Research proposals, hear from the expert

A research proposal should clearly define a question and approach to answering it, highlight originality and/or significance, and explain how the research adds to, develops (or challenges) existing literature in the field.

Dr Theophilus Akudjedu, PhD

A research proposal is a basic requirement for PhD, MPhil or MRes applications.

But what is a good research proposal?

Our Editor, Aaron Amankwaa, spoke with a senior academic who is experienced in both writing and assessing research proposals.

Dr Theophilus Akudjedu, a Senior Lecturer at Bournemouth University, UK, loves research and how it can transform society.

To him, one of the critical aspects of academic research is the planning stage which involves the drafting of a research proposal.

He explained that the purpose of the research proposal is to clearly outline your main ideas and convey your understanding of the field and significance of the research to your prospective supervisors and/or funders.

“A good research proposal must communicate your ideas clearly and in plain English. Of course, field specific terminologies are required to communicate your ideas and important but, in my opinion, it is better to focus on communicating your main ideas at this stage.”

Dr Akudjedu further explained that a research proposal is not meant to be a set-in-stone document.

“All research proposals are evolving documents and are mostly amended or developed further at the start or during the PhD, however, you must ensure that the draft you’re submitting demonstrates certain key items.”

“First is your understanding of the proposed project… you demonstrate this in your introduction or background to the proposal in a brief review of literature in the field and state your aims and specific objectives.”

“Number two is the approach you would take to conduct the research. This is where you propose the methodology you intend to use to achieve the proposed aims and objectives. This aspect is significantly important and usually potential supervisors provide a lot of help to get things in good shape. However, a good work here from the student is usually a plus as it leaves a great impression.”

“Thirdly, why is the proposed study important? A section of the proposal should be dedicated to highlight the significance and impact of this study or the unique contributions that this study will bring to the research community etc.”

“Number four is project management. It is important to give an idea of how feasible the project will be in terms of time. Most funded studentships are for specific time periods and therefore, an applicant must show work timelines using a Gantt chart or other project management tools.”

“The fifth element is the provision of appropriate references or bibliography.”

Dr Akudjedu concluded that a research proposal should clearly define a question and approach to answering it, highlight originality and/or significance and explain how it adds to, develops (or challenges) existing literature in the field.

Furthermore, a good research proposal should be brief (approximately 1500 – 2000 words) or two pages and should be written in plain English without spelling and grammar errors.

He also advised that one should be mindful of differences in American and British English spellings.

“You are mostly allowed to use any but important to keep to one…. consistency!” he said.

In his final remarks, Dr Akudjedu emphasized the importance of ensuring accurate referencing by checking the recommended style by the institution you are applying to.

Additionally, he advised that the proposal should be clearly structured and signposted with headings (E.g, Introduction/Background, Methods, Significance, References).

He hopes these tips will be helpful to prospective research students when drafting their research proposals.

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