The nuts and bolts of a research proposal

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GET THE FOCUS RIGHT: Your proposal can make or mar your research prospects.
GET THE FOCUS RIGHT: Your proposal can make or mar your research prospects.

An outline of the intricacies of formulating a research proposal, the quality of which may be crucial for the acceptance of a research project.

A man with a new idea is a crank until he succeeds.

- Mark TwainLet us focus on the steps you have to pass through in undertaking research and in preparing a thesis. As in any activity, first you form an idea and then act. In other words, you have a stage of thinking, and systematic recording of your thoughts and ideas. Once you decide to go for research, you contemplate subsequent action.

Choosing the best

You may think about a number of different ideas and finally choose one that suits you the best. Do not be hazy in thinking. Write out the possibilities for enabling critical study and final identification of the area of your research. Sometimes your supervisor may suggest a few topics from which you may choose one that you feel would suit you. Detailed study of the background and the possibilities should be made before you decide the topic. Both print and electronic resources should be searched for gathering details.

Gathering information

Bibliographies in your discipline, abstracts of periodicals, library research guides, encyclopaedias, electronic databases such as CD-ROMs, and the Internet may have to be searched. The Internet offers you the unique advantage of giving the latest information, in a matter of minutes. Further you will be able to download data into your computer files or take essential prints in times of need. For searching books or journals on a specific topic, you may have to spend hours or even days in a library. Keeping photocopies of books or journal articles may often be cumbersome.Even though you may consult others, the ultimate idea on which you work has to be your own, based on your own skills, aptitude, and facilities available. Your goal has to be realistic and achievable. You should not aim at trifles but at a substantial break.

Drafting proposal

The next step is the drafting a proposal to be submitted to the institution of your choice. (This step may sometimes be skipped if the research is planned immediately after the candidate acquires the NET/GATE qualification.) The proposal should be made only after familiarising yourself with the work already done in the area by others, survey of published literature as well as existing patents, and confirming your knowledge of the several steps involved in going ahead, your own competence and your driving spirit. This is important because the person who examines the feasibility of your proposal will raise questions, which you will have to defend for proving the soundness of the proposal. Since zeal without knowledge is the sister of folly, you should strengthen yourself with ample knowledge of the area of your work so as to ensure your success. It is convenient to go through a few proposals that were accepted earlier by the organisation, provided you have access to them. Perhaps your potential supervisor could help you in this regard. A short history of what has happened earlier in your research area is essential, including references to related literature. Copies of the most significant papers or their parts may be appended. This should establish that you have applied your mind seriously to the subject and that your proposal would fill a gap that has to be filled.

The content

In brief, your proposal should contain the objective, background, existing literature and existing gaps in information, justification of the research, research approach and the anticipated outcome. There is an element of exaggeration in a humorous statement of an expert that if you change the future tense in your proposal into the past tense, it would become the dissertation. However, that emphasises the importance of preparing a detailed proposal. Just as you give your baby a good name, give your proposal a telling and captivating title that should interest the experts who scrutinise it. The methodology envisaged should be brought out nicely. Sufficient number of copies of the proposal may be submitted in advance. You should be able to give an impressive presentation of your proposal before the committee of experts that may decide its acceptance. The vistas opened by computer graphics can be used for the presentation.

Comprehensive knowledge

Acquire comprehensive knowledge of the background of your research theme. Elaborate literature study is essential. You should know the latest developments in your area of research as well as the names of pioneers in the field. The gift of the Internet has made things easy. But there may be an ocean of knowledge that is not available on the Net.B.S. WARRIER



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