Ch. 4 : Writing the Brief and the Proposal

Ch. 4 : Writing the Brief and the Proposal

Ch. 4 : Writing the brief and the proposal

Starting a research project involves the following:

 Identifying and defining the problem clearly and accurately

 Identify the information needs

 Establish end use of information

 Communicating this information to researcher via a brief

 Describing the approach to the research via a proposal

Roles in the briefing and research process

 Client (person commissioning the research)

1- Defines the problem

2- Identifies what info is needed to address & how it will be used (research objectives)

3- Prepares the research brief

 Researcher (supplier)

1- Helps with problem definition (or refinement)

2- Designs effective research

3- Presents information needed clearly in the research proposal

Overview of the research commissioning process


  1. Problem identified (Client)
  2. Discussed refined, problem definition agreed (Client-researcher discussion)
  3. Gaps in knowledge identified – need for research agreed
  4. Research objectives formulated
  5. Brief prepared and sent to researchers
  6. Brief examined, problem “unpacked”
  7. Information needs reviewed (Client-researcher discussion)
  8. Background research
  9. Research design, costing
  10. Proposal written and sent to client
  11. Proposal reviewed, research commissioned (Client-researcher discussion)

Purpose of the brief

 To ensure potential supplier understands

– The problem

– The context of the problem

– The info needed to address it

– The nature of the constraints (time & money)

Value of a written brief

 Committing ideas to paper enhances

– Quality of thinking

– Clarity of thinking

 Valuable aid to communication

 Acts as record for consultation and discussion

 Useful at the end for review/evaluation. E.g. if the research objectives were met and if the research provided useful information for the decision maker.

Contents of a brief

1- Title
2- Definition of the problem
3- Background to the problem
4- Why research is needed\ necessary
5- Statement of research objectives / 6- Use of information
7- Target population
8- Suggested approach
9- Analysis needed
10- Outputs / 11- Liaison arrangement
12- Timing
13- Budget
14- Form of proposal
15- Selection criteria

1- Title: it is important because it informs the reader immediately of the main focus of the project and draws attention to the key issues.

2- Definition of the problem: be specific and precise as possible.

E.g. a car company has a decline on car sales, so the management commission a researcher that provide accurate and robust information that “identify the factors influencing consumers buying process, and determine what the company strengths and weaknesses comparing with competitors”.

3- Background to the problem: give background information about the product, service or issue to which the problem relates, and it’s wider setting within the organization or within the market. May also include info about external conditions or about the organization.

4- Why research is needed\ necessary: state why you think research is necessary and, briefly how you come to this conclusion.

5- Statement of research objectives: state what you want the research to tell you. Be clear and specific as possible. E.g. statement in No.2 better that state: “to research the market for imported cars”.

6- Use of information: state what the info will be used for, who will use it & how it will be used. Ask yourself: “how the info I will get will be used in decision making process?”

7- Target population: give details about target population or audience. This will help the researcher to decide on: the sampling approach, the type of research, method of data collection, and to cost the project more accurately. E.g. state in the brief if you want to compare 25-34 years old users with 35-44 years old users.

This help to guide the researcher in designing the sample, determine the number of focus groups or interviews needed to made the comparisons.

8- Suggested approach: The amounts of detail you give here depend on your knowledge of research. You should tell the researcher if the decision makers have a preference for a particular type of research. E.g. qualitative or quantitative.

9- Analysis needed: You should set out clearly what type of analysis you need and an idea of the complexity of the analysis required. (table, graphs ..etc)

10- Outputs: Data tables, summary reports, full reports and presentations of findings are referred to as “deliverables” or outputs (which is the products of the research). You should also specify what deliverables you expect during and on completion of the research.

11- Liaison arrangement: Set out clearly the contact or liaison arrangements you want. E.g. type and detail of reporting needed so the researcher can build this into the work plan and costing.

