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Writing the research proposal

Your supervisor will need to discuss and agree the research proposal in some detail. It may therefore be necessary to send the proposal back and forth in order to accomplish this. Please do not worry about this as this is part of the negotiation process. The supervisor will give the proposal close reading and often encourage students to narrow down their topics into manageable areas and focus on particular research questions. As indicated earlier, research can take a variety of forms from desk-based work to participant observation and it is up to you to develop and justify your own approach. It is worth considering at a relatively early stage whether or not your project will involve direct contact with people as this can effect timescales, planning and ethics.

You are advised to include the following headings in the research proposal.

Introduction and initial literature review
Provide a rationale for your research questions based on your initial review of the literature (in the widest sense). State clearly your epistemological position and theoretical perspective.

Research questions (RQs)
State clearly your research questions (usually around 1 to 3 questions).

Research methods
Describe the research methods you intend to use (i.e. the approach you are taking to research strategy, data collection methods and framework for data analyis/interpretation). Justify your approach to strategy, data collection and data analysis/interpretation by referring back to the initial literature review and research questions. Taking each RQ in turn, show clearly how you intend to answer it paying particular attention to the process of data analysis/interpretation.

Reflexivity and ethics
In all cases, show consideration of ethical matters (such as harm and confidentiality) and reflexivity. If the project involves direct enagement with people, also state how consent will be agreed and recorded, and protection from harm ensured for all parties.

Briefly outline the main steps towards completion of the project for the allocated hand-in date including timescales for formative feedback prior to final submission.

List of references
Fully reference the proposal in the course Harvard style.


Next steps

  • The subheadings above are intended as a helpful guide only and can be altered by negotiation with your superviser.
  • Once the final research proposal has been agreed you will then usually proceed to the 'active' research stage.
  • If you wish to propose any changes to the research proposal following approval then you will need to agree these with your supervisor prior to final submission.
  • Once you have developed a draft response to your first research question, email this to your supervisor suggesting some dates and times for a discussion.