Writing a Research Proposal

Warning against plagiarism and collusion
Your assignment must be your own work. Any plagiarism will be detected by the TurnItIn software and reported to the School of Psychology for further investigation.

If any of the wording in your assignment is not your own, then you risk getting into very serious trouble. Copying other people’s writing and/ or ideas and trying to pass it off as your own in order to gain a degree is effectively committing both robbery and fraud.

Note that TurnItIn has a huge database of articles that are available both in the scientific literature and on the internet (including websites). It also contains previous and current assignments by other students, both in this course and in all other courses around the world that use this software. It also contains all the assignment readings and briefings, including the one you’re reading right now, as well as the example assignments.

In previous semesters, we’ve caught people trying to copy materials from obscure unpublished documents on (what they thought were) obscure websites, we’ve caught people trying to “mash up” a friend’s assignment in order to beat the software, and we’ve caught people copying from assignments written by previous PSYC3020 students several years ago (where they thought the assignments were old enough not to be in the system any more). This also means that you should never lend your assignment to a fellow student because if they copy your work, then you also risk being charged with academic misconduct.

In the past, some students caught plagiarising have had their assignment marks dramatically reduced (often to zero). If warranted, a permanent note of this misconduct appears on their academic record. Once plagiarism or other types of academic misconduct is suspected, the resulting process is incredibly stressful for those concerned and has potential dire consequences – please please please don’t do it to yourself! Do you really want to have to repeat this course if you fail as a result of some form of academic misconduct (this has happened multiple times in the past)? And did I mention the School of Psychology Punishment Dome? You really don’t want to end up in there, believe me.

General requirements
Your target audience

Write as if your research proposal is for an intelligent layperson who has a general understanding of things like statistical significance, but no specific insight into your topic. Within this, you can assume your reader knows what reliability and validity are (hence definitions should not be supplied for these), but you will need to demonstrate your understanding of the various types of reliability and validity via how you establish your study design and phrase your study predictions.

Topic vs. title

Note that you are required to come up with a title for your research proposal – this is not the same as your assignment topic. It goes without saying that the title should be appropriate for both the research proposal (encapsulating the topic in some way) and your audience. Just as importantly, it’s also your first opportunity to engage the reader’s interest – so don’t squander that opportunity (note that ‘interest’ is one of the marking criteria).


2000 words is the length set for this assignment and you must include the word count of your assignment on the title page. Note that this includes all words, except in-text references, the References list, and the title page.

There will be 10% leeway on this length (i.e., if you really want to ‘poke the bear’ then you can get away with 2200 words). Assignments that are longer than this will be penalised (i.e., 2201-2399 words = 5% penalty; 2400-2599 words = 10% penalty; >2600 words = 15% penalty).

Writing style and tips
• This assignment is intended to assess how well you can construct an argument involving scientific evidence, as well as how well you can apply psychometric principles in constructing a new test or new battery of tests.

• Address the task directly. Don’t write a generic proposal or you’ll fail. Be specific – pretend this is a real research proposal with unlimited funds and resources. Approach it like a professional.

• Produce a well-written, well-argued piece of scientific writing based around empirical research. You must include a thorough review of empirical evidence regarding the design of your test to do well in this assignment.

• Try to replicate the sort of writing style (formal and concise) used in the example assignments provided on the PSYC3020 Blackboard page.

• You are encouraged to be provocative and critical in appraising the evidence that you present. Don’t just rattle off a list of studies. Explain why they are relevant to your proposal. What are their strengths and how do these apply to your proposal? What are their limitations and how does your proposal overcome these limitations?

• Don’t be afraid to be contentious and critical. We will not mark you down for disagreeing with conventional wisdom and if you make a good argument to support your case, then you’ll be rewarded even if we disagree with you. Obviously, this is not the same as being ignorant of conventional wisdom, for which we will mark you down.

• Don’t ignore evidence that contradicts your viewpoint. You should mention the opposing evidence, but then illustrate how the evidence supporting your argument is more convincing.

• Include personal reflections on the evidence (though be clear when your claims are backed by evidence vs. speculation). If you can find no evidence to support a point, then try to suggest an experimental study that would provide this evidence (this makes you sound thoughtful and imaginative, and makes it clear that you’re not just regurgitating the references).

