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Old Sunday, June 03, 2012
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Default Basics of Research Proposal

Basics of Proposal (Synopsis) Writing

Research is an integral part of master and doctorate studies throughout the world. For undertaking research, we are supposed to write a research proposal or synopsis. Unfortunately, most of the students face a lot of difficulty in preparing their proposal, as usually they have no formal training how to write a persuasive proposal. A decent proposal is complementary in winning a scholarship, so it is highly desirable to know the rudiments of proposal writing. The research proposal is a fundamental part of the process of thesis production. Without a clear proposal, it is unlikely that you will be able to embark on a systematic investigation and discussion of a problematic issue in your area of research.
I confronted a lot of problems when I started developing my proposal. I read extensively from many resources and finally I was able to formulate the proposal. Then I decided to incorporate my understanding in the form of a document, so that others may take help from it. Now at this point, I have a slightly better idea about what makes a good research proposal, although I am no expert. Hopefully, if you need to write a proposal, this assignment will help you figure it out. I am writing this article especially for my University of Agriculture, Faisalabad-Pakistan (UAF) fellows with the intention of making them aware about proposal basics and hope that it will assist them while writing their proposal. The students from other institutes can also take help from it. May God accept this humble attempt of mine!
Developing Research Proposal

In general, remember the following things while preparing your research proposal;
• Define a research question/problem
• Demonstrate how your project fits into established research
• Critically review the literature and develop your own criteria for accepting or rejecting the arguments
• Demonstrate usefulness of your research
Demonstrating an Argument

Argumentation is really the vehicle of intellectual inquiry. Scholars always give reasons to support their arguments. An argument typically consists of the following parts;
• Premise/claim
• Logical reasoning/evidence in support of claim
• Presentation of opposing views
• Refutation of opposing views
• Conclusion/Inference

Research Proposal

A research proposal is the presentation of an idea that you wish to pursue. It is a persuasive document that addresses what (what is the problem), Why (why it is significant to solve it) and How (which methods and techniques you will employ to solve the problem using available resources). It is intended to convince others that you have a worthwhile research project and competence and the work-plan to complete it. It convinces your potential reviewers/supervisors about your potential as a researcher. The main motive lies to show that the problem you propose to probe is significant enough to warrant investigation, the method you plan to use is suitable and feasible and the results are likely to prove fruitful and will make an original contribution.

Research proposals may vary in length, so it is important to check with the department(s) to which you are applying to check word limits and guidelines. In general, a proposal should be around 3,000 words, but some institutions or departments specify certain limits. It is rarely possible to write a comprehensive proposal in fewer than 1500 words. However, it should contain all the key elements including sufficient information for the readers to evaluate the proposed study. There should be a proper layout (typeface and line spacing) as well as a table of contents and page numbers. Remember that a proposal is always written in future tense.

For your supervisor, a proposal is an indication of whether you have done adequate thinking about the topic and sufficient preparation for the study. It gives your supervisor an indication of your ability to put your ideas into clear and rational manner. It gives you and your supervisor a plan of action to follow in order to reach completion of the thesis (your ultimate aim). At the same time, it is your opportunity to persuade the academic community that you know what you are talking about.

Potential supervisors and finance providers use research proposals to assess the quality and originality of your ideas, your skills in critical thinking and the feasibility of the research project. Research proposals are also used to assess your expertise in the area in which you want to conduct research, you knowledge of the existing literature and how your project will enhance it.

Format of Research Proposal

There is no single format for research proposals. This is because every research project is different and different disciplines, donor organisations and academic institutions all have different formats and requirements. There are, however, several key components which must be included in every research proposal. Regardless of your research area and the methodology you choose, all research proposals must contain the elements discussed below.

Title

It should be concise (accurate), descriptive (describe what your research is about?), comprehensive (focused-not general) and catchy (attracting the reader’s interest). An effective title not only pricks the reader's interest, but also predisposes him favourably towards the proposal. The title should identify the purpose of the study indicating your research area. All words in the title should be chosen with great care, and their association with one another must be carefully considered. Note that you will only be ready to devise a title once you are clear about the focus of your research.

It may also be a working title that you will revise as your research project develops. For securing scholarships, your title should be comprehensive and accurate, however later on your supervisor may propose you to modify it.

Introduction

The main purpose of the introduction is to provide the necessary background or context for your research problem to set the rationale for justification of the study. Introduction typically begins with a general statement of the problem area, with a focus on a specific research problem, to be followed by the rational or justification convincing your supervisor/funding organization that the research you are going to undertake is worth doing. You will show that how the results of this undertaking (research) can be used to solve the problem under study. The introduction generally covers the following elements:

• State the research problem, starting from general introduction to specified problem.
• Provide the context and set the stage for your research question in such a way as to show its necessity and importance.
• Present the rationale of your proposed study and implicitly indicate why it is worth doing.
• Briefly describe the major issues and sub-problems to be addressed by your research.
• 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.
• Set the boundaries of your proposed research in order to provide a clear focus.

