Université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis: Accueil
Notes for courses by
D a v i d   C r o o k a l l

AreasCourses / Presentations / Job interviews / Teamwork / X-culture / Searching / Research / Publication / Communication / Projects / Meetings / Studying
CoursesInfoCom (ACL) L-3 • IUP Com SEDI L3 • IUP Job interviews • IUP Teamwork • IUP x-cult • MBFI • Telecom

Proposal č • Up • Proposal • Topic • Lit Rev • Samples reports • Design • Qnr samples • Qnr design •

Lit Rev
Samples reports
Qnr samples
Qnr design

Simulation & Gaming:
An Interdisciplinary Journal



Proposal • Up •  
• Proposal • Topic • Lit Rev • Samples reports • Design • Qnr samples • Qnr design •

Some guides on writing a research proposal

Before you start writing your research proposal, you will need to consider all the other steps in the research cycle.

Once you have written your proposal and it has been accepted, then you will go back to the beginning of the research cycle, starting with your topic, going on to the literature review, etc..

From  http://watarts.uwaterloo.ca/~gboychuk/psci491/proposal.html


"It's too hard!"  Ballplayer to Coach in A League of Their Own.
"It's supposed to be hard...otherwise everyone would be doing it." Coach (played by Tom Hanks).

As senior students in the social sciences, you have begun to develop specialized research skills.  This assignment is intended to allow you to help hone these skills further; however, this requires effort -- it's supposed to be hard.  A key element of the assignment is the research proposal.  Writing a good proposal for a research paper should, if done properly, be the most difficult part of the whole project.  If you get the proposal right, all you have to do after that is execute the research program and determine whether the findings confirm or reject the hypothesis spelled out in the proposal.  That is, the most important thinking needs to be done at the proposal stage.  The greatest returns to investment of your time is likely to be at the proposal stage.

CHOOSING A TOPIC:  Independent research (where you choose the topic) is more challenging than being assigned a given topic; however, it should also be more rewarding.  Choosing a topic that is interesting to you but also of more general interest as well as "do-able" is a key part of the overall assignment.  As noted, the latitude for choice is wide so long as the question involves health care, has relevance to the Canadian context, and takes a political science approach.  (If uncertain as to whether a topic meets these criteria, students should discuss the topic with the instructor.)  Suggested topics are cross-national comparisons of health care, public opinion and health care issues, federalism and health care, gender issues and health care, the impact of international agreements such as NAFTA on the provision of health care, health care and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Probably the best sources for a topic if you haven't yet thought of one are the two reports (Romanow and Kirby) which are the focus of readings for the course.  Browse the assigned course readings (you have to look at them sometime anyway!) and look for an issue that captures your interest.  If you are having difficulty choosing a topic, please come and see me; however, be prepared for my first question which will be whether you have looked at the course readings to find one!


A research proposal is a statement that is intended to convince your professor, thesis supervisor, granting agency, etc. that you have an interesting and significant question to research and that there is some reasonable guarantee that you will be able to complete the research required to answer the question.  (For example, imagine the reaction if you contracted with a government department to do research and came back later and said, "Gee...I was sure that the data required to answer my question would be available but it's not.  Sorry."  You would be very lucky to get paid and you could be sure that you wouldn't be working for them again!)

A research proposal is not simply a statement of interest in a specific topic area.  It should indicate that you have identified the important questions in that topic area, thought about the answers one might expect to find to those questions, considered how to go about answering those questions, and have done some preliminary work in determining whether the information needed to answer the questions is actually available.  This is virtually impossible to do without doing some background reading and initial research.  For this assignment, the most valuable background sources are likely to be the Kirby and Romanow commission reports as well as the 40 research papers commissioned for the Romanow commission.  (All of this material is available on-line and should be the starting point to look for material on any given question related to health care in Canada.  Another easy place to check is the rest of the course material.  If you do not find material on your topic, let me know.)

Elements of a Research Proposal

A research proposal should have five components.  Each component is key in convincing the intended audience that your question is important, that you have a plan for how you are going to answer it, and that the project is "do-able."

1. The Question.  What is the question that you intend to answer.  The question needs to be framed such that is sufficiently narrow that you can come up with a hypothesis (a suspected answer) and a research strategy but also sufficiently broad that you can convince others that it is a question that is significant.

2. The Hypothesis.  What do you expect that the answer will be?  Remember, it is crucial in the social sciences that your hypothesis is testable and falsifiable.  That is, it must be possible to imagine that the empirical evidence could potentially demonstrate the hypothesis to be wrong.  (Otherwise your argument is tautological -- self-evidently true.)  Remember, it is better have a "brittle" hypothesis (one that is carefully specified in detail so that there is the possibility that it may empirically turn out to be wrong) and be proven wrong than to have a tautological hypothesis (that can't be proven wrong) and have the evidence confirm your argument.  In a tautological argument, the evidence always supports the hypothesis.

3. The Statement of Significance.  The most infuriating but most common question researchers face is "So what?"  You demonstrate something and then someone comes along and asks why they should care!  It is important that you think in advance about the significance of the question you are asking.  What are the implications if you are right?  What if you are wrong?  Will anyone else care and why should they?

4. The Research Strategy.  The research proposal needs to outline how you intend to answer the question and test your hypothesis.  That is, when you are doing "research," what is it that you will be doing?  Analysing online health expenditure data from the Canadian Institute of Health Information?  Looking up public opinion polls online to examine what Canadians think about two-tier health care?  Combing through an online newspaper database to see how the provincial premiers reacted the the release of the Romanow commission?  Looking for books on the historical development of the health care system in Canada or in some other country?  A common mistake in research proposals is to carefully frame the question and then simply say, "I'll answer this question by doing research."  The skeptical reader will be looking closely to see if you know how you are going to answer the question so that they can judge whether it seems likely that you will be able to answer the question.

It is crucial to clearly specify the boundaries of  your research including geographical focus (which country, countries or provinces are you looking at) as well as the time period -- is your research focusing on a single point in time or a period of time.  For both questions, you need to provide a justification for the geographical focus and chosen time period -- why do they make sense given your specific question and hypothesis.  Many questions require taking a comparative approach -- determining why something happened in one case and not another.  Comparisons can be across geographical units but also across time.

5. Data/Literature Survey and Bibliography.  The purpose of the data/literature survey and bibliography is to convince the reader that that proposal has not simply been written off the top of your head.  That is, the proposal should demonstrate that your assessment of the significance of the question and your ability to complete the research required to answer the question is based on an initial (but serious!) examination of preliminary sources.  (In our case, I would count the following as critical: the Romanow commission report and commissioned papers, the Kirby committee report, and the Report of the National Forum on Health.)

Once you have outlined how you will answer the question, the proposal should convince the audience that you have determined in advance that the research project can actually be completed.  The danger at this stage is that you've outlined the question, thought about how to test the hypothesis, but then find out that the data you need do not exist or are not available.  The research proposal stage requires that you have at least thought about where you will get the data and made some initial efforts to determine if it is likely to be there.  (Of course, this is more crucial to certain types of research projects than others.)

The bibliography is to show the reader the materials that you've looked at to that point and the materials that you will look at in the future.  (This distinction should be clear to the reader!)  It is intended to convince the reader that you've done enough basic background research to be certain that this is a question of significance.  (The easiest way to assert that a question is of significance is to identify an authoritative source as saying that it is an important question or drawing that inference from something they have said.  For example, the Kirby report outlines how important it is to look at health care in other countries and one could cite this in making a case for why it is important to compare the health care system of Canada with that of, say, Lichtenstein.)

Drafting the Research Proposal

Concision is key!  If you cannot clearly spell out your question, hypothesis and statement of significance each in a couple of sentences, the skeptical reader will suspect that you are not clear on what they are.  A general perception is that the more you think about something, the lengthier and verbose your writing should be. More often, the opposite is the case.  If you have thought carefully about each of these elements, you should be able to spell them out in very few words -- clearly, simply and straightforwardly.  Most proposals at the professional level (even for very large contracts and grants) are limited to a few pages at most.  Why?  Grantees, contractors, and thesis supervisors recognize that clearly thinking the project through should allow the proposal writer to strip away all of the extraneous material and outline the key elements of the project concisely.  (Of course, the bibliography might take up quite a bit of space -- but it doesn't count!)  You should be able to do a strong proposal for a project the length of this assignment in one page (single-spaced) and certainly not more than two pages.


MS-Word Format


Answer each of the following questions in 25 words or less:

1. The Question.  What is the question that you intend to answer?

2. The Hypothesis.  What do you expect that the answer will be?

3. The Statement of Significance.  Why should anyone care?

4. The Research Strategy.

  • What evidence will be required to answer the question (including geographic focus and time period)?  
  • What will the evidence look like if your hypothesis is right?  
  • What will the evidence look like if your hypothesis is wrong?

5. Data/Literature Survey and Bibliography.

  • Where will you get your evidence and is it actually available?
  • Have other people written on this question and, if so, what have they said?

From  http://lucy.ukc.ac.uk/Courses/P096/WritingResearchProposal.html

Structure of a research proposal

1. Abstract - Between 50 and 150 word summary of the proposal. Best written after finishing the other sections. It should briefly but clearly state the problem, the context of the problem, the significance of the problem, the broad methods to be used, the form of the results, and where these results might lead in future.

