Each MMUF Fellow is required to conduct an individual research project under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Guided research is the foundation of MMUF, because it helps to prepare the student for graduate study.
By mid-May each Fellow in the new cohort attending the Summer Institute in Atlanta should have completed:
Karin de Jager
Essentially a proposal should make it clear to the reader that the proposed study "is grounded in theory, methodologically sound, practically organized and that it will make a meaningful contribution to the knowledge base of the profession" (Fouché, 2002, 115).
Proposals will obviously differ in length; the Humanities Faculty at UCT requires between 10 & 15 pages for a PhD proposal; for a masters proposal, 7-10 should suffice and 5-6 for a honours proposal. BUT discuss this with your departmental head or supervisor first. There may be other guidelines or specific requirements; and if you do not meet them, you may be wasting your time.
A research proposal is a planning document and essentially "mirrors the basic phases in the research process" (Mouton,2001, 47). It should consist of the following components:
It is important to frame the title carefully, as it might have to be considered by a faculty committee and the title may have to be registered. Try to state it as clearly and concisely as possible, so that the essence of the topic is communicated.
The Research Question:
This is crucial to the success of your proposal and one of its most important components. It is necessary to understand clearly the difference between the research area and the research question. The aim of a thesis, dissertation or a long essay is not mere description; its aim is to answer a question and you have to formulate such a question that needs answering.
One might be interested in to topic of the Internet and crime. It is quite possible to write about this broad topic, but focus is only gained when one has a question to answer. In this case, a number of different questions are possible, e.g.
Research essentially is answering a question (possibly together with a series of sub-questions as in the last example) in order to find something out. In a more scientific discipline the research question(s) may be in the form of a hypothesis (or number of hypotheses or sub-hypotheses) that have to be proved or disproved.
Rationale or Motivation:
The logical flow of your proposal might dictate that the rationale comes either before or after the statement of the research question, but both have to be present. Here you explain the background to the problem, how or why the question arose, or why this particular question needs to be addressed and what will be learnt from it.
Preliminary literature survey:
A scholarly work builds on the work that has been done before. In the research proposal, the survey is not yet comprehensive, but you need to make it clear that you are familiar with the latest and most important writing from both theoretical and methodological viewpoints, specifically relevant to your research question(s).
Arrange the literature survey thematically, concentrating on aspects that are relevant to your question. (This will also be crucial in the substantive literature survey of your thesis/dissertation.) One doesn't just summarise one writing after another; you should put together a discussion of the relevant literature as it relates to where research around your particular area of interest is now - from where you will be developing it.
Research Design and Methodology:
Depending on your research, this might be a single or two separate sections. How will you structure your research in order to answer your question(s) and what approach you will be using, forms the design component. Will the study be quantitative of qualitative? What will be the assumptions and the limitations?
Research typically involves an empirical component concerning the gathering of data, which will be analysed so that the research question may eventually be addressed. Methodology is concerned with exactly how you are going to work. You will have to consider the kind of data required to help you answer your question, where you will get it from (e.g. will you collect it yourself, or will you be using data collected elsewhere?), the amount required, how it will have to be selected (sampling) and how you will deal with it once you have it (data analysis). If you are going to use any data collecting instruments (interview schedules, questionnaires, experiments), they will have to be described in detail. Will you be using or adapting instruments that have been used before, or will you design your own?
Although you might not be able to adhere to it strictly, it is advisable to include a time frame so that it is clear that you have seriously considered the logistics of the proposed project.
At this stage it does not have to be more than a page or so, but you have to give evidence of knowing about the most important theoretical and methodological writings relevant to your field and also that your reading is up to date. "Many research proposals fail because the references are incomplete or outdated" (Przevorski & Salomon, 1995). It is also important to show that you are familiar with the conventions of citation.
There are some other things about academic writing that students don't necessarily know automatically and are not always taught explicitly:
Babbie, E. & Mouton, J. 2001. The practice of social research. Oxford University Press, p.103-105.
Fouché, C.B. 2002. Writing the research proposal. In Research at grass roots: for the social sciences and human service professions. A.S. de Vos… et al. 2nd ed. Pretoria: Van Schaik, p.114-123.
Mouton, Johann.2001. How to succeed in your master's and doctoral studies: a South African guide and resource book. Pretoria: Van Schaik, p. 44-61.
Przeworski, Adam & Salomon, Frank. 1995. The art of writing proposals: some candid suggestions for applicants to Social science research council competitions. Online. Available: http://www.ssrc.org
University of Cape Town. Graduate School in Humanities. Guidelines for the preparation of a research proposal. (Available from the Graduate School).
Yenza! Start your research proposal. Online Available: http://www.nrf.ac.za/yenza/research/proposal.htm [5 September 2003].