Friday, 16 April 2021

Research proposal alignment

One thing that I find many research students struggle to get their heads around is that all the elements of the research proposal for their project should align. When writing the research proposal, the title, the research question, and the sub-questions should all use the same language, and 'tell the same story'. The title should provide the shortest summary of the research project (the abstract in the thesis is the second shortest summary). The information provided by each sub-question should collectively answer the research question, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The questions are the "how" we will get the data that the project needs.

The rationale should lead the reader logically from the introduction to the research question, flowing seamlessly into the research question. The aim should reflect the likely outcomes of the research question; the objectives should collectively provide the outcomes of the sub-questions. They too should fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, illustrating the "what" we get at the end of the project.

Then the proposed literature outline should reflect all the components mentioned in the title, the research question, the sub-questions, the aim, the objectives and the rationale. The literature review outline is like a shopping list for all the ingredients needed to put the project research proposal together. 

However, it can be difficult to align these elements. I suggest that students use a table, like the image illustrating this post, so that they can see all the elements laid out briefly, on one page. They can colour map the terms to check that the language is relatively consistent, and that all - or most - of the elements  in the research questions, aims and objectives exist in the literature review.

This is a double-check that all elements are present. It gives us the opportunity to ensure that our terms are consistent, and that we have used the same language. It lets us check that our sub-questions are reflected in our objectives. It lets us check that our literature review outline covers all the elements that our supervisor or marker will expect to see. Creating this table is not in place of writing the proposal itself: instead it is a 'cross-add' to ensure that all the required concepts are present. 

The table usually only needs to be done once, and by then we have harmonised and streamlined all the concepts, tightening the project and our language. It it a tool for scoping; focusing and sharpening our ideas do that our ideas will be clear to ourselves and to others.


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