Although the research proposal is a requirement of the University, there are many benefits of planning and writing your proposal.
In line with University requirements, perhaps the main reason we need to write a proposal is to give your supervisor, review panel and others an opportunity to judge the worth and feasibility of the research and to assess the likelihood of success. Your review panel will assess whether:
- the question or problem is viable (that is, answers or solutions are possible)
- the research is worth doing in terms of:
- its contribution to the field of study
- benefits to stakeholders
- the scope is appropriate to the degree (Masters or PhD)
- you’ve understood the relevant key literature and identified the gap for your research
- you’ve chosen an appropriate methodological approach.
However, writing your proposal will also help you to position yourself as a researcher and allow you to develop valuable skills that will be useful throughout your research activities and research writing. Some of the specific benefits to you are that it allows you to:
- systematically think through your proposed research
- argue for the significance of your proposed research
- identify the scope of your proposed research
- show a critical understanding of the scholarly field around your proposed research
- show the gap in the literature that your research will address
- justify your proposed research design
- identify all tasks that need to be done through a realistic timetable
- anticipate potential problems
- hone organisational skills that you will need for your research
- become familiar with relevant search engines and databases
- develop skills in research writing.
It’s tempting to think only of your review panel as your audience. Of course, your reviewers are important: they will either give approval for you to continue your research (in conjunction with your supervisors) or not. By being convinced that your research is worth doing and that it can be completed within the time frame using your selected methodology, your reviewers are protecting your School and the University as a whole. Your potential academic audience is also likely to include those outside your discipline area, which has relevance for the way you write your proposal. Make sure it’s clear and easy to understand, and identify any technical terms and concepts you need to define.
Further, for all the reasons outlined in the previous section, an equally important audience for your proposal is you. Having your proposal accepted by your review panel will help to protect you throughout your research activities. You should feel a degree of confidence as you work through your research. Of course, issues can and will arise, but having your proposal accepted by experts should prevent major issues, such as discovering near the end of your candidature that you’re unlikely to find answers to your research questions using the methodology you chose!
Your proposal is often thought of as your first foray into writing your thesis or dissertation, so it makes sense to think of the proposal in the same way as your thesis, or journal articles that you will write. Considering the audience for your research will help you shape your research problem and develop effective research questions. Think of your potential audience beyond academics to include practitioners in your field or the general public. Why should they care?