Throughout this module you have been exposed to a range of research skills and have been working towards developing a research topic commensurate with the requirements of MBA study. Your outline research template is an opportunity to showcase your thinking and assisted us in allocating an appropriate academic supervisor.
The research proposal is a more robust piece of work giving further details of your research topic. There will be a fine-tuning of the aims and objectives, with a more substantial literature and methodology, as well as an indication of a feasible planning
horizon. The contents of your proposal will be used, and subsequently enhanced, in your
MBA project (SOE11111).
Primarily, you should be drawing on material from within this module to write your
proposal, with your supervisor facilitating and supporting you in the specific academic
area, as appropriate. Ultimately, however, this is an individual piece of work and you
should be working independently to produce the proposal.
Remember also that this is an ACADEMIC piece of research based on subject disciplines which may have been part of your MBA programme or that you have studied to sufficient
depth prior to embarking upon the programme. As current or future managers, there is an expectation that the proposed research will have the potential to impact on some area of business and management allied to your current or future employment.
It is worth re-iterating at this juncture that the research detailed in your proposal should
NOT be a work-based or consultancy project and it must be firmly grounded within the
functional areas of business, drawing upon relevant literature associated with that topic
area. Typically, the research question(s) should be positioned in the context of frameworks and models that currently exist within the academic and practitioner your
proposal should incorporate these.
The following guidelines pertain to the research proposal only.
RESEARCH PROPOSAL DEVELOPMENT
Your research proposal provides the basis for undertaking your MBA research project
(SOE11111) and should clearly and concisely set out the key elements of your proposed
research. At this stage, it should provide appropriate evidence of the area(s) of business and management that you are intending to investigate and the questions you are posing – there should be reference to the literature relating to relevant academic theory, appropriate frameworks and/or models, the proposed methodological stance and data collection techniques you intend to deploy.
Note also that you are not required to undertake any actual primary data collection at this stage – the proposal merely indicates what you are intending to do.
In writing your research proposal, please adhere to the structure detailed in these
guidelines upon which the assessment criteria are based. Exemplars of research
proposals are given in the Study Guide and Unit 10 gives a more detailed critique of a
specific exemplar – you should make sure that you study this in detail prior to writing your proposal.
The proposal structure given in the next section reflects the documentation
requirements outlined in section 10.3 of the Study Guide).
Word limits for each section are not given explicitly – each proposal will, after all, be different. As a rough guide, the weighting given to each section provides an indication of its relative importance, so this
may govern the number of words that you allocate to each of these sections. Ultimately, however, your proposal is judged on whether it presents a focussed area of research, with
clear aims and objectives, relevant literature and appropriate methods for data collection.
RESEARCH PROPOSAL STRUCTURE
In this section, you should contextualise the rationale for your proposed research. For
example, there should be a clear steer as to:
• Your particular background, inspiration and motivation for the proposed research;
• The practitioner or work-based context that leads you to examine this topic;
• The functional areas of business you are drawing upon;
• Seminal literature (a couple or so references) you are using to illustrate the academic
underpinning of the research;
• Why this research project is potentially important – you could perhaps refer to how it
might assist industry, organisations or practitioners;
• How innovative the research could be e.g. using existing published research but in a
Not all of these may be appropriate but the majority should be. In essence, this section
should allow the reader to clearly identify the academic arena in which the research is
located and its potential to ‘fill a gap’ that exists within this area of business and
Aim and objectives
Here there should be a very clear statement of the overall aim of the research, leading on
from the introduction.
Typically, there will be three or four specific objectives to enable you to achieve your main aim. It is likely that these will incorporate an academic element (perhaps ‘testing’ a
hypothesis or basing your research/analysis on an existing framework/theory) and a
practical perspective (possibly leading to recommendations) relating to the
workplace/sector/industry. The balance between the two is dependent on the research topic selected, but the academic focus must be visible at this stage. The objectives should flow in a logical fashion and your first objective is typically a review of the appropriate academic and practitioner (as appropriate) literature.
A brief justification of why these aims and objectives are appropriate is also useful to shed light on the focus of the proposal. Formulating clear and well-defined objectives shows clarity of thought and will help you remain focussed throughout the research process. It is suggested that you review Unit 1 and your outline research template when writing this section of the proposal.
Identification and initial review of key literature Unit 2 is your point of reference here and the directed study exercise was used to help you create an overview of the basic literature in your outline research template. Since then, you will have amassed [and recorded via your database(s)] a body of literature that will need reviewing and a degree of selectivity is now essential.
