DAAD PHD PROPOSAL WRITING WORKSHOP 28TH APRIL 2011ICIPE, NAIROBI INSTRUCTOR: PROF. J. M. MWABORA PHYSICS GROUP
Thesis Research Proposal • The quality of a thesis research proposal depends not only on the quality of the proposed project, but also on the quality of the proposal writing • Overview • What is a proposal? • Purpose of proposals? • Proposal Layout
ADAPTED FROM Proposal writing for Research work seminar course given to M.Sc and PhD students in the Department of Physics, University of Nairobi about to embark in thesis proposal writing with permission from Dr. H. A. Angeyo.
Thesis Research Proposal • The purpose of proposal is • To help focus and define research plans • To train candidate in the art of proposal writingmandatory in scientific careers • Plans may change, but proposals are an indication of direction and discipline as a researcher.
Thesis Research Proposal • Proposal writing is more than simply presenting facts you want to communicate, persuasively. • You must convince an expert reviewer that: • You know what you are talking about • You have an idea that deserves an affirmative response • You are the best choice for the project under consideration.
Thesis Research Proposal Golden Rule: "Write unto others as you would be written to." This rule lies on the importance of accuracy, clarity, realistic self-appraisal, methodical presentation, and clear speaking.
Thesis Research Proposal • The aim is to demonstrate that • Thesis topic addresses a significant scientific problem • An organized plan is in place for obtaining data to help solve the problem • Methods of data analysis have been identified and are appropriate to the date set and problem statement
Proposal Expectation • A proposal is expected to: • Show that candidate is engaging in genuine enquiry, finding out about something worthwhile in a particular context; • Link the candidate’s proposed work with the work of others, while proving that the candidate is acquainted with major schools of thought relevant to the topic; • Establish a particular theoretical orientation; • Establish the candidate’s methodological approach, and • Show the candidate has thought about the research issues
Qualities of a Good Research Proposal • Explain the topic or question of interest; • Give a sense of the importance of it; • Show or reflect that the candidate has done preliminary research; • Indicate what background courses the candidate has to prepare oneself for this area of research
Elements of a Proposal INTRODUCTION • Presents and summarizes the problem the candidate intends to solve • and the solution to that problem, • including the benefits the reader/group will receive from the solution and the cost of that solution
Qualities of a Good Research Proposal 10 – 18 pg double spaced text for a PhD, refs and figs in addition. As long as • A research problem is identified • Data necessary to solving the problem is either collected, or obtained independently. • Data is analysed using techniques appropriate to the data set. • Results of the analysis are reported and are interpreted in light of the initial problem
Elements of a Proposal BODY • Explains the complete details of the solution: • how the project will be done, broken into separate tasks; • what method will be used to do it, including the equipment, material; when the work will begin; and, when tit will bee completed. • Also presents detailed cost breakdown for project
Elements of a Proposal CONCLUSION • Emphasizes the benefits that the reader will realize from the candidate’s solution to the problem • Should urge the reader to action. It should be encouraging, confident and assertive in tone
Abstract Brief statement of topic, procedure, and the projected outcome. Should include the research question, the rationale for the study, the hypothesis (if any), the method and the main findings. Descriptions of the method may include the design, procedures, the sample and any instruments that will be used. Typically one to two paragraphs in length Should be written after completion of rest of the proposal Summarises the main elements of the research.
Abstract • Should have • The scientific problem and its significance • A description of the data to be acquired and/or analysed • A description of data analysis methods The longest abstract should be about 300 words
Abstract… • Proposal normally evaluated on the merit of Abstract. • Best are three-sentence abstracts: • First sentence introduces the project topic and the problem • Second sentence indicates what material will be examined and procedures employed to carry out the project: indicate procedures • Third sentence indicates the anticipated conclusions (or results, application, or benefits/real world use of the project. • NB. Abstract is the last element of the proposal to be written
Introduction • It is an expanded version of the abstract. • Typically three to four paragraphs long. As such it includes Statement of Topic which tells the reader the candidate’s general subject area and specifies the topic . It includes: • Any background material necessary to motivate the investigation of the chosen problem • Discussion of the significance of the problem • A brief summary of the data series and analysis methods
Introduction • Questions to answer here are: • What is the project subject? • What are the goals of the project? • The sub-goals? • Who is the project audience who wants to use the results? • How and when will the results be presented physically? • How will the results be used? • What is the general method being used to conduct the project?
