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On Writing A Research Proposal



I'm going to give some advice on how to write a research proposal in this post. It is a summary of a post I made several years ago to assist my students as they prepare to draught their dissertation research proposals. Needless to say, there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for writing in general, or for producing a proposal in particular. Nonetheless, here are my two cents on the subject, which I hope may assist someone else in honing their proposal writing skills. As always, I welcome any comments, feedback, or criticism.


When preparing your dissertation, a 'good' research proposal is critical. It should include a proposed title, rationale for the study, and research question. Additionally, you should demonstrate familiarity with pertinent literature and briefly outline the research methodology and data sources. The following lines elaborate more on these elements.


Choosing A Title

An intriguing title that accurately portrays your research question is the best way to get attention. Simply put, pique the reader's interest in what you're about to say. Titles should not be excessively long or ambiguous. An excellent title uses the fewest words possible to convey your research paper's contents and aim adequately. When a title is overly long, it usually contains too many words that aren't essential. A title that is too brief, on the other hand, is likely to use terms that are too general. I usually start with a tentative title that might not be that interesting but is relevant and informative. However, I keep editing and refining the title as I progress in my research.


Background, Motivation and Research Question

The first section of your research proposal should provide background information on the research problem. It is critical to have a clear and compelling rationale for selecting a particular research topic and why I should keep reading your article. Many students tend to draw on their personal interests when describing their research motivation. While it is propitious to have a personal reason that could help you embark on an enjoyable research journey, albeit its several ups and downs, your paper motivation, on the other hand, cannot be personal. Your rationale must be supported by evidence, emphasizing the significance of your research topic.


Besides the background and motivation, the first section of your proposal must enunciate a specific and well-defined research question - it is the key driver of the entire research process. You will not be able to create a solid research paper if your research topic is too broad or too vague. Along your research journey, you'll encounter numerous tangents, detours, and diversions. A well-defined question can aid in keeping you on track and establishing boundaries for your quest.


Relevant Research - Literature

To identify a worthy research question, you need to be acquainted with relevant research. At the proposal stage, you do not need to provide an extensive review of the literature. Yet, you must demonstrate your knowledge of pertinent literature and what knowledge gap your study addresses - That is your contribution. While it is somewhat helpful, a naive summary of previous studies often fails to captivate or engage the reader. You should go beyond just writing what study A and study B find. It would be best to show the links between both studies and how this is related to your research question. You must provide a critical assessment of the literature – what questions it answered and what questions it failed to address. Two questions that may help you achieve this are: Where does your study fit into the literature? And how would your study contribute to that body of research? I do not usually recommend a lengthy discussion of the literature. A more focused assessment of relevant and influential research is preferred to an extensive discussion around irrelevant and marginal studies. Always remember - it is the quality, not the quantity, that matters.


Methods and Data

In an empirical study, you will collect data and estimate your model using an econometric technique. A good research proposal must state and illustrate the proposed methodology clearly. It must also explain why a particular method is being used and describe the data to be used in the analysis.


Relevance and Policy Implications

It would be best if you described the policy implications of this research. You should explain how your findings are expected to contribute to the understanding of the topic under investigation.


Writing Style and References

You must not copy and paste from the literature – always use your own words. Do not get bogged down into unnecessary discussions/details. It would be best if you were very specific and always got to the point. It is essential that you properly cite all references you used in your work. I encourage you to consider using EndNote or any other reference manager software. It is not a must, but it would help organize your references list straightforwardly and accurately.


Final Remarks


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