2. Summary of Research - About 250-400 words that flesh out the abstract in more detail. Probably most important section.

3. Background - About 300-500 (but can be a bit longer in special cases) words on the main related findings by others, with a review of the major related literature. How the problem came to have significance. Other areas in the discipline the problem links to. Why it hasn't been addressed by others. Why you are suited to do the research. I tend to put this section last now, but it can come at the beginning if you want.

4. Aims and Objectives

Aims - What you want to find out - e.g. why you are actually doing the research.
Objectives - Specific things you will actually achieve which take you some way towards the aim. The relationship between the objective and aim if necessary.
Aim. To understand better how people manage local economic resources.
Objective. I will record information on sources and use of income, access and use of credit and the ways these are used.

5. The Research Question(s) - In the light of the Aims and Objectives, what specific research questions are you asking. These are the bridge between Aims and Objectives and the Methods and Materials you plan to use. E.g.

How do social factors influence economic management?
How does conservation impact local economic activities?
What is the impact of external governmental and private bodies on local economic organisation?

6. Methods and Materials - Specify how will you specifically carry out the research. What specific methods will you use (standard ethnographic methods will not cut it!). E.g. interviews, structured or semi-structured. Participant observation and a specification of what this means in this research, e.g. just hanging out or active role in specific activities.

Specify what kinds of things you will need in the way of equipment, special props, access to people, arrangements to gain cooperation (are you going to pay, gifts, your good looks etc.). What will the community require in exchange for participation, if anything.

Specify how you will analyze the material once collected, e.g. interpretive, statistics, qualitative methods, community consensus analysis etc. Be specific.

The idea of this section is to be brief but specific about what and how you are going to carry out the research. Typically 250-500 words long, sometimes adding appendices.

7. Deliverables -
A list of what will be available to other researchers and possibly public bodies. E.g. what research materials will yoy make available to others. This can simply be a dissertation or a paper or book, or include dissemination of forms of the field data.

8 Significance - What is the significance of the research? How does it connect to other research. What new research does it make possible. Does i have policy implications. Can it be applied to other disciplines.

9 Bibliography - No more than one page of major references relating to the research. Not all need be cited in the proposal, but this is good form.

From  http://www.users.drew.edu/~sjamieso/research_proposal.html

Writing Research Proposals

The Role of the Research Proposal in a Research Project

The research proposal can serve many useful functions.  The most important is that it helps you to think out the research project you are about to undertake and predict any difficulties that might arise.  For those who aren't quite sure what their focus will be, the research proposal can be a space to explore options -- perhaps with one proposal for each potential topic (which can then be more easily compared and evaluated than when they are still just ideas in one's head).  Research proposals can be effective starting places to discuss projects with your professors, too.  A professor who is initially skeptical about a project may be able to imagine it more easily after reading a well written research proposal (this doesn't mean he or she will approve the topic, especially if there are significant potential difficulties that you haven't considered).

Uses of Research Proposals Once the Research has Begun

Once you have begun your research project, a research proposal can help you to remain on track -- and can also remind you why you started this project in the first place!  Researchers very often begin to lose heart about two thirds of the way into a project when their research hits a snag or when they are having problems developing a thesis, organizing the ideas, or actually starting to write.  Rereading the initial research proposal, especially "Significance" can reenergize the project or help the researcher to refocus in an effective manner.  [See drafting and revising the research paper for more on this aspect of the project.]

NOTE:  Each discipline and granting agency has its own guidelines for writing research proposals, so if you have been assigned to write one for a class other than a composition class, please consult your professor.

  Sample organization of a non-discipline-specific research proposal


Title of Project:
Give your project a working title, which may or may not become the title of your paper.


Statement of purpose:
Explain what you hope your research will find or show.  State your question or series of questions before you begin your research.  After you have conducted significant research you should be able to answer your question(s) in one or two sentences, which may become the thesis of the final paper.


Explain your interest in and experience with this topic.  Describe any previous research you have conducted on this or related topics, any classes you have taken on this or related topics, or any reading you have already done in the field.  If you have personal experience that has lead you to want to do more research, describe that here too.


Explain why this topic is worth considering, or this question or series of questions is worth answering.  Answer the following questions:  why should your instructor let you select this topic?  what do you hope to learn from it? what will this new knowledge add to the field of knowledge that already exists on this topic?  what new perspective will you bring to the topic? what use might your final research paper have for others in this field or in the general public?  who might you decide to share your findings with once the project is complete?


Describe the kind of research you will conduct to complete this project (library research, internet research, interviews, observations, ethnographies, etc.)


Explain how you will conduct your research in as much detail as possible.  If you will consult others (such as a statistician, an ethnographer, or a librarian) explain what role they will serve and how you hope they will enhance your development of an appropriate methodology for this project.  Discuss the kinds of sources you hope to consult and the methods you will use to extract and process the information you gather in as much detail as is possible at this stage.  (As the project is underway you might find the need to revise your methodology, explore new types of source material, and/or adopt new methods of gathering and processing data.  If this happens, revise this section of the proposal.)


Describe the problems you expect to encounter and how you hope to solve them.  For example, texts might be unavailable, necessitating travel to other libraries or use of inter-library loan facilities;  people you had hoped to interview might be unavailable or unwilling to participate, necessitating that you select other interviewees or change the focus; internet sites might be down or no longer available, etc.  (Try to imagine every possible problem so that you have contingency plans and the project doesn't become derailed.)


Make a list of texts you plan to consult.  If you are writing a library-based research paper you should aim to make a list of at least 30 potential sources (40 is better), which you will then narrow down as you conduct the research.  Many sources initially seem relevant, but turn out not to be, so it is always better to list all sources that might be of interest. As you eliminate sources, cross them off of this list.  Mark sources that are particularly useful, and add new sources as you come across them.  This will enable you to make a Works Cited list at the end of your project (i.e.: a list of only the works you have summarized, paraphrased, or quoted from in the paper.)

  C. Sandra Jamieson, Drew Univeristy, Feb. 1999.

From  http://www2.hawaii.edu/~matt/proposal.html

Guidelines on writing a research proposal

by Matthew McGranaghan

This is a work in progress, intended to organize my thoughts on the process of formulating a proposal. If you have any thoughts on the content, or even the notion of making this available to students, please share them with me.


This is a guide to writing M.A. research proposals. The same principles apply to dissertation proposals and to proposals to most funding agencies. It includes a model outline, but advisor, committee and funding agency expectations vary and your proposal will be a variation on this basic theme. Use these guidelines as a point of departure for discussions with your advisor. They may serve as a straw-man against which to build your understanding of both your project and of proposal writing.

Proposal Writing

Proposal writing is important to your pursuit of a graduate degree. The proposal is, in effect, an intellectual scholastic (not legal) contract between you and your committee. It specifies what you will do, how you will do it, and how you will interpret the results. In specifying what will be done it also gives criteria for determining whether it is done. In approving the proposal, your committee gives their best judgment that the approach to the research is reasonable and likely to yield the anticipated results. They are implicitly agreeing that they will accept the result as adequate for the purpose of granting a degree. (Of course you will have to write the thesis in acceptable form, and you probably will discover things in the course of your research that were not anticipated but which should be addressed in your thesis, but the minimum core intellectual contribution of your thesis will be set by the proposal.) Both parties benefit from an agreed upon plan.

The objective in writing a proposal is to describe what you will do, why it should be done, how you will do it and what you expect will result. Being clear about these things from the beginning will help you complete your thesis in a timely fashion. A vague, weak or fuzzy proposal can lead to a long, painful, and often unsuccessful thesis writing exercise. A clean, well thought-out, proposal forms the backbone for the thesis itself. The structures are identical and through the miracle of word-processing, your proposal will probably become your thesis.

A good thesis proposal hinges on a good idea. Once you have a good idea, you can draft the proposal in an evening. Getting a good idea hinges on familiarity with the topic. This assumes a longer preparatory period of reading, observation, discussion, and incubation. Read everything that you can in your area of interest. Figure out what are the important and missing parts of our understanding. Figure out how to build/discover those pieces. Live and breath the topic. Talk about it with anyone who is interested. Then just write the important parts as the proposal. Filling in the things that we do not know and that will help us know more: that is what research is all about.

Proposals help you estimate the size of a project. Don't make the project too big. The MA program statement says that a thesis is equivalent to a published paper in scope. That means about 60 double spaced pages with figures, tables and bibliography. Your proposal will be shorter, perhaps five pages and certainly no more than fifteen pages. (For perspective, the NSF limits the length of proposal narratives to 15 pages, even when the request might be for multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is the merit of the proposal which counts, not the weight.) Shoot for five pithy pages that indicate to a relatively well-informed audience that you know the topic and how its logic hangs together, rather than fifteen or twenty pages that indicate that you have read a lot of things but not yet boiled it down to a set of prioritized linked questions.

Different Theses, Similar Proposals

This guide includes an outline that looks like a "fill-in the blanks guide" and, while in the abstract all proposals are similar, each proposal will have its own particular variation on the basic theme. Each research project is different and a needs a specifically tailored proposal to bring it into focus. Different advisors and advisory committees have different expectations and you should find out what these are as early as possible; ask your advisor for advice on this. Further, different types of thesis require slightly different proposals. What style of work is published in your sub-discipline?

