Task: You will complete the following: o Identify the decision-maker or group of decision-makers to whom you will write this memo. o Consider the secondary research you conducted on your topic for writing assignment #2. o Consider what primary research you will need to conduct for your research-based report. o Write a proposal memo to your decision-maker asking for permission to conduct this research. • Length: 800-1100 words • Format: A template for the memo is provided on page 2.Assignment has to be completed using APA format and citations
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Writing Assignment #3
Proposal Memo to the Decision-maker
Summary of assignment
Task: You will complete the following:
o Identify the decision-maker or group of decision-makers to whom you will write
o Consider the secondary research you conducted on your topic for writing
o Consider what primary research you will need to conduct for your research-based
o Write a proposal memo to your decision-maker asking for permission to conduct
Length: 800-1100 words
Format: A template for the memo is provided on page 2.
How This Assignment Informs Writing Assignment #4
This proposal memo is a preliminary step you take prior to writing your final paper, which is the
research-based report (writing assignment #4). Your final paper in WRTG 394 will be a report
in which you:
define a problem in your workplace or community persuasively and accurately.
propose a solution or solutions to the problem or issue.
As part of defining the problem and proposing a solution, you must conduct primary research.
You might also need to conduct some additional secondary research. In Writing Assignment #3,
the proposal to conduct research, you are persuading a decision-maker or group of decisionmakers to authorize you to begin conducting this research that will end up in your final report.
The main purposes of the research proposal memo are to accomplish the following:
Demonstrate that the problem you’ve identified for Project #4 is significant enough to
Present a feasible plan or blueprint for your research.
Set forth potential benefits to the organization or community from the research that
justify the use of time and resources.
Template for Submitting Your Memo
Note: Please use the format outlined below, including the headers provided in bold, for the
[Decision Maker Name(s) and title(s)]
[Your Name and title]
Request to Conduct Research on […]
[Write one or two sentences in which you mention why you are writing this memo.]
What the Problem Is and Why It Needs to Be Investigated
[In a series of paragraphs, describe the problem to which you are going to propose a solution and
explain why you think this problem is important.]
What Secondary Research I Have Conducted about the Problem
[In one paragraph describe secondary research you have conducted on the problem and solution.]
What Primary Research I Will Conduct about the Problem
[In a series of paragraphs, describe primary research you will conduct on the problem and
Why We Will Benefit from My Research and Recommendations
[In one or two paragraphs, describe your recommendations to the problem/situation you are
describing. Include a description of the potential benefits that your organization or community
will incur by authorizing your research and considering your recommendation.]
[In one or two sentences, conclude your memo by repeating the request for authorization and
reminding of the benefits of your conducting the research and considering your
Advice on Conducting Primary Research
When considering primary research, consider the strategies outlined in the following material
from weeks 3 and 4:
“Strategies for Qualitative Interviews – Harvard University” (from week 3)
“Designing Effective Questions and Questionnaires” (from week 3)
“Writing Interview Protocols and Conducting Interviews” (from week 4)
Consider the following examples:
If you are proposing that email be used less frequently for communication and that another
application be used to improve communication, you might interview fellow employees on the
situation, and you might take screen captures of alternative communication tools to illustrate how
they work and would improve communication in your office.
For a report on proposing a new traffic light, you might take pictures of the intersection where
such a traffic light could be built, and you might interview residents to get their perspective on the
traffic light idea.
For a report to the program chair of your major at UMUC suggesting changes to the curriculum,
you might interview or survey fellow students, interview or survey hiring managers in the field,
and/or interview or survey students who are majoring in the same field at another institution.
For a report on recycling facilities, you might take pictures of the office environment to show that
current recycling facilities are inadequate, and you might interview fellow workers about whether
they find it easy to recycle materials at your office.
Examples of How to Make Topics Specific for the Final Report in WRTG
If you wish to write a report to your supervisor at work suggesting that email be used less
frequently for communication and that another application, such as texting, be used to improve
communication, you cannot simply prepare a report on the benefits of texting in the workplace.
You must establish that your specific office has problems in communicating by email and
indicate the benefits of using alternative communication systems, such as texting, for your
If you write a report to your neighborhood community association that a traffic light be posted at
a particular intersection, you cannot simply prepare a report on the benefits of traffic safety. You
must show that the specific intersection in your neighborhood needs a traffic light in order to
If you write a report to the program chair of your major at UMUC recommending changes to the
curriculum, you cannot simply prepare a report on the benefits of a certain class. You must show
that the specific curriculum for your major at UMUC lacks something that your suggested
adjustment will provide.
If you write a report on recycling facilities at your workplace, you cannot simply prepare a report
on the benefits of recycling. You must show that the recycling facilities at your specific
workplace are inadequate or need improving.
Submitting the assignment:
You will submit a draft of the memo to the assignment folder. The instructor will provide
comments to it and work with you on a second draft if necessary.
