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Format for a quantitative research proposal

I teach quantitative research proposal writing to public health students. By using lectures, a case study and discussion of presentations of the students own research proposals, I try to familiarize them with the contents of a research proposal for a quantitative study. In 2007 I developed a first draft of a format and I have been adapting that ever since. By publishing it here I hope that others (students, researchers) also can take advantage of it when writing their proposals.

The proposal should start with a Title and author’s page, including the title of the study (which should be informative and it should reflect the general objective), the researchers and their affiliations, and the date of the proposal (so that others know whether they have the latest version). This should be followed by a summary/abstract of the proposal. A Table of Contents (including headings and page numbers) and Acronyms/Abbreviations section (e.g. explaining that WHO stands for World Health Organization) are optional.

The Introduction should contain the following sections:

  • Problem statement: This is a concise description of the nature of the problem (the discrepancy between what is and what should be) and of the size, distribution and severity of the problem (who is affected, where, since when, and what are the consequences).
  • Rationale for the study: This relates to the origin/source of the topic and the importance of the problem. A brief description of any solutions to the problem that have been tried in the past should be given, how well they have worked, and why further research is needed.
  • Significance of the study: This is a description of the type of information expected to result from the project and a clarification of how this information will be used to help solve the problem (contribution to existing knowledge).
  • Objectives of the study, including the general objective (general aim or purpose of the study which is derived from the research topic) and specific objectives which are based on your general objective. You should list the specific objectives to be achieved at the end of the study. This can either be in the form of a statement (to determine, to compare, …) or a research question. In the case of analytical or experimental studies, hypotheses could be stated instead of specific objectives. Hypotheses are propositions about relationships between variables or differences between groups that are tested.
  • A ‘definition and operationalisation of concepts into variables’ section could follow (or you include this at the variables section in the Methods). Define all the concepts in your title and objectives operationally, i.e. the way the terms will be used in your study. Define the dependent variable, the independent variable(s) and if relevant, the confounding variables.

The Literature Review can either be a separate section or be part of the problem statement. It is an extensive, systematic and critical review of all the relevant publications dealing with the topic/problem being investigated. Use literature (preferably journal articles) from the country you are conducting your study in (e.g. South Africa), other countries in the same continent (e.g. Africa) and elsewhere. Describe for each study when it was conducted (or published), where it was conducted, who the participants were (number, gender, age etc.), what the main results were, and what the main conclusion of the authors was.

The Research methods section contains the following items:

  • Study design: Select and explain the design of your study based on the research topic. State whether it is an observational study or an intervention study. If it is an observational study, is it a descriptive study or an analytical study (cross-sectional, case-control, cohort study). In case of an intervention study describe, if relevant, the method of randomization and concealment of treatment allocation.
  • Study setting: Describe the study setting/area. A brief description of the geography of the area, e.g. location, climate and other geographical features; socio-demographic and cultural characteristics of the people; an overview of the health status of the people; and the health-care system in the area of study. This all as far as this information is relevant to the problem being investigated.
  • Study population and sampling: Define the study population (e.g. age, sex, place, condition, etc.), the sampling or selection method/criteria, and justification of sample size (power calculation).
  • In the case of an intervention study, describe the interventions that the treatment and control groups receive.
  • Measurement instrument: Based on your topic, research design and study population, identify the appropriate instrument(s) for data collection, such as: interview guide, questionnaire, checklist or data collection form. Describe the instrument(s) in detail (including validity, reliability). Is blinding applied (for caregivers, participants, outcome assessors) where relevant?
  • Plan for data collection: Who will collect what data, in what sequence, how, when?
  • Plan for data management and analysis: This should cover the categorizing, coding, data entry, verification, use of computer program (for data entry and data analysis), and statistical techniques.
  • Ethical considerations: State how you intend to follow the ethical rules (e.g. informed consent, anonymity, confidentiality, care of vulnerable groups, etc.).
  • It is optional to include the ‘strengths and limitations of the study’: a) What makes your study better than earlier studies? b) What are the limiting factors in your study that may affect the possibility of generalizing your results? Is your sample size small? Did you use a nonprobability sampling method to select your sample? Are there confounding variables that might affect the cause-effect relationship? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, explain the reason and how such factor might affect the quality of your study.
  • Pre-test or pilot study: State how you intend to carry out either a pre-test (of particular elements of the study) or pilot study (the whole study on a small scale).


Work plan and budget

This section should cover issues like task allocation, organization of venues, transport etc., as well as a time schedule (including all aspects of the study). For the budget you identify major categories, make reasonable estimates of the expenses in each category, and include a motivation.

Plan for dissemination and implementation of results: This covers the manner of reporting results (e.g. meetings, journals) and what will be done to ensure that the results are used.

References: Use an accepted reference format e.g. the Harvard referencing format. Appendix(es): Insert here a copy of measurement instrument(s), informed consent form, etc.

Please note that the above is only a suggested format, based on existing literature. If the funding agency has different requirements, you should adhere to those.

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Research Integrity - from complete accordance to the rules to misconduct

On 2 May 2014 my former supervisor for my PhD research, Professor Lex M. Bouter, held an inaugural lecture on the occasion of his appointment as Professor of Methodology and Integrity at the VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The title of his presentation was "Perverse incentives or rotten apples?".

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26 Responses leave one →

    I need the format of academic quantitative research proposal.