The introduction should include what will be the implications of doing this research? What will be the impact of the study? How will it stand to inform the policy makers to devise their policy? It should also tell why your research project should be financed? In conclusion, introduction must state clearly what is the problem? And why is it significant to solve it.

At the end of introduction after stating your hypothesis, write your research objectives in a lucid manner. The objectives should be specific (relevant to research problem), measurable, achievable, and realistic and time bound.

Review of Literature

The literature review always comes after the introduction and before the materials and methods. A good review of literature is characterized by a logical flow of ideas. It establishes the context and rationalizes the significance of the problem. It identifies main methodologies and research techniques used. The literature review provides a conceptual framework for the reader so that the research question and methodology can be better understood. Review of literature gives you the opportunity to avoid duplication and evaluate the promising research methods. This demonstrates to the expert reader that the researcher has studied existing work in the field with insight and is aware of the breadth and diversity of literature that relates to the research question.

The purpose of the literature review is to situate your research in the context of what is already known. Develop a series of arguments that lead to your hypothesis/problem. It should move from more general to more focused, including only those studies that are critically relevant to your research. Organize it into sections that present themes or identify trends. As you present your argument, identify gaps in research that your study will fill. Also show how your study will extend the knowledge that has already been established? A good literature review is comprehensive, critical and contextualised. It means that it will provide the reader with a theory base, a survey of published works that pertain to your investigation, and an analysis of that work. The literature review serves several important functions;

• Distinguishes what has been done from what needs to be done
• Provides a context and justification of the research
• Ensures that research has not been done before
• Gives credits to those who have laid the groundwork for your research.
• Demonstrates your knowledge of the research problem.
• Demonstrates your understanding of the theoretical and research issues related to your research question.
• Shows your ability to critically evaluate relevant literature information.
• Indicates your ability to integrate and synthesize the existing literature.
• Provides new theoretical insights or develops a new model as the conceptual framework for your research.
• Identifies gaps/controversies in previous research and formulates questions that need further research
• 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).

Review of literature should address following questions;

• What is the topic and why is it important?
• Where did the problem come from?
• What is already known about it?
• How has this problem been approached in the past?
• What remains unknown about this problem and why?
• What controversies are there in literature about this problem?
• What might account for differences in findings/opinions?
• What do you propose to do to resolve this problem further?
• Why is your proposed approach likely to be useful?

In conclusion, It should establish the need for the research and indicate that the writer is knowledgeable about the area. A good literature review is an argument that is more purposeful than a simple review of relevant literature. Writing a good review requires researcher to read a few good reviews, develop a structure, write purposefully, and use the literature to back up your arguments.

Most of the students lack following elements in their review of literature;

• Lacking organization and structure
• Lacking focus, unity and coherence
• Being repetitive and verbose
• Failing to cite influential papers
• Failing to keep up with recent developments
• Failing to critically evaluate cited papers
• Citing irrelevant or trivial references
• Depending too much on secondary sources

Methodology

This is the heart of research proposal and should receive a lot of attention. It will provide your work plan and describe the activities necessary for the completion of your project. A well-developed methodology section is crucial, particularly if you intend to conduct significant empirical research. It should contain sufficient information for the reader to determine whether methodology is sound. It may be the longest section of your proposal. Give detailed information about how you intend to answer your research questions. Depending on the discipline and the topic, suitable research strategies should be defined. Methodology must clearly provide the following details;

• Nature of your research (Descriptive/exploratory or both)
• Research approach (Qualitative or quantitative or both)
• Research design (is it a questionnaire study or a laboratory experiment?)
• Control and other treatments
• All the instruments being used (why-are they valid and reliable?)
• Research population (sampling population)
• Sampling procedures
• Data collection/generation technique (method) and instruments (elaborate why to choose that particular technique and instrument?)
• Calendar table of events in carrying out study (sequence of the events)
• Statistical tools used for data analysis and interpretation (like SPSS, SAS, ANOVA, etc.)

Time Frame

Provide a realistic time frame indicating the sequence of research phases and the time that you will probably need for each phase in which you wish to complete your research project. Be generous when working out time frames and check them with a more experienced researcher. Take into account that at this stage, it can only be estimated, but make clear that you have an idea about the timespan that will be needed for each step.

Budget

In this section, give a detailed description of the funds needed to undertake the research. This is necessary where the researcher intends to apply for funding from any research organization. Keep in mind the funding limits of the agency you are applying to secure funding. Include all the costs associated with your project but make sure that budget should be justifiable, and demonstrates accountability.

Bibliography

In this section, cite all the academic works that you have consulted in preparing the proposal. At least some of them should be recent publications, indicating that you are aware of the current discourse in your area of research.

Where do I start to develop a research proposal?