S t r a t e g i e s f o r Q ua l i t a t i v e I n t e r v i e ws
A Few General Points
Stop and Think: should interviews be included in your research design?
o Are there alternative ways of answering your research question through
documentary review, observation or unobtrusive measures?
o Be clear about the possible biases and limitations of interviews
The point of a qualitative interview is to let the respondent tell their own story on their own
THIS IS NOT A SURVEY! The guide acts as a prompt, reminding you of necessary topics to
cover, questions to ask and areas to probe. As such, it should be simple so that your
primary focus can stay on the respondent. It’s best to memorize your guide!
How much time will you spend with each respondent? Adjust your guide accordingly (it
may take several interviews to judge the correct length).
Try out a new guide (or parts of it) on friends and get their feedback before using it in the
Should you record and transcribe interviews?
It helps to correct the natural limitations of our memories and of the intuitive glosses that
we might place on what people say in interviews
It allows more thorough examination of what people say
It permits repeated examinations of the interviewees’ answers
It opens up the data to public scrutiny by other researchers, who can evaluate the analysis
that is carried out by the original researchers of the data (that is, a secondary analysis)
It therefore helps to counter accusations that an analysis might have been influenced by a
researcher’s values or biases
It allows the data to be reused in other ways from those intended by the original
researcher—for example, in the light of new theoretical ideas or analytic strategies.
It introduces a different dynamic into the social encounter of the interview, and recording
equipment may be off-putting for interviewees.
Transcribing is a very time-consuming process. It also requires good equipment, usually in
the form of a good-quality tape recorder and microphone but also, if possible, a
transcription machine. Transcription also very quickly results in a daunting pile of paper.
A Successful Interviewer is:
1. Knowledgeable: is thoroughly familiar with the focus of the interview; pilot interviews of the
kind used in survey interviewing can be useful here.
2. Structuring: gives purpose for interview; rounds it off; asks whether interviewee has
3. Clear: asks simple, easy, short questions; no jargon.
4. Gentle: lets people finish; gives them time to think; tolerates pauses.
5. Sensitive: listens attentively to what is said and how it is said; is empathetic in dealing with
6. Open: responds to what is important to interviewee and is flexible.
7. Steering: knows what he/she wants to find out.
8. Critical: is prepared to challenge what is said, for example, dealing with inconsistencies in
9. Remembering: relates what is said to what has previously been said.
10. Interpreting: clarifies and extends meanings of interviewees’ statements, but without
imposing meaning on them.
11. Balanced: does not talk too much, which may make the interviewee passive, and does not
talk too little, which may result in the interviewee feeling he or she is not talking along the
12. Ethically sensitive: is sensitive to the ethical dimension of interviewing, ensuring the
interviewee appreciates what the research is about, its purposes, and that his or her answers
will be treated confidentially.
The Interview as an Interpersonal Encounter
The social skills of empathy, warmth, attentiveness, humor (where appropriate), and
consideration are essential for good interviewing.
Any judgmental attitudes, shock or discomfort will be immediately detected.
Never answer a question for the respondent.
One must be completely engaged with the respondent, while at the same time keeping track
of the questions one needs to ask.
Use every active listening technique at your disposal:
o Repeating back
o Tell me more about that!”
o “That is really interesting.”
Don’t be afraid of silence; you can use it to prod the respondent to reflect and amplify an
Don’t follow the interview guide—follow the respondent. Follow up new information that
he or she brings up without losing sense of where you are in the interview.
Try not to think about time—relax into the interview.
Guidelines for Developing Interview Questions
Questions should be simple. Do not ask more than one question at a time.
The best questions are those which elicit the longest answers from the respondent.
Do not ask questions that can be answered with one word.
Don’t ask questions that require your respondents to do your analysis for you. This
is YOUR job.
Likewise, do not ask for hearsay or opinions on behalf of the group they are a part of
“What do people around here think of x?” You rarely get anything interesting.
Don’t be afraid to ask embarrassing questions. If you don’t ask, they won’t tell.
Types of questions or other interview talk:
o Direct questions: ‘Do you find it easy to keep smiling when serving
customers?’; ‘Are you happy with the way you and your husband decide
how money should be spent?’ Such questions are perhaps best left until
towards the end of the interview, in order not to influence the direction of the
interview too much.
o Indirect questions: ‘What do most people round here think of the ways that
management treats its staff?’, perhaps followed up by ‘Is that the way you
feel too?’, in order to get at the individual’s own view.
o Structuring questions: ‘I would now like to move on to a different topic’.
o Follow-up questions: getting the interviewee to elaborate his/her answer, such
as ‘Could you say some more about that?’; ‘What do you mean by that . . .?’
o Probing questions: following up what has been said through direct
o Specifying questions: ‘What did you do then?’; ‘How did X react to what you
o Interpreting questions: ‘Do you mean that your leadership role has had to
change from one of encouraging others to a more directive one?’; ‘Is it fair to
say that what you are suggesting is that you don’t mind being friendly
towards customers most of the time, but when they are unpleasant or
demanding you find it more difficult?’
Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Interview Questions
1. Write down the larger research questions of the study. Outline the broad areas of
knowledge that are relevant to answering these questions.