    Thank you


      Dear Kishor, The format is on the website: http://www.epiresult.com/methods/format-for-a-quantitative-research-proposal-2/ but I will also send you a version by email. Kind regards, Annette


    Is it always needed to add a conclusion to a proposal?


      Dear Joseph, I would not include a conclusion in a proposal, as there is actually nothing to conclude about (that you do in the actual report, where you conclude about what you found). Kind regards, Annette


    Is an abstract necessary in a quantitative research proposal? Thanks!


      Dear Ashley, It is not a must, but it is a service to the reader to quickly know what the proposal is about.  Kind regards, Annette

    Sofia Viñas

    Can you explain how would I make a proposal by doing a survey research on my quantitative research? Please reply. I REALLY need help.


    is there any different in writing quantitative & qualitative report? in term of format report.


      Good question, although - as an quantitative expert - I am not sure about the answer. In principle I think all the headings can be used in a qualitative proposal as well, although qualitative studies more often use a theoretical/conceptual framework, so that should be more prominent. Annette


    Can I get sample of quantitative research proposal sample for my MPH.


      Dear Supriya, I have just emailed you the format in a Word file. Kind regards, Annette

    Peter Keliona

    I would like to thank you for making this effort to prepare the Quantitative research method, and also for sharing it. which i found it a useful guide.
    I am PhD student (energy )who actually struggle alone , so i looked for supervisors online, i mean i always talked to internet to answer me.

    what i want to ask you is about referencing a book, i mean any method.
    i find difficulties to cite a book , suppose the Author of a book cited someones work, who will i cite when i used that information cited by that Author?
    am i to cite the book author or the persons' name which the author cited?

    thank you!


      Dear Peter, Thanks for your question. If the book cites a proper reference to another persons work, I would try to retrieve the original document, review it and cite it. If you can't retrieve the original work or it is e.g. a personal communication between the book author and other person, then I would cite the book (and probably at the page number). Good luck with your PhD. Kind regards, Annette

    Joe Jacob

    I am struggling with getting my PhD research proposal pass SMR, a number of significant problems it is quantitative, however I am having trouble with 1) alignment, 2) statistical referencing, citations to support the methodologies/analytical model/approach, 3) sampling strategy, calculation of sample size, and 4) defining variables/ ordinal data.
    My research is about organizational culture versus leadership traits as a correlations study for a specific area as compared to other similar studies.
    Based on my challenges could you assist me with a sample Research Plan that incorporates my challenges that I can use to guide and inform my approach.
    Thanks a million,


      Dear Joe, Thanks for your message. As your study is not in my field, I don't have a sample research plan. However, I think you need a good book on research methodology that you can use both to improve your methodology as well as to reference. Maybe this one might be helpfull: http://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Quantitative-Research-Methods-Investigative/dp/0761968040 Kind regards, Annette


    Annette, I must congratulate you for the yomans job yo are doing for the world and for academia. It touches to see this contribution of persons to the world of knowlege. However, I'd like to know if the points you indicated above also related to research work at the under graduate levels or only perculiar to post graduate thesis and higher level researches? I ask this because I am a research partner and fellow with a research firm in Ghana, who help do this same wonderful work you are doing in here, and in some cases you realise that different supervisors have differents formats they want us to follow.
    Secondly, I love research, and that's what I do with (BB RESEARCH NET, +233 572795060) in Ghana. Can you recommend some books on research so I keep expanding my knowledge base. That is my contact too, we tackle different researches as long as it is in the knowledge line of research partners.


      Dear Sam, I developed this research format for my own Master of Public Health students at a university in South Africa. I just decided out of existing lists what I would like to see in a proposal. So this is not a gold standard, just a guideline to use if you don't have one. I really enjoy using the following book for my students: Epidemiology. A reseach manual for South Africa. Gina Joubert and Rodney Ehrlich. Good luck with your work. Kind regards, Annette


    Hiya I like a sample of quantitaive proposal and qualitative so I know differences. If not quantitaive will do. I lost and confused. Thanks Annette this forum is good


      Dear Rose, being a quantitative researcher myself, I only have the format for a quantitative study as you saw on the website. Main difference with a qualitative proposal is the content of the differents headings: the literature review more often includes a conceptional framework, the study designs can be different and the data collection instruments, as well as the data analysis techniques. Kind regards, Annette

    Bless Therese Fajardo

    THANK YOU VERY MUCH ! :D This is really very helpful to us ! :D Keep it up ! :))


      Thanks. Annette


    hello Annette, i will be very grateful if u could help me with a very good quantitative methodology, am a Mphil marketing student and my topic is on entrepreneurial orientation and entrepreneurial management in SMEs. thanks.


      Dear Bernice, Thanks for your message. However, this is not my field of work, so other than suggesting you can use the format I developed, which will also be useful outside of the health field, I can't help you any further. Kind regards, Annette

    Annette Wood

    Dear Annette:
    I have to write a quantitave research propsal for a nursing course, using APA format. I have consulted the APA 6 manual, but the proper outline/format still seems unclear to me.
    Can you offer any suggestions or references?


      Dear Annette, Maybe you find this usefull http://www.slideshare.net/LeecyB75/a-practical-guide-to-apa-style-11785805. And the easiest is to use a reference management programme e.g. endnote or Reference Manager, which puts the references in text and in the list in the correct style. Regards, Annette


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