Writing a research thesis proposal

welcome to this presentation on writing a thesis proposal right where to start often students find writing a proposal quite overwhelming and this is not surprising because research is about taking the very complex world and trying to simplify us so it is necessarily filled with chaos doubt and confusion so if that’s what you’re feeling just be reassured that this is a normal part of the process and you’re at the beginning of a process so as you work through your research project you will become more familiar with the literature you will become more familiar with the research methodologies so you’ll gain confidence as you move through it but at the beginning of course you know it’s much more difficult because you’re you’re you’re starting to learn this whole process and developing a proposal is the first step in in this process of simplifying the complexity in order to make sense of it the research proposal is never really perfect because it’s an idea of how you want this research to take place and how it plays out might be very different in the end but it’s something that you can then it the proposal helps you think through what you think you’re going to do and then you can adjust it along the way if necessary the proposal is a very new and necessary step and I think every student should do a research proposal because it really helps you to think through all the nuances of your research project before you begin so rather than having to change in the middle of things you can think them through at the beginning before we begin and get into what goes into a proposal and want to just talk about disciplinary differences so while there are common elements to most research or thesis proposals there are also differences and those differences will be based on disciplines or sub disciplines so depending on your discipline you might include different sections you might collapse some of the sections that I’m going to show you you might have additional things that you need to put into the proposal so although I’m gonna give you the generic kind of research proposal you will need to go and do research in your departments a faculty look at examples and see how proposals in your particular area are structured and what what proposal readers are looking for but what I’ll give you are the basics so just to give you an example what I’m thinking of here is engineering so in engineering the literature review wouldn’t necessarily be a separate section what you would find is that the literature review would be either under the introduction or in the method section and the methods section would be a very important part of the proposal the other difference that I wanted to mention is that PhD level proposals are quite substantially different from masters level proposals not only in scope and depth but also PhD level proposals require much more originality and are more theoretically based more often than not so what is the overall purpose of the proposal for your proposal Assessor the person who’s going to read us they want to see that you understand the research process that you understand the content area that you’re working in and that you are able to do this research for you the proposal provides a map it’s a guide for you so as you move forward you can look back at your proposal and say what did I want to do here okay yes I see that’s what I want you to do yes I’m continuing on in that direction or no things have changed I need to alter my proposal so it provides you with a pretty good way forward so these are the generic things that go into a proposal so these would be the sections that make up the proposal you would generally have an introduction and background to the problem you would have some kind of problem purpose statement and questions a literature review methodology data analysis limitations so things around the methodology or the methods some kind of research strategy and then there could be a range of other optional sections and these would be a paragraph each depending on what it is and then a concluding paragraph I’ll go through each of these in turn and explain them a bit more and and this is really for research types of proposals so if you’re doing the kind of proposal like in philosophy you wouldn’t exactly follow this particular format because you probably wouldn’t have an empirical research methodology section so your focus would then be on the literature review so let’s have a look at the introduction and the background to the problem so the introductory paragraph is very important because this is where you orient your reader to your project this is where you gradually warm your reader app to the ideas that you’re presenting and in a way it’s a little bit of a summary what’s going to come next but you’re sketching the background for your readers and what your readers asking is you know where does this research take place when what is the research about and the most important question is why should I read any further so really what you want to do is interest your reader right up in the first paragraph the other thing that introductions do is they explain to your reader what’s coming next in the proposal so you can sketch out in a couple of sentences how what this proposal will look like so that the reader knows what’s coming next the background – the problem is really the build app you you’re convincing your reader through these multiple layers of arguments why this problem is is so important so here you’re providing some general background on the problem you’re explaining why this problem is important you’re explaining what we know about the problem and that could be in real world terms but it could also hints at the literature as well and we you’re justifying what we don’t know about the problem and again that could be in real world terms or it could be based on the literature he’s setting up the problem in the background one of the things that’s quite important when you start conceptualizing your research