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WRITING A RESEARCH PROPOSAL: some brief notes A PhD is an original contribution to knowledge (though it may also in some circumstances be an original synthesis of existing knowledge), and the purpose of the research proposal in your PhD application is to explain to your intending academic hosts (and especially to your potential supervisors) that you have the ability to undertake original research necessary for a PhD, and that you are not too far from being ready to begin. This does not mean that
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  WRITING A RESEARCH PROPOSAL: some brief notes A PhD is an srcinal contribution to knowledge (though it may also in somecircumstances be an srcinal synthesis of existing knowledge), and the purpose of theresearch proposal in your PhD application is to explain to your intending academic hosts(and especially to your potential supervisors) that you have the ability to undertakesrcinal research necessary for a PhD, and that you are not too far from being ready tobegin. This does not mean that you won’t require research training (in fact we normallyrequire incoming students to undertake one of the research training programmes weoffer), that you will not need to acquire some new skills or that you will not need toreview new bodies of literature. But it does mean that you have good idea of whatresearch question or questions you want to address, that you know enough about theliterature in the area to be fairly sure that this is likely to be an interesting and openquestion, and that you have thought about how you would go about trying to answer yourresearch question i.e. what methods would be appropriate, what evidence would berelevant, what data you would need to gather, and so on.In preparing your application, it is useful to bear in mind what a PhD looks like. In fact,most PhDs have a pretty similar format: - an introduction of about 15-20 pages explaining the research question(s)methodology and procedure against the background of existing research andscholarship, and ending by outlining the structure of the thesis; - a literature review covering all areas relevant to you research question(s), usuallyabout 30-40 pages; - an empirical core of about 150 pages covering your first hand studies; - a discussion of about 15-20 pages of the results of your studies in the light of yourresearch question(s); - a conclusion of 3-5n pages, usually with a note on the next stages of research.In preparing you application, then, by far the most important thing is to remember thatresearch begins with a question, and not simply the identification of a topic. It is theresearch question, and how you hope to set about answering it, that structures the rest of the proposal. So your first task is to define the research question and explain why it is aninteresting and open question, and why the answers are not already known. Once youhave done this, it will be clear that what you must next do is to explain how you would goabout answering the question, what methods you would use, what evidence you wouldreview, what data you would gather and so on. Learning to think by setting up well-defined questions and trying to work out how to answer them is one of the key disciplinesyou acquire during a PhD. so, setting up your application in this way will get you off onthe right foot.So your research proposal should comprise the following:  Begin by defining the research question(s) and say why it is a research question i.e.what the current state of knowledge is, and why it is relevant. Remember that mostresearch is about a narrow question (e.g. why have the centres in cities within the sameregion and within the same culture developed so differently) with a broad question (suchas the relation of society, space and culture, or the spatio-functional dynamics of cities) inthe background. The idea is that by answering the narrow question we will be a littlecloser to answering the broad question. But don’t aim your thesis solely at the broadquestion unless you are an srcinal genius !Say what your idea or conjecture (or even hypothesis ) is about the question – forexample you may suspect that spatial factors resulting from different dominant influenceson the historical evolution of the two cities can account for the differences, and that byunderstanding the differences between to two cases light will be thrown on how to designto retain the life of urban centres and the relation between change in the builtenvironment and culture.Say how you will go about trying to answer your questions i.e. what methodologies youwill uses (spatial analysis, land use mapping, evolutionary analysis of stages of development etc) and what you data sources will be. Remember it is no use setting upstudies if you can’t get hold of the data you need.Outline a research programme i.e a schedule of what you expect to be doing at eachstage to show you’ve thought about the practicalities of carrying out the research. Youdon’t have to stick to it, but it is useful experience to think this through.Say what the main deliverables will be: studied cases, better understanding of principles,design guidance, new theory etc.Finally say what the potential contribution of the PhD will be – to broad as well as tonarrow questions.A final word: the aim of the research proposal is to show that can plan a research study.You won’t then be expected to stick to it to the letter. On the contrary, most researchplans evolve and even mutate as you get farther into the subject.bh060103 
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