• Highlight gaps in the literature. What unmet need(s) will you address with your new test or new battery of tests?

• Be sure to separate the description of scientific results from interpretations of scientific results and possible implications. Sometimes study results can mean different things if certain considerations are or are not adopted (e.g., an alternative explanation may have been overlooked, results may only apply to certain populations, or some variables may not have been controlled/ included which could change how the results are interpreted).

• Use original examples to illustrate your points.

• Be careful when using jargon. If you use a technical word that you don’t explain, then bear in mind that the marker might believe you’re trying to fool them into thinking you’re cleverer than you are.

• A paragraph should always be less than a double-spaced A4 page (this is a recommendation in the APA guide). However, a paragraph should also contain a minimum of 3 sentences.

• You are allowed to write from a first-person perspective (using “I” or “we”) in this assignment. However, note that other courses may not permit this. Also be mindful that when speaking about other authors and their work, you should use gender-neutral pronouns such as “they” and “their” (in accordance with APA guidelines).

• You are allowed – and even encouraged – to use sub-headings if this will help you structure your assignment and make it more readable.

• Academic writing takes practice. You will need to be succinct with every sentence. Avoid waffly, flowery, or unnecessarily descriptive prose. Remember, this is a scientific research proposal, not an article in a tabloid magazine or literature by Shakespeare.

• When you’ve finished your assignment, put it to one side for a time, then read it back through (preferably aloud). Obvious mistakes should leap out at you and, hopefully, more subtle things like clumsy sentences and gaps in your logical argument should also become apparent.

• If you’re having a problem with a particular paragraph, sit back and ask yourself: “What is the point of this paragraph? What purpose does it serve? What’s the idea I’m trying to get across?” Try swapping around the phrases and sentences. Try out alternative wordings. Sometimes it might be enough just to change a key word or two. If you can’t think of anything, then maybe the proposal would be more effective without that paragraph.

• When reading your in-text references, see how professional writers describe things and try to emulate the sorts of phrases and language they use. Of course, this is easier said than done, but it does get easier with practice.

• Follow APA format (7th edition) for all formatting and referencing.

The importance of linking sentences and topic sentences:

• A good paper flows well – it tells a coherent story throughout.

• Flow is achieved by using linking sentences between paragraphs that lead the reader logically from one paragraph to the next. Linking sentences are also an opportunity to remind the reader about the argument you are making.

• A good paper is easy to read because it is always clear how the information being presented is relevant to the argument, and how each point relates to the next.

• Think of how you would summarise what you’re planning to say in each paragraph in a single key sentence – and keep this summary in mind while you write. This should help keep your writing focussed.

• For policies on collusion, plagiarism, extensions, and late work, see the PSYC3020 Electronic Course Profile (ECP).

Sections of the proposal

Write your research proposal with the following sections, which have been chosen to reflect the type of format typically required for real research proposals:
• Title page
• Executive summary
• Aims and significance
• Background
• Proposed test/ test battery and rationale
• Study design
• Test evaluation: Assessment of reliability and validity
• Conclusions
• References
Unless otherwise stated, type each section of the research proposal into the relevant text boxes in the assignment template provided (see PSYC3020 Blackboard  Assessments). Adhere to APA 7th edition formatting guidelines and use a black font. In the template, the grey text dot- points within each text box are brief reminders of what information should go in each section (delete these before submission). Make sure you also read the more detailed section briefings below.

Title page

Complete the title page (see assignment template), with the following information:
(1) Your name
(2) Your student number
(3) The date of submission
(4) The title of your assignment (which should also appear at the beginning of the proposal)
(5) Your tutor’s name and tutorial group (e.g., Marc Chan, EX-T01)
(6) The total word count (e.g., “Total word count: 1,873”. Note that this includes all words, except in-text references, the References list, and the title page). This is compulsory. Please note that presenting a misleading word count will be treated as an attempt to obtain an unfair advantage and is considered academic misconduct.
(7) If you are doing Topic 1 (i.e., your own topic), complete the declaration statement that identifies you have sought the requisite written permission to do your chosen topic (otherwise, delete it). E.g., “Topic 1 Declaration: I, [Insert Full Name], declare that I have received written permission to do the topic of [Insert Topic] on [Insert Date Email Permission was Granted], by my tutor [Insert Tutor’s Name].”

