All applicants for postgraduate research degrees, at Masters or PhD level, are required to submit a research proposal before progressing to the formal application process. Within this proposal you must demonstrate a number of conceptualisation, communication and organisational skills in describing the nature and quality of the intended research.
It is essential that you identify a suitable supervisor to discuss and refine your ideas before submitting the proposal formally.
What is a research Proposal? The purpose of the research proposal is to aid the direction and focus of the proposed research, particularly within the early stages - typically within the first quarter. It provides your supervisor with a statement of intent and places the topic of research clearly within a field of a given discipline or recognised creative or professional practice. Within the initial proposal you are expected to submit an 800-1000 word written statement that provides the concept, background and description of the intended work; this includes your intended research questions, aims, objectives, and research methodologies. The following may be helpful in assisting you to create a realistic and achievable proposal that demonstrates your knowledge of the general field and the areas that you are keen to explore and develop through your research. While it is recognised that each proposal will be different depending on the nature of the project or conventions within a particular academic discipline, you may find it useful to organise your proposal under the following generic headings:
Overview The proposal should begin by identifying the discipline and subject area in which the proposed research is to be located. It should introduce the topic and, with reference to other work you have done, explain why it is of interest to you and its relevance with respect to the broader research community.
The Research Field You should demonstrate familiarity with the academic literature, theories and creative practice relevant to your proposal and show an awareness of the key discourses that have been developed in your selected field of research. You present a clear statement of the state of current relevant scholarship demonstrating the gaps in knowledge or niche of interest that you will address.
The Research Interest(s)/Question(s) Following the overview of the research field it is important that you make a clear statement of the specific issues you propose to address through the research. More often than not this will take the form of a research question which infers a line of enquiry you plan to take. It is important that the research issue or question can be seen to emanate from the gaps in knowledge or specific niche identified by you in the previous section.
The methods you intend to use in order to address the line of enquiry or research question should be outlined briefly here. In the initial proposal the methodologies may be ‘listed’; and in the case of practice-based research, where the artists practice provides a line of investigation for the research, it should be made clear how the creation of work will help generate knowledge within the boundaries of the proposed research. In effect it is necessary for you to explain the manner in which the data you collect, or produce, will enable you to address your research question(s).
Note: If your research is by creative practice you may need to include suitable samples of your work in photographic or digital form.
Project Description & Plan It is very important to the success of your proposal that you provide a realistic breakdown of the course of activities that make up your research project. In the interest of successfully completing the project it is necessary for you to provide a project plan, in the form of an annotated Gantt chart, showing consideration for the path of research. Typically this will need to be detailed for the first quarter with a more generalised plan for the remainder of the project. Since a research project can not be predetermined from the outset you will be required to review the project plan at certain key points throughout the lifecycle of the project. With the project plan it is also important for you to describe the kind of activities you see as being dominant throughout the project. For example, will the work follow a conventional academic route resulting in a written thesis, or will it be practise-based resulting in artefacts or performances that can be recorded and evaluated.
Footnotes & Bibliography You should include in the document formal references to works, artefacts and literature that demonstrate you have a suitable level of knowledge of your field and know where the parameters of the project lie.
While your research proposal is evaluated on content, it must also be presented professionally. Use of appropriate language and standard referencing systems should be given due attention and particular concern should be paid to linguistic clarity and structure.