Writing a research proposal


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Guidelines that are intended to help you to know about the components of a research proposal and how to write a research proposal.

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Writing a research proposal

  1. 1. 1 Writing a PhD research Proposal School of Languages, Literacies & Translation, USM Friday, 25 July 2014 Dr. Omer Mahfoodh omer@usm.my omer197435@gmail.com Based on a talk to lecturers from Rajamangala University, Thailand
  2. 2. Outline 2 1. Background 2. Research proposal: Introduction 3. Process of developing a proposal 4. Components of a PhD research proposal 5. Introduction Chapter 6. Literature Review Chapter 7. Methodology Chapter 8. Common mistakes in proposal writing
  3. 3. 3 Background
  4. 4. 4 Academic life in higher education is a complex process of adaptation to new community in which the central skills which can help students to undergo a successful adaptation are writing and reading. Reading and writing, which are grouped under academic literacy practices, in any discipline in higher education comprises the essential processes through which students learn and develop their knowledge.
  5. 5. 5 To understand students’ learning in higher education, we have to take into account the importance of cultural and contextual components of writing and reading practices in shaping the development and the experience of students in higher education. Based on our recognition of the importance of the essential skills of writing and reading for postgraduate students, it should be clearly understood that writing in higher education is not a set of rules that should be followed strictly.
  6. 6. 6 Rather, writing in higher education is merely a set of conventions. These conventions are varied and they are practiced and learnt implicitly. Identical conventions in two contexts are hardly to be found. Graduate students in any discipline have to be involved in various genres of writing. These written genres may include research proposal, thesis, research article, reports and grant proposals. All of these academic practices depend on the command of writing and reading skills.
  7. 7. 7 The guidelines given in my presentation should be considered as suggestions. They are intended to help you to know about the components of a research proposal. This short guide may assist you to write a good research proposal and may help you to think about your proposed PhD/M.A/M.Sc research in a clear, structured and meaningful way. I would like to stress that my presentation is only a general guide and it does not guarantee acceptance onto a postgraduate program and your supervisors may have other views and ideas.
  8. 8. 8 Acceptance of a PhD student onto a research program is affected by many factors such as: 1. the nature of your proposed research, 2. the quality of your ideas, 3. your ability to commit to an intensive period of research study, 4. the effectiveness of your research proposal in communicating your ideas, 5. the “match” between the proposed research and the potential supervisor and 6. the capacity of the research department.
  9. 9. 9 Research proposal: Introduction
  10. 10. 10 In the research world, the research proposal is considered to be one of the central features. Proposal writing is important to your pursuit of a graduate degree. The proposal is, in effect, an intellectual scholastic contract between you and your committee or supervisor. It specifies what you will do, how you will do it, and how you will interpret the results.
  11. 11. 11 When a postgraduate/graduate student applies to join a Ph.D, M.A or M.Sc, she/he needs to include a research proposal which is not lengthy. It is rather short and may not exceed 20 pages. After getting the admission and registration, the student also needs to produce a research proposal which may include three chapters: Introduction chapter, Literature Review chapter, and Methodology chapter. The length of these chapters may be 60-180 pages; variations exist from one context to another.
  12. 12. 12 Because our focus is on “Research Proposal”, we need to define the two key words: research and proposal. Meanings in the Oxford online dictionary Research means “the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions”. Proposal means “a plan or suggestion, especially a formal or written one, put forward for consideration by others”.
  13. 13. 13 The word ‘research’ has been widely used in everyday speech. It is used to describe a variety of activities such as finding a piece of information or taking notes and then writing a research paper. It may refer to the act of informing oneself about what one does not know, perhaps by searching unsystematically through available sources to locate few small bits of information. Although these activities has been called research, accurately they have other names: information gathering, library skills, and documentation.
  14. 14. Definitions of research and proposal 14 Research is a systematic process of collecting data, analyzing, and interpreting them in order to increase our understanding of a phenomenon about which we are interested or concerned (Leedy & Ormrod, 2013). A research proposal is a written report presenting the plan and underlying rationale of a future study (Gravetter & Forzano, 2011).
  15. 15. 15 Typically, the presentation and approval of a formal proposal is required before a piece of research can proceed. This applies to the graduate student in a university, for whom the approval of a research proposal is required in order to proceed with the research and dissertation. It applies also to the application for funds to support research, where the proposal is the vehicle by which the proposed research is assessed, and decisions are made about its funding.
  16. 16. 16 Process of developing a proposal
  17. 17. 17 The following diagram shows my own conceptualisation of writing a PhD research proposal . It may be applied to postgraduate students working on the first chapters before doing a proposal presentation. It may be important to mention that developing a research proposal is a cyclic process which is a complex process and affected by various factors in the context: latest research, supervisor, discipline requirements and university requirements.
