For most undergraduate students and even some postgraduates, writing up a research proposal is new territory and, as a result, can be somewhat intimidating. The proposal, after all, plays a vital determining role in whether or not you will be permitted to progress with your chosen thesis topic. That is, the tutor needs to sign off on your proposal in advance of your commencing the thesis. Hence the proposal will shape the overall character and content of your degree. So, exactly what is a research proposal? Essentially, it is a brief statement of intent and justification for a specific kind of long form academic research project (a dissertation, for example). In this respect, its purpose is both informative and persuasive. One needs to explain clearly and concisely the objectives of the proposed thesis and furthermore to justify the relevance and validity of the chosen topic. Success depends upon balancing these elements efficiently. Of course, the composition of the proposal is an opportunity for you to clarify your research proposal topic ideas; to refine your thinking and alight upon a focused research question, one you feel passionately about and which will sustain your interest.
So, the components of a research proposal are in one part expository and in the other part argumentative. This is clearly reflected in the dissertation proposal structure, which (allowing for some minor variation) tends to conform to a consistent pattern as follows. Firstly, you will introduce with a ‘Project Summary’, which gives a descriptive overall outline of the proposed research, such that a non-expert reader could apprehend the principle idea. Next we present a ‘Description of the Problem’ where we go into more detail. At this stage we employ persuasive writing, making the case that there is a gap in the existing scholarship, which creates a specific problem for the discipline. You need further to convince the reader that your thesis will bridge this gap and thus solve the problem: this is your primary objective and needs to be carefully thought through. You need to make a solid case that proves your thesis will contribute something valuable to existing scholarly work. You will refine this contribution in the succeeding section, ‘Research Questions and Objectives’, in which you list in bullet points a short series of focused questions. You then need to explain the purpose of answering these questions – what benefit will yield (for instance, a critical framework for best practice; an explanation for a hitherto insoluble problem; a new, more efficient solution to an existing problem; and so on). Next, we include a brief ‘Literature Review’. This is a staple of academic research, charting existing scholarship on our specific topic, especially telegraphing key studies, ideas and theorists, giving the reader a picture of the overall critical landscape. In the following ‘Methodology’ section, we would explain precisely how we intend to solve the stated problem, what kind of approach we will use, what research tools you will employ and why. Finally, you will provide a research table: a timeline which outlines proximal dates for when you will complete key stages of the research.
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