One of the key assessment requirements of the Level 5 and Level 7 HRM and HRD programmes is to plan a small-scale research project to investigate an HR-related issue in your organisation. At level 5, you don't have to conduct the research itself for the programme (although you can, of course, if you want to!) but you need to write a Research Proposal which sets out the purpose and scope of your intended research, and a discussion of what you would do in order to fully investigate the issue and present your findings to your stakeholders. For level 7 programmes, the Research Proposal is the starting point for the Management Research Report, an extended piece of work which will help you to gain valuable organisational insights into a specified HR issue.
I often get a lot of questions about how to go about planning a project, so this article is intended to help you get your research proposal off the ground.
How should I go about choosing a topic?
The first thing you need to do is to decide what the topic of your project should be. It is your choice, but it must be clearly related to HR, and it must be able to benefit the organisation in some way.
Choosing a good topic is often the most difficult part of research. A common pitfall is not defining clearly enough the topic to be investigated. As a result the research may be too broad (and take too much time) or too narrow (and therefore not allow you to demonstrate the required breadth and depth of knowledge to meet the assessment criteria).
There's no foolproof way to choose a good research topic, but here are some suggestions that might help to get you started:
- keep an eye on "hot topics" in publications such as People Management and Personnel Today - there is often a lot of current information available about these;
- what's going on in your organisation - are there any issues that need addressing? Are there any areas of HR that could be improved?
- brainstorm with HR colleagues and/or your manager to find out what they think would benefit the organisation; beware though - your manager may have something in mind and you could feel obliged to use their suggestions even though the subject matter doesn't particularly interest you;
- look back through your CPD plan / record - are there any areas of HR that you've identified as potential research issues or which would complement your personal / career goals?
- flick through the HRM programme content - are there any areas of HR practice that you'd like to delve into more deeply?
- keep a notebook to jot down ideas - you never know when a research topic will pop into your head!);
- try concept-mapping to generate ideas; you can do this by hand with a pen and paper or there is plenty of software out there for the more technically minded - here is a worked example and explanation of using concept mapping in research planning
It's also worth considering your own areas of interest - you're likely to spend quite a lot of time thinking about the topic, so try and choose an issue that you are curious about and want to learn more about.
OK, I've thought of a topic, what next?
Once you've selected on a topic, you need to consider whether it is going to meet your requirements:
- How realistic is this issue to investigate? If you are not so confident with data analysis, don’t choose a topic which will rely heavily on statistics;
- Is it of sufficient importance or relevance to my organisation? You will need to show how your research will deliver fresh insights and therefore add value to the organisation. You may need to get permission from your organisation to do your research or you may need to allocate time / budget to conducting the research, so being able to demonstrate its value is especially important;
- Will the topic chosen be manageable? You need to consider how you might go about investigating the issue and the time resources you will need to do this effectively - more on this later!
- Does it have clear links to theory? Whatever topic you choose though, should have a clear theoretical basis as well as a practical application;
- Is it something I am genuinely interested in? You are likely to be more enthusiastic about a topic which really interests you and for which you can see a clear practical application in your work.
If you're thinking about a very "big" topic, such as reward, or learning and development, you will probably need to break it down into sub-topics which will help you to narrow down the focus of your research to a narrower and more manageable aspect.
Finally, once you've identified the topic you think you want to work on, it's worth having an initial chat with your facilitator to make sure that the topic area is appropriate and likely to be manageable before you invest a lot of time in planning the research.
Great, what next?
Now that you've narrowed down your topic to a manageable research question, you can begin planning your research. Watch this space for future blogs.....