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.

MMUF Research Proposal

By mid-May each Fellow in the new cohort attending the Summer Institute in Atlanta should have completed:

  • prepared a Research Project to work on when they arrive at Emory. This presupposes that the research to be conducted in the USA has been discussed and approved by the mentor concerned.
  • The research project extends into the Summer research project (at UCT) and which will if at all possible, be taken further the next year. For undergraduates, particularly in Humanities, this is and could be problematic, since one is not necessarily involved in research in one's 3rd year in preparation for Honours the following year. The American system of 4 year degrees has thus been superimposed onto our 3 year degree, before Honours Level, which Americans do not have, since they go straight on to Masters. One's Honours dissertation could however, be extended to Masters level, if necessary, here at UCT.
  • Check very carefully with your mentors/project supervisors about extending the research you will be engaging in at Emory to link up with the research you will do at the end of the year, and if possible and at all practical, to link up with research the following year. The underlying factor of the research component at Emory, as you will note from the letters of invitation,is that this research should form a basis, a component of the overall research profile you have set out for the year. A copy of the completed product will be taken in at Emory at the end of your stay.
  • As soon as possible send the MMUF Academic Co-ordinator a brief description of the research that you will be engaged in at Emory. Your research project proposal should take note of and include the following:
    • Broad area/topic under which research falls
    • A descriptive title for the project
    • A statement (few paragraphs or more) of the problem or question you wish to investigate and why it is important (academically, even personally).

Included in this statement you should try to explain the scope and limits of your paper - defining clearly what will and will not be covered in your research;

Include a distinct and explicit thesis (main claim/argument) which will be argued or demonstrated in your research;

Also mention the type of methodology you will be offering, and if possible, why this method is so appropriate and how it will operate in relation to the subject you have chosen.

  • Your proposal should have a statement of the steps you intend to follow in order to carry out your research, explaining where you will begin (or have begun) and what you hope to do at each stage of the project, and where you hope to arrive;
  • An outline (detailed) is always useful - indicating the different sections and which sections are more important and will require more time and more writing. It is always a good idea to do this in consultation with the initial readings/resources available, so as to allow you to gauge the time frames more effectively.
  • Carefully list the types of sources you will use, and draw up a provisional bibliography - Emory have indicated they would like to be informed about the types of resources/texts you require to conduct part of your research at Emory. This list will be handed to their library so that the items you need will be placed in the library for your use when you arrive.
  • Another thing …

    The South Africans are expected to relay some of our experiences of being Black men and women in the academia and especially in the UCT context. We should be able to talk for at least 15min each regarding this. I do not want to make this a from of major preparation given the time constraints we are operating under, but I think we should all be aware of each others positions on the issue. I suggest that we write down a very brief statement as to what it is we wish to relay about the `Black experience' focussing on attitudes, perceptions, barriers, access, expectations, family, dislocation (home), financial etc issues, which encapsulates somewhat of a broad socio-political, cultural and religious framework.

Gideon Nomdo
Academic Co-ordinator


Writing the Research Proposal

Karin de Jager
Centre for Information Literacy

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:

The Title:

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.

  • How should Internet crime be addressed?
  • Should government be involved in regulating the Internet?
  • Which are the most serious Internet crimes? How serious are they?

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?

Time frame:

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.

Sample bibliography:

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:

  • Academic writing requires that no statement should be made without being backed up - either by an argument, or by stating that you have found something empirically, or by citing a source.
  • The formal, third person voice should be used throughout the text.
  • Sophisticated academic writing integrates a number of viewpoints and texts with discussion by the author.
  • Do not read a single review article and then cite other writers that were cited there, using the review article as source. Many references in your text to authors that have been quoted by other authors significantly detract from your work. You should as far a possible go back to the original papers.
  • Citation is a hallmark of academic writing. The academic discourse depends on the foundation of your work on the work of other scholars before you.
  • The importance of peer reviewed sources is not always understood. Peer review consists of a rigorous process of anonymous review of all papers that are offered for publication in academic journals. Peer review produces articles that are essentially different from those in newspapers and journals where reasonable measures to produce facts accurately may or may not be taken and the constraints of time and the pressures of readability or popularity may seriously affect objectivity.
  • Resources from the Internet and the Worldwide Web should be used with caution. Materials on the Web are generally not peer reviewed. There is some very good stuff available on the Web, but you should remember that anybody can mount anything on the Web and the responsibility is yours to make sure is comes from a reliable source.
  • Finally, the proposal must be fluent and readable. Readable means short sentences, that make sense. Make very sure that you understand what you have written. No long words that aren't understood properly, no jargon, no complicated or convoluted constructions or overlong sentences. We don't impress with wordiness; we bore our reader & lose attention. Being readable also means respect for our reader; i.e. no unnecessary grammatical or spelling errors - they are rude; they show that we don't care.


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:

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: [5 September 2003].