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Read through someone else's research proposal. Very often a real stumbling block is that we don't have an image in our mind of what the finished research proposal should look like. How has the other proposal been organized? What are the headings that have been used? Does the other proposal seem clear? Does it seem to suggest that the writer knows the subject area? Can I model my proposal after one of the ones that I've seen? If you can't readily find a proposal or two to look at, ask your.. adviser to see some. Chances are your adviser has a file drawer filled with them.
check mark9. Make sure your proposal has a comprehensive review of the literature included. Now this idea, at first thought, may not seem to make sense. I have heard many students tell me that "This is only the proposal. I'll do a complete literature search for the dissertation. I don't want to waste the time now." But, this is the time to do it. The rationale behind the literature review consists of an argument with two lines of analysis: 1) this research is needed, and 2) the methodology I have chosen is most appropriate for the question that is being asked. Now, why would you want to wait? Now is the time to get informed and to learn from others who have preceded you! If you wait until you are writing the dissertation it is too late. You've got to do it some time so you might as well get on with it and do it now. Plus, you will probably want to add to the literature review when you're writing the final dissertation. (Thanks to a website visitor from Mobile, Alabama who helped to clarify this point.)
check mark10. With the ready availability of photocopy machines you should be able to bypass many of the hardships that previous dissertation researchers had to deal with in developing their literature review. When you read something that is important to your study, photocopy the relevant article or section. Keep your photocopies organized according to categories and sections. And, most importantly, photocopy the bibliographic citation so that you can easily reference the material in your bibliography. Then, when you decide to sit down and actually write the literature review, bring out your photocopied sections, put them into logical and sequential order, and then begin your writing.
check mark11. What is a proposal anyway? A good proposal should consist of the first three chapters of the dissertation. It should begin with a statement of the problem/background information (typically Chapter I of the dissertation), then move on to a review of the literature (Chapter 2), and conclude with a defining of the research methodology (Chapter 3). Of course, it should be written in a future tense since it is a proposal. To turn a good proposal into the first three chapters of the dissertation consists of changing the tense from future tense to past tense (from "This is what I would like to do" to "This is what I did") and making any changes based on the way you actually carried out the research when compared to how you proposed to do it. Often the intentions we state in our proposal turn out different in reality and we then have to make appropriate editorial changes to move it from proposal to dissertation.
check mark12. Focus your research very specifically. Don't try to have your research cover too broad an area. Now you may think that this will distort what you want to do. This may be the case, but you will be able to do the project if it is narrowly defined. Usually a broadly defined project is not do-able. By defining too broadly it may sound better to you, but there is a great chance that it will be unmanageable as a research project. When you complete your research project it is important that you have something specific and definitive to say. This can be accommodated and enhanced by narrowly defining your project. Otherwise you may have only broadly based things to say about large areas that really provide little guidance to others that may follow you. Often the researcher finds that what he/she originally thought to be a good research project turns out to really be a group of research projects. Do one project for your dissertation and save the other projects for later in your career. Don't try to solve all of the problems in this one research project.
check mark13. Include a title on your proposal. I'm amazed at how often the title is left for the end of the student's writing and then somehow forgotten when the proposal is prepared for the committee. A good proposal has a good title and it is the first thing to help the reader begin to understand the nature of your work. Use it wisely! Work on your title early in the process and revisit it often.
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