Executive summary

• Enter this information into the text box labelled “Executive Summary”.
• Identify the problem issue with the current measurement of your chosen skill/ ability/ trait (i.e., why a new measure is needed), including why it is problematic if this skill/ ability/ trait is not measured properly.
• State the novel contributions of your new proposed test/ test battery (i.e., how it will address the identified problem).
• Indicate what test components are to be included in the proposed test/ test battery, including clear identification of relevant established tests and/ or new components to be developed. The latter requires a brief outline as to how these will be created and a brief overview of the new test/ tests. Any modifications to existing tests also need to be made explicit.
• Indicate which psychometric principles will be used to assess the proposed test/ test battery, and briefly outline how evaluation of these aspects will be achieved.
• Generally, there is no need for references in an executive summary. In terms of APA 7th guidelines, treat it like an abstract.

Aims and significance

• Begin with 1-2 general sentences that introduce the reader to the key subject area of the proposal. It is important not to waffle – get straight to the point.
• Narrow down the topic and define the problem issue that your proposed test/ test battery aims to address. The definition of the problem issue needs to include a justification of the elements that will be included in the proposed test/ test battery.
• Explain how/ why the problem is significant, including the ramifications of not measuring the skill/ ability/ trait properly.
• In 1 single final sentence, state how your proposed test/ test battery will address the identified problem.


• Briefly review current relevant measures of your skill/ ability/ trait.
o Provide a general overview of how these measures are tested in the literature with relevant results.
• Reviewed measures should include an overview of key psychometric properties and how these were demonstrated in studies.
• Build your argument using empirical evidence, while acknowledging or rebutting any contradictory findings.
o When describing your empirical evidence, select a number of studies that most strongly support your argument, and give the reader some details on these, including:
 Participants (if relevant),
 Methodology (if relevant), and
 Key relevant findings and what these indicate.
o Remember, only list evidence that is relevant to your proposal. We do not want the entire historical record of your topic.
• Critique key problem areas that your test/ test battery aims to overcome.
• If reviewed papers are in a different context than the current desired one, present an argument as to why a transfer of context for these tests is appropriate.
o E.g., why are previous tests of concussion in sports suitable for use in a military context?
• Collectively, the literature review should make a case for the need for your new test/ test battery by identifying gaps/ flaws in past measures and – if relevant – highlight feasible existing measures that have yet to be applied appropriately.
• For some topics, you may not always have direct empirical evidence. If there is no direct evidence in your chosen setting (e.g., you find that there are no studies on older drivers having their hazard perception assessed in a doctor’s office), then you can use evidence from another setting or another population to argue for the soundness of these aspects of your proposal (e.g., there is evidence showing that young males with ADHD can benefit from an office-based hazard perception testing and training package; Poulsen et al., 2010). These findings imply that a hazard perception intervention strategy works for one population, and thus the established findings/ principles may transfer to your desired population of interest (though you would need to present an argument as to why these would transfer across the given contexts). However, always acknowledge that such findings would need replication in your given setting.

Proposed test/ test battery and rationale

• Provide an overview of the proposed test/ test battery design i.e., briefly outline relevant test components and what specific constructs they aim to measure. NB: more technical details for this will go under the Study Design section below. Include a broad overview of any changes to existing measures if relevant.
• Justify the design of the proposed test/ test battery as informed by the literature i.e., how and why particular measures, adaptations of measures and/ or the development of new measures are required to address the identified problem issues.
• Outline future uses for the test/ test battery once developed (i.e., “the big sell”), including tangible and/ or intangible outcomes from its use. Be sure to address all the relevant outcomes for all key stakeholders when doing this.

