To many students, it may be the ﬁrst time that they write a research proposal. This booklet serves as a reference guide to highlight the process in preparing a research proposal and basic elements that should be included. Students should bear in mind that this booklet is in no way an exhaustive list of topics that need to be considered in preparing a thesis proposal. Different disciplines may have different expectations and requirements on the substance, format and length of a proposal. In this regard, students are strongly advised to consult their supervisor(s) and the department beforehand. Graduate School
All MPhil and PhD students in HKU are required to have their candidature conﬁrmed by the end of the probationary period. By the end of the probationary period, every student is required to submit a thesis proposal for consideration by the Departmental Research Postgraduate Committee (DRPC) and the Faculty Higher Degrees Committee (FHDC). The thesis proposal is one of the most important documents that the University will consider in determining whether the candidature of a student should be conﬁrmed or be terminated. It is also important to students as a plan for how the research should be implemented and to set a time schedule so that the thesis could be completed within the speciﬁed time frame.
Before writing the thesis proposal, a student should have already taken most of coursework and done an extensive literature review. He/she should have a solid understanding on the background materials and previous research done by other researchers in the same ﬁeld. Most importantly, he/she should have identiﬁed a research topic with his/her supervisor. In developing a research topic, it is advisable to develop two to three topics ﬁrst and then ﬁnally focus on a topic to develop further. You may like to ask the following questions in deciding on a research topic:
As your proposal will probably go through several drafts before you are ready to submit it, you should set aside each draft for a few days, or even a week, before attempting to revise it. This will give you some distance from the draft, enabling you to spot mistakes or gaps in logic that you simply could not see before. It also allows you time to show it to your supervisor to get his comments and advice. If you start preparing your proposal a few days before the deadline, the proposal will be rushed, and more likely will be ﬂawed.
Writing a thesis is the beginning of a scholarly work. You should write a thesis that you can manage within your present resource and time frame. Developing a research topic and writing a proposal cannot be done within a week. You must allow yourself enough time to develop your research topic and proposal well before the deadline. You need time for your library research and to make sure that you understand all the issues involved in your proposed research. You may also need time to learn about the particular research methodologies that you propose to use.
You should consult your supervisor in the process and be open to any advice that he/she may be willing to give. It is helpful to look at some sample products, i.e. theses in your ﬁeld, before writing your proposal because at the end of the day, the ﬁnal product of your thesis proposal is the thesis. You need to know what it roughly looks like before you can propose what to do in order to produce it. If possible, ask for copies of past theses that your supervisor has approved. Having a sample of a successful thesis can make the preparation of your own much easier.
Do not take the thesis proposal lightly. A good thesis proposal is half-way to a good thesis. It will help you to focus on what you would like to do and plan to do in your research. It is also a reﬂection of your knowledge of your ﬁeld of study and research methodology and how serious you are in doing research. A sloppy thesis proposal will not impress people who are examining it that you are ready for your research. In writing the research proposal, you should:
III. Basic Elements of a Thesis Proposal
The following topics/chapters are the most commonly suggested elements of a thesis proposal. It is highly recommended that students should consult the supervisor(s) and the Department for the speciﬁc requirements in their own ﬁeld of study
If you have conducted a pilot study, please also provide the details here and
discuss how the methodology will be improved in view of the previous experience. For qualitative research, as there are no well-established and widely accepted general rules or principles, you need to elaborate more on the data collection process and how you will analyze the results.
The methodology carries great weight to affect the success of a piece of research. You can have a very good research topic but a poor research methodology could easily ruin the outcome! In order to prepare yourself for your research and to enable the reviewer to understand your proposed study better, you should be more detail in your research methodology. For example, how to collect your data, how many samples to take, what speciﬁc methods will you used in analyzing your data.
8. Work Schedule
Every student is supposed to submit the thesis for examination by the end of the study period, i.e. 2 years (full-time)/3 years (part-time) for MPhil; 3 years (full-time)/4.5 years (part-time) for 3-year PhD and 4 years (full-time)/6 years (part-time) for 4-year PhD. Hence, you should not start a research that could not be possibly completed within your study period.
In this section, you need to identify the tasks and make realistic estimates of the time required for each task. This could be easily done in a table or chart format. Setting important milestones could deﬁnitely help to monitor the research progress.
9. Expected Results and Implication of Results
Obviously you do not have results at the proposal stage. However, you need to have some idea about what kind of data you will be collecting, and what methods will be used in order to answer your research question or test your hypothesis. You should also state the contribution expected from your research efforts.
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