Characterizing theses is difficult. Some thesis are "straight science". Some are essentially opinion pieces. Some are policy oriented. In the end, they may well all be interpretations of observations, and differentiated by the rules that constrain the interpretation. (Different advisors will have different preferences about the rules, the meta-discourse, in which we all work.)

In the abstract all proposals are very similar. They need to show a reasonably informed reader why a particular topic is important to address and how you will do it. To that end, a proposal needs to show how your work fits into what is already known about the topic and what new contribution your work will make. Specify the question that your research will answer, establish why it is a significant question, show how you are going to answer the question, and indicate what you expect we will learn. The proposal should situate the work in the literature, it should show why this is an (if not the most) important question to answer in the field, and convince your committee (the skeptical readers that they are) that your approach will in fact result in an answer to the question.

Theses which address research questions that can be answered by making plan-able observations (and hypothesis testing) are preferred and perhaps the easiest to write. Because they address well-bounded topics, they can be very tight, but they do require more planning on the front end. Theses which are largely based on synthesis of observations, rumination, speculation, and opinion formation are harder to write, and usually not as convincing, often because they address questions which are not well-bounded and essentially unanswerable. (The old saw about research in the social sciences is: "some do and some don't". Try to to avoid such insight-less findings.) One problem with this type of project is that it is often impossible to tell when you are "done". Another problem is that the nature of argument for a position rather than the reasoned rejection of alternatives to it encourages shepherding a favored notion rather than converging more directly toward a truth. (A good proposal is a boon here, too.)

Literature review-based theses involve collection of information from the literature, distillation of it, and coming up with new insight on an issue. One problem with this type of research is that you might find the perfect succinct answer to your question on the night before (or after) you turn in the final draft --- in someone else's work. This certainly can knock the wind out of your sails. (But note that even a straight-ahead science thesis can have the problem of late in the game discovering that the work you have done or are doing has already been done, this is where familiarity with the relevant literature by both yourself and your committee members is important.)

A Couple of Models for Proposals

A Two Page (Preliminary Proposal) Model

Here is a model for a very brief (maybe five paragraph) proposal that you might use to interest faculty in sitting on your committee. People who are not yet hooked may especially appreciate its brevity.

In the first paragraph, the first sentence identifies the general topic area. The second sentence gives the research question, and the third sentence establishes its significance.

The next couple of paragraphs gives the larger historical perspective on the topic. Essentially list the major schools of thought on the topic and very briefly review the literature in the area with its major findings. Who has written on the topic and what have they found? Allocate about a sentence per important person or finding. Include any preliminary findings you have, and indicate what open questions are left. Restate your question in this context, showing how it fits into this larger picture.

The next paragraph describes your methodology. It tells how will you approach the question, what you will need to do it.

The final paragraph outlines your expected results, how you will interpret them, and how they will fit into the our larger understanding i.e., 'the literature'.

The (Longer) Standard Model

The two outlines below are intended to show both what are the standard parts of a proposal and of a science paper. Notice that the only real difference is that you change "expected results" to "results" in the paper, and usually leave the budget out, of the paper.

A Basic Proposal Outline:

  Topic area 
  Research question 
  Significance to knowledge
Literature review
  Previous research
   others & yours 
  Interlocking findings and Unanswered questions
  Your preliminary work on the topic
  The remaining questions and inter-locking logic
  Reprise of your research question(s) in this context
  Data needs
  Analytic techniques
  Plan for interpreting results
Expected results
Bibliography (or References) 
The Basic Thesis Outline

  Topic area 
  Research question  (finding?)
  Significance to knowledge
Literature review
  Previous research
   others & yours 
  Interlocking findings and Unanswered questions
  Your preliminary work on the topic
  The remaining questions and inter-locking logic
  Reprise of your research question(s) in this context
  Data needs
  Analytic techniques
  Plan for interpreting results
Discussion and Conclusions

Another outline (maybe from Gary Fuller?).

  Topic area 
  Research Question and its significance to knowledge
Literature review
  Previous research
  Your preliminary work on the topic
  The remaining questions and their inter-locking logic
  Reprise of your resulting question in this context
  Approach to answering the question
  Data needs
  Analytic techniques
  Plan for interpreting results
Expected results
Bibliography / References 

Each of these outlines is very similar. You get the idea of what the proposal does for you and organizing your thoughts and approach. The section below goes into slightly more (boring) detail on what each of the points in the outline is and does.

The Sections of the Proposal

The Introduction

Topic Area

A good title will clue the reader into the topic but it can not tell the whole story. follow the title with a short The introduction provides a brief overview that tells a fairly well informed but perhaps non-specialist reader what the proposal is about. It might be as short as a single page, but it should be very clearly written, and it should let one assess whether the research is relevant to their own. With luck it will hook the reader's interest.

What is your proposal about? Briefly describe the general topic and quickly come to the question that your research will address. Show why this is important to answer.


Once the topic is established, come right to the point. What are you going to do? What specific issue or question will your work address? What will we learn from your work?


Why is this work important? What are the implications of doing it? How does it link to other knowledge? How does it stand to inform policy making? This should show how this project is significant to our body of knowledge. Why is it important to our understanding of the world? It should establish why I would want to read on. It should also tell me why I would want to fund the project.

Literature Review

State of our knowledge

The purpose of the literature review is to situate your research in the context of what is already known about a topic. It need not be exhaustive, it needs to show how your work will benefit the whole. It should provide the theoretical basis for your work, show what has been done in the area by others, and set the stage for your work.

In a literature review you should give the reader enough ties to the literature that they feel confident that you have found, read, and assimilated the literature in the field. It should probably move from the more general to the more focused studies, but need not be exhaustive, only relevant.

Outstanding questions

This is where you present the holes in the knowledge that need to be plugged and by so doing, situate your work. It is the place where you establish that your work will fit in and be significant to the discipline. This can be made easier if there is literature that comes out and says "Hey, this is a topic that needs to be treated! What is the answer to this question?" and you will sometimes see this type of piece in the literature. Perhaps there is a reason to read old AAG presidential addresses.

Research Questions in Detail

Your work to date

Tell what you have done so far. It might report preliminary studies that you have conducted to establish the feasibility of your research. It should give a sense that you are in a position to add to the body of knowledge.


Overview of approach

This section should make clear to the reader the way that you intend to approach the research question and the techniques and logic that you will use to address it.

Data Collection

This might include the field site description, a description of the instruments you will use, and particularly the data that you anticipate collecting. You may need to comment on site and resource accessibility in the time frame and budget that you have available, to demonstrate feasibility, but the emphasis in this section should be to fully describe specifically what data you will be using in your study. Part of the purpose of doing this is to detect flaws in the plan before they become problems in the research.

Data Analysis

This should explain in some detail how you will manipulate the data that you assembled to get at the information that you will use to answer your question. It will include the statistical or other techniques and the tools that you will use in processing the data. It probably should also include an indication of the range of outcomes that you could reasonably expect from your observations.


In this section you should indicate how the anticipated outcomes will be interpreted to answer the research question. It is extremely beneficial to anticipate the range of outcomes from your analysis, and for each know what it will mean in terms of the answer to your question.

Expected Results

This section should give a good indication of what you expect to get out of the research. It should join the data analysis and possible outcomes to the theory and questions that you have raised. It will be a good place to summarize the significance of the work.

It is often useful from the very beginning of formulating your work to write one page for this section to focus your reasoning as you build the rest of the proposal.


This is the list of the relevant works. Some advisors like exhaustive lists. I think that the Graduate Division specifies that you call it "Bibliography". Others like to see only the literature which you actually site. Most fall in between: there is no reason to site irrelevant literature but it may be useful to keep track of it even if only to say that it was examined and found to be irrelevant.

Use a standard format. Order the references alphabetically, and use "flag" paragraphs as per the University's Guidelines.

Tips and Tricks

Read. Read everything you can find in your area of interest. Read. Read. Read. Take notes, and talk to your advisor about the topic. If your advisor won't talk to you, find another one or rely on 'the net' for intellectual interaction. Email has the advantage of forcing you to get your thoughts into written words that can be refined, edited and improved. It also gets time stamped records of when you submitted what to your advisor and how long it took to get a response.

Write about the topic a lot, and don't be afraid to tear up (delete) passages that just don't work. Often you can re-think and re-type faster than than you can edit your way out of a hopeless mess. The advantage is in the re-thinking.

Very early on, generate the research question, critical observation, interpretations of the possible outcomes, and the expected results. These are the core of the project and will help focus your reading and thinking. Modify them as needed as your understanding increases.

Use some systematic way of recording notes and bibliographic information from the very beginning. The classic approach is a deck of index cards. You can sort, regroup, layout spatial arrangements and work on the beach. Possibly a slight improvement is to use a word-processor file that contains bibliographic reference information and notes, quotes etc. that you take from the source. This can be sorted, searched, diced and sliced in your familiar word-processor. You may even print the index cards from the word-processor if you like the ability to physically re-arrange things.

Even better for some, is to use specialized bibliographic database software. Papyrus, EndNote, and other packages are available for PCs and MacIntoshs. The bib-refer and bibTex software on UNIX computers are also very handy and have the advantage of working with plain ASCII text files (no need to worry about getting at your information when the wordprocessor is several generations along). All of these tools link to various word-processors to make constructing and formating your final bibliography easier, but you won't do that many times anyway. If they help you organize your notes and thinking, that is the benefit.

