How to write the perfect and compelling research proposal by Fariba Bannerman

Research…is an ancient and ubiquitous activity. Curiosity about others and the worlds in which they live has always been displayed through conversation, asking questions, working together to see what happens after different kinds of actions are performed, talking or gossiping about others to tease out intentions and other reasons for behaviour, clarifying and understanding circumstances; all are fundamental research functions.[1]

I recently attended an event on ‘Writing Research Proposals’ organised by CILIP Library Information Research Group (LIRG) in Manchester.

This session was led by Professor Alison Brettle and Dr Roy Vickers from Salford University as well as Mark Burgess; subject Librarian from Manchester Metropolitan University.

The following reflect my key learnings and take away messages from this workshop in addition to some information which I have gathered through further reading.

It is widely known that there is no solid template for a research proposal. The reason for writing one is to get approval for a project such as a thesis or seeking funding outlining how one should undertake the project. It could also be asking for feedback to refine an idea. The audience or recipient of a proposal usually is a committee who will make a decision or provide feedback, looking for the following within the submission:

  • A well-developed outline with a clear focus
  • Background reading, thorough and up-to-date
  • Realistic scope within available time
  • Sponsorship requirements which meet obligations and standards
  • Originality, being special, different and challenging
  • Appropriateness of methods
  • Costs and expense – funding
  • Health and safety
  • Ethics, confidentiality, anonymity

Finding examples of previously accepted research proposals is always a good point to start. Examine them for format and style. Probably most importantly, first of all you need to check that your research idea is novel and you are not reinventing the wheel and your work will make a new and valuable contribution, using this as a justification for your proposed project.

Check that your research idea is original. You will need to scan the current and ongoing unpublished (invisible) research.  If a similar research exists you need to prove that you can carry out the research with more up-to-date and efficient methodology and techniques, expecting to find something new.

The following databases are good places to perform your investigation:

ClinicalTrials.gov: A registry and results database of publicly and privately supported clinical studies of human participants conducted around the world.

World Health Organisation international clinical trials registry platform search portal: The Clinical Trials Search Portal provides access to a central database containing the trial registration data sets provided by the registries such as EU-CTR. (http://apps.who.int/trialsearch/)

ISRCTN: A primary clinical trial registry recognised by WHO and ICMJE that accepts all clinical research studies. (https://www.isrctn.com/)

NIHR-HTA: A database providing free access to bibliographic information about ongoing and published health technology assessments commissioned or undertaken by members of INAHTA and other HTA organisations from around the world.

PubMed: Open access search of Medline.

Cochrane library: A collection of databases in medicine and other healthcare specialties provided by Cochrane and other organisations.

It is worthy of note the major differences between a proposal and a published research paper are that a proposal is written in future tense because it has not been conducted and it does not include analysed data, discussion and recommendations which the research paper would contain.

 

Components – What to include

Title: Short yet descriptive enough to capture the essence of what your study is about, capturing the attention of the readers.

Introduction:  Acts like a trailer for your research. It identifies key issues, placing your project within wider context and establishes relevance and timeliness by drawing on existing literature. It consists of problem statement, justifying the novelty and importance of your question, the focus and concern in your study. You need to demonstrate there is a significant question to address and why answering this question should matter and what contribution you research will make.

Another important element of introduction is the hypothesis, stating what you think the answer to the question would be, by building a robust rationale for the hypothesis by presenting reasons for the hypothesis based on previous similar (not exact) research.

Aims and Objectives:

Aim – What you are going to do

Objectives – How you are going to achieve your aim

Literature review:

The current body of knowledge regarding your research question, what is known about it in general, providing context to your current study. The literature review consists of the research related to your topic including all sides of the argument, addressing the gap in the literature.  Here you will synthesise the literature that you have found in order to position your research question relative to the knowledge base and how it fits with wider body of knowledge demonstrating your thinking and understanding about the topic.

Methodology:

This section is about what you will do and why.

Discussing the appropriateness and feasibility of your project as well as touching down on limitations and its design, explaining how you do your research and which methods you will utilise, including your data collection process (who, what, when and where), whether it is qualitative or quantitative or a mixed method of research and produce a short philosophical reflection as why you have chosen one particular method –

  • Population or Samples (who you wish to take part in the study, how you are planning to recruit them, gender, age, ethnicity etc.)
  • Procedure or investigative techniques – what the sample will be doing, providing enough details
  • Materials / measures / instruments: such as questionnaires, puzzles, images
  • Methods to avoid biases
  • Data analysis: What data /tests will be used. What your plan is. How are you going to analyse your data

Ethical considerations:

Discuss ethical issues, especially if humans or animals are involved in your study. Ethical issues need to be considered at all stages of your proposal. From the beginning, obtaining an informed consent during data gathering, maintaining anonymity, confidentiality and accuracy leading to a reliable writing up and dissemination.