  18. 18. 18 Journal articles, theses, chapters in books, seminars, conferences books Choosing an area of research (Field) Choosing a topic and reformulating a research problem Reformulating the research objectives Supervisor(s) Sources of feedback Colleague(s) Others Choosing methods of data collection Background: review of studies Complete proposal: three chapters (Introduction, Literature review and Methodology)
  19. 19. 19 Components of a PhD proposal
  20. 20. Components of a PhD proposal 20 Front matters Main part (three chapters) Back matters
  21. 21. Front matters 21 1. Title page 2. Abstract 3. Table of contents
  22. 22. Title Page 22 Title page includes title of the research, your name, and your university A working title of your proposed research; this may not be the finalized title of your research project, but must show that you have already formulated what you are planning to achieve or carry out. It should be concise and descriptive. Often titles are stated in terms of a functional relationship, because such titles may clearly indicate the independent and dependent variables.
  23. 23. 23 It is preferred that you give an informative but catchy title. An effective title not only attracts the reader's interest, but also creates a positive attitude towards the proposal. A good title should orient your readers to the topic you will research. A good title should iindicate the type of study you will conduct.
  24. 24. Abstract 24 A brief overview of the general area of study (approximately 300 words) summarizing what? why and how? you are proposing to undertake within the research. It is a brief summary that should focus concisely on the research objectives, the rationale for the study, the hypothesis (if any), the method and the main findings. Descriptions of the method may include the design, procedures, the sample and any instruments that will be used.
  25. 25. Proposal: Thematic Structure of the Main Part 25 Introductory Chapter Literature review Methodology
  26. 26. Introductory Chapter: Thematic Structure 26 Overview Background: Field of study Statement of the problem Research objectives/ questions/hypotheses Limitations of the study Significance of the study Definition of key terms
  27. 27. Literature Review Chapter: Thematic Structure 27 Related theories Related studies: Critical review of previous studies Theoretical/Conceptual framework
  28. 28. Methodology Chapter: Thematic Structure 28 Type of the research design (Quantitative, Qualitative, or Mixed method) Respondents/participants: Sampling procedures Data collection: instruments and methods of collecting data Data analysis: Procedures/steps of analysis Ethical considerations: Permissions to conduct the research
  29. 29. Back matters 29 1. References/bibliography While references refer to all sources you referred and cited in your proposal, bibliography includes all sources you referred to but not necessarily cited in your proposal. It should be written based on the style recommended by your school/faculty. Most common styles are APA, MLA and Harvard 2. Appendixes It can include a copy of the questionnaire, interview objectives or some other documents readers may need to refer to when examining/reading your proposal.
  30. 30. 30 Introduction chapter
  31. 31. 31 The main purpose of the introductory chapter is to provide the necessary background or context for your research problem. How to frame the research problem is perhaps the biggest problem in proposal writing. If the research problem is framed in the context of a general, rambling literature review, then the research question may appear trivial and uninteresting. However, if the same question is placed in the context of a very focused and current research area, its significance will become evident.
  32. 32. 32 The introductory chapter generally covers the following elements: 1. State the research problem, which is often referred to as the purpose of the study. 2. Provide the context and set the stage for your research question in such a way as to show its necessity and importance. 3. Present the rationale of your proposed study and clearly indicate why it is worth doing. 4. Briefly describe the major issues and sub-problems to be addressed by your research.
  33. 33. 33 Identify the key independent and dependent variables of your experiment. Alternatively, specify the phenomenon you want to study. State your hypothesis or theory, if any. For exploratory or phenomenological research, you may not have any hypotheses. Be clear about what your study will not address through explaining the scope of your proposed research in order to provide a clear focus. Provide definitions of key concepts.
  34. 34. Statement of the problem 34 It is an important section in which the researcher/student must explain academically the problem under investigation or the gap in the previous studies. The statement of the problem should: 1. answer the question: “What is the gap that needs to be filled?” and/or “What is the problem that needs to be solved?” and 2. state the problem or create the gap clearly. Limit the variables you address in stating your problem or question. In some contexts, it ends with some statements on the purpose of the study.
  35. 35. 35 Literature Review Chapter
  36. 36. 36 You should develop your proposal to demonstrate that you are aware of the important issues, themes and debates in the relevant literature, identifying existing gaps (both theoretical and practical). You must refer to key articles and texts and briefly show that you understand how they are relevant to your research area. A PhD is an original piece of work and so you should demonstrate that your proposed area of research has not been studied before.
  37. 37. 37 The literature review serves several important functions: 1. Ensures that you are not "reinventing the wheel". 2. Gives credits to those who have laid the groundwork for your research. 3. Demonstrates your knowledge of the research problem. 4. Demonstrates your understanding of the theoretical and research issues related to your research objectives. 5. Shows your ability to critically evaluate relevant literature information.
