RESEARCH PROPOSAL: Methods Section
Now that you have chosen a topic and chosen (and researched) a specific research question, your next task for the Research Proposal is to design an experiment (or quasi-experiment) to answer that research question! You will first draft a hypothesis to be tested in your experiment. Next, you will design your experiment and write up a Methods section. This new section is intended to follow up on your previous Introduction, Problem Statement and Goals assignment – you will certainly wish to review your previous work, particularly your research question, as a starting point for your experimental design.
You are strongly encouraged to review our readings and Biweekly Response feedback on experimental design, research questions and hypotheses before you begin, as well as other course materials. In particular, review these key concepts: experimental design; independent variable (IV) and dependent variable (DV), and the relationship between them; manipulation of the IV; experimental control (of extraneous and confounding variables); and hypothesis testing.
You will then write and submit a written paper in the style of the American Psychological Association (APA format). Your Methods section must be 2-4 pages in length and include in-text citations where appropriate (not including References and Appendix). Any content beyond 4 pages will not be considered when grading this section. There are four main steps for this project:
STEP 1: Forming a directional, causal experimental hypothesis
For this step, you will design a hypothesis to test your research question. This hypothesis should be experimental and directional, meaning you are comparing two conditions for some kind of difference…AND predicting that one condition should be higher/lower/etc. than the second condition. Your hypothesis should reflect one independent variable (IV) with 2 (or at most 3) levels, corresponding to experimental (treatment) and control condition(s). You will also choose one dependent variable (DV) as an outcome measure of your planned manipulation of the IV.
STEP 2: Elaborating and critiquing an (quasi) experimental design
Now that you have a testable hypothesis, it’s time to design your study! We begin with the design. As you design your manipulation, consider variables other than your IV (i.e., extraneous or confounding) that could also explain changes in the DV, as well as how to control for those variables in your design. You will also need to consider your participants – that is, what is your population of interest for your study? What materials will you need (e.g., physiological measurement devices, questionnaire, etc.)? What procedure will you use for both participant recruitment and data collection? (NOTE: you do not yet need to design your analytic strategy – that is, how you will evaluate your data – but we will come to this in the coming weeks.)
STEP 3: Draft of full Methods
You will then submit your final draft through the link in the Research Proposal – Methods link within the appropriate Weekly Assignment folder.
Sections of Your Research Proposal
Your proposal will be a full version of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) recommended structure, the model that is followed in most of the social sciences. Before writing your paper, be sure to thoroughly review the Grading Criteria/Rubric. This can also be used as a checklist as you draft your paper (you may also refer to the sample paper posted in Blackboard). Your paper should include the following sections:
After the Introduction comes the Methods section (2 – 4 pages) (no page break—just keep writing). This is where you describe the overall design of your study, recruited participants, the materials you used (e.g., scales), and finally a step-by-step procedure, like instructions on how someone else could repeat (or replicate) your design. Write Method as a subheading, centered. Each subsection of the Method should be a separate paragraph, starting with second-level subheadings (flush with the left margin) in bold font, including Participants, Materials, and Procedure. (See the sample paper for an example. Guidelines for Method section content:
Design. The first subsection of your Method should explain the overall design of your study (e.g., experimental, quasi-experimental), including your variables and their operational definitions, and especially your hypothesis (or hypotheses).
Participants. Next, provide some information on the population you will be sampling from, as well as details of your intended sample. For example, if you plan to recruit patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease you should clarify where you intend to recruit them (e.g., a hospital) and how you will obtain permissions, where appropriate.
Materials. Any experiment requires the preparation of materials in advance, such as informed consent forms, questionnaires/surveys, or other measurement equipment. Include sufficient information on these materials such that another researcher could replicate (i.e., repeat) what you are proposing to do. (You will also include any paper materials in a separate Appendix for tables and figures, although you do not need to complete these materials during this week.)
Procedure. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you will need to provide a step-by-step description of the procedure you plan to use. Consider the total research experience as it would actually occur in real life. Answer these questions: where will you and your research team go? How will you secure the voluntary consent of your participants to join your study? How will you assign participants to experimental (or control) groups? What is the order of activities participants will be involved in? How will you conclude the experiment (or quasi-experiment)? Think of this section like instructions on how someone else could repeat (or replicate) your design. (See the sample paper as a guide.)