Discussion:

Include indicative outputs / outcomes.  Restate the hypothesis – what limitations might affect the conclusions in your project, potential implications of results and applied implications. Also you will mention how you will disseminate your findings and to whom, whether it is for internal or external audience. Is it going to be published in academic journals / newsletters / blogs/ or presented in a conference.

Timetable:

Using a Gantt chart you can make the key milestones and deliverables in your project easier to be visualised for yourself and the funder.

Resources required / Statement of Costs:

In this section you will outline the amount of funding and resources which you will require to carry out your research project. To draw up a realistic estimate you need to consider whether you will be recruiting staff or what equipment you will need. Does your project involve travelling? Does it require computing facilities? Try to read the guidelines and make yourself aware of the internal procedures in advance.

And finally, take a look at top reasons why we need research or what it can do for us:

To Describe > Explore > Examine Situations, Issues

To Explain > Understanding > To Provide Logic, Sense

To Categorise > Classify > Typologies

To Evaluate > Judgement > Measure

To Compare > Finding differences and Similarities

To Correlate > Influence and Relationship

To Predict > Future Trends and Patterns

To Control and Experiment > Cause and Effect

To Test Hypothesis / Theories

To Create Change and Making Policies

Fariba Bannermanx
LIBRARIAN, ALDER HEY CHILDREN’S NHS FOUNDATION TRUST

[1] Emery, M. (1986) Introduction. In M. Emery (ed.) Qualitative Research, Canberra: Australian Association for Adult Education.

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LIHNN Library Managers Meeting – 14 March

The LIHNN Library Managers Meeting took place in Warrington on the 14 March 2017.

The morning session was a training session on how to make the best use of the Knowledge for Healthcare Talent Management Toolkit run by Debra Thornton and Lisa McLaren.

The afternoon session consisted of talks from David Stewart on Knowledge for Healthcare = Business as usual and Making STPs real for library services by Tracy Bullock, Chief Executive of Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS FT (no slides available).

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Big Day Out Up North on the 10 March 2017

This event was open to all members of the Northern Healthcare networks. Held at the National Railway Museum in York it aimed to give LKS staff time away from the day job to share experiences of using social media, running training sessions, promoting services and any other part of their job which they would like to share or would welcome advice on. The programme for the day is below along with links to presentations where they are available.

Joined Up CILIP, health and the wider profession – Jo Cornish

Adding Trust procedures and policies to the Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Procedures – Janet Oliver

PHRC Offer – Rebecca Vaananen and Grace Kelly

Ten Minutes Sessions

  • Let Them Eat Cake – LQAF Thursdays and the power of cake! – Kieran Lamb

Feedback

“Overall, attending the event has given me confidence to try out new things in my workplace and to think creatively about how I can problem solve in the library. It has made me think whether I do, or will do, anything that I could share at the next BDO.”

“I will definitely be introducing some of the productivity tools that Laura Drummond spoke about. I might try and adapt LQAF Thursdays too (all that cake in a two-person library might not be a good idea!) “

“Incorporate some of the ideas suggested by Dave Ashbey with handouts/guides for e-resources. Read March’s blog for A Million Decisions, as suggested by Jo Cornish. Look at the Learning Zone on the CILIP website”

“Hearing about the CILIP workforce mapping was useful. It was also nice to hear about projects from the other North regions like the eResources guides being developed and the dementia sessions. I also met a colleague who had just started working in the same building for a different part of the NHS – this will be a uesful link in the future “

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Manchester ramblings by Helen Kiely

On Tuesday morning I hot-footed up to the train station and hopped on the train to Manchester to attend the CILIP NW members day and AGM entitled ‘Exploring the World of Publishing.’ It was my first time attending a CILIP NW event so I was a little concerned I would a. not know anyone and b. get totally lost. Luckily I was proved wrong on both counts and was lucky enough to run into several people from the network.

At the welcome Michael Cook said that the best thing about the CILIP NW meetings is that you always go away having learned something totally new- knowing very little about publishing I knew that this would definitely be the case for me!

