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How to write an effective research proposal?

How to write an effective research proposal?

I completed my doctoral studies some three and a half years back. Yet, some of my doctoral fellows are embarrassingly got stuck at the research proposal stage of their PhD. My sincere sympathies are with them, anyway.

A little probe into the matter revealed that they share a major part of the onus, however, on the flip side; other factors cannot be brushed aside, altogether. One important consideration grabbed my attention- proper guidance, training and mentoring was not available to us on some important areas such as:

In such a scenario, the available resources at our disposal were a couple of research books and the most vital, the “Google” search engine. Like many other researchers, it is the first point of contact for scientific information, the current state of knowledge and scholarly work for us.

Soon, I realized that being a rich source of freely available and easily accessible information, the novice researchers would definitely find it cumbersome to negotiate which resources to select and which to leave out from these online repositories.  Hence, this blog post. This blog post covers the following important areas:

  1. How to start writing the research proposal?
  2. How to write a good research proposal?.
  3. What is a research proposal?
  4. Requirements of the research proposal
  5. Purpose of the research proposal
  6. Format of the research proposal

These key areas are further elaborated in the following section:

1. How to start writing the research proposal?

Every one of us has a unique experience of embarking on a research proposal. It is generally initiated by choosing the intended research topic or selected area. A broader topic/area needs to be narrowed down to a more explicit one that can be researched. To help narrow down a topic and plan your research work methodically, significantly valuable insight has already been summed up on “how to select a fascinating research topic”.

It is expected that explicit guidance on how to structure the research proposal for a PhD dissertation or doctoral research shall ordinarily be furnished by the university, institute, individual department or the supervisor. In such a scenario, one has to follow the same in true letter and sprite but for broadening the conceptual understanding of the scholars, this blog post shall be beneficial in many ways. Besides, the following general guidelines shall be expedient for those with no specific guidance available to them.

2. How to write a good research proposal?.

The blog post is intended to offer necessary understanding, useful tips, skills and tools for the guidance of the research students, academics and novice researchers to write a well-thought-out and achievable research proposal. This article shall provide valuable insight into developing a great research proposal for the doctoral-level studies. It is important to mention that these guidelines are essentially very generic providing a clear sense of purpose and should be followed as a tool to help in addition to the specific guidance provided by the concerned university/ department.

3. What is a research proposal?

It is a blueprint of the proposed research work a research student is intended to take on. A research proposal also regarded as the synopsis, is a document delineating a detailed outline of the proposed research to be undertaken, providing persuasive evidence to the effect that a genuine need existed for the intended study. It provides a well-defined plan of action for the proposed research project which is developed before the actual research work is undertaken. The aim is to present and justify the need to investigate a research problem and to present the practical ways in which the proposed study shall be undertaken. It is aimed at serving different purposes discussed briefly in the ensuing section.

4. Requirements of the research proposal

During the course of doctoral studies, a proposal is usually required to be submitted well-ahead of the research work. In certain universities, a proposal is mandatory prior to seeking admission in a graduate-level program.

A proposal is desirable as a part and parcel of the application for a funding grant. A research proposal is also essentially required at the time of seeking admission for higher studies such as MPhil, DPhil and doctoral-level studies in the institutes of higher education in almost all technologically advanced countries

5. Purpose of the research proposal

The proposal indicates that the research student is engaging in a genuine inquiry, finding out about something worthwhile in a particular context, establishing a particular theoretical orientation, linking the proposed work with the work of others while proving he/she is acquainted with the major schools of thought relevant to the topic. The aim is to help them define their intended plans.

6. Format of the research proposal

There are some generic points to be remembered. One, about the format of the research proposal. The formatting needs to be consistent throughout and that the structure should be clear, comprehensive and concise. It is advisable to share the document with the colleagues, seniors or any outside expert in the field before its submission to the supervisor for revision for academic purpose.

Secondly, the research proposal is a provisional rather than a definitive document. It is most likely to change extensively and substantially during the course of the PhD studies before its final approval. Nevertheless, at the early stage of the studies, it is an important document that helps the evaluators to make a decision about the fate of the research undertaking and hence needs to be taken very seriously.

The next blog post, What should be included in the Research Proposal?  delineates the format of the research proposal in detail.

A brief version of this article has been presented in the video available on my YouTube channel- Exploring Academia: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOP-skVKbNoio_DVl4p_q0w?view_as=subscriber and can be accessed directly on:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzcOoayxBjw&t=30s

About Dr Syed Hafeez Ahmad

Having a doctoral degree in human resource management, Dr. Syed Hafeez Ahmad is currently working as Additional Controller of Examinations, Khyber Medical University, Peshawar. He previously served the same university as Additional Registrar. These are mid-career level positions in the university's administration. Besides, he is working in the capacity of a team leader and founder of the Career Development & Research Centre, a startup launched in the Business Incubation Center of Khyber Medical University. He is having more than 18 years of professional experience in academic management with special interest in public sector higher education reforms, sustainability, academic leadership and universities' governance. He is a research blogger, Amazon associate and a YouTuber.

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