Research Proposal Instructions
Important note! The initial rough draft does NOT mean it can be an incomplete draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect but should include all of the required elements outlined below.
This project requires you to carry a scientific question to the next step. The goal of a research proposal is to present and justify the need to study a research problem and to present the practical ways in which the proposed study should be conducted.
In this assignment you will conduct a personal review of a topic and transform your work into a research proposal outlining a scientific idea related to behavioral ecology that you will generate yourself based on background research you’ve done. It can be on ANY research topic of your choice (so long as it has to do with behavioral ecology).
Coming up with original ideas is very challenging and takes a lot of practice! Keep this in mind when you’re approaching this project and do not be discouraged. If you’re having trouble generating ideas, spend more time reading articles and please talk to us! As a friendly reminder this is a PROPOSAL so you will not be carrying it out. Pretend you are writing up a project that you want to apply for funding for! Someone should read this and be interested in funding your work.
Regardless of the research problem you are investigating and the methodology you choose, all research proposals must address the following questions:
What do you plan to accomplish? Be clear and succinct in defining the research problem and what it is you are proposing to research.
Why do you want to do it? In addition to detailing your research design, you also must conduct a review of the literature and provide convincing evidence that it is a topic worthy of study. Be sure to answer the “So What?” question.
How are you going to do it? Be sure that what you propose is doable. If you’re having trouble formulating a research problem to propose investigating talk to us! There will also be opportunity to share ideas and get peer review in class.
NOTE: Delving into the literature will come in handy! Think back to the paper you read week 1:
Use it as a template. Look at how the authors organized and structured their introduction, methods, and what kinds of benefits they describe in their conclusions. Please remember that if you copy it verbatim, that is plagiarism! Unless absolutely necessary, please do not put sentences in quotation marks.
Look at papers cited in the references of a topic you may be interested in, and see if you find other interesting/inspirational research papers to help you develop an understanding of the background of your topic. Many of those papers will likely be useful to cite in your proposal.
Proposal Format – grant proposal of ~3 pages (1,500 words)
The proposal should be approximately 1500 words in length (include page numbers please!) and should have a well thought-out title. It may contain diagrams or images as appropriate (images do not count towards page limit). It should divided into sections with the following sub-headers:
Your introduction should be designed to interest your reader in your topic and proposal and provide some context for your project. At the end of your introduction, include a hypothesis to clearly state your intentions (i.e., “In this project, I will…” or “This research project will investigate …”). A good formula for an introduction is:
Proposed argument or research question.
An introduction that convinces your readers that what you propose is important and interesting. It should start from the general and move to the particular, and it should make explicit connections to ideas and results widely recognized as important.
2. Proposed methods
In this section, you should discuss the methods you will use to conduct your research. This is also the section in which you might troubleshoot the research project, or weigh the benefits and drawbacks of certain types of sources. Make sure your reader understands how the methodology/sources you have chosen are appropriate to your specific topic. *This would be a good section to refer to other scientific literature as a good model.
In your conclusion, address the “So What?” of this research. That is, why does what you are investigating matter as more than an academic exercise? Why should your audience want to read it? Why does it matter?
4. Works cited
You are required to cite at least 4 sources from the primary literature. This means you’ll also need to have a works cited at the end of the proposal, with the citations in APA format. Any parenthetical citations in the text itself should also follow APA guidelines.
IMPORTANT Notes about the proposal:
This is a research proposal not a research paper!
I know many of you have never written something like this before, so it’s a bit tricky to figure out. I want you to think of it like this: You are writing to say there is a study you want to do and here’s how you want to do it. Essentially you are saying “here’s what I want to know, and here’s how I can figure it out!” Your job is to convince the reader that you have done enough background work to actually know that you CAN answer this question.
Use the introduction section to give enough background on the topic so that the reader can understand your question/hypothesis. Then use the proposed methods section to convince the reader that it is a question that can be answered by describing the methods you would use. Also in this section you can let the reader know what kind of patterns you would expect to confirm/refute your hypothesis:
e.g. “If we observed that shell thickness increased in the presence of predator cues (without actual predation), then we would conclude that there shell thickness is a plastic trait and snails can adjust thickness over their lifetime.”
Then in the conclusion section describe why this is a worthwhile question to find the answer to. Why should I give you money to do this research??
Common issues & helpful hints:
You won’t have results to discuss… you’ll only get to do the research if the reader decides to fund it! However, you should say what kind of evidence would confirm/refute your hypothesis (see example above).
Most common issue: your question is TOO BIG!
It’s very difficult to write a proposal wanting to research if genetic drift is stronger than selection… It’s much easier to write a proposal examining the relative effects of drift vs selection in the prairie chicken in southern Illinois. Get more specific- either with your question or your system.
You don’t have to invent your own methods from scratch!
I strongly suggest that you look at a research article (not a review article) with a similar question (maybe they looked at something related to founder effects in species A, and you want to ask the same question about species B) and use their intro/methods to get ideas for your intro/methods. How did they set-up the question? What was their hypothesis? What methods did they use?
If you want to look at mtDNA, you can cite a paper that has published methods on how to do it, and describe how you would use those same methods (in your own words, of course!) for your research question. You don’t have to come up with a brand new technique for sequencing mtDNA!
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