What is a Research Proposal

박사과정이나 연구과정 (연구석사도) 지원시에는 학교측에서 입학후 하고자 하는 연구에 대한 요약본을 보고 싶어 한다. 이때 제출해야 하는 것이 RP다.

여기에는 연구목표, 대략의 타임라인과 연구방법 등을 기재하여야 하기 때문에 관심이 있고 함께 연구하고 싶은 교수를 찾는데 결정적인 역할을 한다.

아래는 박사과정에 있는 영국학생이 주는 RP Tip이니 읽어보기 바란다.

What your proposal should do

In a nutshell, your proposal needs to articulate what you want to research for three years, and why. Additionally, you need to explain why your area of research is important: what gap in the literature are you filling? What broader relevance do your ideas have? Why should they offer you a place (and potentially a fairly large pot of cash) over someone else?

This is clearly a very different rationale to writing an essay. You need to think in terms of answering questions, rather than outlining an argument (you’ll be spending a fairly significant part of the three years gathering data or information, and without this, how can you indicate what argument you will pursue to answer your questions?).

What’s the format of a research proposal?

This does vary fairly dramatically from University to University, and subject to subject. As a result, you need to find out in advance what the guidelines are for the departments you would be interested in being supervised by. For instance, Cambridge’s English faculty ask for a mere 500 words (and provide a good summary of what it should include) whereas ESRC applications typically ask for a two-side proposal (which, if you’re canny with font sizes, is about 1500 words).

However, the sorts of things that need to be included in the proposal are typically fairly constant:

  • Your research topic, including your questions and hypotheses,
  • How you plan to situate yourself within the existing key literatures (and your existing knowledge and awareness of these),
  • How you intend to make an original and necessary contribution to this literature – what is the gap? Why is it academically and socially important that this gap is filled?
  • Your methodology : how you plan to answer the questions,
  • How you plan to conduct the research and in what stages,
  • What sources you will use.

It’s not necessary to have a very detailed method of interrogating your questions at this stage, but you do need to have demonstrated some level of prior thought about how you will do these things. If you can indicate a vague timescale for your research, so much the better. The important thing is that you demonstrate some level of feasibility – it’s fine to be a bit ambitious, but giving no thought at all to methodological issues or proposing something grand and unworkable are both equally likely to be unsuccessful.

Longer proposals should always be sub-headed, shorter ones need not be.

Where do I start?

Just ‘coming out with’ a research proposal is both very difficult and not necessarily a good idea. A few tips for beginning to phrase your research proposal are below:

Start Simple What’s your question? How can you break your question down into a sequence of interlinked ideas that you can empirically investigate? It sounds incredibly amateurish, but I found it extremely helpful to begin with a flowchart to break down how I wanted to approach the topic, which then made it far easier to define my methodology.

Give yourself time Most proposals typically go through umpteen drafts. If you start the week before the deadline, you will be in deep trouble. From initial ideas to final draft can take as long as two or three months if done properly.

Ask for help Most academics are usually only too happy to encourage bright students to look at doctoral study. Taking an unformed proposal to a sympathetic tutor can help you develop your ideas and gain more of a feel for the type of format required.

Don’t panic It’s well understood that your topic will likely evolve over the course of your study. What is important is that you are able to demonstrate a well-worked idea and to think critically about how you will contribute to the literature. For if you are unable to do this with ‘topic mark one’, why should a university take you on in the hope that ‘topic mark two’ might be better?

Experiences of writing thesis proposals

In terms of choosing a topic area and writing the proposal, my wholly unscientific process went as follows:

Write a big list of key words for all the areas you’re interested in.

(Mine was about 2 A4 pages).

Try and meld it into some kind of flow chart to show how you can relate and tackle these ideas.

Take it to members of staff, all of whom say ‘sacré bleu! That is unworkably huge!’

Repeat step 2. and step 3. Several times.

Staff members suggest it might be a good idea to actually write something, so attempt to craft flow-chart into a proposal.

It’s still too long.

After about 15 re-drafts of the main section, realise that at some point you will have to cover the dreaded ‘M’ word: methodology. So resign yourself on a Sunday night to sitting in front of House with a cup of coffee and some research books. Curse repeatedly.

Take back to most helpful (ie. least critical) staff member, who says ‘ooh, your methods section is really good!’. Splutter in disbelief.

Rework the whole thing a couple of times until reasonably happy with it. Print it off, and then immediately notice several typos, one of which is a misspelling of your academic discipline on the first page.

Take it, proudly, to one of the staff members who will be supervising you at your new university, who says ‘it’s good, but your methodology is all wrong’ (I knew it!).

Try not to cry, hand it in to admissions tutor anyway (since the day before the deadline it’s a bit late to change things). Panic about how you’ve wasted three months working on something rubbish and will never, ever succeed in life.

Get offered place the same day.