As a guide, a minimum of twelve key/seminal literature sources should be cited that you
believe inform your proposed research. As stipulated, these sources should
incorporate journal articles, textbooks, practitioner-based/trade press articles,
industry/organisation reports, (quality) news media articles and/or relevant and credible
When writing this section, compare and contrast the literature (as you will eventually do in the main project/dissertation) using the Harvard citation style and ensure there is continuity and a logical link between the references and themes introduced e.g.
In comparison with large organisations, SMEs are more flexible and adaptable to market
conditions and may be more innovative as they exhibit less bureaucracy, open cultures,
flatter organisational hierarchies and communication channels (Pavitt et al., 1987;
Nooteboom, 1994; Carson et al., 1995; Spender, 1998; Pelham, 2000; Johnson et al.,
However, as Sparrow (1999) notes, SMEs are more susceptible to competitive
forces and strategic positioning is crucial given their scarce resources and access to
financial resources. Expertise is usually restricted in many SMEs (Sadler‐Smith et al.,
1998; Sparrow, 1999; Egbu et al., 2005; Mosey 2005). Furthermore, SMEs tend also to
look outside the organisation to the external environment to either compensate for a
lack of resources, including expertise, finance and know‐how, or to augment existing
organisational knowledge via external networking (Kailer and Scheff, 1999; Sparrow,
Indeed, Edvardsson (2006) argues that a knowledge management strategy can
help in these situations, but acknowledges that the nature of SMEs means that this is not a priority for most businesses.
(Detailed references of the above cited authors would then appear in the ‘References’ section towards the end of your proposal).
Ultimately, the literature review should lead the reader to the core question/aim to be
addressed, as outlined in the previous section of the proposal.
In this section, you should allude to the methodology, design, methods and analysis to be deployed in your research. Being realistic, although you should have a fairly clear view of the methodology and design
(possibly influenced by access arrangements) aspects of your proposed research, you
may not have a definitive vision of the methods and analysis that you will use. At this stage
you should indicate the approach that seems most appropriate with your chosen topic
and consistent with the methodology and design – if it changes later on once you have
started your main project/dissertation research that will be reflected in the assessment of your MBA project module (SOE11111).
Some of the questions you might address here are:
• What is your overarching methodological stance?
• How does this relate to a deductive or inductive approach?
In terms of design, are you going to use a case study of a particular organisation or a
smaller number of organisations or will you carry out a survey of a large number of
organisations in an industry?
• Are you using one method or mixed methods – why have you chosen the selected
• What are the strengths and weaknesses of your research method(s)?
• If you are using only secondary data, can you be sure of its integrity, validity and
currency in relation to your research?
• How are you going to analyse the data you have assembled/collected?
These questions are indicative, but there is an expectation that throughout your discussion
it should be supported by references to appropriate business research texts such as those presented in this module e.g. Bryman and Bell (2011), Easterby-Smith et al. (2008) and Saunders et al. (2009).
This section should also identify any ethical issues which need addressing in your
primary data collection e.g. anonymity, confidentiality, informed consent etc. You should adhere to the guidelines of the University (see link below), as well general good practice principles and those unique to certain organisations e.g. the UK’s NHS, if appropriate.
This section is designed to identify the key events/activities in your research plan and then provide a concise and realistic timetable which shows how they are linked, when they will take place and how long they will last. Some activities will have to be completed before others can be started, but there are others that overlap allowing activities to be undertaken concurrently.
It is usual to devise a Gantt chart, which gives a visual representation of the activities you
will be undertaking and it normally covers each week and month between now and until
submission of the project/dissertation. Construction of the Gantt chart can be done using MS Word, MS Outlook or MS Excel (by creating shaded blocks to illustrate the lengths of activities). If you have access, a more sophisticated chart can be created using specialised software such as MS Project. Examples of Gantt charts and their design are given in Bryman and Bell (2011:77-78), Fisher (2010: 87), and Saunders et al. (2009: 43-45).
This section may also contain additional commentary pertaining to any particular
characteristics or nuances of the research and its schedule that may need highlighting. It is recommended that you include such commentary to contextualise and justify the schedule of activities appearing in your Gantt chart.
Reference list (not counted as part of your word count)
You should provide an alphabetical list of all references used in your research proposal, based on the Harvard referencing system. Do not use a numbering or bullet-point system.
Take care when listing web references (which should be kept to a minimum) to include
the author’s name, article title and date accessed. A preponderance of web references can also indicate an over-reliance on general online searches leading to less credible and corroborated academic sources than would normally be expected for this work.
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