so what you’re doing in developing this proposal is making a whole range of decisions around what you will do and what you won’t do and how you’re going to go about doing it and why so in making these decisions that sometimes gets quite overwhelming trying to move from a topic to a research problem and one of the ways to think about this is to think about what is going to go into the background and what is going to stay in the foreground so for example if you take a concept like poverty poverty is a very important issue but it may be in the background of a study that has to do with a poor community developing income generating mechanisms so although poverty is the major problem the smaller problem that you’re going to focus on is how this community or why this community needs to develop income generating programs so prou problems are always interlinked and very complicated in in the ways that they are interlinked so deciding what is on center stage in your study and what will move into the background will help you to decide what you’re going to focus on and then what you’re not going to focus on and this is really setting up the scope and the limitation of the study what goes into the proposal this this part of the proposal is the problem purpose statement now you know a lot of people who teach workshops on this or we have videos on this may not set up the problem purpose statement in exactly the same way as I have done here this is my argument for the need of this kind of problem purpose statements which I have found very very useful in workshops so the way I’m setting up the problem purpose statement here is set up in a particular way and it’s not always set up like this but it’s a way that really works as far as I’m concerned the problem purpose statement that I’m going to show you is it comes from Sharon Merriam and I have several videos which will take you through the problem purpose statement in much more detail so have a look on YouTube and see if you can find those videos if this is something that you want to focus on but what the problem purpose statement is is a very succinct short statement really no longer than a page about your research project it’s it’s the core conceptualization of the research project it should appear within the first three pages of the proposal and you’ll find that if you’re if you get a question about what is this research about your reader is looking for their problem purpose statements so the proposal readers questions which will be answered by this is what is the key problem what is the knowledge gap is there a need for this research what is the purpose of the research what are the key research questions are they framed as questions do the questions align with the problem is the scope of the project appropriate is the research well conceptualized and is the study doable so this is what goes into a problem purpose statement and I’m really not going to go through it in too much detail here because I do have those other videos but really it’s one or two sentences are of a statement one or two sentences on a statement of the problem and it’s quite hard to articulate the problem often so using the sentence the problem here is and finishing that can sometimes help so one or two two to three sentences on identifying the knowledge gap in the literature a sentence or two that provides the context of the study you know where is this taking place what is the study about a sentence or two about the conceptual framework of the research now this is only relevance if you’re doing doctoral research or if it’s in relevance in your particular field now the logic and evidence refers to the order that these four things are presented in and then that order will depend on your topic and on your disciplinary kind of context so for example if your topic is very contextually heavy or contextually bound then you might begin with the context if your topic is really based on a knowledge gap then you might begin with a knowledge gap so if your problem is a big real-world problem then you might want to begin with the problem so how you order all of this will depend on the logic of your research the evidence refers to the fact that you need to provide sources for you know if you can for the existence of the problem so convincing your reader that this problem is important will be substantially stronger if you have sources to back that up and the same thing with the knowledge gap and the other parts of the problem statements what follows a problem statement is the purpose statement and this really should have a sentence the purpose of this research is to now often people think that they shouldn’t put that sentence in and when they don’t the very first question they get is what is the purpose of this research so to me it’s it’s it’s very easy to put that sentence in and then it will be clearly stated whatever you whatever you use to finish that implies your methodology and you could add a sentence or two that expands on the methodology after the purpose statements the purpose statement should close the knowledge gap that you identified earlier and it should state the broad goals of the research this is then followed by the research questions and the research questions should unpack the problem you’ve identified so you have to go back to those sentences where you identified the problem and draw your questions out of that and the questions will give you the scope of the project and they should be framed as questions if you are developing a hypothesis you would do it after this the research questions allow you to really focus the project so developing the hypothesis after that is a little bit easier than trying to do it before you’ve developed your questions okay the literature review this is often one of the most difficult parts of a research proposal because you may not know the literature really well at this point and again what I would say to you is just trust that you will get to know the literature much more as you go through this