Every proposal starts with an idea. Translating that idea into an organized goal oriented project requires a thorough analysis. The starting point for developing a research proposal is to identify your research problem or question. The articulation of an appropriate and interesting research topic is perhaps the most demanding and difficult part of your proposal development. So, don’t despair of you don’t have a clear topic from the start. One of the most significant ways of finding a researchable problem is to READ, READ, And READ. There is no short-cut. Your thesis must demonstrate that you are familiar with the academic debates pertaining to the particular issue you have chosen to address. These debates comprise the literature in the field. Ideas for research can come from many sources, including issues arising from your day to day practice, or questions arising from the literature. Once you have some idea of what you wish to research, it is important that you start by undertaking a literature search, and reading some of the work that has been written in the area you have selected. It is also helpful at this stage to talk with others to help refine your research problem, and to identify resources which may help you in addressing this question. You should also give careful consideration at this stage as to the feasibility of your research idea. It may be better to start by breaking down your research question in to a series of questions, or identifying the various components or stages which may be inherent in answering your research question. Your supervisor will be an invaluable source of advice and support throughout your candidature. He is the one who will offer guidance on your proposal.

Originality in Research

It is highly desirable that MS and PhD students (especially PhD) should do some original and creative work making a substantial contribution to the specified field solving real world problems. Phillips (1992) has listed fourteen different definitions of originality from students, supervisors and thesis examiners which might be useful;

• Carrying out empirical work that hasn’t been done before.
• Making a synthesis that hasn’t been done before.
• Using already known material but with a new interpretation.
• Trying out something in this or another country that has only previous been undertaken in other places.
• Taking a particular technique and applying it to a new area.
• Bringing new evidence to bear on an old issue.
• Being cross-disciplinary and using different methodologies
• Looking at areas that people in the discipline haven’t looked at before.
• Adding to knowledge in a way that hasn’t been done before
• Setting down a major piece of new information in writing for the first time.
• Continuing (extending) a previously original piece of work.
• Providing a single original technique, observation, or result in an otherwise unoriginal but competent piece of research.

Common Mistakes in Proposal Writing

• Failure to provide the proper context to frame the research question.
• Failure to delimit the boundary conditions for your research.
• Failure to cite landmark studies.
• Failure to accurately present the theoretical and empirical contributions by other researchers.
• Failure to stay focused on the research question.
• Failure to develop a coherent and persuasive argument for the proposed research.
• Too much detail on minor issues, but not enough detail on major issues.
• Too much rambling without a clear sense of direction
• Too many citation lapses and incorrect references.
• Too long or too short.
• Unrealistic budget

Criteria used to review/judge proposals

Bear in mind that different supervisors and examiners look for different things. Discuss with your supervisor the main points that you should develop clearly in your proposal. However, in general the following questions are usually considered in the examination of proposals:

• Is the research well planned?
• Is the research important?
• Is the applicant aware of other research in the area?
• Does the applicant have the ability to complete the project?
• Is the support requested appropriate for the project?
• Is it doable within the time constraints?
• Does the bibliography and referencing conform to accepted conventions?
• Is it technically faultless?

Some useful Tips for Writing Proposals

• Give yourself time, as all successful proposal writers say that it takes time to generate high quality proposals.
• Read a lot in your area of interest, consult recent literature and identify gaps in literature and explore potential opportunities (research problems).
• Be organized. Write logically and clearly. Make an outline of the points you want to make before you start, and then join them together in a coherent fashion because a good writing is a chain of ideas.
• Clearly set out the research area in proper context.
• Highlight your research. Explain why your approach to the problem is appropriate and what resources you will need? Demonstrate that you have the time and skills to complete the project.
• Explicate methodology in such a manner that it should be crystal clear.
• Credit other people in the field where appropriate.
• Keep your text as short as possible. A shorter proposal will have a bigger impact on the reviewers.
• Avoid unrealistic estimates. You can be sure the some of the reviewers will have experience in your field and will lower their rating if you promise more than you can achieve.
• Do not inflate the budget.
• Follow Instructions and make sure your proposal incorporates all requested information.
• Do not write the proposal for yourself; write it for the review committee.
• Have your proposal reviewed by trusted colleagues before submission. Heed their comments.
• Write for an educated person, NOT for a specialist.
• Never write in the first person, e.g. use "the research will..." instead of "I will... "
• Do not use jargon. Only use specialist terminology where you have to.
• Properly cite all references.

Finally, I would like to say that when others read your proposal, they should agree that it is clear, coherent, convincing, concise and comprehensive.

Reference

Phillips, E. M. 1992. The PhD: Assessing quality at different stages of its development, in O. Zuber-Skerritt (ed.) Supervising Beginning Researchers, Brisbane, tertiary Education Institute-University of Queensland.
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Old Friday, February 21, 2014
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it is quite helpful
what about topic?
How to decide of a topic?give some suggestions related to English language topic?
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Old Saturday, February 22, 2014
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can you please provide us with a sample Research Proposal so that we can have a clear idea of its format and length.
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