Another pointer is to keep in mind from the outset that this project is neither the last nor the greatest thing you will do in your life. It is just one step along the way. Get it done and get on with the next one. The length to shoot for is "equivalent to a published paper", Forty pages of double spaced text, plus figures tables, table of contents, references, etc. is probably all you need. In practice, most theses try to do too much and become too long. Cover your topic, but don't confuse it with too many loosely relevant side lines.

This is not complete and needs a little rearranging.

The balance between Introduction and Literature Review needs to be thought out. The reader will want to be able to figure out whether to read the proposal. The literature review should be sufficiently inclusive that the reader can tell where the bounds of knowledge lie. It should also show what has been done and what seem to be accepted approaches in the field and the kinds of results that are being gotten.

The balance may change between the proposal and the thesis. It is common, although not really desirable, for theses to make reference to every slightly related piece of work that can be found. This is not necessary. Refer to the work that actually is linked to your study, don't go too far afield (unless your committee is adamant that you do ;-).

Useful References

Recent National Science Foundations Guidelines for Research Proposals

Strunk and White The Elements of Style

Turabian A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations

Chamberlain "Multiple Working Hypotheses"

Platt "Strong Inference"

Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren How to Read a Book

From  http://www.warnborough.edu/Resources/proposal.htm


The information below relates specifically to Warnborough University research proposal requirements. It is intended as a guide only. Research proposal requirements at other institutions may differ.

What is a Research Proposal?

A research proposal is a short document (1 to 2 pages) that identifies and outlines the main components of your research. They are:

  1. The purpose of your research
  2. The intended audience
  3. Your role
  4. An opening statement or hypothesis
  5. Brief description of intended methodology, data, materials
  6. Expected outcomes (if any)

The Purpose of Your Research

There are many reasons for doing a research-based programme. Research is, after all, finding out something you don't know. One could write a thesis to review and explain collated factual data. One could also conduct analytical research to study a particular subject in depth. One could discuss, debate and/or argue a certain topic, or come out with a new hypothesis/theory. One the other hand, one could also try persuading others to believe in what s/he is proposing.

You will often find conflicting ideas, biases, and other influences whilst conducting your research. You may even discover things in the course of your research that are contradictory to your personal thoughts, ethics and ideals. These could hinder your research, give rise to doubts, or cause a lack of interest in the work. Quality research demands objectivity, caution in assertion, solid backing from sources/experimental results, and clear rational thinking. You should be prepared for contingencies, to challenge widely-accepted norms/rules in your quest to seek further knowledge.

Your Audience

You will need to identify the audience for your work. Obviously, if you are doing a scientifically-inclined study into the effects of Neon atoms under intense heat, say, your target audience will not likely be Shakespearean thespians. However, your research may also traverse several fields (eg. child psychology research might be of interest not just to psychologists, but also to teachers, doctors and parents). Your target audience determines what style of writing you may use, and/or what theories and experiments to apply.

Your target audience should easily identify with what you are trying to do (whether they agree with it or not). Your research should try and persuade your readers to stand with you on your findings. It should contain adequate information without being unnecessary or boring. The purpose of research is not to rehash information that is easily available but to come up with something new or worthwhile for your audience to think about.

Your Role

Following on from above, the research is (hopefully) your own. You have to display your knowledge and points of view to be taken seriously. First and foremost, you must be extremely familiar with what you are setting out to do (hence the research proposal). When you quote sources and references, use the information to propel your points of view rather than those of the sources.

Opening Statement, Argument or Hypothesis

This is the "Big Bang" - the one that begins it all. Similar to debates, you can use one sentence, statement or question as a jump-off point to a complete body of research. This opener, though, should not be too broad. For example, "Drinking Too Much Coffee is Bad For Health" is too generalised. What is covered in the term 'health'? What is considered 'bad'? Is this from a social, psychological or medical point of view? Does this statement apply to all types of coffee (including decaffeinated coffee)?

Methodology, Materials and Data

This section should outline how you plan to go about doing your research. For example, to find out how many people prefer jogging to walking, would you ask people on the street directly, hand out questionnaires, appeal for volunteers over the Internet, or make up your own figures? (The last option is definitely not recommended!). If you are trying to find out how fast beans germinate under UV light (if at all), how would you go about doing it? What about controlled experiments/samples?

Expected Outcomes

Sometimes, your opener may be a new hypothesis that you are trying to prove. Perhaps you could be working towards a certain expected outcome that you intend to prove. If your research is of this nature, you might wish to include this in your proposal.

So, Why Bother?

Well, a research proposal basically lays out your ideas and intentions in a clear, concise manner. It also acts as a guide throughout your research, and helps keep you on course. Of course, a good research proposal helps in allocating the most appropriate mentor for you.

Is It Set In Stone?

Heavens, no! The idea behind research is exploration, and delving into the unknown. If it is set in stone, we might as well not bother with research. Your proposal does not even have to be perfect. What we look for is your ability to lay out your ideas step-by-step, with clear intentions and objectives. Sometimes, these may be a bit fuzzy but that is why you have a mentor - to help you bash out ideas and whip and pull the proposal, and ultimately, your research work, into shape. It may sound violent, but it is actually a lot of fun.

If you have any questions regarding how to write a research proposal, feel free to e-mail us. We can also put you in touch with potential mentors.


Adapted excerpt from "So, You Want A PhD?" by J. NG © 1997-9.




From  http://www.learnerassociates.net/dissthes/

Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or Dissertation

S. Joseph Levine, Ph.D.
Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan USA, (levine AT msu . edu)

(Last Updated: 09/18/2004 05:24:13)


This guide has been created to assist my graduate students in thinking through the many aspects of crafting, implementing and defending a thesis or dissertation. It is my attempt to share some of the many ideas that have surfaced over the past few years that definitely make the task of finishing a graduate degree so much easier. (This Guide is a companion to the Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal.)

Usually a guide of this nature focuses on the actual implementation of the research. This is not the focus of this guide. Instead of examining such aspects as identifying appropriate sample size, field testing the instrument and selecting appropriate statistical tests, this guide looks at many of the quasi-political aspects of the process. Such topics as how to select a supportive committee, making a compelling presentation of your research outcomes and strategies for actually getting the paper written are discussed.

Of course, many of the ideas that are presented can be used successfully by other graduate students studying under the guidance of other advisers and from many different disciplines. However, the use of this guide carries no guarantee - implied or otherwise. When in doubt check with your adviser. Probably the best advice to start with is the idea of not trying to do your research entirely by yourself. Do it in conjunction with your adviser. Seek out his/her input and assistance. Stay in touch with your adviser so that both of you know what's happening. There's a much better chance of getting to the end of your project and with a smile on your face.

With this in mind, enjoy the guide. I hope it will help you finish your graduate degree in good shape. Good luck and good researching!

(NOTE: Periodically I receive requests for information on how to prepare a "thesis statement" rather than actually writing a thesis/dissertation. How To Write a Thesis Statement is an excellent website that clearly sets forth what a "thesis statement" is and how to actually prepare one.)

Summary of Key Ideas in this Guide


The "thinking about it stage" is when you are finally faced with the reality of completing your degree. Usually the early phases of a graduate program proceed in clear and very structured ways. The beginning phases of a graduate program proceed in much the same manner as an undergraduate degree program. There are clear requirements and expectations, and the graduate student moves along, step by step, getting ever closer to the completion of the program. One day, however, the clear structure begins to diminish and now you're approaching the thesis/dissertation stage. This is a new and different time. These next steps are more and more defined by you and not your adviser, the program, or the department.

1. Be inclusive with your thinking.Don't try to eliminate ideas too quickly. Build on your ideas and see how many different research projects you can identify. Give yourself the luxury of being expansive in your thinking at this stage -- you won't be able to do this later on. Try and be creative.

2. Write down your ideas. This will allow you to revisit an idea later on. Or, you can modify and change an idea. If you don't write your ideas they tend to be in a continual state of change and you will probably have the feeling that you're not going anywhere. What a great feeling it is to be able to sit down and scan the many ideas you have been thinking about, if they're written down.

3. Try not to be overly influenced at this time by what you feel others expect from you (your colleagues, your profession, your academic department, etc.). You have a much better chance of selecting a topic that will be really of interest to you if it is your topic. This will be one of the few opportunities you may have in your professional life to focus in on a research topic that is really of your own choosing.

4. Don't begin your thinking by assuming that your research will draw international attention to you!! Instead, be realistic in setting your goal. Make sure your expectations are tempered by:

      ... the realization that you are fulfilling an academic requirement,

      ... the fact that the process of conducting the research may be just as important (or more important) than the outcomes of the research, and

      ... the idea that first and foremost the whole research project should be a learning experience for you.

If you can keep these ideas in mind while you're thinking through your research you stand an excellent chance of having your research project turn out well.

5. Be realistic about the time that you're willing to commit to your research project. If it's a 10 year project that you're thinking about admit it at the beginning and then decide whether or not you have 10 years to give to it. If the project you'd like to do is going to demand more time than you're willing to commit then you have a problem.