process and that you have to start somewhere so what the literature review does is that it situates your research within the broader research literature so that so the studies that have been conducted on your topic or problem what you do with it here is you tell your reader this is what’s been done in this area and this is where my research fits and that fits up a rationale for the study because you’re identifying a gap a knowledge gap and it sets up an academic rationale for the study you’re also evaluating the literature in relation to your particular project so you’re not just describing it you’re evaluating it and you’re saying you know although this study was conducted here this was missing from it and and my study is going to fill that gap so that’s an evaluation you want to be showing that you have read some texts very deeply and that you have a broad enough overview of the literature and this is very tricky because in the proposal the literature review section is not very long so it’s it’s quite a difficult balance but the more you read obviously the the more confident you’ll be about your project the more you’ll know about it and it will show in the proposal but of course you don’t want to be spending years and years working on the literature review of your proposal so you do need to balance things art and the other thing you would do in the proposal is explain the conceptual framework your proposal readers questions would be has the student read enough to inform the study is the cyst is the study situated within the literature does the students have a good understanding of up to dates very important key thinkers issues debates relevant to the study has the student been able to describe analyze and critically evaluate what he and she has read is the literature review related to the study at hand so is it relevance and particularly for doctoral study students is the conceptual framework and you know unpacked in the literature review so just another comments about literature reviews literature reviews essentially describe and analyze the literature you need both you need both the description and the analysis so description would be something like this particular study was conducted in this place or area that the methodology they used was x y&z; the results they came up with was a B and C so that’s a description just telling you what summarizing in a sense what’s happened in that study now analysis would be looking at the the individual paper and trying to analyze the consistency of that research project or it could also be looking at a number of different papers or articles or book chapters or books and identifying patterns across those texts so analyzing involves comparing contrasting grouping looking for similarities looking for differences so in the literature review you want to both describe the literature you reading as well as analyze it so even grouping things into themes would be a level of analysis and really what your reader is looking to see is that you are able to move from lower order thinking skills which is understanding and summarizing readings to higher order thinking skills which is then analyzing synthesizing and evaluating that literature so literature reviews must contain analysis as well as description so what is the literature review do for you it situates it helps you to such a read your study within the literature by identifying the knowledge gap it helps you to set up the theoretical framework it could even help you set up the criteria for data analysis you could have a section in the literature review where you unpack how you’re going to analyze this data if it’s if it’s relevant you know if you are using a particular theorist and what I’m thinking about now is perhaps if we go and discourse analysis then you could say to app the theoretical framework in the literature review as well as the data analysis and then later when you analyze your data your reader will already know what you intend to do the literature review also helps you to explain your use of concepts and we’re not talking about dictionary definitions here we’re talking about the different meanings within the literature and how people have used concepts academic work is always contested people have different perspectives there’s very often not a lot of consensus well there may be consensus but there will always be people who argue against a particular issue so that’s why you can’t use dictionary definitions because they will be contested meanings around concepts in the literature and this is what you really want to show you want to show the different meanings and then you want to align yourself with one of those meanings and provide an explanation of why you’re aligning yourself in that way you might also in the literature review set up a perspective that informs your methodology if it’s important you know if you are taking a narrative approach then you know perhaps setting up a postmodern narrative analysis in the in the literature review becomes important to you and you’re also developing an argument which I’ll come back to about why you have selected these bodies of literature and how they relate to your study the other thing that’s very important in a literature review are the counter arguments and this is because scholarly work tries to prevent or tries to avoid looking like you are biased or subjective so scholarly work tends to want some kind of balance so if you are presenting only your argument your perspective then it’s very one-sided so really what readers like to see is that you have read the counter arguments and that you have taken note of the counter arguments and provided a rebuttal in some way to them so showing counter arguments is very important in a literature review for the proposal reader they want to know that you can situate this research in a literature that you’ve been able to read a range of appropriate material and that its relevance that you’ve been able to select from that field and read critically that you’re