Topic

Writing the ‘why’ of your proposed research

Topic Progress:

Your review panel will be looking for a succinct, convincing argument about what sets your proposed research apart from other research, and why not doing this research is problematic because it leaves an important problem unaddressed. You need to show that it will make a significant and substantial contribution in terms of:

  • how it builds on and adds to the current body of knowledge in the field
  • the potential impact of any new insights
  • who will benefit from it and how (e.g. a particular community, industry, etc.)

If you haven’t already identified your problem statement in the ‘what’ section, you should do so here. This is what gives the warrant for your research: it answers the question: Why does this research need to be done?

If you are considering a research degree by project (a project plus a dissertation, which is common in art and design), you may also need to argue why the project should be undertaken as a research degree, rather than a conventional project.

Reflection

Think about how you might go about justifying your research. What key literature is your proposed research situated within? How will your research build on this? Who will benefit from your research? How?

It’s important not to overstate the importance of your research at a high level of abstraction; that is, your research will not ‘save the world’. However, it’s also important not to understate the importance of the problem at lower levels by being too tentative, for example, referring to your research as being ‘possibly useful’. It’s important to show that your research is very relevant in building knowledge in your area and useful to a select group or in a select area.

Critical engagement with the literature is important in order to establish the need for your research. You should use the literature to establish the need for the research. You must demonstrate that you understand:

  • the main concepts and themes, underlying principles and established theories related to the research problem
  • areas of controversy and contention
  • the position of key researchers and their seminal research in the area of your research.

In some disciplines, these are located in the ‘what’ section rather than the ‘why’ section. In fact, you will almost certainly cover some of these points when you’re describing and contextualising your research; often this is done in a general way in ‘what’ and in a more critical, in-depth way in ‘why’. A rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether this information is contextualising your research, or justifying it.

What does the 'why' section look like?

Click here to see the research proposal you looked at in the previous module. This version has the rationale section annotated.  Read the annotations in this section that show what the text is doing and why we think it’s a good model. However, remember that this is shorter than most current research proposals and it is from social science. Although your proposal may have a different structure, there are elements in this that are likely to transfer to your own.

Now click on one of the following research proposals from the discipline that’s closest to your own. Identify the following, but note that not all proposals have all elements:

  • Underlying principles and/or established theories
  • Areas of controversy and contention
  • How the proposed research will add to the literature
  • The potential impact of the proposed research
  • Who the stakeholders are and how they will benefit.

If you have a comment to make or difficulty in identifying the elements, check out the Discussion Forum to see what others who have looked at the same proposal have to say.

'Starter' phrases commonly used to justify your research

Here is a list of starter phrases commonly used to provide a rationale for research. As mentioned in the previous module, the list for introducing the literature is also repeated here, as well as a link to a very useful list of phrases to introduce critical appraisal of the literature.

  • Although much previous research has…, this proposed study will….
  • Previous research has….. However, these studies do not explain…
  • This issue will be addressed in the proposed research by…
  • This practice-led research approach will…
  • By demonstrating that…I will address the issue of…
  • This study will build on and contribute to…
  • The proposed research differs from previous studies by…
  • There is an absence in the existing literature of…
  • It is hoped that this research will inform…
  • Although studies in …have analysed…, there has been little research on…
  • The proposed research seeks to address the limited literature on…
  • Relatively little literature exists on…
  • The proposed research will have importance in terms of real world applications  such as…
  • Research has generally concentrated on…, with very little addressing the issues in this proposed research.
  • The main contributions of this study will be…

Introducing the literature

  • Several studies have sought to understand / identify…
  • One factor / issue that has been identified / investigated is …
  • Several factors / issues have been identified, including…
  • The current debates on… have contributed to…
  • Consequently, various studies have attempted to…
  • A number of scholars have found…
  • Recent research has found…

Here’s a link to the Academic Phrasebook where you’ll find many useful introductory phrases in the ‘Being critical’ section.

What do supervisors say about writing the rationale of a research proposal?

Associate Professor Craig Batty.  School of Design & Social Context

Dr Emily Gray.  School of Design & Social Context

Associate Professor Madhu Bhaskaran.  School of Engineering

Dr Konrad Peszynski.  Business IT and Logistics