, getting access, recruitment, data collection, analysis and writing up. You should put this against the time you have (e.g., if full- time student you should reflect the time you will have to complete the dissertation). This is a very useful part of the proposal as it will indicate to you (and the marker) whether you can practically undertake the research in the time allowed.


This needs to be a short summary explaining what your proposal intends to do (e.g., the main question/aim and methods) and what outcomes will be expected e.g., to provide evidence to inform a particular area of policy, practice or education or further research. Try and explain what difference you expect this research proposal could make if the study was undertaken.


The proposal (assignment) needs to be referenced in the same way as any other assignment using the standard APA format. The marker will be looking to see that you have gone beyond the lecture material, using appropriate texts (often relevant to your chosen methods). 

SHGM38 - Anatomy of a research proposal assignment

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