aware of the intellectual debates that you can move from lower order thinking to higher order thinking that you understand that theoretical perspective that you’re arguing for and they want to be convinced by the arguments you’re making in the literature review just a quick note on reading and note-taking literature reviews really involves systematic reading so setting up some kind of method is is really helpful or helpful to you and helpful to your reader so that your reader has confidence that you have you haven’t gone about this in a chaotic way that you have had some kind of system and your system could be to start with for example a couple of key articles which you read in-depth and then trace the sources in those articles and then read more articles in depth and trace the sources in those articles so that’s starting small and growing bigger another method could be doing searches through library databases and on Google for using keywords tracking your keywords and just collecting PDFs and documents books to do with the topic or to do with a research problem and then once you’ve collected then organize them into some kind of system and then perhaps read all the abstracts and then finally focus on in-depth articles to read articles to read in depth so what you’re doing there is much more of a global search and then narrowing down so those are the two kinds of ways of reading the first one is from the narrow to the general and the specific to the general the other one is from the general to the specific libraries have university libraries generally have the most wonderful librarian so get help from librarians if if you can they they really know their stuff and they can help you enormously be very organized in your note-taking because this is a long term project you know you might be taking notes in your one and then use them again in year four and by their time you’ve forgotten which part of your note were from the text and which part were your thoughts so you want to be very clear about you know if you take something from a text verbatim you’ll put that in quotation marks with a page net page number if you write your own notes underneath that you’ll highlight them or put it in a different font so that is very clear what comes from the text and what is your what were your thoughts at the time and that’s so that you don’t inadvertently plagiarize done down the road okay that’s moving on to the methodology part of the proposal and this is a very important part of a research proposal this is the crux of the matter actually for your readers now this section will be written differently depending on your discipline you know I’ve called it methodology but in some disciplines this would be called research methods methodology means well methodology incorporates the philosophy behind the method now in some disciplines this is not as important but in qualitative research this is this is much more relevance so the sections that I’ve got down here would be paragraphs within the methodology section of a proposal so you would give an explanation of the research paradigm where you would explain why this paradigm is relevant for this particular topic you would then look at the research design which should link to the research paradigm which there should be a logic to it and you need to explain why this design provides an overarching model or method for your data collection methods and then in the data collection what you really went there is the step by step process of how you will collect the data so what will you do first what will you do next after this you will also include sections on your population your sampling method the research sites anything else that you need to include about the research so that your reader can see that you’ve thought of all the steps along the way you might include an ethic section not all proposals do that it’s not always relevant but you might include an ethics section if it is relevant for qualitative research sometimes having a section on the role of the researcher is importance and that’s because you’re trying to address the issue of subjectivity or bias you will generally want to have some kind of section on how this method will deliver valid data and you would also perhaps have a section on how you intend to analyze the data I think it’s very useful to include data analysis in the in the proposal because you can get feedback on that and later on when you come to analyze the day so you already have this all set up now in some methodologies the analysis is set up anyway so that won’t be relative but in a lot of there won’t be relevant but in a lot of qualitative research the analysis is not set up ahead of time and it very is useful to do that and it really is useful to do that and the last section you might want to include other limitations so if for logistical reasons your sample is fairly small then you want to note that because really what you’re telling your reader is I understand I have thought through and know what the problems are with this but I still think that it will be a valid research project and what your readers looking to see is whether you’ve thought through all the steps whether there’s a consistency in the research paradigm design and data collection and all of that is related in a consistent way to your research problem whether you’ll be able to answer the research questions through the data that you’ve collected will you have enough sources of data for the size of your project if you’re doing a doctoral study will you have enough to complete their doctoral study have you thought about the kind of ethical issues subjectivity issues validity issues and really the reader wants to be confident you can go out and undertake this research tomorrow if necessary right the next section in a research proposal is the research strategy and this is again not one that is included in all research proposals but I think it’s very useful for project planning and I would suggest that you should do it anyway even if