Free Research Proposal

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This guide includes an outline that looks like a "fill-in the blanks model" and, while in the abstract all proposals are similar, each proposal will have its own particular variation on the basic theme.

Each research project is different and each needs a specifically tailored proposal to bring it into focus. In the end, they may well all be interpretations of observations, and differentiated by the rules that constrain the interpretation.

(Of course you will have to write the thesis in acceptable form, and you probably will discover things in the course of your research that were not anticipated but which should be addressed in your thesis, but the minimum core intellectual contribution of your thesis will be set by the proposal.) Both parties benefit from an agreed upon plan.

The objective in writing a proposal is to describe what you will do, why it should be done, how you will do it and what you expect will result.

Being clear about these things from the beginning will help you complete your thesis in a timely fashion.

A vague, weak or fuzzy proposal can lead to a long, painful, and often unsuccessful thesis writing exercise.(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.What style of work is published in your sub-discipline? To that end, a proposal needs to show how your work fits into what is already known about the topic and what new contribution your work will make.Specify the question that your research will answer, establish why it is a significant question, show how you are going to answer the question, and indicate what you expect we will learn.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.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.


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