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Research Skills: Home

If you need assistance with your research proposal, you can book a one-to-one session with the librarian, Debora Zorzi .

Topics covered include:

  • Research skills

  • Defining the research question and objectives

  • Writing a literature review

  • Research methodology

Please book  a session by clicking on the button below.

If none of the scheduled sessions suits you, please contact Debora at to make alternative arrangements.

In writing your research proposal, you'll have the chance to refine your research topic further. Avoid a topic that's too broad in scope. Instead, focus on a specific aspect of your topic such as time period, location, or industrial sector. If you're having trouble deciding on a topic, reach out to your lecturer or the librarian for guidance. When choosing a topic for research, consider these sources for inspiration:

  • A subject that caught your interest in your course material
  • Academic and professional literature (ask Library staff for help with searching college databases)
  • A less-researched subject that offers potential for new insights
  • A gap in the current academic literature
  • Relevant work experience
  • A relevant topic of interest in the industry
  • A subject area that aligns with your career goals.

To prepare for your applied project, you will be asked to write a research proposal in which you are required to demonstrate the feasibility of your proposed research topic. Please consult the module's guide to applied projects. Ask your lecturer for further details if you cannot locate it. The structure of the research proposal is generally as follows:

Title: Should capture the essence of your primary research question.

Rationale: What is the benefit of your proposed research in the context of the academic literature and generally?

Aim: What is your primary research question?

Research objectives: Outline approximately three objectives in relation to your research topic. 

Literature Review:  A brief literature review is sufficient for your proposal. What themes are covered in the literature on this topic and how are they connected to your research topic? Ensure that you include the chief studies on your research topic. If you are uncertain how to write a literature review ask the Library staff for assistance. See also the Literature Review section of this guide.

Methodology: Establish whether you will use a quantitative, qualitative or mixed methodology and why. Details on different methodological approaches are supplied in this guide.

Ethics: You will need to satisfy your lecturer that your research is being conducted ethically and legally. For example, your research does not exploit vulnerable groups and is also carried out in line with GDPR. It is also essential to seek consent from study participants. Some companies or respondents will seek the anonymisation of their details in your final report.

Limitations: What are the possible limitations of your proposal? 

Timeframe: Key project milestones can be outlined with dates to reassure your lecturer that you can complete your applied project in the specified timeframe. The addition of a Gantt chart can be helpful in this respect. 

A good research question is:

  • Concise

  • Complex

  • Specific

  • Arguable


  • Questions that are too broad (as they may be difficult to answer successfully).Instead of asking  'What is the impact of social media usage on young people's  behaviour?', try asking 'What behavioural impact does the prolonged use of TikTok have on Irish 18-25-year-olds?'

  • Questions that require collecting data from different groups of responders.

  • Questions on topics that have already been extensively researched.

The purpose of the research objectives is to highlight which aspects of the research questions will be addressed in the study. Objectives are derived from the research question and help you identify the themes that should be addressed in the Literature Review and determine which questions you should ask your research population.


Objectives are usually headed by infinitive verbs such as: 

  • To assess
  • To identify
  • To analyse
  • To describe 
  • To determine...

You can use Bloom’s Taxonomy to find an extensive list of verbs to be used for your objectives.


Research question: “How effectively are customer retention practices implemented in the Irish retail industry?”


  • To understand the challenges faced by the Irish retail industry in retaining its customers.
  • To identify the most common customer retention practices in the Irish retail industry.
  • To assess the effectiveness of customer retention practices in the Irish retail industry.

Research Objectives should be S.M.A.R.T.


Specific: What do I want to accomplish? Why is this goal important? Who is involved? Where is it located? Which resources or limits are involved?

Measurable: How much? How many? How will I know when it is accomplished?

Achievable: How can I accomplish this goal? How realistic is the goal, based on other constraints, such as financial factors?

Relevant: Does this seem worthwhile? Is this the right time? Does this match our other efforts/needs? Am I the right person to reach this goal

Time-bound: Is this topic going to be relevant six months from now? Am I going to have enough time to research this topic?

The purpose of the Literature Review is to provide a critical analysis of the research conducted on your chosen topic and to highlight the gaps in knowledge that will be addressed in your research. A well-written Literature Review is not just a summary of research written on a topic, rather,  it is an in-depth evaluation of different theories.

More importantly, the Literature Review provides context for your data.

For example, if you are conducting a study on the online purchase habits of Irish consumers, and there is no current knowledge available on this topic,  you should have a section in your literature where you analyse studies on online purchase habits in other countries. 

Now, if your study finds that 43% of Irish consumers don't make online purchases, you can compare your findings with the findings of the studies presented in your Literature Review to compare Ireland's online shopping habits with the rest of the world.

When writing your Literature Review, you should follow the broader to narrower approach detailed below:


Step 1- Briefly explain the broad issues related to your research to show your awareness of the main theories on the subject.

Step 2- Narrow down your focus to discuss literature that aligns with the topic of your paper. Give an overview of the literature that relates to the theme/s of your research.

Step 3- Provide a critical analysis of research that is directly related to your specific topic; you should dedicate the most attention to studies that are immediately related to your research.

The purpose of the research methodology is to guide the researcher in formulating and defining the research topic, as well as to design the primary research by selecting the most appropriate research approach and strategy.

In this section, the researcher explains their choices for:

The choice of research strategy should align with the goals of the research.

  • The method of primary data collection and the reasoning behind this choice
  • The process of data collection and analysis
  • The criteria used to select the population being studied
  • Any potential ethical concerns or limitations of the research.

Some of the most common research strategies are listed below:

  • Case study

  • Action research

  • Survey 

  • Grounded theory

  • Digital ethnography

  • Exploratory data analysis


Case Study

Case study research concentrates on an entity (organisation, individual, event, process, etc) to establish its key characteristics (Bryman, 2012).

Case studies are recommended when the researcher has a personal interest in the research topic or already works in the company/sector that is being investigated.

Action Research

Action research is commonly used to make changes and improvements within an organisation. Action research can only be conducted if the researcher is in the position to directly implement changes.


Surveys are aimed at extracting data from a specific group of people. Researchers choose a sample population with the necessary characteristics to answer their questionnaire and use the resulting data to draw generalisations.

Surveys produce a large amount of data that is then analysed to identify causal relationships (cause and effect).

Grounded Theory

Grounded theory requires collecting and analysing qualitative data to develop theories and hypotheses. Unlike other approaches that require testing hypotheses to prove or disprove them, grounded theory uses an inductive approach where new theories are developed based on the data collected in the study.

Digital ethnography

Digital ethnography is a form of online research and it is considered an evolution of in-person ethnography. Researchers use digital information sources via online platforms to create an insight into human behaviour and experiences.

Exploratory data analysis

Exploratory data analysis refers to a crucial process of conducting preliminary investigations on a dataset. This is done in order to uncover patterns, detect anomalies, test hypotheses, and verify assumptions by utilizing summary statistics and graphical displays.

Please note that the above list is not exhaustive and that you should use a research methods textbook to help you identify the strategy most suitable for you.