I know it's still early in your thinking but it's never too early to create a draft of a timeline. Try using the 6 Stages (see the next item) and put a start and a finish time for each. Post your timeline in a conspicuous place (above your computer monitor?) so that it continually reminds you how you're doing. Periodically update your timeline with new dates as needed. (Thanks to a website visitor from Philadelphia for sharing this idea.)

6. If you're going to ask for a leave of absence from your job while you're working on your research this isn't a good time to do it. Chances are you can do the "thinking about it" stage without a leave of absence. Assuming that there are six major phases that you will have during your research project, probably the best time to get the most from a leave of absence is during the fourth stage* - the writing stage. This is the time when you really need to be thinking well. To be able to work at your writing in large blocks of time without interruptions is something really important. A leave of absence from your job can allow this to happen. A leave of absence from your job prior to this stage may not be a very efficient use of the valuable time away from your work.

      Stage 1 - Thinking About It

      Stage 2 - Preparing the Proposal

      Stage 3- Conducting the Research

      Stage 4- Writing the Research Paper*

      Stage 5- Sharing the Research Outcomes with Others

      Stage 6- Revising the Research Paper

7. It can be most helpful at this early stage to try a very small preliminary research study to test out some of your ideas to help you gain further confidence in what you'd like to do. The study can be as simple as conducting half a dozen informal interviews with no attempt to document what is said. The key is that it will give you a chance to get closer to your research and to test out whether or not you really are interested in the topic. And, you can do it before you have committed yourself to doing something you may not like. Take your time and try it first.


Assuming you've done a good job of "thinking about" your research project, you're ready to actually prepare the proposal. A word of caution - those students who tend to have a problem in coming up with a viable proposal often are the ones that have tried to rush through the "thinking about it" part and move too quickly to trying to write the proposal. Here's a final check. Do each of these statements describe you? If they do you're ready to prepare your research proposal.

      I am familiar with other research that has been conducted in areas related to my research project.

        (___Yes, it's me)
        ( ___No, not me)

      I have a clear understanding of the steps that I will use in conducting my research.

        (___Yes, it's me)
        ( ___No, not me)

      I feel that I have the ability to get through each of the steps necessary to complete my research project.

        (___Yes, it's me)
        ( ___No, not me)

      I know that I am motivated and have the drive to get through all of the steps in the research project.

        (___Yes, it's me)
        ( ___No, not me)

Okay, you're ready to write your research proposal. Here are some ideas to help with the task:

8. Read through someone else's research proposal. Very often a real stumbling block is that we don't have an image in our mind of what the finished research proposal should look like. How has the other proposal been organized? What are the headings that have been used? Does the other proposal seem clear? Does it seem to suggest that the writer knows the subject area? Can I model my proposal after one of the ones that I've seen? If you can't readily find a proposal or two to look at, ask your adviser to see some. Chances are your adviser has a file drawer filled with them.

9. Make sure your proposal has a comprehensive review of the literature included. Now this idea, at first thought, may not seem to make sense. I have heard many students tell me that "This is only the proposal. I'll do a complete literature search for the dissertation. I don't want to waste the time now." But, this is the time to do it. The rationale behind the literature review consists of an argument with two lines of analysis: 1) this research is needed, and 2) the methodology I have chosen is most appropriate for the question that is being asked. Now, why would you want to wait? Now is the time to get informed and to learn from others who have preceded you! If you wait until you are writing the dissertation it is too late. You've got to do it some time so you might as well get on with it and do it now. Plus, you will probably want to add to the literature review when you're writing the final dissertation. (Thanks to a website visitor from Mobile, Alabama who helped to clarify this point.)

10. With the ready availability of photocopy machines you should be able to bypass many of the hardships that previous dissertation researchers had to deal with in developing their literature review. When you read something that is important to your study, photocopy the relevant article or section. Keep your photocopies organized according to categories and sections. And, most importantly, photocopy the bibliographic citation so that you can easily reference the material in your bibliography. Then, when you decide to sit down and actually write the literature review, bring out your photocopied sections, put them into logical and sequential order, and then begin your writing.

11. What is a proposal anyway? A good proposal should consist of the first three chapters of the dissertation. It should begin with a statement of the problem/background information (typically Chapter I of the dissertation), then move on to a review of the literature (Chapter 2), and conclude with a defining of the research methodology (Chapter 3). Of course, it should be written in a future tense since it is a proposal. To turn a good proposal into the first three chapters of the dissertation consists of changing the tense from future tense to past tense (from "This is what I would like to do" to "This is what I did") and making any changes based on the way you actually carried out the research when compared to how you proposed to do it. Often the intentions we state in our proposal turn out different in reality and we then have to make appropriate editorial changes to move it from proposal to dissertation.

12. Focus your research very specifically. Don't try to have your research cover too broad an area. Now you may think that this will distort what you want to do. This may be the case, but you will be able to do the project if it is narrowly defined. Usually a broadly defined project is not do-able. By defining too broadly it may sound better to you, but there is a great chance that it will be unmanageable as a research project. When you complete your research project it is important that you have something specific and definitive to say. This can be accommodated and enhanced by narrowly defining your project. Otherwise you may have only broadly based things to say about large areas that really provide little guidance to others that may follow you. Often the researcher finds that what he/she originally thought to be a good research project turns out to really be a group of research projects. Do one project for your dissertation and save the other projects for later in your career. Don't try to solve all of the problems in this one research project.

13. Include a title on your proposal. I'm amazed at how often the title is left for the end of the student's writing and then somehow forgotten when the proposal is prepared for the committee. A good proposal has a good title and it is the first thing to help the reader begin to understand the nature of your work. Use it wisely! Work on your title early in the process and revisit it often. It's easy for a reader to identify those proposals where the title has been focused upon by the student. Preparing a good title means:

      ...having the most important words appear toward the beginning of your title,
      ...limiting the use of ambiguous or confusing words,
      ..breaking your title up into a title and subtitle when you have too many words, and
      ...including key words that will help researchers in the future find your work.

14. It's important that your research proposal be organized around a set of questions that will guide your research. When selecting these guiding questions try to write them so that they frame your research and put it into perspective with other research. These questions must serve to establish the link between your research and other research that has preceded you. Your research questions should clearly show the relationship of your research to your field of study. Don't be carried away at this point and make your questions too narrow. You must start with broad relational questions.

      A good question:

        Do adult learners in a rural adult education setting have characteristics that are similar to adult learners in general ?

      A poor question:

        What are the characteristics of rural adult learners in an adult education program? (too narrow)

      A poor question:

        How can the XYZ Agency better serve rural adult learners? (not generalizable)

15. Now here are a few more ideas regarding the defining of your research project through your proposal.

  • a. Make sure that you will be benefitting those who are participating in the research. Don't only see the subjects as sources of data for you to analyze. Make sure you treat them as participants in the research. They have the right to understand what you are doing and you have a responsibility to share the findings with them for their reaction. Your research should not only empower you with new understandings but it should also empower those who are participating with you.
  • b. Choose your methodology wisely. Don't be too quick in running away from using a quantitative methodology because you fear the use of statistics. A qualitative approach to research can yield new and exciting understandings, but it should not be undertaken because of a fear of quantitative research. A well designed quantitative research study can often be accomplished in very clear and direct ways. A similar study of a qualitative nature usually requires considerably more time and a tremendous burden to create new paths for analysis where previously no path had existed. Choose your methodology wisely!
  • c. Sometimes a combined methodology makes the most sense. You can combine a qualitative preliminary study (to define your population more clearly, to develop your instrumentation more specifically or to establish hypotheses for investigation) with a quantitative main study to yield a research project that works well.
  • d. Deciding on where you will conduct the research is a major decision. If you are from another area of the country or a different country there is often an expectation that you will return to your "home" to conduct the research. This may yield more meaningful results, but it will also most likely create a situation whereby you are expected to fulfill other obligations while you are home. For many students the opportunity to conduct a research project away from home is an important one since they are able to better control many of the intervening variables that they can not control at home. Think carefully regarding your own situation before you make your decision.
  • e. What if you have the opportunity for conducting your research in conjunction with another agency or project that is working in related areas. Should you do it? Sometimes this works well, but most often the dissertation researcher gives up valuable freedom to conduct the research project in conjunction with something else. Make sure the trade-offs are in your favor. It can be very disastrous to have the other project suddenly get off schedule and to find your own research project temporarily delayed. Or, you had tripled the size of your sample since the agency was willing to pay the cost of postage. They paid for the postage for the pre-questionnaire. Now they are unable to assist with postage for the post-questionnaire. What happens to your research? I usually find that the cost of conducting dissertation research is not prohibitive and the trade-offs to work in conjunction with another agency are not in favor of the researcher. Think twice before altering your project to accommodate someone else. Enjoy the power and the freedom to make your own decisions (and mistakes!) -- this is the way we learn!

