Online Research Proposal Guide

no image available

Prior to the active initiation of research, a topic of interest to the student should be discussed with the Director of the Online M.S. program (Piper Hodson). Each student selecting the Independent Research Project Capstone Option must conduct his/her NRES 501 or NRES 503 Independent Study Research Project near the completion of the graduate program. This research project (and final proposal) is to be developed by the student in consultation with the designated "Research Director", and in consultation with the Director of the Online M.S. program.

Each student should first discuss their research proposal idea with the Director of the Online M.S. program to determine a Research Director that is a good fit for the student’s topic of interest. The Director of the Online M.S. program will assist the student in securing an appropriate Research Director from the NRES faculty or its affiliate faculty. The student works with guidance from the Research Director to develop a final draft of the research proposal, which is then shared with the two other members of the student’s Guidance Committee. This discussion of the final proposal with the Guidance Committee (the Director of the Online M.S. program, the Research Director, and a third committee member) can take place in person, via phone, email or through distance communication technologies. After the meeting, committee recommendations and corrections are incorporated into the proposal by the student. Upon final approval of the proposal, Guidance Committee signatures are obtained on the cover page (see below). The final version of the Research Proposal is to be submitted to the NRES Student Services Office for final approval and included in the student's file. This document will guide the student's research efforts. Upon completion of the research, the student, with guidance from the Research Director, will draft a final report. This final report will be defended at a final exam, successful completion of which is the final degree requirement for the Online M.S. non-thesis option program. (Degree requirements are different from those for thesis option students, please consult the NRES Graduate Student Handbook for further information).

The following format guidelines outline a typical research proposal. While there is some flexibility in this formatting requirements as necessary between different research programs, the basic structure should stay similar to what is given here.

Your research proposal can be broken into the following key parts. First, it provides a review of the relevant literature (background section, ~ 2 pages in length) which should naturally lead into the second part: identifying the need for the proposed research (i.e., knowledge gap) to be summarized in a concise list of research objectives. The third section will specify the proposed research Methods/Procedures that outline the measurements you will make/data you will collect/models you will use/surveys to be taken, etc. This section will also include the manner in which you propose to analyze the data. References should be included that cite work done by others who have used the same or similar methods. The approach should typically be several pages in length. The final section should summarize the expected outcomes from the work. In total, this document is typically 8 to 10 single-spaced pages in length with sufficient detail to guide your research effort.

Guidelines for Preparation of a Research Proposal

Complete the cover sheet

  • Title - A clear, concise statement of the subject of the research. The title, used by itself, should give a good indication of what the project is about.
  • Previous Work/Background - A brief review (~ two pages) of the current state of knowledge on the problem, how it falls short of meeting current and future needs, and how the proposed work will extend present knowledge (literature citations should be included throughout the review of prior work, and full citations should be listed at the end of the project outline; use of citation management software such as Endnote is strongly recommended). This literature review section should be a narrative that leads to a knowledge gap – critical information that is missing that will be addressed in the proposed research project. The conclusion of this section should lead the reader directly into the next two subsections of justification for further work and the statement of objectives for the proposed work.
  • Justification/Objectives - A concise statement of the need for the proposed research derived from the knowledge gap outlined in the literature review above. State the importance of the topic in terms of conservation or management of natural resources, sustainability, environmental quality, or other appropriate framework. The justification may also indicate the reasons for doing the work at this location at this particular time, and potential benefits to the scientific community and the public at large. This should be followed by a clear, complete, and logically arranged statement of the specific objectives of the project, each identified by number.
  • Methods/Procedures - A statement of the essential working plans and methods to be used in attaining each of the stated objectives. The procedures should correspond to the objectives and follow the same order. Phases of the work to be undertaken immediately and concurrently should be designated. The location of the work and the facilities and equipment available and needed should be indicated. The statement on procedure should indicate that the research has been carefully planned and provides for changes when they are necessary to improve the work. This section also describes the data that will be collected, and the statistical analyses that will be used to evaluate the data. The scientific acceptance of the proposed methods should be established by citation of relevant literature. This section should also provide an estimate of the duration of the research effort (i.e., an estimate of the time required to complete the research planned and write the final project report/publish the results). Whenever any material change in the objectives of a project is advisable, a new or revised project outline should be prepared. It is advisable to include a list of facilities and resources involved in the project.
  • Outcomes or Expected Results – This section indicates how the data collected will fit into hypotheses derived from prior research, or how the proposed research might address the knowledge gap that was identified in the literature review.
  • Timeline – This section is a list or table that contains an estimate of the time required to complete the research planned. The timeline should be presented as a series of tasks (derived from the Objectives or Procedures sections), where the approximate timing for completion of each task is indicated.
  • References – Citations should be included in a complete and consistent format that is suitable for publication in a scientific journal. It is strongly recommended that students use reference management software to format citations and the bibliography. While no specific citation style is required, use of reference management software ensures consistent style, and will be a valuable skill for future academic endeavors.

As this proposal should be submitted for committee approval prior to the initiation of research, it is not expected that this document should contain extensive preliminary results or completed experiments. An appropriate length for this document is 8–10 single-spaced pages.

The final copy of the Research Proposal, signed by the Director of the Online M.S. program/Academic Advisor and the Guidance Committee members must be turned in to the Online Program Academic Advising Specialist as a degree requirement for Online NRES M.S. students. The approved Research Proposal is due by the time you have completed 20 hours.