The keynote speaker kicking off the day was Kate Arnold current CILIP President who took us though several topics including the work CILIP is doing in line with the CILIP Action Plan 2016-2020 from advocacy (#amilliondecisisions etcetera) to the changes in membership fees. She reminded everyone that these would be voted on at the CILIP Extraordinary General Meeting on 23rd March in London, and reminded everyone who wouldn’t be able to attend to make sure they cast their vote via proxy- more details are available here: https://www.cilip.org.uk/egm17 .

I was particularly interested when she discussed the future of library and information professionals, both in terms of who/what types of professionals come under CILIPs remit of membership and also in relation to the Open Access movement. She noted that for many academic publishers the writing is on the wall, as it were, and the future of academic articles is likely to be a continuing trend towards Open Access publishing. Academics, of course, generally gain nothing from their work being behind a paywall where others cannot access it which in turn affects both the impact of their work and contributions upon the wider community. It is important to for the impact this will have on library services in terms of accessing, supplying and researching information.

At the same time, she noted that whilst it becomes increasingly easy for people to publish directly online, bypassing publishers entirely, there is still a need both for peer review in the sense of academic articles, and a role for library and information service staff today- including ensuring any produce work is indexed and tagged to ensure it is searchable. She highlighted that some publishers are now advertising meta-data tagging as part of a package of things they can do for article producers (with the likely eventual aim of charging an additional fee to do this) whilst said writers are not aware that they already have access to that expertise within their own institutions as part of their library services.

The next speaker of the day was Maria Grant, Editor of Health Information and Libraries Journal who gave another very interesting view into the world of writing for publication with many useful tips to those who struggle to focus on what they want to write and to those who want to develop experience in writing for academic publication. Some recommendations included:

  • Keep an ‘ideas diary’ wherever you go and jot down ideas for papers as they come
  • When deciding which paper to prioritise working on, write down your working titles and rank them in order of interest, time it will take to produce, information available and any other relevant criteria
  • For those interested in starting out in academic publication, look into becoming a reviewer on a journal or start small with newsletter publications and other forms first
  • Expect your manuscript to come back with revisions
  • Another helpful thing for beginners is to work as part of a team with more experienced authors and learn from them

Along with much more information. She also raised this very interesting point: institutions expect their academics and teachers to write for publication, but not necessarily their library and information service staff.

The next speaker was Catherine Jones, a librarian judge for the 500 words writing competition. Most people are likely now aware of the yearly writing competition for children on the BBC (500 words) but what I certainly wasn’t aware of was that the first wave of judges are comprised of librarians and teachers, who each read around 20-30 entries and mark them. Catherine discussed the marking criteria and also how the OUP archive all of the children’s stories, using them to notice trends and patterns including new words and how much the world around them affects what the children write about, for example the words of the year for the 2016 entries was ‘refugee’ and overwhelmingly in a positive context. Also, who knew that the ratio of happy stories was highest in Llandudno? (More amusing and interesting infographics are available <a href=http://global.oup.com/education/dictionaries/500-words/childrens-language/?region=uk>here</a>)

After a delicious lunch (including a sneaky two of the chocolatiest brownies ever) the final two speakers were Ra Page, from Comma Press and Jackie Ould from the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust. Ra gave a real insight into the drivers between big publishers and small time and independent publishing houses both in the difference their structure makes in affecting their publishing decisions, and a little with regards the implications of the rise of amazon in relation to its effect on the publishing market. His publishing house also produces a lot of translated works, including a book of ‘Refugee Tales’ I am definitely adding to my ‘to read’ list, and the first collection of Iranian science fiction stories. He also talked about the difference the form of the short story makes to the types of stories that are told.

Jackie presented a different aspect of fiction publishing based around her work with BME children in Manchester to produce and publish their own books retelling the stories of people they could relate to or admire, including Noor Inyat Khan and Olaudah Equiano, and celebrating black British history. To find out more about the trust’s work go here.

In all it was a very varied series of presentations and I enjoyed each one both for their content and the speakers who come from very different aspects and perspectives but all were passionate and enthusiastic about their subject. I had a terrific day and was so glad to have had the opportunity to attend.

Helen Kiely – Knowledge Services Assistant at Warrington & Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

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Group work – experiences and advice by Helen Kiely and Lorna Dawson

When you sign up for the MLIS, whatever university you’re taking it with, get set to engage in group work. Be warned, you may be used to working as part of a team in work, but doing it on the course can be a whole different ball game. Hats off to Helen who has managed doing group work without having a single face to face meeting! She shares her experiences of this here. We’ve also put together our top tips to help smooth your ride in future.