Introduction… • Topic and Problematic • Formulates a problem that is worthy of research and should: • Be stated clearly and succinctly in one or two sentences. • Be determined after consultation with supervisors. • Understanding of the problematic being exploredneeds to come through
Introduction… • Title • Should be concise and descriptive in terms of functional relationship, so as to clearly indicate the independent and dependent variables. • Effective title pricks the reader’s interest and predisposes him/her favourably towards the proposal.
Introduction… • The introduction generally covers the following elements: • States the research problem, which is often referred to as the purpose of the study. • Provides the context and set the stage for the research question in such a way as to show its necessity and importance. • Presents the rationale of the proposed study and clearly indicate why it is worth doing. • Briefly describes the major issues and sub-problems to be addressed by the research.
Introduction… • Briefly describes the major issues and sub-problems to be addressed by the research. • Identifies the key independent and dependent variables of the experiment. (Alternatively, specifies the phenomenon the candidate wants to study). • States the hypothesis or theory, if any. Exploratory or phenomenological research may not have any hypotheses. (The hypothesis should not be confused with the statistical null hypothesis.) • Sets the delimitation or boundaries of the proposed research in order to provide a clear focus. • Provides definitions of key concepts. (This is optional).
Example of Abstract to a Paper (Poor or Good?) This work reports the use of X-ray spectrometry (XRS) allied to chemometric techniques to easily distinguish types of Portland cements, as well as to quantify some of their constituent elements. The samples were irradiated as powders for 200 s using two distinct irradiation conditions, one more adequate for heavier elements (condition 1) and the other (condition 2) for lighter elements, using a conventional bench top energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence (EDXRF) equipment. The spectra were processed via the software The Unscrambler, version 9.2. The PLS 1 LV1TLV2 scores graph shows a classification into five groups, in accordance with the calcium concentration, using condition 2. The classification of the cements by producer was feasible using the PLS1 LV1TLV3 scores graph, with condition 1. The elements Ca, Si, Al and Mg were successfully quantified using multivariate calibration of the whole spectra. However, for Fe, S and K, better results were obtained by correlating their corresponding Ka peaks with concentrations in a univariate procedure, using irradiation condition 2. Chemometric tools allied to XRS are powerful techniques to classify Portland cements, regarding to their origins and their calcium concentration, which is related to the cement type. The PLS chemometric tool was very useful to easily quantify light elements, such as Al, Si and Mg, a challenge in most X-ray analytical methods, since their Ka emission peaks are very close to each other.
Check list • First sentence introduces the project topic and the problem
Check list • Second sentence indicates what material will be examined and procedures employed to carry out the project: indicate procedures
Check list • Third sentence indicates the anticipated conclusions (or results, application, or benefits/real world use of the project.
Theoretical/Conceptual Framework • A conceptual framework elaborates the research problematic in relation to relevant literature • Should deal with such matters as: • Existing research and its relevance for the topic • Relevant theoretical perspective or perspectives • Key ideas or constructs in the approach • Possible lines of inquiry the candidate might pursue
Theoretical/Conceptual Framework • Shows how proposed research relates to a body of related studies. • A brief version of the lit. review on a traditional science model. • Outline the kinds of theoretical sources that inform the research • Specifies the theoretical writings that are relevant to the topic • Indicates which ones the candidate expects to draw on to define their questions and build a conceptual framework for the thesis.