Study design

• Detail a specific study/ series of studies regarding how you plan to (a) develop the materials for the proposed test/ test battery, and (b) evaluate its reliability and validity. Lay this out like a Method section of a research report i.e., provide participants, design, materials and measures (i.e., test components) and procedure subsections.
o Participants: Who will you sample (including approximate number and any special characteristics)? How will you recruit them?
o Design: Make clear the number of testing time points, which measures will be implemented at which time points, and which groups of participants will be completing each measure at each time point. While doing this, ask yourself questions such as: Am I utilising pre- and post-test measures, comparing two or more groups, or is it a longitudinal study? If I am giving a measure twice, do I need to deal with practice effects (e.g., do I need alternate forms of the test) and what is a suitable time frame for subsequent administrations of the measure(s)?
o Materials and measures: What resources and/ or materials will you need to create and validate the new test/ test battery?
 Approach this as realistically and professionally as possible. We do not expect you to understand how to configure the settings of complex technical equipment. However, we do expect you to mention what equipment you would use if it is appropriate.
 Be very clear when highlighting any performance measures that are included. These are measures that do not form part of the test/ test battery itself, but rather have been included in the study design as a means to evaluate the proposed test/ test battery (e.g., to assess its concurrent validity).
o Procedure: Outline the order of tasks and how these should be carried out. Within this, always remember pragmatics. Are there any elements or considerations that you need to add to your procedure? For example, if you are testing multicultural populations, how will you standardise the instructions so that everyone will understand what to do?
o If appropriate, when describing existing measures or those you plan to modify, provide the full scale name, a reference, the construct it aims to measure, the number of items, an example item, response scale details (including scale anchors, if appropriate), internal reliability, meaning of high scores, and how overall scores will be calculated (e.g., summed or averaged?). In addition, if you are modifying an existing measure, be very clear about how you plan to adapt the scale length/ items/ response scale/ scoring system etc.
• Justify your design decisions with support from past studies or logical reasoning (e.g., sampling strategy, overall test length, mode of test presentation, what is to constitute a ‘correct’ score in the absence of a known true result/ answer, response options/ mode, etc.).

Test evaluation: Assessment of reliability and validity

• Outline how you will evaluate your new test/ test battery. You must describe at least two reliability (e.g., internal consistency, test-retest) and two construct validity (e.g., predictive validity, convergent validity, content validity) strategies. The construct validity principles must include at least one empirically-based form of validity. Note that while content validity is okay to assess (as your one non-empirical form of construct validity), face validity is not (because face validity does not count as construct validity). However, make sure you provide sufficient detail of how you will evaluate content validity.

o Formulate reliability and construct validity hypotheses. The latter should be based on findings in your earlier literature review. NB: A hypothesis should have a direction of effect where appropriate.
o Consider what kind of general data analysis you will require (e.g., comparison of test performance for different specified conditions over time, comparison of test performance means between two different groups of participants at the same testing time point)?
o Briefly state how you expect your test/ test battery to differentiate between people on your selected outcome measures. Likewise, briefly state how you expect your test/ test battery to change or remain consistent over study conditions/ trials (if relevant).
o Ensure that each of these reliability and validity predictions can actually be tested given your proposed study design. I.e., all relevant samples of participants, testing time points, performance measures, etc., should be included in the study/ series of studies outlined earlier (in the Study Design section) to allow for appropriate evaluation of each prediction.
o Highlight any separate issues that may occur when measuring the reliability and validity for the proposed test/ test battery (i.e., practical and/ or ethical constraints that may prevent you from gauging the most accurate measure of reliability and/ or validity for the new test/ test battery).
• THE TEST EVALUATION PART OF YOUR PROPOSAL IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. This section is where you demonstrate to your marker that you understand and know how to evaluate the core psychometric concepts of reliability and validity. Writing this section well is crucial to obtaining a good mark in this assignment.


• Briefly reiterate the main points of the proposal without introducing new material/ information.
• Be sure to convey “the big sell” to your reader, so they understand why funding agencies/ investors should be throwing buckets of money at your project!


• Provide a list of all cited sources in the References section. This should be formatted according to appropriate APA 7th guidelines.
• Remember, to find additional references, use the Web of Science or Psycinfo databases, other literature search techniques (Google Scholar), or follow up references cited in other studies.

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