16. Selecting and preparing your advisory committee to respond to your proposal should not be taken lightly. If you do your "homework" well your advisory committee can be most helpful to you. Try these ideas:

  • a. If you are given the opportunity to select your dissertation committee do it wisely. Don't only focus on content experts. Make sure you have selected faculty for your committee who are supportive of you and are willing to assist you in successfully completing your research. You want a committee that you can ask for help and know that they will provide it for you. Don't forget, you can always access content experts who are not on your committee at any time during your research project.
  • b. Your major professor/adviser/chairperson is your ally. When you go to the committee for reactions to your proposal make sure your major professor is fully supportive of you. Spend time with him/her before the meeting so that your plans are clear and you know you have full support. The proposal meeting should be seen as an opportunity for you and your major professor to seek the advice of the committee. Don't ever go into the proposal meeting with the feeling that it is you against them!
  • c. Provide the committee members with a well-written proposal well in advance of the meeting. Make sure they have ample time to read the proposal.
  • d. Plan the proposal meeting well. If graphic presentations are necessary to help the committee with understandings make sure you prepare them so they look good. A well planned meeting will help your committee understand that you are prepared to move forward with well planned research. Your presentation style at the meeting should not belittle your committee members (make it sound like you know they have read your proposal) but you should not assume too much (go through each of the details with an assumption that maybe one of the members skipped over that section).

Now this is the part we've been waiting for. I must assume that you have come up with a good idea for research, had your proposal approved, collected the data, conducted your analyses and now you're about to start writing the dissertation. If you've done the first steps well this part shouldn't be too bad. In fact it might even be enjoyable!

17. The major myth in writing a dissertation is that you start writing at Chapter One and then finish your writing at Chapter Five. This is seldom the case. The most productive approach in writing the dissertation is to begin writing those parts of the dissertation that you are most comfortable with. Then move about in your writing by completing various sections as you think of them. At some point you will be able to spread out in front of you all of the sections that you have written. You will be able to sequence them in the best order and then see what is missing and should be added to the dissertation. This way seems to make sense and builds on those aspects of your study that are of most interest to you at any particular time. Go with what interests you, start your writing there, and then keep building!

(David Kraenzel - North Dakota State University - wrote in describing the "A to Z Method". Look at the first section of your paper. When you are ready go ahead and write it. If you are not ready, move section-by-section through your paper until you find a section where you have some input to make. Make your input and continue moving through the entire paper - from A to Z - writing and adding to those sections for which you have some input. Each time you work on your paper follow the same A to Z process. This will help you visualize the end product of your efforts from very early in your writing and each time you work on your paper you will be building the entire paper - from A to Z. Thanks David!)

18. If you prepared a comprehensive proposal you will now be rewarded! Pull out the proposal and begin by checking your proposed research methodology. Change the tense from future tense to past tense and then make any additions or changes so that the methodology section truly reflects what you did. You have now been able to change sections from the proposal to sections for the dissertation. Move on to the Statement of the Problem and the Literature Review in the same manner.

19. I must assume you're using some form of word processing on a computer to write your dissertation. (if you aren't, you've missed a major part of your doctoral preparation!) If your study has specific names of people, institutions and places that must be changed to provide anonymity don't do it too soon. Go ahead and write your dissertation using the real names. Then at the end of the writing stage you can easily have the computer make all of the appropriate name substitutions. If you make these substitutions too early it can really confuse your writing.

20. As you get involved in the actual writing of your dissertation you will find that conservation of paper will begin to fade away as a concern. Just as soon as you print a draft of a chapter there will appear a variety of needed changes and before you know it another draft will be printed. And, it seems almost impossible to throw away any of the drafts! After awhile it will become extremely difficult to remember which draft of your chapter you may be looking at. Print each draft of your dissertation on a different color paper. With the different colors of paper it will be easy to see which is the latest draft and you can quickly see which draft a committee member might be reading. (Thanks to Michelle O'Malley at University of Florida for sharing this idea.)

21. The one area where I would caution you about using a word processor is in the initial creation of elaborate graphs or tables. I've seen too many students spend too many hours in trying to use their word processor to create an elaborate graph that could have been done by hand in 15 minutes. So, the simple rule is to use hand drawing for elaborate tables and graphs for the early draft of your dissertation. Make sure your data are presented accurately so your advisor can clearly understand your graph/table, but don't waste the time trying to make it look word processor perfect at this time. Once you and your advisor agree upon how the data should be graphically represented it is time to prepare "perfect" looking graphs and tables.

22. Dissertation-style writing is not designed to be entertaining. Dissertation writing should be clear and unambiguous. To do this well you should prepare a list of key words that are important to your research and then your writing should use this set of key words throughout. There is nothing so frustrating to a reader as a manuscript that keeps using alternate words to mean the same thing. If you've decided that a key phrase for your research is "educational workshop", then do not try substituting other phrases like "in-service program", "learning workshop", "educational institute", or "educational program." Always stay with the same phrase - "educational workshop." It will be very clear to the reader exactly what you are referring to.

23. Review two or three well organized and presented dissertations. Examine their use of headings, overall style, typeface and organization. Use them as a model for the preparation of your own dissertation. In this way you will have an idea at the beginning of your writing what your finished dissertation will look like. A most helpful perspective!

24. A simple rule - if you are presenting information in the form of a table or graph make sure you introduce the table or graph in your text. And then, following the insertion of the table/graph, make sure you discuss it. If there is nothing to discuss then you may want to question even inserting it.

25. Another simple rule - if you have a whole series of very similar tables try to use similar words in describing each. Don't try and be creative and entertaining with your writing. If each introduction and discussion of the similar tables uses very similar wording then the reader can easily spot the differences in each table.

26. We are all familiar with how helpful the Table of Contents is to the reader. What we sometimes don't realize is that it is also invaluable to the writer. Use the Table of Contents to help you improve your manuscript. Use it to see if you've left something out, if you are presenting your sections in the most logical order, or if you need to make your wording a bit more clear. Thanks to the miracle of computer technology, you can easily copy/paste each of your headings from throughout your writing into the Table of Contents. Then sit back and see if the Table of Contents is clear and will make good sense to the reader. You will be amazed at how easy it will be to see areas that may need some more attention. Don't wait until the end to do your Table of Contents. Do it early enough so you can benefit from the information it will provide to you.

27. If you are including a Conclusions/Implications section in your dissertation make sure you really present conclusions and implications. Often the writer uses the conclusions/implications section to merely restate the research findings. Don't waste my time. I've already read the findings and now, at the Conclusion/Implication section, I want you to help me understand what it all means. This is a key section of the dissertation and is sometimes best done after you've had a few days to step away from your research and allow yourself to put your research into perspective. If you do this you will no doubt be able to draw a variety of insights that help link your research to other areas. I usually think of conclusions/implications as the "So what" statements. In other words, what are the key ideas that we can draw from your study to apply to my areas of concern.

28. Potentially the silliest part of the dissertation is the Suggestions for Further Research section. This section is usually written at the very end of your writing project and little energy is left to make it very meaningful. The biggest problem with this section is that the suggestions are often ones that could have been made prior to you conducting your research. Read and reread this section until you are sure that you have made suggestions that emanate from your experiences in conducting the research and the findings that you have evolved. Make sure that your suggestions for further research serve to link your project with other projects in the future and provide a further opportunity for the reader to better understand what you have done.

29. Now it's time to write the last chapter. But what chapter is the last one? My perception is that the last chapter should be the first chapter. I don't really mean this in the literal sense. Certainly you wrote Chapter One at the beginning of this whole process. Now, at the end, it's time to "rewrite" Chapter One. After you've had a chance to write your dissertation all the way to the end, the last thing you should do is turn back to Chapter One. Reread Chapter One carefully with the insight you now have from having completed Chapter Five. Does Chapter One clearly help the reader move in the direction of Chapter Five? Are important concepts that will be necessary for understanding Chapter Five presented in Chapter One?


What a terrible name - a dissertation defense. It seems to suggest some sort of war that you're trying to win. And, of course, with four or five of them and only one of you it sounds like they may have won the war before the first battle is held. I wish they had called it a dissertation seminar or professional symposium. I think the name would have brought forward a much better picture of what should be expected at this meeting.

Regardless of what the meeting is called, try to remember that the purpose of the meeting is for you to show everyone how well you have done in the conducting of your research study and the preparation of your dissertation. In addition there should be a seminar atmosphere where the exchange of ideas is valued. You are clearly the most knowledgeable person at this meeting when it comes to your subject. And, the members of your committee are there to hear from you and to help you better understand the very research that you have invested so much of yourself in for the past weeks. Their purpose is to help you finish your degree requirements. Of course other agenda often creep in. If that happens, try to stay on course and redirect the meeting to your agenda.

The following ideas should help you keep the meeting on your agenda.

30. The most obvious suggestion is the one seldom followed. Try to attend one or more defenses prior to yours. Find out which other students are defending their research and sit in on their defense. In many departments this is expected of all graduate students. If this is not the case for you, check with your adviser to see that you can get an invitation to attend some defenses.

At the defense try and keep your focus on the interactions that occur. Does the student seem relaxed? What strategies does the student use to keep relaxed? How does the student interact with the faculty? Does the student seem to be able to answer questions well? What would make the situation appear better? What things should you avoid? You can learn a lot from sitting in on such a meeting.

31. Find opportunities to discuss your research with your friends and colleagues. Listen carefully to their questions. See if you are able to present your research in a clear and coherent manner. Are there aspects of your research that are particularly confusing and need further explanation? Are there things that you forgot to say? Could you change the order of the information presented and have it become more understandable?

