Tuesday 11 July 2017

Research Proposal: Motivation and Background

Motivation for Your Research

The first few pages of your research proposal are very technical and need to provide a lot of basic information for the review panel and for administrators. Your cover page needs to include the following information for most research proposals:

·         Your name
·         Your student ID number
·         The type of degree or qualification you are pursuing (master’s, doctoral, diploma, etc.) and whether your thesis is in fulfillment of the degree or in partial fulfillment of it
·         The full title of your study
·         Your university/ college or school emblem
·         The name of your college or university
·         Your supervisor’s name and rank/ title
·         A list of 5-10 keywords

The second page includes your abstract or summary. This needs to briefly summarize what your thesis will be about when it’s done. Depending on the length of your thesis or research project, your abstract can be between 150 – 400 words. Try and keep it as brief as possible. Mention all of the main points you’ll be looking at, as well as your overarching thesis statement. Also mention the main findings or your hypotheses/ expectations here. You can find a free short guide on writing a thesis statement at writeyourthesis.com. The rest of the elements of the abstract will be explained later in this guide.

The next step, once all of these technical aspects are out of the way, is to include the motivation for your research.

The motivation for your research is the reason why your research is needed and why you decided to pursue your particular topic. It gives a clear direction for your research, and shows all of the research questions you will be asking.

The first three sections of your research proposal make up the motivation for your research. These sections are:
1.    Introduction
2.    Background
3.    Research Questions or Goals
Each of these sections should come under their own heading in your proposal, and you should fill out each of the sections as follows:

1.   Introduction

Your introduction provides some context, a thesis statement and an overview of your proposal.
Your research proposal introduction is longer than a standard essay introduction. It should be about half a page to a full page. You need to give a lot more context: what is the field of research, what are the major concerns in the field, and what are the ideas that many researchers are grappling with? Then clearly state your thesis statement: what will your thesis be about? What is the main point you are supporting with your research? Finally, give a bit of an overview of your study: what are the different components you’ll be looking at in your research? You’ll elaborate more on these in the next section, but the reader has to know everything at the start so that they’re not left confused. This could be about half a page to a page in length.

2.   Background

Your background is about identifying why your research is important and why it’s worth pursuing. You need to show that you’ve done a lot of reading in your field, that you know what the emerging questions in your field are, and that your study will answer one (or some) of those questions or try and offer a new angle on them. For your master’s thesis, your research needs to demonstrate a good understanding of the topic; you don’t necessarily need to do something groundbreaking or new, but you need to provide serious research in a focused way that expands understanding in your field. For your doctorate, you’ll have to present an original idea or something that hasn’t been researched before. You’ll have to either challenge a dominant theory, propose a new theory, or do a large and significant study that establishes you as an expert in a particular niche. Having a doctorate means that you’re a knowledge leader in some way, and your research topic needs to show that.

Your research background is not a full literature review, but merely a section where you show that you have knowledge of the field and where you demonstrate the gaps in knowledge or understanding that your research will respond to. Gaps in knowledge are those questions most scholars are still left with in your field. In many fields, researchers will include questions for future research at the end of their papers. If you read enough papers, you’ll start to discover patterns of where there are gaps in research that you could respond to with your thesis. Use these researchers’ unanswered questions as your point of departure, and start to think about the types of fieldwork or hypotheses you could formulate to try and answer these questions or respond to these concerns.

You will have various citations and data here, but only those that are relevant to demonstrating why you’re motivated to pursue the study. Tell the reader how the study can impact the field, and society at large. Tell the reader why the research is exciting, and why it will be interesting to other people. How does it expand your field, and how can it potentially improve the lives of people through practical application? You don’t have to do all of these things, but try to do as many of them as you can. 

You can also include your personal motivation, which could add insight for the reader and give your study a personal touch. Is there something in your life that drew you to this research? Why is it important to you? This could help to make your research more compelling for readers.
The background could be about one to two pages in length.

3.   Research Questions

Now’s the time to get to the heart of the matter: what will you be researching. You need to list your main research question or the main topic that you’ll be exploring in your thesis, as well as listing any sub-questions that might arise in your study. You need to explain to the reader what you’ll be thinking about as you pursue your research. You can do this as a list of questions or in paragraph form; ask your supervisor what would be preferable.

The questions should be answerable, meaning that you should be able to find some kind of solution or resolution to your problems during the course of your data collection and analysis. Don’t make your research questions too vague, but make them practical and straightforward. For example, the following question might be asked in a psychology thesis:

What does it mean to be a child?

This question is extremely vague, and the researcher will almost definitely never reach a satisfying answer in their thesis. However, it would be much more interesting to ask the question:

How do children experience the construction of “the innocence of childhood” as a concept and in practical terms in their lives?

The reader knows that this question can be answered, at least partially by looking at a sample of children. Therefore, it is a much better research question.

List one main research question (this is the question you’re answering with your thesis statement, so make sure that you know what a thesis statement is, and remember that there’s a full book on this that you can download here), and then list multiple sub-questions that you’ll also consider in your research. About four or five sub-questions will be enough.

These are the three sections needed to motivate your study. Next, the methodology section will be explained.

Review Your Learning:
·         Your proposal needs to motivate why your research is important and valuable
·         Your introduction provides your research focus and thesis statement
·         Give a background to your study, where you show gaps in research that your study will respond to

·         Provide the research questions that your study will try to answer