Part 1 – The Overview (Qualitative Research Proposal Series)

This is Part 1 of a  four-part on proposal writing for qualitative research. Read the introduction for context on why we started this series.

Qualitative research is full of nuanced details. Qualitative research by nature embraces the unquantifiable parts of being human. In a proposal, we are trying to identify and account for those “hard to quantify” elements. The nuance is often to the researcher’s (and client’s) benefit, allowing us to tailor each study to particular needs and constraints. However, for the person reviewing the initial pass at what the approach might look like, these subtle details can be overwhelming.

This first discussion glances at a high level breakdown of the proposal.

Prior to drafting a full proposal with assumptions and terms, we always create an overview document that walks through five sections. Each section is usually one page and consists of:

1.      Research objectives

2.    A suggested approach

3.    Research phases

4.    About us

5.    Case studies


1. Research objectives

The objectives are a repeat-back to the client of the program intent, usually in paragraph form and very brief. We reference strategy context to root the research in a meaningful scale to the business. We always include initial questions that team members have raised, and describe the outcome or the final deliverable.


2. A suggested approach

We always consider sample and study design in the overview, and begin with a potential methodology and recruiting rationale. Without being too prescriptive, we use this page to educate the client on all variables needed to craft the study.

The sample outlines who it is we intend to recruit for the study. Given that “who” is very open-ended, we further reduce the sample to identifiable behaviors, demographics, psychographics, and aptitudes that we seek to recruit.

The study design does not lead with methodology: instead, we reduce methodology to the most basic common denominators to avoid any confusion, by describing potential contexts, dynamics, and engagements needed for the study. These topics will be explored in further detail in subsequent blog posts

Given that the suggested approach has an associated sample and study design, the proposal can then serve as a conversation-starter to have with clients, so that rough cost and timing can be evaluated. It also serves to educate what factors within the sample and study design can affect cost and timing, giving the client a better sense of what they can, and cannot control.


3. Research phases

We cover the phase intent, tasks, cost, and timing in a visual table to provide insight into the study arc. From our perspective, using this table format keeps the process predictable and relatively easy to replicate across research studies. It also allows for clients to walk away with a “1-pager”, which can be shared and internalized easily within their organization. We focus our efforts in making the methodology and recruiting rationale tailored to each client, but in general the key steps in the process form a standard for all qualitative research.


4. About us

We always include a paragraph about twig+fish, our philosophy, and how we like to work with clients. Every freelancer, organization, team (whatever you call yourself!) needs to have a research perspective. Share it! We also include individual bios of ourselves, with a nice headshot of course!


5. Case studies (optional)

Every so often, we will get a lead for a project in which the potential client does not know us at all. In a scenario like this, we will provide a two paragraph anonymized narrative to further demonstrate our credibility in the space. Making it short and readable is key – at this point it is simply about demonstrating know-how, not getting into the weeds of details.


The purpose of the overview is to help the client understand what information we need to define the optimal study design. Using it as a starting point for discussion, the client can then consider what they already know and have, that may further inform the study design.  

As mentioned earlier, a budget calculation is always included in this overview. In Part 2, we will discuss considerations for the budget calculation, and how we create it. Stay tuned for Part 2 coming tomorrow!

We want to hear your thoughts! Tweet Meena (@meena_ko) with what you always consider in crafting a proposal - #betterproposals.