Long-distance (group) relationships – Helen

It’s eleven o’clock at night and I am sitting in bed with my laptop balanced precariously on my knees. On my screen, a PowerPoint document is undergoing rapid changes. Slide 3’s pictures are moving around, citations are being added to Slide 7, typos are being removed on slide 12 all at the same time. Through my headphones I can hear my fellow students chatting away about the changes we still need to make and at the bottom of the webpage a chat browser adds more comments to the conversation. One person says she will have to go soon, it is nearly teatime in Hong Kong, while the rest of us will soon be heading to our beds before it is time to get up for work the next morning.

I never expected distance-learning group work would look like this!

My first term involved a lot of group work- far more than I would have expected from previous experience. I completed my MA in Social and Cultural Theory a few years ago now and it is fascinating to see how far group work –via-distance has come since then.

Before

  • Message boards
  • Email
  • Conference calls

Now

  • Message boards
  • Email
  • Skype
  • Adobe Connect Rooms
  • Google shared docs
  • Social media

Of course, like any group work, it wasn’t all plain sailing just because we had new ways to communicate! The majority of my group tended to prefer meeting together in ‘live’ sessions, which wasn’t always easy to organise with people living in different time zones! Sometimes, too, we often benefitted more from stepping away and having time to think about things before sharing them with the group. However it did allow a lot more freedom of conversation, and less room for misunderstanding, which as anyone who has ever posted on facebook or a messageboard will know, is always a danger in text-only communication.  It was great for those weeks when we needed to all work on the same document and discuss it at the same time in our shared google docs, or to chat ‘live’ after a lecture about the key themes that had been covered.

How many of these new techniques, I think, could we use in our service? Could we use adobe-style shared screens to train at a distance? Could we introduce more collaborative ways of working with shared ‘live’ documents in meetings? We might already use some of these methods already, but an additional benefit about using these on my course means they give me new ideas about what is possible, and how we might implement them in working life too.

Top tips for group work – Helen and Lorna

  1. Treat it like a meeting

When we started first term, we were given the advice that most group work is actually done outside of the group meeting. The meeting itself is a time to touch base, give progress updates and agree next steps. This works really well. In meetings, rather than sitting altogether ignoring each other as we got on with work, we solved problems, adjusted deadlines, shared new findings. I also think it worked well because everyone had almost a business mindset where we were all really focused, the big topics got discussed and resolved, and things kept moving forward. It’s pretty satisfying.

  1. Keep things moving

It’s really easy for group discussion to tail off into general chit chat which is nice but when you have a looming deadline, not that helpful. For me, having a sense of pace keeps not only work but also motivation flowing and there are a few ways to do this. One is having an agenda for each meeting. Having a set number of topics to get through gives a tiny bit of pressure to make decisions there and then rather than labouring points. Establishing project milestones also helps. In first term, we did this by mapping all the project steps from start to finish on a GANTT chart. When one target was reached we could have that “Yay!” moment, but also immediately knew what to move onto.

  1. Knowledge share

On an MA, everyone in your group will be at a different place in terms of library experience. Some people will have been working in libraries for years, some may not have worked in one at all. If you’re working in a group together, it’s really important to try to get everyone on the same page. Be prepared to teach people stuff that you’ve known for ages and they’ve never heard about and to learn new things from them in return. In groupwork, it’s not just the course tutor you learn things form, it’s each other too.

  1. Do those team roles questionnaires

I know they seem like a bit of a cliché but are really useful. Before starting a second piece of groupwork, our teams had to do a Belbin team roles questionnaire and we discussed what roles we came out with. It highlighted a key role that we were missing, which gave us all the opportunity to work outside of our comfort zones and try out that role. Definitely try out different roles. I’m usually an ideas person, but this time I’m doing more organising/facilitating. Working from a different perspective has helped me understand group dynamics a lot more and made me a more effective team player.

  1. Make sure everyone feels valued

For me, one of the keys to groupwork is sharing ideas but not everyone feels confident sharing ideas. It might be low self-esteem, they might be afraid of being shot down or someone might just be calling the shots and not asking for anyone else’s suggestions. I make it a priority that everyone feels confident speaking their mind. There are probably tons of ways to do this. Personally, I make sure I write everyone’s ideas and thoughts down so people know their ideas are being taken into consideration. Another thing is making sure everyone has an action point to take away at the end of the meeting. The best way is to throw out an open question like “So what do we need to do for next week?” and people chip in, they can take ownership of their next steps, and they know they are contributing and feel valued.