Background and Context • The research topic needs to be located in its context and background. • Needs to show how and why the topic is important and why is it worth researching. • Contextualizing the research problem—how does it arise? • Outlining its significance—what will be the outcomes, and for whom? • Referring to key issues that are associated with the topic Can be provided in several ways. • The candidate’s theoretical interests or concerns may have generated the research, and its justification is to be found in a theoretical developments or related literature
Literature Review • Summary of previous work and results. • Candidate identifies authors whose work is directly relevant to the topic and offers brief evaluations of their work. • This way candidate places his/her research topic in its relevant research context and establishes what his/her contribution will be. • Literature review demonstrates the significance of the problem to be addressedin the thesis. • It is also an opportunity to show what is known and unknown in the chosen field of research • A large amount of reading is usually required to prepare this section. • All important previous work should be appropriately cited in the text.
Literature Review • Questions to answer in this section are: • What kinds of research have been done? • What relevant kinds of studies or techniques need to be mastered to do the project? • Where is the state of the art today? • How have others gone about trying to solve problems you want to tackle? • In what ways will your approach build on and vary from previous work?
Literature Review….. • Literature review serves several important functions: • Ensures that the candidate is not “reinventing the wheel”. • Gives credits to those who have laid the groundwork for the research. • Demonstrates the candidate’s knowledge of the research problem. • Demonstrates the candidate’s understanding of the theoretical and research issues related to the candidate’s research question.
Literature Review….. Shows the candidate’s ability to critically evaluate relevant literature information. Indicates the candidate’s ability to integrate and synthesize the existing literature. Provides new theoretical insights or develops a new model as the conceptual framework for the candidate’s research. Convinces the reader that the proposed research will make a significant contribution to the literature (i.e., resolving an important theoretical issue or filling a major gap in the literature). Sum up the literature review with statement(s) indicating the "missing gap“ in the work of other authors and thus a justification of your proposed work (i.e., the need for more investigation)
Literature Review….. • Most PhD Literature Reviews suffer from the following problems: • Lacking organization and structure • Lacking focus, unity and coherence • Being repetitive and verbose • Failing to cite influential papers
Literature Review….. • Failing to keep up with recent developments • Failing to critically evaluate cited papers • Citing irrelevant or trivial references • Depending too much on secondary sources • Establish the importance of the research area and its current state of development, then devote several subsections/ subheadings on related issues as: theoretical models, measuring instruments, etc . • State the way forward by clearly announcing the aim(s) of your proposed study in a statement of purpose.
Statement of the Problem This is the heart of the proposal This element identifies the nature of the problems that the project will solve (not symptoms). Should be unique i.e., what gap are you trying to fill? At this stage, indicate the pressing need for the project and link this need with experience, activities, or history of the research area/your organization. (Specify the limit/confinement (SCOPE) here)
What is involved • State the research problem by describing the major issues and sub-problems to be addressed by the research • Establish the importance and significance of the problem • Justify why this problem is of particular interest • Demonstrate that it is feasible to solve the problem • Arouse the reader’s interest and encourage to read further • State the outcome of the research in scientific terms
Aims and Objectives When the project is completed, what will the results be? The objectives should be concrete, attainable results that can be measured. (Do not make promises you cannot afford to keep). List the results as primary and secondary objectives Primary objectives are major goals (General Objective(s) Secondary objectives are specifics of (a)primary goal(s)
What is involved • Specify the measurable outcomes of your research project, i.e., the end products. • General Objectives/goals • State ONE main broad aim (long term achievables) of your project • What contribution will your thesis make to the scholarship in your field? • Specific objectives (should be measurable) • List the (immediate achievables) specific objectives of the project (MAX 5).