The References section comes last (1-2 pages) and begins after a page break. Here you include the detailed references for each of the articles from professional journals that you referred to in your Introduction, Problem Statement and Goals and Methods sections (if applicable). Be sure to use the correct APA format for listing references, particularly if you made mistakes previously.
Last is the Appendix (1-2 pages). Here you will present any figures you believe will be helpful to the reader. Not sure you need a particular figure? A general rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “does this figure enhance the reader’s understanding? Do I really need it?” If your answer to these questions is “no,” then you don’t need a figure! Each figure must include its own title in the following style: “Figure 1. Data collection worksheet.” At minimum, you will need to include your informed consent form as a figure (see Blackboard for template document that you can customize). Other figures might include visual representations of the experimental design and/or materials.
Revising and Proofreading your Paper
Finished drafting your paper? Great! But you’re not done yet!
Revision. The next crucial step in the writing process is revision. Be aware of the following signs that revisions are needed:
You have to read through a passage multiple times before understanding the meaning
You feel compelled to read through a passage quickly to “get it over with”
Something about a passage doesn’t feel quite right
You feel like you made the same argument at another point in the paper
The conclusion doesn’t seem connected to the paper
A paragraph seems to “come out of nowhere”
If you encounter any of the above situations, it’s time to revise!
Proofreading. Some students confuse revision with proofreading. What’s the difference? Generally, a “proof” is a final version of the paper (after you have revised it, perhaps multiple times!). Proofreading is the final step in the paper writing process when you check for grammatical and spelling errors. As most of you know, MS Word and most other word processing programs have grammar and spellcheck tools built-in—make sure to use them! This is also the final stage where you should check that you are meeting all APA formatting guidelines for paper structure (including headings), in-text citations, and full references.
General Tips and Suggestions
Start early! You can certainly get a head start on Step 2 (the paper) before you’ve selected a Problem Statement! For example, you can draft the Introduction as you review the literature. Remember to give yourself enough time to revise and proofread!
Title page. Your title should be centered at the top of the page. The title should be no more than 10-12 words long and be as concise as possible. Do not include phrases such as “A Study of…” or “A Final Project that Investigates…” Also, avoid “cute” titles, e.g. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” For example, a literature review that looked at research on flavors of lollipops kindergartners prefer might be called “A Review of Lollipop Flavor Preference Patterns in Five-Year-Olds.” Finally, avoid colorful or extra large fonts and images—keep it simple, clean and professional by using Times New Roman 12-point font throughout.
Introduction. Don’t use a section header—just repeat the title. In the first paragraph you should state the purpose of your research project in the form of a thesis statement. The rest of this section should include several paragraphs critically summarizing and organizing into meaningful categories each of the peer-reviewed, empirical articles that you found that relate to your chosen topic. (See the library resources on what counts as “peer-reviewed” research, as well as Step 2 above.)
In-text citations. You should include at least three (3) peer-reviewed, empirical sources accompanied by APA formatted in-text citations where appropriate. In-text citations need not accompany every sentence you write—but they should accompany each passage of your paper pertaining to a cited source so that the reader knows these are not your original ideas. Formatting your in-text citations depends on how many authors there are and how many times you cite a given study (Table 1).
Be concise. In research reports, clarity and brevity are valued (another good word for this is “parsimony”). Only include details that are important to the reader in understanding the major concepts of your review. This also means avoiding long direct quotes from the original sources. Instead, briefly and succinctly summarize only the key concepts/ideas relevant to your paper.
Be precise and objective. Invest time in finding the right words and phrases to use in reviewing the literature. Don’t insert your own reaction to the previous studies. For example, “I was really surprised to find out that…” is not appropriate. Remember: this is not an opinion piece, but a formal proposal to conduct research!
Emphasis. Don’t use underlining or italics! Although previous versions of APA format did make use of some of these features, current guidelines (APA Publication Manual, 6th edition) require you to only use bold font, and only for section and subsection headings.
Style. You may refer to yourself in your paper in the first person (i.e., “I”). You may have learned previously that using “I” should be avoided; however, current APA guidelines allow for first person pronouns when appropriate. You should minimize use of “I” when possible, however—use it only when it is important to reference that some concept or idea, or some previous research, is directly related to you. (This does NOT include personal or unsupported opinions, which should be avoided.)
Utilize teamwork! Not sure if the argument or structure of your paper is clear or understandable? Try asking a classmate to look over your outline or draft for feedback. If you have specific questions, you should also contact your professor (although please do not send complete working drafts for evaluation).