Research Proposal Guideline

Research Proposal Guideline-33
In approving the proposal, your committee gives their best judgment that the approach to the research is reasonable and likely to yield the anticipated results.

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The proposal should situate the work in the literature, it should show why this is an (if not the most) important question to answer in the field, and convince your committee (the skeptical readers that they are) that your approach will in fact result in an answer to the question.

Theses which address research questions that can be answered by making plan-able observations (and applying hypothesis testing or model selection techniques) are preferred and perhaps the easiest to write.

Because they address well-bounded topics, they can be very tight, but they do require more planning on the front end.

Theses which are largely based on synthesis of observations, rumination, speculation, and opinion formation are harder to write, and usually not as convincing, often because they address questions which are not well-bounded and essentially unanswerable.

(For perspective, the NSF limits the length of proposal narratives to 15 pages, even when the request might be for multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars.) The merit of the proposal counts, not the weight.

Shoot for five pithy pages that indicate to a relatively well-informed audience that you know the topic and how its logic hangs together, rather than fifteen or twenty pages that indicate that you have read a lot of things but not yet boiled it down to a set of prioritized linked questions.

Another problem is that the nature of argument for a position rather than the reasoned rejection of alternatives to it encourages shepherding a favored notion rather than converging more directly toward a truth. A good proposal helps one see and avoid these problems.

Literature review-based theses involve collection of information from the literature, distillation of it, and coming up with new insight on an issue.

(But note that even a straight-ahead science thesis can have the problem of discovering, late in the game, that the work you have done or are doing has already been done; this is where familiarity with the relevant literature by both yourself and your committee members is important.) Here is a model for a very brief (maybe five paragraph) proposal that you might use to interest faculty in sitting on your committee.

People who are not yet hooked may especially appreciate its brevity.


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