The table of contents is your first opportunity to
impress upon the Postgraduate Committee and your study leader the importance
and value of your planned research.
Especially experienced professors often claim that
they can already see if your study proposal is viable or not by just looking at
the table of contents.
Just to avoid confusion – you can have two tables of
content in your research proposal. The first would be the table of contents for
the proposal itself and the second can be the proposed table of contents for
your research report.
In this post I will share with you hints on what you
should write under each heading of your table of content to gain the approval
of the Postgraduate Committee and your study leader.
The table of contents
To begin with, here is an example of a table of
contents for a research proposal.
1 Introduction 1
1.1 Introduction to the problem 1
1.2 The Primary
Focus of the Study 2
Importance of the Problem 2
of the Problem 3
1.5 Definition of Concepts 3
Motivation for the Study 5
1.7 Current Knowledge of the Problem 5
1.8 Potential Benefits of the Research 6
2 Research Design 7
2.1 The Research Approach 7
2.2 Research Methodology 8
2.3 Data-collection Strategy 9
Issues for Consideration 10
2.5 Proposed Chapter-outline and Deadline Dates 11
3 References 12
4 Definitions 13
5 Quick Reference Manual 14
You will notice that the research proposal consists of
three main sections, namely the introduction, the body and supplementary
In the introduction you should discuss the context and
purpose of your planned research.
In the body you should discuss how you will approach
and conduct the research.
Supplementary information should lend authenticity and
validity to your proposal.
to the problem
See if you can here already impress
upon the Postgraduate Committee the importance of the study by discussing your
ideas in the context of you planned target group or target area.
Link your introduction to the
environmental factors that you regard as wonting and show how your research can
solve problems in that context.
Do not criticize if you do not have
facts to substantiate your claims.
Primary Focus of the Study
Keep in mind that your research
proposal, like your eventual research report, should follow the so-called
golden threat that runs through your study.
To achieve this, let the
environment and context that you discussed in the introduction to the problem
develop into you focus for the study.
After all, you should focus on the
research problem if you are to solve it.
Importance of the Problem
Again, link the importance of the
problem with the previous issue, that is the focus of your study. Discuss why
the problem is important and who will benefit if the problem is solved.
Do not claim over-emotional
problems. Always reason in an objective and professional manner.
It is especially when you choose a
critical paradigm, for example critical theory, critical race theory, or
feminism that researches sometimes can ignore the facts to proof a point about
which they feel strongly.
of the Problem
Please do not now define a problem
that has no relevance to what you discussed so far. Your problem statement,
problem question or hypothesis should follow from what you already wrote.
The research approach that you will
follow will largely decide if you will define a research problem, research
question or hypothesis.
You will probably formulate a
hypothesis if you intend using quantitative research.
You will probably formulate a
research problem or research question if you intend using a qualitative
You can have more than one research
problem or question, but don’t list too many. I would suggest not more than
The definition of concepts is a huge problem even in
the policies and procedures for Ph.D. studies of universities and other
That is why you will need to explain what you mean by key
terms and concepts.
Once you have explained what you mean by such terms
and concepts, you must apply the meanings consistently.
Motivation for the Study
The motivation for the study links
up with the importance of the study. The importance of the study is mostly also
the motivation for the study.
I would use something like “It is
important because my dad wants me to study for a Ph.D.” as a motivation for the
Your motivation for the study
should reflect the needs of the community, a sponsor, the academic fraternity,
even perhaps the entire world.
The potential value of your study
should invite acceptance, validity and sincerity.
Knowledge of the Problem
It would be risky to choose a
research topic about which you know nothing.
You will probably need to do some
prior studying and you should provide evidence of such prior knowledge and,
You can also mention the profiles
of the individuals or organisations who will be involved in your research if it
Just keep in mind that they cannot
do your research for you.
Benefits of the Research
Your research must have
theoretical value, practical value and scientific value.
Theoretical value would
be the new knowledge that will result from your research.
Practical value would
be what can be applied in the industry.
Scientific value can be
to the benefit to a particular field of science.
and scientific value can form the basis for future research.
Mention if you will do quantitative
or qualitative research.
Briefly explain why you chose the
approach that you did.
You can also discuss the
paradigmatic approach that you will follow here, or you can discuss it under a separate
heading, also here.
Make sure that the research
methodology that you will use is reconcilable with the research approach that
Data collection strategies are often regarded as research
I don’t think this is a serious
problem because data collection strategies are, indeed, often also research
Then again, not all data collection
strategies go with all research methods or even research approaches.
This, however, is also not a
serious problem because you will learn and come to realise that what you
intended doing cannot be done once you get to the point where you need to do
the research and collect the data.
Issues for Consideration
We will discuss this in much more
detail in a future post, because ethics in Ph.D. are a mouthful. It includes
issues such as being honest, protecting the identity of people involved in your
research, not committing plagiarism, trust, deception, legality, professionalism
and many more.
Chapter-outline and Deadline Dates
The proposed chapter outline can be
a provisional table of contents for your research report.
You will also need to provide
deadline dates for your research.
We will discuss the chapter-outline
and deadline dates separately in future posts.
You can have a separate heading for
literature study in which you list the references that you already consulted;
and a list of references for your research proposal.
Don’t list references that you did
not use. If you list references that you did not use yet in your literature
study, you will need to point this out.
and a Quick Reference Manual
You might have separate headings
for references and a quick reference manual, although some study leaders will
frown upon this.
Definitions and the quick reference
manual are mostly there to help you maintain consistency in your writing.
Summary and close
- If your research
proposal does not show that your research topic is important and that you can
do the research, the Postgraduate Committee will probably not approve your
- Keep your research
proposal sufficiently simple for you to understand everything that you write.
- Make sure that you know
what the university will require of you to cover in your research proposal.