12- Timing: You should give the date which you need the research to be completed and highlight any deadlines. This information will allow the researcher to plan the work and also affect the sort of research that can be done. Always make sure the time frame is reasonable and make sure you can meet any obligations you might have such as providing samples of the product.

13- Budget: Different researchers will interpret a brief in different ways, making different assumptions that will have an impact on cost. Therefore, you should at least give an idea of the budget so that the researcher can avoid proposing research that does not meet it and is better placed to design research that will maximize value for money.

14- Form of proposal: In order to form a proposal you should always:

  1. Understand the problem and the client’s requirements.
  2. Details of the approach
  3. Timetable
  4. Separate costing for all options proposed
  5. Pricing schedule outlining staff inputs and daily rates
  6. Details of relevant experience of organization and proposed project staff.
  7. Any difficulties that might be anticipated and how to overcome it.

15- Selection criteria: The selection should include the following:

  1. Cost
  2. Relevant experience in this area.
  3. Suitability of proposed methodology.
  4. Demonstration of understanding of the brief.

Use of exploratory research

 Uncover information that helps define problem

 Develop ideas or hypotheses

 Identify information gaps

 Uncover ways of doing the research

Project ‘scoping’

 Focus not too broad or too narrow

 Prioritize info needs

– Tackle what need to know

 But must have enough information to understand and interpret

Checks before sending

 Are your information needs/research objectives clear?

 Will research help?

 What assumptions, if any, have you made?

 Is there enough info for the researcher to write an effective proposal?

Who to send the brief to? / Choosing research supplier:

1- Think about : type of project, type of research

2- What sort of supplier? (choose who is to carry out the research):

- Maybe internally or externally/expert/ full service agency

Find info on agencies & consultants from the directories such as AQR for qualitative research org. ARS for social research & MrWeb is a web-based service that provide a list of suppliers include independent consultants.

3- Draw up a shortlist that selected against a number of criteria, including:

1- Who is experience in general subject (consumer, social or business to business issues…

2- Who experience in particular area (new product development/ advertising research / older people issue..)

3- Service available – (full service or limited – computer-aided interviewing or paper-base/questionnaire)

4- Experience in particular research methods or techniques( qualitative, quantitative, continuous research, mystery hopping…)

4- Invite suppliers to give ‘credentials’ pitch ( A presentation outlining their experience and expertise)

5- Draw up a shortlist of no more than four research suppliers to tender for a project.

Questioning a brief \ What questions should you ask in examining a brief?

  • Is the problem clearly defined? What assumptions, if any, have been made?
  • Why is the research needed?
  • Is it clear what the information needs are?
  • Will research help?
  • Do I have all the information I need to design effective research?
  • Are the research objectives clear ?
  • Are the research objectives relevant to the problem?
  • Is it clear what the client expects from the research?
  • Is it clear how the research will be used?
  • Is the budget adequate?
  • Is the time frame feasible?
  • Are there any gaps in my knowledge about what the proposal should contain?

Purpose of a research proposal

The research proposal is the document that sets out what type of research is to be conducted, why this is suitable, how it is to be conducted, the timeframe in which it will be completed and the cost that it will incur. It should demonstrate that you have a clear understanding of the problem, its context and the need for research. You aim to show that you:

  • Understand the problem and the issues involved
  • Understand the implications of the problem in research terms and in the wider business context
  • Have the expertise to design, set up, manage and deliver good quality research that will help in the decision-making process.

Contents of a proposal

1- An introduction & Background to the problem: show the client that you understand the nature and setting of the problem. Do some ground research and do not only depend on the info that the client gave you in the brief.

2- Statement of the Rresearch objectives: should state what the research will do , and so should be relevant to the problem. Both the client and the researcher should agree that they will deliver the necessary information.

 Methodology or approach

3- Approach to the research: set out the overall research design and why this approach is most suitable for collecting the evidence needed and set out the limitation that the approach may have.

