Developing Research Proposal

Developing a Research ProposalHaving decided to pursue a research study, the researcher needs to develop a written plan or protocol as a guide for the study. Such a plan is called a research proposal (RP). A research proposal is an individual’s or research firm’s formal offer to produce a product or render a service to a client in response to a request from the client.

A proposal is also known as a work-plan, prospectus, outline, and statement of intent. It is an agreement between a client and a researcher.

When you are writing a research proposal, keep it in mind that it will enter a competition, being read in line with quite a few other proposals. You have to come up with a document that has an impact on the reader.

It is, therefore, vital that you write your proposal clearly and well structured so that your message gets across quickly. Your proposal must include an explanation of the purpose of the study and the definition of the problem.

It will systematically outline the particular research methodology and detail the procedures that will be followed at each stage of the research process.

Note that a good proposal must communicate with us:

  • Why is it important to know what you are proposing to research?
  • What information will be obtained to meet your objectives?
  • Where will it be obtained?
  • How will it be obtained?
  • Why will it be obtained?
  • What contribution is it going to make?

Because a research proposal is an outlined plan submitted to a client for consideration, it allows the client to assess your seriousness, sincerity, adequacy of your proposed design, the extent of your background information, your competence, and commitment in undertaking the study.

The proposal should have sufficient information to convince your readers that you have an important research idea, that you have a good grasp of the relevant literature, and the major issues and that your methodology is sound.

A poorly written or poorly organized proposal damages the researcher’s reputation. Generally, a research proposal should contain all the critical elements involved in the research process and include sufficient information for the readers to evaluate the proposed study.

In writing a good proposal, one needs to follow a step by step process. Even after writing a good proposal, it could take as long as a year to procure funds. And even a perfectly written proposal might be rejected for any number of reasons.

A research proposal is of two types: internal and external.

The experienced staff or the research department of a company generates an internal proposal to suit their needs. An external proposal is either solicited or unsolicited. A solicited proposal is often made in response to a ‘request for proposal (RFP).’

Such a proposal is likely to compete against several others for a contract or grant. An unsolicited proposal is a suggestion by a contract researcher for research that might be done. Such a proposal has the advantage of not competing against others.

For most outside contracts, proposals are usually submitted in response to a request for bid, or an RFP.

An RFP is a formal document issued by a corporate research department, a decision-maker, or some other sponsor to solicit services from researchers.

Proposals are prepared by the terms of reference (TOR) provided by the client or sponsor and included in the RFP. It becomes almost an obligation on the part of the bidder to follow this TOR in the preparation of the proposal.

Non- compliance with the specification as outlined in the TOR may lead to automatically disqualifying the proposal. If, however, the researcher can demonstrate a superior understanding of the problem and can convince the sponsor that their knowledge will be beneficial to the study, the conditions laid down in the TOR may be revised accordingly.

If the sponsor finally agrees with the proposal after reviewing, it is accepted and approved for execution.

Expression of Interest (EOI)

In most instances, clients request the researchers or research firms to express if they are interested in submitting a formal proposal on pre-selected topics or packages.

This is what we call Expression of Interest or in short EOI. The broad aim of this EOI is to identify a researcher or a research firm capable of doing the job through an evaluation process following the government procurement rule.

The qualified researchers or research firms are then asked to submit their formal proposals in response to a call for RFP adhering to the TOR. An example of an EOI, adapted from NIPORT, is provided here as an illustration.

Evaluation of the EOIs

The following guidelines were followed to evaluate the EOIs and hence the firm or consultant. In preparing the guidelines, the World Bank’s guidelines Employment of Consultants by World Bank Borrowers, May 2004 were used.

Particulars of the ConsultantRequirements/ CriteriaRating scores*
Age of theConsultant’s or firm’s• < 5 years=Poor
consultant (firm)experience (in years) of such works

•     5-10years=Good

•      10-15 years=Very good

•     > 15 years=Excellent

Availability ofList of management• <2 persons=Poor
key professionaland key personnel with• 2-3 persons=Good
staff (firm)their experience and qualification

•  4-5 persons=Very good

•  > 5 persons=Excellent

Turnover of the consultant (firm)Total transaction

•     <2 Crore=Poor

•     2-3 Crore=Good

•     4-5 Crore=Very good

•     > 5 Crore=Excellent

Experience of theExperience of the• < 3 =Poor
consultant (firm)consultant or firm in• 3-6 =Good
in similar fieldsimilar activities (Number of such projects undertaken)

•     7-10=Very good

•     >10 =Excellent

Support servicesHuman resources,• Poor
of the consultantoffice space, training• Good
(firm)facilities, bank solvency, equipment

•    Very good

•    Excellent

Overall rating Remarks (if any)
*The criteria and the rating scores may vary based on the nature of the study.

As you see, the EOI is a type of pre-proposal designed to make a self-­evaluation of the respective consultant or firm. If the consultants or firms are confident in their assessment that they are capable of undertaking the job, they might submit the EOI for evaluation by the sponsor.

We are now providing below a sample RFP and the corresponding TOR in part as prepared by the National Institute of Population Research and Training (NIPORT) in their recent advertisement of contracting out a few research studies.

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