32. I hope you don't try circulating chapters of your dissertation to your committee members as you are writing them. I find this practice to be most annoying and one that creates considerable problems for the student. You must work closely with your dissertation director. He/she is the person you want to please. Develop a strategy with the dissertation director regarding how and when your writing should be shared. Only after your dissertation director approves of what you have done should you attempt to share it with the rest of the committee. And by then it's time for the defense. If you prematurely share sections of your writing with committee members you will probably find yourself in a situation where one committee member tells you to do one thing and another member says to do something else. What should you do? The best answer is not to get yourself into such a predicament. The committee meeting (the defense) allows the concerns of committee members to surface in a dialogical atmosphere where opposing views can be discussed and resolved.

33. It's important that you have the feeling when entering your defense that you aren't doing it alone. As was mentioned earlier, your major professor should be seen as an ally to you and "in your corner" at the defense. Don't forget, if you embarrass yourself at the defense you will also be embarrassing your dissertation director. So, give both of you a chance to guarantee there is no embarrassment. Meet together ahead of time and discuss the strategy you should use at the defense. Identify any possible problems that may occur and discuss ways that they should be dealt with. Try and make the defense more of a team effort.

34. Don't be defensive at your defense (this sounds confusing!). This is easy to say but sometimes hard to fulfill. You've just spent a considerable amount of time on your research and there is a strong tendency for YOU to want to defend everything you've done. However, the committee members bring a new perspective and may have some very good thoughts to share. Probably the easiest way to deal with new input is to say something like "Thank you so much for your idea. I will be giving it a lot of consideration." There, you've managed to diffuse a potentially explosive situation and not backed yourself or the committee member into a corner. Plus, you've not promised anything. Try and be politically astute at this time. Don't forget that your ultimate goal is to successfully complete your degree.

35. Probably the most disorganized defense I've attended is the one where the dissertation director began the meeting by saying, "You've all read the dissertation. What questions do you have for the student?" What a mess. Questions started to be asked that bounced the student around from one part of the dissertation to another. There was no semblance of order and the meeting almost lost control due to its lack of organization. At that time I vowed to protect my students from falling into such a trap by helping them organize the defense as an educational presentation.

Here's what we do:

  • I ask the student to prepare a 20-25 minute presentation that reviews the entire study. This is done through the help of a series of 10-12 large pieces of paper, wall charts, that have been posted sequentially around the walls of the room. Each piece of paper contains key words regarding each of the different aspects of the study. Some pieces of paper contain information about the study setting, questions and methodology. Other pieces of paper present findings and finally there are those pieces that present the conclusions and implications. By preparing these wall charts ahead of time the student is able to relax during the presentation and use the pieces of paper as if they were a road map toward the goal. No matter how nervous you are you can always let the wall charts guide YOU through your presentation. Lettering is done with a dark marking pen and extra notes are included in very small printing with a pencil (that no one can really see). We've also tried it with overhead projected transparencies but it doesn't work as well. With the transparencies they're gone from view after a few seconds. The wall charts stay up for everyone to see and to help focus attention.
  • Following this structured presentation the committee begins to ask questions, but as can be expected the questions follow along with the wall charts and the whole discussion proceeds in an orderly manner. If guests are present at the defense, this form of presentation helps them also follow along and understand exactly what was accomplished through the research.

36. Consider tape recording your defense. Using a small portable recorder, record your entire presentation and also the questions and comments of the committee members. This helps in two ways. First, the student has documentation to assist in making suggested changes and corrections in the dissertation. The student can relax more and listen to what is being said by the committee members. The tape recorder is taking notes! Second, the student has a permanent record of his/her presentation of the study. By keeping the paper charts and the tape together, they can be most useful for reviewing the research in future years when a request is made for a presentation. (Bring out the tape and the pieces of paper the night before your presentation and you can listen to you make the presentation. What a good way to review.)

Well that about does it. By following the above suggestions and ideas I hope it will be possible for you to finish your graduate degree program in a most timely and enjoyable manner. By looking ahead to the different aspects of this final part of your graduate study it becomes clear that you can do a number of things to insure your success. Good luck!

37. Oh, I almost forgot. There's one last thing. Get busy and prepare an article or paper that shares the outcomes of your research. There will be no better time to do this than now. Directly after your defense is when you know your study the best and you will be in the best position to put your thinking on paper. If you put this writing task off it will probably never get done. Capitalize on all of the investment you have made in your research and reap some additional benefit - start writing.

Thinking About Buying a Book?

I have spent time identifying a number of different books that are available to help in writing a thesis/dissertation. The quality of the books, as can be expected, varies greatly. If you would like to see a listing of the books I have identified and my reactions to them, please click here.

A Handful of Worthwhile Bookmarks -

If I only had time to visit a single website for help with my thesis I'd probably go directly to the Thesis Handbook (http://www.tele.sunyit.edu/ThesisHandbook.html) maintained by the Telecommunications Program at SUNY Institute of Technology. Especially helpful are the accompanying Thesis Workbook and Frequently Asked Questions where you will find a wealth of clearly written and helpful information. (Selecting a topic; Developing a search strategy for going after relevant literature: Deciding which tense to use in your writing; etc.)

An extensive set of hints and ideas on how to improve your dissertation/thesis writing. How To Write A Dissertation or Bedtime Reading For People Who Do Not Have Time To Sleep (http://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/dec/essay.dissertation.html) lays out suggestion after suggestion in direct and non-confusing form. A great list to bring out after you've completed the first draft of your writing, are rather tired of your topic, and you are not sure where to begin your fine tuning.

An excellent website with lots of highly specific information (especially if the focus of your work is in a scientific or technical area) has been developed by Joe Wolfe at The University of New South Wales (Australia). How to Write a PhD Thesis (http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/~jw/thesis.html) provides a variety of very useful suggestions on how to get from the beginning to the end of your thesis project - and survive the process!

Wouldn't it be great if there were a bunch of theses/dissertations available for reading right on the web? Well, there are some resources you should be aware of that will let you see what the finished product could look like. First, there is an Experimental Digital Library of M.I.T. Theses (http://theses.mit.edu/) which includes electronically-submitted theses. Next, you can always purchase a copy of most US dissertations/theses. These are available from UMI's website - UMI's Online Dissertation Services (http://www.umi.com/hp/Products/Dissertations.html). The University of Wisconsin has a site which lists Sites with Full Text Access to Dissertations (http://www.library.wisc.edu/libraries/Memorial/elecdiss.htm#fulltext). You should also be aware of the various Electronic Dissertation/Thesis (ETD) projects that are currently underway. A good access to this area is via the library at the University of Virginia which has a page dealing with Electronic Theses and Dissertations in the Humanities (http://etext.virginia.edu/ETD/).

Another website that's worth visiting is maintained by Computer Science & Electrical Engineering at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and also the Computer Science Department at Indiana University-Bloomington. How to Be a Good Graduate Student/Advisor (http://www.cs.indiana.edu/how.2b/how.2b.html) "attempts to raise some issues that are important for graduate students to be successful and to get as much out of the process as possible, and for advisors who wish to help their students be successful."

Prof. John W. Chinneck at Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada) has created a very practical and well written webpage on the preparation of your thesis. How to Organize your Thesis (http://www.sce.carleton.ca/faculty/chinneck/thesis.html) starts with a description of what graduate research/the graduate thesis is all about and then moves point-by-point through a "generic thesis skeleton".

If you are in need of some gentle prodding and a bit of humor to go along with it, check out the Dead Thesis Society (http://www.mun.ca/sgs/dts/) - a support group for graduate students. Lots of well organized information that is moderated by Frank Elgar, a graduate student in Psychology at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

 Mike Hart, Professor of Business and Informatics at King Alfred's College, has put together a very helpful website focused on successfully completing the "final year project." Final Year Projects(http://final-year-projects.com/) is loaded with numerous ideas and suggestions for helping the student get started in the project and then to keep going until the project is finished.

Not sure of all the administrative steps at your university that are required to successfully complete a dissertation? Check out this well thought through website from Pepperdine University's Graduate School (http://gsep.pepperdine.edu/studentservices/dissertation/education/). Everything seems to be included from a definition of exactly what is a dissertation all the way to exactly how many spaces between the title and your name."

Feeling a bit lonesome in the process of writing your thesis or dissertation? Take a minute to find out who else has visited this website and read what others have said about this Guide (http://LearnerAssociates.net/dissthes/results.htm) and their own situation. It might just be reassuring!!

And finally, when all else fails, you might want to see what other sites have included a link to this Thesis/Dissertation website. These other sites will have a variety of additional resources to check out.

Your comments and suggestions for improving and extending this guide would be most welcome. Please click on the box (below) to send feedback about this website. Thank you!

Joe Levine

From  www.i-m-c.org

Preparing a Research Proposal

All Associates will be aware that the project is intended to be action orientated. We are therefore looking not for a conventional piece of academic research, but for a piece of rigorous study that either embodies action or leads to action, to improve the way things are. Associates should therefore be selecting topics which have relevance to their jobs or their organizations, can be accomplished within 21 months, and have a sufficiently tight focus to enable a meaningful project to be completed.

In choosing a topic, or in refining their topics, Associates will need to bear in mind the constraints within which they will be working. Guidance on selecting topics is given not only in the notes of guidance for completing the application form but also in the book entitled The Management of a Student Research Project by Howard and Sharp. This book forms part of the courseware material supplied to all Associates. Below is a summary of some of the key points that need to be borne in mind when selecting a topic.