Aims and Objectives • NB. Objectives should be SMART • Specific (clear, precise & directional) • Measurable (i.e., Quantifiable) • Achievable • Reasonable and • Time bound
Significance & Justification • State the benefits (advantages) that shall be derived from the project (both long and short term) • Benefits are the advantages and reasons it is important to reach goals. • What importance/value (in terms of contribution to knowledge or societal benefits) can be accrued from your proposed project? • State the purpose of the study by presenting the rationale of the proposed study (significance) and clearly indicate why it is worth doing (justification). • Elaborate on the limit/confinement (SCOPE) that your project covers
Methodology The methods that the candidate intends to develop or employ and their justification. More than a description of the techniques or procedures Tells how the candidate plans to tackle their research problem. Provides work plan and describes the activities for the project Outlines the key assumptions the research approach makes May foreshadow some of the ‘methodological issues’ which are anticipated to arise in the research
Methodology… • Description of methodology depends on research approach • Typical methodology might: • Refer to a accepted method or approach • Highlight problems in developing a suitable approach (methodological issues) • Describe how information will be generated, analysed and reported
Methodology… If a quantitative study is planned, the candidate will refer to method, data collection and analysis An action methodology needs the planning of a process and the outcomes of the different phases Good research proposal should demonstrate an awareness of the methodological tools available to candidate and show some understanding of which would be suitable for the research
Methodology… • In cases where methodologies are being combined candidate needs to indicate whether they will: • Rely mainly on “traditional” sources found in libraries and archives • Take a new approach • Produce a discourse analysis • Make a quantitative analysis that entails data processing • The candidate needs to specify the approach they feel will be most appropriate.
Methodology… • The questions to answer in this section are: • What are the tasks and sub-tasks identified to achieve your objectives? • What materials will you need to carry out your project: equipment? • What data are needed for the project and how will they be collected
Methodology… • What method or process will be used to analyze this data and where else (if anywhere) has this method or process been used? (may consist of as little as making a few graphs or maps of results, to elaborate data reduction and modelling schemes) • What time frame do you think will be needed to accomplish identified tasks or subtasks? • What costs do you anticipate the project will incur (this should appear separately in the Budget Section)? • Candidate needs to demonstrate their knowledge of alternative methods and make the case that their approach is the most appropriate and most valid way to address the research question
Results (Expected Outcome) This part normally encompasses: Discussion: Convinceson the potential impact of candidate’s proposed research. Should communicate a sense of enthusiasm and confidence without exaggerating the merits of proposal. Mention the limitations and weaknesses of the proposed research. Significance: Predicts the significance of the study and expected outcomes. These should relate closely to objectives. Summary: This section is meant to remind the reader of the main goals of the research. Thus should briefly review research objectives and the methods that will be used to meet objectives.
References • A proposal must include a detailed list of references, which tells the reader where to look for articles cited in the text. • Examples: • A. Longoni, C. Fiorini, C. Guazzoni, A. Gianoncelli, L. Struder, H. Soltau, P. Lechner, A. Bjeoumikhov, J. Schmalz, N. Langhoff, R. Wedell and V. Kolarik, IEEE Trans. Nucl. Sci. 43, 1001 (2002). • J. Ready, Industrial Applications of Lasers, 2nd. ed. Academic, New York, 1997. • Frisell, W, Human Biochemistry, Colier Macmilla Publishers, London, 1982. • Lankosz, M; Pella, P. A, X-Ray Spectrometry, 1995, 24(6), 320-326. • Belousov A, Verzakov S, von Frese J. Applicational aspects of support vector machines. J. Chemometrics 2002; 16: 482–489. • Cattell RB. Multivariate Behav. Res. 1966; 10: 245. • Hamed, K. H., and A. E. Hassan (2000) Accuracy of neural network approximators in simulation-optimization, Journal of Water Resources Planning & Management 126: 48–56.
Research Plan and Timeline • An important part of proposal is planning the research in all its stages to completion • It is helpful to: • Diagram the research as a phase by phase timeline • State phase writing objectives for each phase • State other outcomes at a given stage, such as seminar or conference papers • Allow a time period for revising the thesis • A timetable specifies: • The length of the pre-writing period (no more than a couple of months) • A chapter timetable (allowing six to eight weeks per chapter) • When to deliver a work-in-progress presentation at postgraduate seminars • Completion date