you don’t include us in the proposal and this is where you set up the timeline for the research detail providing a detailed plan of when you intend to do all the steps and you know people use Gantt charts because you can block out months in those charts but it gives you a schedule and it’s really useful for keeping – keeping to your deadlines that you say to yourself and for helping you manage what really is a big project it could be a number of optional sections that go into the proposal and this is really up to you your supervisor and your departmental discipline so I would suggest that you go and ask people look at examples of proposals in your discipline if you can and ask your supervisor what other sections could be included you know you know quite a few people like to have a section that says significance of the research others might be asked to present the impact of the the possible impact of the research in education for example you might be asked to provide implications for practice but really what your reader wants to know is whether you have provided enough to show that you can go and do this research so other things you could include perhaps as appendices would be your your interview in depth interview questions if you have prepared a survey you could attach the instruments you might want to provide descriptors on your population you know those kinds of details that can provide additional information to show that you have really thought this through you could also order the sections differently the order of the sections is not quite as important as that they are in there and then finally we come to the conclusion now although you provide a conclusion in the although you provide a summary in the conclusion you really want to use your conclusion to emphasize key points so you want to emphasize the need for the study more than anything else so that you can convince your reader and then of course you want to have your references in in whatever format is required of you and what your reader will be looking for is to see do you have up-to-date sources you know or are your sources all from 10 years ago and of course there might be relevance in your topic but they’re going to look for relevant sources to this particular topic I just wanted to add a slide on arguments in a proposal because I’ve given you the sections that generally go into the proposal but within those sections you are making these arguments and what I would ask people to do in my workshops would be to take index cards and to write out all these arguments in one sentence and then to go back to your proposal and see whether those arguments have been pulled through the proposal and whether you’ve provided evidence for them so one of the key arguments you’re making is that there’s an urgent need for this research and that the research problem is relevant and important and that could be related to time that it’s relevant and important now or something happened in the past that makes it relevant and important now sub arguments within the proposal are the knowledge gap you’re making an argument about that there is a knowledge gap and that it needs to be filled that this methodology is the most appropriate most relevant and not another one and that this conceptual framework is the most fitting lens to view this project so those are some of the arguments that you need to think through in your proposal now the question I always get in workshops is how long should the proposal be and this is I’ve put page numbers here but there is really totally arbitrary because your particular department or faculty will have a guideline of how long proposals should be so you need to look that up what’s more important here is the weighting the weighting of the proposal the weighting of the proposal lies in the literature review and the methodology now generally proposals are quite short documents they’re about 15 pages maybe 20 when compared to the overall thesis so the bulk of the focus should be on the literature review which is setting up the need for the project and the methodology which is outlining how you will go about collecting the data and then the other sections fall in the pages on either side of it yeah so make sure that when you’ve when you’ve written your proposal that you don’t have an overly long introduction and a short methodology you want to make sure that you’ve got the weighting right a quick word on title the title is very important because that’s what people see first and often people say to have their titles before they do their proposal and then sometimes the proposal shifts and the title doesn’t match so you want to make sure the title matches in some disciplines it’s important to encapsulate the whole topic in the title and other disciplines allow for more creativity more general generally focused topics but really the what I would suggest to you is if someone’s going to going to do a keyword search how would they find your thesis what would the keywords need to be and those keywords need to be in your title so think about it like that okay I’ve come to the end of this presentation I just have some readings for you two yet if you’re interested what I want to end off with is just to say that the proposal can be an overwhelming part of the thesis process just to remember that you’re at the beginning and that you will become more and more competent as you go through it you’ll become more familiar with the literature so just take it step by step break it down into the smallest piece and work on that smallest piece and build it but babbitt’s until you until you get it completed don’t forget to ask other people and your supervisor for help in putting together the proposal and just another quick note that I have other videos on YouTube particularly the problem purpose statements which you can go and have a look at just search my name and just to wish you all the best of luck and I hope you put together a fabulous proposal

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