Research Proposal

Although each institution has its own guidelines for research proposals, there are some common steps you need to take to come up with a research proposal.

Steps in a Research Proposal

  1. Choosing a topic: In order to choose a topic, you need to know yourself:  Know your area of expertise,  your interests, as well as your strengths and weaknesses.  Find a topic in an area that you are personally interested in, otherwise you may lose steam after a while.
  2. Choosing an institution / programme / supervisor: It is important to do your research with a supervisor who is as in enthusiastic about the topic as you are, and an EXPERT in their field.  This is a person you will need to have a good relationship with.  If something does not “gel” in your relationship, consider asking to be transferred. 
  3. Once you have identified a few general ideas, READ. AS. MUCH. AS. POSSIBLE. Research previous work – try to find as much literature about the topic as possible – even if you don’t use it in your proposal, you can always use it in your main document.
  4. Keep your reading ORGANIZED. Make sure to save everything in dedicated folders according to topic / relevant chapter or anything that works for you. You will use limited literature for your proposal, but will use a lot more in your actual dissertation!
  5. Use a template for the proposal as provided by your institution. If there is not a template available, ask your supervisor for approved proposals from the past -that should give  you a good idea of what they are looking for.  Carefully read the instructions and requirements for a proposal at this institution.
  6. Find your research problem. What issue is your research going to answer? Why are you doing this?  There are various sources of research problems  – these are :
    • Deductions from Theory
    • A gap in relevant literature (something not researched yet, or not yet researched in your context / industry / country),
    • Talking to experts and practitioners about issues in your field
    • Personal experience of an issue. Personal experience cannot be the ONLY source of a research problem though
  • Formulate an appropriate research question. The research question flows directly from your research problem.  If your research problem was that student’s marks seem to have dropped since textbooks have been replaced with electronic textbooks, your research question could be :  Is there a difference in marks between children who use hard copy textbooks and those who use electronic textbooks?  This may be extended to secondary research -questions.
  • Formulate your research objective. Your research objective is your research question, turned into a statement.  Nothing more, nothing less.  For the research question above, your objective would be: To investigate whether there is a difference in marks between children who use hard copy textbooks and those who use electronic textbooks.  This may be extended to secondary objectives in the same way.
  • Provide your supporting literature. Explore relevant theories, constructs, and discuss them in an organized manner. Frame your project around the work of others –  research builds on the existing knowledge base, that is, upon the work of others. Provide references for EVERYTHING you take from  other sources, not just direct quotes, otherwise it is plagiarism ! Make sure all your references are in your reference list.
  • Choose the most appropriate methodology –each institution has its own terminology and semantics around this – like potato and potahto – so be sure to use the correct terminology. For more information on this, click here.  The bottom line is that the methodology of your proposal must be so well written that someone else should be able to take it and execute the research!  Whether the study is qualitative or quantitative, make sure to explain EXACTLY how the data is going to be analysed!  You can always change it later, but you need to be sure that your analysis can answer your research questions. If you need assistance with this, please click here.
  • Grammar and spelling count: Even though your proposals will be judged on grammar if the grammar is not perfect, it does not create a good impression.  Proofread your proposal and give it to someone else to proofread.  This need not necessarily be done a professional, although that would be ideal (click here).  but often an objective eye is all you need to spot mistakes which you may have missed.
  • Format and brevity: Do not feel that your proposal is rated based on its weight.  Make your proposal a pleasant reading experience for the reviewers. It is important that your proposal had a logical flow as a document.  Submit your proposal here for a review.
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