  38. 38. 38 6. Indicates your ability to integrate and synthesize the existing literature. 7. Provides new theoretical insights or develops a new model as the conceptual framework for your research. 8. Convinces your reader that your proposed research will make a significant and substantial contribution to the literature (i.e., resolving an important theoretical issue or filling a major gap in the literature).
  39. 39. 39 Methodology chapter
  40. 40. 40 This chapter should contain sufficient information for the readers, the committee or the supervisor(s) to determine whether methodology is sound and rigorous. It should provide sufficient details for another qualified researcher to implement the study. First you need to describe the design of the study and give justification for your selection. The selection of the research design is based on your research objectives.
  41. 41. 41 The researcher must take into account that the most appropriate research design is the design that addresses the research objectives. Indicate how the approach fits the overall research design. Your methods should have a clear connection with your research questions and/or hypotheses. In this chapter, ways of collecting data are provided with clear and sufficient explanation of the procedures of data collection.
  42. 42. 42 Describe the specific methods of data collection you are going to use, e.g., interviews, questionnaires, observation, archival or traditional library research. Procedures and techniques of analyzing data are also described in Methodology Chapter. In this chapter, justification for the selection of some particular instruments such as questionnaires should be effectively explained. Permissions to conduct the research and how to get them should be included in this chapter too.
  43. 43. 43 Common mistakes in proposal writing
  44. 44. 44 1. Failure to provide the proper context to frame the research objectives. 2. No clear explanation of the scope of the study. 3. Failure to cite landmark studies and important ones. 4. There is inaccurate presentation of the theoretical and empirical contributions by other researchers. 5. Failure to stay focused on the research objectives. 6. Lack of development of a coherent and persuasive argument for the proposed research.
  45. 45. 45 7. Too much detail on minor issues, but not enough detail on major issues which are the concern of the proposal. 8. Difficult to follow because there is no clear sense of direction. 9. Too many citation lapses and incorrect references. 10. Too long or too short (it is based on the guidelines given by your university/department) 11. Failing to follow the a particular writing style (APA or Harvard) consistently.
  46. 46. 46 Most students' literature reviews suffer from the following problems: 1. Problems in the organization and structure. 2. Lacking focus, unity and coherence. 3. Being repetitive of information. 4. Failing to cite influential journal articles and previous studies. 5. Recent developments and findings on the topic are not included in the proposal. 6. Critical evaluation of cited papers is inadequate or insufficient. 7. Citing irrelevant references. 8. Depending too much on secondary sources.
  47. 47. Conclusions 47 Writing a research proposal is not an easy task because it entails the use of a wide range of language skills, study skills and academic literacy practices. It is affected by various contextual factors which may be related to the supervisor, the student, the discipline and the requirements of the institutions. The guidelines that have been published and can be accessed online should not lead the researcher. Rather, such guidelines should help the researchers to come up with appropriate proposals. The final decision of the quality of the proposal is based on the evaluation of the research supervisor or the committee in the context.
  48. 48. References 48 Baxter, L, Hughes, C. and Tight, M. (2001): How to Research, (Open University Press, Milton Keynes). Bell, J. (1999): Doing Your Research Project: A Guide for First-time Researchers in Education & Social Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Cryer, P. (2000): The Research Student's Guide to Success, (Open University, Milton Keynes). Delamont, S., Atkinson, P. and Parry, O. (1997): Supervising the PhD, (Open University Press, Milton Keynes). Gravetter, F., & Forzano, L. A. (2011). Research methods for the behavioral sciences. Cengage Learning. Leedy, P.D. & Ormrod, J. E. (2010) Practical Research: Planning and Design, Ninth Edition. NYC: Merril. Paltridge, B., & Starfield, S. (2007). Thesis and dissertation writing in a second language: A handbook for supervisors. Routledge.
  49. 49. 49 Philips, E. and Pugh, D. (2005): How to get a PhD: A Handbook for Students and their Supervisors, (Open University Press, Milton Keynes). Swales, J.M. (2004) Research Genres: Explorations and Applications, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Swales, J.M. and Feak, C.B. (1994) Academic Writing for Graduate Students, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Swales, J.M. and Feak, C.B. (2000) English in Today’s Research World, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Wong, P. T. P. (2002). How to write a research proposal. Retrieved December 1, 2004, from http://www.meaning.ca/articles/print/writing_research_proposal_m ay02.htm Writing Thesis and Dissertation Proposals http://pwr.la.psu.edu/resources/graduate-writing-center/handouts- 1/WritingProposals.pdf/
  50. 50. 50 THANK YOU Any Question or comment?