  1. Make sure everyone understands their roles and the direction of travel

This one seems obvious but in my first group project, after everyone had agreed and (I thought) been clear on what tasks we were all going to do before the next meeting, by the next morning it became apparent not everyone felt that way. After that, my group always made an effort at the end of the meeting to each confirm specifically what they were each going to do before the next week. This helped to nip any insecurities or uncertainties in the bud early!

  1. Agree on design early – and in writing!

Close to the deadline for one of our projects I could feel panic setting in amongst some of the members more than others which did lead to a frustratingly long group meeting, including a fifteen minute debate among members about font size! Learning from that, the next time around we encouraged minor formatting points to be made clear early to prevent any last-minute disagreements over the design of the final piece – hopefully avoiding further incidents around whether calibri should be size 10 or 11!

  1. Enjoy the experience!

At the end of the day, we are all working together with a common goal and are exploring new things. People come from so many different backgrounds and have different strengths, it’s important to reflect around the value we all get from working with people with different viewpoints than our own, and learning from each other. There’s nothing worse than if a group project becomes a chore, rather than something that can be interesting in its own right.

Lorna Dawson and Helen Kiely

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Wiley Library Advisory Board by Katie Nicholas

Each year Wiley hold a European Library Advisory Board. Librarians from all over Europe, from different library sectors (mainly Higher Education) attend. They invite four Early Career Professionals as an opportunity for CPD and this year I was lucky enough to be invited by David Stewart to their Board in Oxford. The topics discussed are confidential but I can talk about what I gained from the experience.

For me the biggest part of the meeting was the spirit of collaboration and learning, both from the publishers and between librarians. The Board was a great opportunity to hear from librarians across Europe, from varied services, about the issues that matter to them. It was an opportunity, for me and David, as representatives of Health, to have our voices heard in what can be an academic heavy meeting, and for us to hear perspectives from outside health. The issues academic libraries are dealing with are often less of a priority in NHS libraries e.g. Research Data Management and Open Access, and it made us question what we as NHS Library Knowledge Services are doing to support these issues and if there is anything more we should be doing.

It was also helpful for publishers to hear about some of the different issues we as health librarians and information professionals encounter, and how we can work together to deliver better services to our users. What was also clear is that libraries have very different user needs and expectations, I’m sure this varies across NHS libraries too, which made me consider how we can better understand our users and continue to deliver the kinds of information/ services that they require. The event was also a great opportunity to network, develop advocacy skills and stay in touch with the wider library world and I’d recommend any other Early Career Professionals attend if they are given the opportunity next year.

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Critical Appraisal Day 2 by Katie Nicholas

The second day of Critical Appraisal focussed on understanding bias in research using Randomised Control Trials as an example.

Unlike the first session, where a paper was selected and a tool used (e.g. CASP) to critically appraise it, this session took a different approach. Michelle used the example of an RCT to explain each aspect that you need to be aware of when appraising a paper. RCTs were used as most aspects of research that you need to be aware of to appraise a paper occur in an RCT.

In teams we were given a flipchart of the process for an RCT as reminder from the last session and asked to place the types of bias on the process where we thought they might occur. Some of the delegates had more understanding than others but the task worked as a measurement of what everyone already understood. Using intuition and the knowledge of my team members we placed all the notes on the process before Michelle taught us what they meant. Once we’d finished Michelle then worked through the notes one by one explaining what they meant in practice and where in the RCT process you’d expect them to appear with examples from different studies for clarity – we weren’t that far off on most which was reassuring. This worked really well for me as I felt that I was getting an understanding of the concepts first then seeing them in the context of papers, it didn’t really matter what the content of the paper was.

I came away from the day with an understanding of the points to be aware of when appraising e.g. randomising, but also with ideas of how we might deliver the training. We also concluded that we can only appraise what is provided in front of us in writing; if the author doesn’t specify they randomised, or how, even if they did, we must assume they didn’t when we appraise the paper unless we can get copies of the research protocol to confirm. Finally we looked again at the different tools available to support critical appraisal; Scales, CASP and Domain-based. Armed with an understanding of the concepts we were able to assess the usefulness of the tools in different scenarios meaning we could identify when to use them with our colleagues in any training we deliver. I came away from the day with a much deeper understanding of the concepts to be aware of and another idea for a way in which we could potentially deliver training. The third and final session will look at statistics (everyone’s favourite subject!) but I’m sure with Michelle’s guidance we’ll all get through it…

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