The Concept Paper is a major milestone in the dissertation process (Concept paper template, 2013). While preparing the Concept Paper, the researcher must keep in mind the research method selected and align all elements so that the whole document reflects a unified and highly integrated, purposeful study. Depending on the choice of method, the researcher will need to address various sections of the Concept Paper differently and include or exclude specific information. The major differences between qualitative and quantitative studies—as reflected in the Concept Paper—are contained in the following sections: purpose of the study and purpose statement; research questions; research method and research design; and data collection, analysis and measurement.
Purpose of the Study and Purpose Statement
The purpose of the study must be clearly stated and identify the research method as either qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods. This clear identification of the purpose includes the usage of a formula in a single paragraph, such as “The purpose of this [quantitative, qualitative] study is to…” (Best practices, 2010). If the researcher has chosen a quantitative method, the variables must be identified along with the constructs. In a qualitative study, the focus is on one idea, concept or phenomenon, and the researcher must identify it, in addition to ensuring that there is alignment and a natural sequence between the statement of the problem and the purpose of the study (Concept paper template, 2013).
The purpose statement must include the participants and sources of data, as well as the location of the study. In a qualitative study, the research seeks to address and elaborate on what the participants are going through and their understanding of the problem. By focusing on a single problem, the researcher can provide a complete description and analysis of the situation but cannot prove that something is true or untrue. In quantitative research, statistics are used to measure the degree to which something is probably true. The researcher cannot prove that something is true or untrue, but depending on the method used he or she can measure the probability that it is true (Trochim & Donnelly, 2008).
The research questions section of the Concept Paper should include a brief introduction, followed by the research questions. Research questions need to be posed in ways that will allow them to be answerable and must include the constructs and the population being studied, but not the instrument items (Concept paper template, 2013). Alignment is of utmost importance in this section because the research questions are asked in order to seek an explanation or to better describe the problem being studied.
In quantitative research, hypotheses (null and alternative) are included following the research questions. This is so because by using this method the researcher is seeking to assess the probability of something being true or untrue. The hypotheses must be stated in “testable, potentially negatable, form with each variable operationalized” (Best practices, 2010) and must be aligned with the type of statistical analysis used to test them.
In a qualitative study, research questions must be closely aligned with the purpose statement and directly related to the phenomenon. Hypotheses are not included in qualitative research, but open-ended questions are used instead to allow the researcher to understand the problem from the population’s perspective; “yes or no” questions must be avoided (Creswell, 2009). The researcher should develop three to five research questions, which constitutes a “reasonable range” for a dissertation project (Best practices, 2010). Also, the researcher must include the qualitative method that will be used to answer the research questions.
Research Method and Research Design
In the research method section of the Concept Paper, the researcher explains why and how the method selected is appropriate to answer the research questions and how it aligns with the purpose and the problem. This includes the identification of the research method and the research design based on a substantial discussion of study design using established authors such as Moustakas or Yin (Best practices, 2010). Ethical considerations must also be addressed, including how participants will be protected through the use of consent forms and other methods. The researcher should demonstrate how the study is significant and will help advance knowledge of the particular topic (Concept paper template, 2013).
Quantitative studies must have clear internal and external validity. This means that the instrument must have been tested and its validity established (Cozby & Bates, 2012). The researcher has a choice of using an established instrument that has been previously validated, or to develop his or her own—the latter requires substantial efforts in testing and validation (Trochim & Donnelly, 2008). The instrument must be shown to be the best choice and fit for the study, and the researcher should explain how it will accomplish the task of measuring what needs to be measured. Also, methodological sources cited must include advanced and specialized works; the researcher should avoid the use of general research methods books (Best practices, 2010).
Qualitative studies should follow similar guidelines, including the use of advanced methodological sources and demonstrating validity. Validity in qualitative studies is demonstrated through “trustworthiness, authenticity, and credibility” (Creswell, 2009, p. 191). The researcher must explicitly describe the research design utilized in the study. Research designs can be found in sources such as Given’s SAGE Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods (2008); the most commonly used qualitative research designs are the grounded theory, ethnography, and narrative designs (Best practices, 2010). The researcher must focus on a detailed description of the chosen design and avoid long discussions of other designs used in research. A clear statement of how the chosen design will enable the researcher to answer the research questions must also be included (Concept paper template, 2013).
Data Collection, Analysis and Measurement
In the data collection, analysis and measurement sections, the researcher defines how data will be collected, measured and analyzed. Depending on the research method, the details in this section will vary. For instance, if conducting a quantitative study, the researcher will include a detailed definition of the variables in the study. This detailed definition includes a description of each variable and its level of measurement, variability, sources of data, and an overview of how the instrument utilized to capture the data in the present study was utilized in previous studies (Concept paper template, 2013).
In a qualitative study, the researcher will likely use interviews as data collection instruments. A description of the interview guide should be included in this section of the Concept Paper (Best practices, 2010). There is no need to include all interview questions, but a representative sample should allow other researchers to duplicate the project. The researcher should review the concept of triangulation and specialized books, such as Qualitative interviewing (Rubin & Rubin, 2004) during the process of preparing for and analyzing interviews (Best practices, 2010). A detailed description of the population should be included; a few questions can help guide the researcher in preparing this section, such as: “How will participants be recruited? If you are using purposeful sampling, what characteristics or criteria must potential participants meet? How large will your sample be and how will you determine the appropriate size?” (Best practices, 2010).
In both qualitative and quantitative designs, the researcher must provide the context in which the data will be collected. This includes providing answers to questions of where, who, what and why (Best practices, 2010). Qualitative analysis must provide a description of the instrument or process that will be used to collect data—including how the researcher intends to code the data—along with academic support for these choices and the rationale behind them (Trochim & Donnelly, 2008).
Research methods and research designs require focus and a very detailed approach by the researcher. Qualitative and quantitative methods are very different from each other, but at the same time they have similar underlying concepts that are reflected in the Concept Paper (e.g. validity). These underlying concepts require specific descriptions and careful explanations rooted in solid academic knowledge and research skills. Northcentral University’s Concept Paper template (Concept paper template, 2013) and Concept Paper guidelines document (Best practices, 2010) are truly useful in this regard because they provide numerous tips and advice for researchers who are working on a solid and fully aligned Concept Paper.
Best practices for concept paper development. (2010). Prescott Valley, AZ: Northcentral University. Retrieved from http://learners.ncu.edu/ncu_diss/default.aspx?attendance=Y
Concept paper template. (2013). Prescott Valley, AZ: Northcentral University. Retrieved from http://learners.ncu.edu/ncu_diss/default.aspx?attendance=Y
Cozby, P. C., & Bates, S. C. (2012). Methods in behavioral research. Boston: McGraw Hill Higher Education.
Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Given, L. M. (Ed.). (2008). The SAGE encyclopedia of qualitative research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: http://dx.doi.org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.4135/9781412963909
Rubin, H., & Rubin, I. (2004). Qualitative interviewing: The art of hearing data. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Trochim, W., & Donnelly, J. (2008). The research methods knowledge base. Mason, OH: Cengage.