Key questions to be borne in mind when selecting a topic

  1. Is it feasible?

    Here you should ask yourselves questions such as:


    1. Can the data and information really be obtained?
    2. Will you have adequate access to people and resources within the organization?
    3. Can it be done in the time available?
    4. Is an appropriate research design available to enable the work to be carried out?
    5. Can the skills and expertise required to do the project be developed or acquired? (You will not necessarily have to develop all the skills and expertise yourself but you must be able to access resources and expertise that can help you).
    6. What risks are involved in carrying out the project? (For example, running out of time, running up against the politics of the organization.)

  2. Is it potentially of considerable value?


    1. Will it help you now and later in your career?
    2. Will it help your organization significantly?
    3. How will it be able to contribute to global knowledge and understanding in the field?
    4. Might it further develop your senior management skills?
    5. Can the results be disseminated? (That is: will there be so many restrictions that you cannot realistically inform other people of what you have done and found out, therefore greatly limiting the value?)

  3. Is it symmetrical?

    This refers to the range of possible outcomes from the work. A symmetrical project is one where there are a number of possible alternative outcomes, several of which will have some value or importance.


    1. What are the possible alternative outcomes?
    2. Is it likely that each outcome will be represented by acceptable findings?
    3. Is each outcome of similar value?
    4. Is there a real risk of reaching inconclusive findings?
    5. Might the findings challenge strongly held views? (If they do then the work will be particularly useful.)

  4. What is the scope?

    This really refers to the extent to which the field has already been covered before.


    1. Has it been done before? (You cannot totally answer this but you should be able to develop a feel from an initial brief look at the literature or indeed by asking questions of people in the organization and elsewhere as to whether it has been a thoroughly worked and reworked area.)
    2. Is there an opportunity to increase, reduce or confirm current beliefs?
    3. Is the value of the work likely to be high?
    4. How much surprise might there be in the results obtained?
    5. How large is the scope? (A thesis with high value and high potential surprise is likely to have a large scope).

    It is not possible to establish a thesis that will answer all the questions in each of the areas above. However, you should at least be satisfied that it is feasible and has potential value. If you can also demonstrate that there is likely to be a range of possible outcomes and that the research can focus on an area or some aspect or some application that has not been over-researched before, then you can expect a fruitful pattern of study.

    All candidates must complete fully the regular application and thesis proposal forms and receive agreement for their proposed research topic before commencing the programme. The programme begins with a four-day Start-Up Workshop.



The proposed title of your thesis should reflect the general nature and content of the topic. It should be as short as possible. Some examples of typical titles are:

  • "An examination of total quality management practices by senior executives"
  • "Training for change - the impact of organizational change in the XYZ organization"
  • "Improving efficiency and performance in marketing organizations"

You will be better able to determine a title if you have thought carefully about the topic. In selecting a topic, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the main thrust of my job - now and in the coming future?
  2. What aspects of my job and experience require substantial further development?
  3. What problems, issues, dilemmas need to be sorted out?
  4. What are my main personal interests in the job area - now and very much for the future?
  5. What positive developments might I derive from sustained project work - for me, my job, my career, my organization?
  6. What burning issues, desires, opportunities are around?

Discuss these with a colleague, your boss, or whoever you feel might be able to help you reflect on the questions, then come up with a suitable project topic. The topic must be of direct relevance to you and your job/organization, must be capable of being studied and investigated with the necessary rigour for an IMC programme and must lead to actionable recommendations and conclusions. Remember, it is an action learning research programme combining relevance and rigour - it is not a purely academic programme, nor is it simply a problem-solving exercise.

State the sources of information upon which you will draw in your work and to give evidence of the kinds of research techniques you will use. These can be best thought of as a "plan of work". Your statement in this section should contain:

The aim of the thesis

In a few lines, a description of what you hope to achieve from the project. An example might be:

To determine the factors influencing effective management in the ABC company and to use this in designing and implementing relevant quality management approaches.

Method or approach

A statement of how you intend meeting the aim. This will contain a brief description of the steps or stages that will be involved and the methods/techniques you will use or intend to use in your investigation. What literature sources might you use? Will you be interviewing people, at what level, why? What about questionnaires, observation, company documents, minutes of meetings, corporate records, specific tests? Not all of these will be used in any one thesis, of course.

Indicative references

A short list of some key references to, for example, journals, articles books, reports, your previous work, other people's work, etc. to indicate the nature of the field in which you will be working. We are not looking for a comprehensive bibliography - usually a handful of references will suffice.

Give an indication of the proposed (or likely) content of your thesis. A typical thesis structure (but by no means every structure) would contain the following:

  • Introduction
    Containing the background to the thesis, the challenge to be addressed, the aim to be achieved, etc.


  • Review of the field
    Review of appropriate literature and other sources of general information that might have something important and useful to say about your problem/topic area, a summary of what will come out of this and the implications for your project.


  • Method
    A statement of the issues explored and the methods/techniques used in exploring them.


  • Main findings
    What came out of the project/investigation. This may be placed within several chapters, each with a heading that reflects the content.


  • Conclusion and recommendations
    What action is proposed and/or has been taken, and how, by whom, by when.


  • Evaluative discussion
    Of learning outcomes from the project, further work needed, what you might have done differently, personal development plans for the coming years.


  • Bibliography
    A listing of the full references to sources of literature used.


  • Appendices
    Detailed information that is relevant to the thesis but not essential to your arguments or would "clog up" the text and make for difficult reading.

Please note - we are not asking you to write your thesis/dissertation! We require only headings, sub-headings and brief details of the proposed content. This may, and probably will change as you work through the programme. A statement now, however, will act as a route map and help you marshal your thoughts and information. Further advice, guidance and information on methods and on content will be given on the Start-Up Workshop. NB - Your final thesis proposal is completed six months after the programme has commenced.

And finally - please make sure you have gained the support of your organization and are able to meet the fees payable.

These Notes of Guidance were provided by Dr Roger Bennett.






From  http://www.nrf.ac.za/yenza/research/proposal.htm

Developing the research proposal

Having decided on the research topic and defined a clear research question or set of questions, together with appropriate methods of seeking answers, you now need to convey your plan of research clearly in a research proposal.

Research proposals serve a number of purposes. Among them:

  • They convince others that your research is worth undertaking.
  • They enable you to demonstrate expertise and competency in your particular area of study.
  • They may serve as a contract between the researcher and her funders.
  • They serve as a planning tool for the researcher.

"Writing your Research Proposal: A Workbook for First Time and Inexperienced Researchers"
This guide was developed by the NRF to address the needs of postgraduate students and early career researchers, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. The guide may be downloaded in PDF format, and viewed with Adobe Acrobat.

NRF Proposal Writing Workshop Kit
This zipped set of documents contains materials for use in proposal writing training workshops, including

  • Readme.txt file with explanatory notes
  • MS PowerPoint presentation
  • NRF proposal writing guide
  • Sample proposals
  • Proposal evaluation form


How to Write a Research Proposal for Peer Review (Developed by the late Prof Kobus Oosthuizen, Centre for Population Studies, University of Pretoria, and Dr Robert C.-H. Shell)

On the Art of Writing Proposals(SSRC)
Brief guide for applicants in the Social Sciences by Adam Przeworski, Department of Political Science, New York University and Frank Salomon, Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin http://www.ssrc.org/artprop.htm

How does a Researcher Write a Project Proposal? (Prof Ian Kennedy)

Guidelines for the Completion of a Research Proposal (Port Elizabeth Technikon)

How to Have your Abstract Rejected
Mary-Claire van Leunen and Richard Lipton look at ways of ensuring that your abstract won't be accepted: "submit late"; "submit incorrectly"; grossly exceed the maximum length requirements" etc. Applies as much to proposals as to abstracts.

From  http://www.ssrc.org/programs/idrf/Application_Instructions.page

Proposals should include the following information:

  • An explicit statement of the major hypotheses you will test or questions you will ask.
  • Relevance of the research to disciplinary concerns and other fields.
  • An explicit description and justification of your research methods.
  • Preliminary research already completed or plans for research prior to going to your research site(s).
  • Proposed location(s) for research and explanation of why your project requires the stated field research.
  • A research schedule, justifying how much time you propose to spend in the field and at each field site.
  • A two-page bibliography in addition to the ten-page proposal, listing sources most important to the topic.

 • Proposal • Topic • Lit Rev • Samples reports • Design • Qnr samples • Qnr design •

RSS Recent issues of Simulation & Gaming: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Peace and survival of life on Earth as we know it are threatened by human activities that lack a commitment to humanitarian values.  Destruction of nature and natural resources results from ignorance, greed, and a lack of respect for the Earth's living things... .  It is not difficult to forgive destruction in the past, which resulted from ignorance.  Today, however, we have access to more information, and it is essential that we re-examine ethically what we have inherited, what we are responsible for, and what we will pass on to coming generations.  Clearly this is a pivotal generation... .  Our marvels of science and technology are matched if not outweighed by many current tragedies, including human starvation in some parts of the world, and extinction of other life forms... .  We have the capability and responsibility.  We must act before it is too late.  Tenzin Gyatso the fourteenth Dalai Lama.