English for Special Education


Text type 1: Observation report

There are three processes in writing a qualitative observation report. First, you should record your observations of a particular setting or situation (i.e., field notes). Then, you should re-organize the notes you made based on research question(s). Finally, you should present your observations and interpretations that answer your research question(s) in a clear way.  

Tips for taking field notes 

  1. Entries: Factual data such as date, time and background information of your participants are important and should be noted before you start the observation. 
  2. Dates: Using the DD MMM YYYY format (e.g., 23 APR 2021) to record the date is more ideal than other formats because confusions between numeric month and year can be prevented. 
  3. Times: 24-hour clock (0530, 1745) is better than 12-hour clock (5:30, 5:45) because ambiguity may arise if you have forgotten to put down AM or PM. Both beginning time and end time should be marked in your observation entry. 
  4. Notes: Descriptions (i.e., what you did see and what you did not see), but not interpretations (i.e., what you think), should be what you will write down in your field notes. Since you will re-visit your notes later when you produce the report, detailed descriptions such as ‘student A (girl with shoulder-length hair) tried to talk to student B (girl with two pony tails)’ is preferred. When possible, note down any quantitative data, such as ’10 students are divided into 2 groups of 5. They engaged in a 5-min group discussion’.   

Tips for interpreting the notes 

To ensure your interpretations are meaningful, you can create a research question around the theme or criteria of the report. This question is to guide your observations as well as help you to interpret and organize the notes for your report.  

Tips for writing the report 

When you are writing the report, you should bare in mind that you, as the observer, are also part of the scene. Sometimes, your presence may affect the scene too. Therefore, along with the observation and interpretation, your reflections with the use of first pronoun ‘I’ are also important. Your report should include the following paragraphs: 

  1. The introduction includes an overview of the background information you observed and poses the research question. 
  2. The body uses paragraph divisions to signal logical shifts in time, place, behaviours, or attention to different aspects of your research question. Ensure that one central concept or ‘thread’ governs each paragraph, and don’t end with a sentence that belongs to the next paragraph. Informative headings and sub-headings can also help cue the reader.   
  3. The conclusion should come back to the research question. Did your observation answer it? Why or why not? Then go a step further and suggest a sense of significance. 

Text type 2: Research proposal

The proposal should begin with a Title page. This will provide a preliminary (or proposed) title for your research. Other details such as your name, university name, and supervisor’s name may also appear here. 

Following this, there should be a Summary of the research proposal. This will give the key areas in the proposal, i.e. the aim, objectives, research questions, method, and timeline. 

There should be an Introduction to the proposal. This will give background information and a description of the research area. It may also give the motivation for the research and explain its importance. The overall aim of the research will be given, in other words what your research will achieve. This will be accompanied by more specific research objectives, which outline the issues to be addressed in order to achieve the aim. These will be followed by the research questions which enable the objectives to be achieved (usually Why, How or What questions). 

There should be a preliminary Literature review. This section provides a critical summary of previous research in the area, identifying possible gaps and how your research will fill them. This section may help to justify your research and show why it is important. Although at this stage your literature review may not be complete, your supervisor will still need to see the general framework that your research exists within, and examples of previous research in the area, in order to be confident that you are approaching the research in the correct way. 

Next there will be a Methodology section. This section will give information on how your research will be conducted. This includes the kind of data which will be obtained (e.g. quantitative or qualitative), the source of data, the research methodology and why this approach has been chosen. Ethical and safety issues may also be identified. Required resources may also be listed, e.g. facilities, laboratory equipment and technical help. 

The proposal should include a Timeline. This section will show how you plan to finish the research within the allotted time. It should include when important aspects of the research will start and finish, for instance the literature review, stages of experiments, and chapters of the final written work (likely to be a thesis or dissertation). The timeline can be formatted as a table or a list; a GANTT chart, listing tasks (vertical axis) and time (horizontal axis), is also frequently used. 

There should be a Reference section. The reference section gives full details of any sources cited in the research proposal. 

Finally, there will be Appendices, which give additional information not needed in the main body. This could include interview questions, questionnaires, and pilot study data. 


Other sections are also possible. For example, there may be sections on Expected resultsExpected chapter outlineSupervision or Dissemination of results. 

Citation style: APA (7th edition) 

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