2. Develop questions within each of these major areas, shaping them to fit particular
kinds of respondents. The goal here is to tap into their experiences and expertise.
3. Adjust the language of the interview according to the respondent (child,
4. Take care to word questions so that respondents are motivated to answer as
completely and honestly as possible.
5. Ask “how” questions rather than “why” questions to get stories of process rather
than acceptable “accounts” of behavior. “How did you come to join this group . . .?”
6. Develop probes that will elicit more detailed and elaborate responses to key
questions. The more detail, the better!
7. Begin the interview with a “warm-up” question—something that the respondent can
answer easily and at some length (though not too long). It doesn’t have to pertain
directly to what you are trying to find out (although it might), but this initial
rapport-building will put you more at ease with one another and thus will make the
rest of the interview flow more smoothly.
8. Think about the logical flow of the interview. What topics should come first? What
follows more or less “naturally”? This may take some adjustment after several
9. Difficult or potentially embarrassing questions should be asked toward the end of
the interview, when rapport has been established.
10. The last question should provide some closure for the interview, and leave the
respondent feeling empowered, listened to, or otherwise glad that they talked to
Designing Effective Questions and
In this section, we’ll take a look at how to pose understandable questions that will yield useable data
and how to present those questions on a questionnaire.
Asking Effective Questions
The first thing you need to do to write effective survey questions is identify what exactly it is that you
wish to know. It’s easy to forget to include important questions when designing a survey. Let’s say
you want to understand how students at your school made the transition from high school to
college. Perhaps you wish to identify which students were comparatively more or less successful in
this transition and which factors contributed to students’ success or lack thereof. To understand
which factors shaped successful students’ transitions to college, include questions about all the
factors that could contribute. Consulting literature on the topic will help, but take the time to do
brainstorming and talk with others about what they think may be important in the transition to
college. Perhaps time or space limitations won’t allow you to include every item, so think about
ranking the questions so that you include those that are most important.
Don’t take an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach by uncritically including every question that
occurs to you. Doing so puts an unnecessary burden on the survey respondents. Remember that you
have asked respondents to give you time and attention and to take care in responding to the
questions; show them respect by only asking questions that you view as important.
Once you’ve identified the topics about which you’d like to ask questions, you’ll need to write those
questions. Questions should be as clear and to the point as possible. This is not the time to show off
creative writing skills; a survey is a technical instrument and should be written in a way that is direct
and succinct. The survey respondents have agreed to give their time and attention. The best way to
show appreciation for their time is to not waste it. Ensuring that questions are clear and not overly
wordy will go a long way toward showing respondents the gratitude they deserve.
Make sure that every question you pose will be relevant to every person you ask to complete it. This
means two things: first, that respondents have knowledge about whatever topic you are asking
about, and second, that respondents have experience with whatever events, behaviors, or feelings
you are asking them to report. You probably wouldn’t want to ask a sample of 18-year-old
respondents, for example, how they would have advised President Reagan to proceed when news of
the United States’ sale of weapons to Iran broke in the mid-1980s. Few 18-year-olds are likely to
have any clue about how to advise a president. Furthermore, the 18-year-olds of today were not
even alive during Reagan’s presidency, so they have had no experience with the event about which
they are being questioned. In our example of the transition to college, heeding the criterion of
relevance would mean that respondents must understand what exactly you mean by “transition to
college” if you are going to use that phrase in the survey and that respondents must have actually
experienced the transition to college.
If you decide to pose questions about matters with which only a portion of respondents will have
had experience, it may be appropriate to introduce a filter question into the survey. A filter question
is designed to identify some subset of survey respondents who are asked additional questions that
are not relevant to the entire sample.
Perhaps in the survey on the transition to college, you want to know whether substance use plays
any role in students’ transitions. You may ask students how often they drank alcohol during their first
semester of college. But this assumes that all students drank. Certainly some may have abstained,
and it wouldn’t make any sense to ask the nondrinkers how often they drank. Nevertheless, it seems
reasonable that drinking frequency may have an impact on someone’s transition to college, so it is
probably worth asking this question even if doing so violates the rule of relevance for some
respondents. This is just the sort of instance when a filter question would be appropriate. You may
pose the question as it is presented in the figure “Filter Question”.
There are some ways of asking questions that are bound to confuse survey respondents. Survey
researchers should take care to avoid these kinds of questions. These include questions that pose
double negatives, those that use confusing or culturally specific terms, and those that ask more than
one question but are posed as a single question. Any time respondents are forced to decipher
questions that use two forms of negation, confusion is bound to ensue.
Taking the previous question about drinking as our example, what if we had instead asked, “Did you
not drink during your first semester of college?” A response of no would mean that the respondent
did actually drink—he or she did not not drink. Be careful about question wording so that
respondents are not asked to decipher double negatives.
In general, avoiding negative terms in question wording will help to increase respondent
understanding. Though this is generally true, some researchers argue that negatively worded
questions should be integrated with positi …
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