4- Sampling: state clearly the target population for the research. Explain how you intend to draw the sample from the population e.g. random sampling, state the intended sample size, No of groups discussions or interviews, and explain the reasons for these choices and the implication they have with ways you propose to overcome them.

5- Method(s) of data collection: specified the way in which you plan to collect data. E.g. group discussion, individual or paired depth interviews, face to face or telephone interview. Also give examples on the type of questions to be used. With the implications and reason for recommending that method.

6- Data processing and Analysis: set out how the data will be handled. For qualitative research: is the group discussion or interviews will be recorded on audio or videotape, whether tapes will be send to the client. Mention if the analysis will be made using specialist analysis software. For quantitative research: provide details on the extent and nature of the editing process, data entry, the cleaning of database, and the procedure of coding responses. Explain the analysis package that will be used and the format in which the data will be made available such as hard-copy or electronic or both.

7- Output: make it clear what output you will provide, the format, the number of copies, the date in which they will be provided. The cost of any additional work may required such as a summary reports.

8- Ethical issues & how they will be handled: set out for the client how ethical issues will affect how the research is conducted and how the findings is presented and used. In addition to, what is the client own responsibilities, & cover other aspects as, protection of client confidentiality, protection of respondent, and confidentiality of the information provided by the respondent.

Professional practice & the MRS Code of Conduct: project set up and design (P.112)

Research must conform to the national & international legislation relevant to a given project including the Data Protection Act 1998or other legislations applied outside the UK.

9- Timetable: include a draft work schedule, highlighting key dates or weeks numbers, especially those that are dependent on input from the client. Such as showing when each phase of the research begin and end and where they overlap.

10- Costs: include details of the cost f conducting the research proposed and the assumption on which these costs are based. Some clients may ask for an overall cost plus an estimate of expenses, other want a quantitative costing such as on task-by-task basis. Other ask for qualitative costing in term of the cost per group or depth interview, or one total cost , or by broken down to field work cost, moderator fee, report writing, recruitment cost.

11- Relevant previous experiences & project team CV’s: to convince the client why you should conduct the research. It is useful to include a set of short CV’s of key staff to show experience & expertise in the area.

12- Terms & conditions of business: the proposal is a contractual document as well as a selling tool. It is important to include information on your terms and condition of business and your commitment to MRS Code of Conduct; how you plan to bill the client, what payment is due if the client cancels the project after commissioning.

Meeting the proposal submission deadline: the proposal should be submitted on time, researcher should use the deadline as an opportunity to show that he can complete a pice of work on time.

Full proposal or not?

 Not all projects start with formal, full proposal, e.g.

– Work similar to or repeat of previous study

– Researcher and client have established relationship

– Time limited

 Alternative

– One or two pager – less formal but covering key points

Evaluating a proposal

The proposal should be evaluated to ensure that the research approach described will deliver the information required.

 Has the researcher understood the problem?

 Is the research design suitable?

– Does it address the research objectives?

– Will it provide the right sort of evidence?

– Identify research methods limitations

– Clearly identify target population & proposed sampling strategy?

 Is the timing/costing practical/feasible?

 Has ethical or legal issues been identified?

 Is the researcher has the right level of experience & Is there ‘added value’?

Responding to a proposal

 Useful to meet face to face (Project Start Meeting)

– Make further assessment, bring up any outstanding issues

– See if working relationship possible & what each expect of the other.

 Make decision based on key criteria, e.g. experience, methodology, cost

 It is good to inform those who have not been successful with proposals and why.

 Meet with successful supplier

– Discuss in detail

– Agree any amendments

– Put them in writing

The client-researcher relationship (Client & supplier)

To be able to deliver and commission (assignment) good research it is important that client and supplier establish a good relationship.

Characteristic of good working relation:

  1. Two parties having sense of being on same wavelength (tone)
  2. Each understands the role of other


 Aim of a brief

– What the problem is

– Why research needed

– End use of research

 Aim of proposal

- How research will help

- What design appropriate

- Costs, timings and ‘why us