How to Prepare a Thesis Proposal

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How to Prepare Thesis Proposal A guide for MPhil and PhD studentsI. Introduction Contents All MPhil and PhD students in HKU are required to have their candidature confi rmed by I. Introduction 1 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 confi rmed or II. Preparation for a Thesis Proposal 2 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 specifi ed time frame. Full-time Part-time III. Basic Elements of a Thesis Proposal 4 Degree Probationary Probationary Study period Study period period period MPhil 12 months 24 months 18 months 36 months 3-year PhD 12 months 36 months 18 months 54 months IV. Presentation and Language 9 4-year PhD 18 months 48 months 24 months 72 months V. Further Readings 14 Appendices 15 1 1II. Preparation for a Thesis Proposal Before writing the thesis proposal, a student should have already taken most of coursework As your proposal will probably go through several drafts before you are ready to submit and done an extensive literature review. He/she should have a solid understanding on the it, you should set aside each draft for a few days, or even a week, before attempting background materials and previous research done by other researchers in the same fi eld. to revise it. This will give you some distance from the draft, enabling you to spot Most importantly, he/she should have identifi ed a research topic with his/her supervisor. mistakes or gaps in logic that you simply could not see before. It also allows you time In developing a research topic, it is advisable to develop two to three topics fi rst and then to show it to your supervisor to get his comments and advice. If you start preparing fi nally focus on a topic to develop further. You may like to ask the following questions in your proposal a few days before the deadline, the proposal will be rushed, and more deciding on a research topic: likely will be fl awed. - What is the contribution to knowledge in your fi eld of study? 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 - Has it been done by others before? research. It is also a refl ection of your knowledge of your fi eld of study and research methodology and how serious you are in doing research. A sloppy thesis proposal will - What is the theoretical framework for the study? not impress people who are examining it that you are ready for your research. - What are the research hypotheses or questions? - Are data, if needed, available? In writing the research proposal, you should: - How to collect data? - State the objectives and signifi cance of your research clearly - What are the appropriate methods in analyzing the data? - Show the contribution of your research in advancing the knowledge of your fi eld of study - What are the expected end results? - Be focused on your research questions - Can the thesis be done within the time period of study? - Provide a sound theoretical framework of your study based on comprehensive Writing a thesis is the beginning of a scholarly work. You should write a thesis that literature review (after you have fi nished your thesis, you should be the you can manage within your present resource and time frame. expert and pioneer in your fi eld) - Make sure that you have cited the most important seminal work related to 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 your study well before the deadline. You need time for your library research and to make sure that - Avoid providing a long reference list which contains a lot of work which is you understand all the issues involved in your proposed research. You may also need marginal to your research 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 - Provide a persuasive argument and justifi cation of your research may be willing to give. It is helpful to look at some sample products, i.e. theses in your - Provide a time schedule of your research and completion of the thesis fi eld, before writing your proposal because at the end of the day, the fi nal product of your thesis proposal is the thesis. You need to know what it roughly looks like before - Indicate the likely end results of your research you can propose what to do in order to produce it. If possible, ask for copies of past - Write clearly in good English theses that your supervisor has approved. Having a sample of a successful thesis can make the preparation of your own much easier. 23 23III. Basic Elements of a Thesis Proposal The following topics/chapters are the most commonly suggested elements of a thesis 3. Table of Contents proposal. It is highly recommended that students should consult the supervisor(s) and the Department for the specifi c requirements in their own fi eld of study. You should list all headings and subheadings with page numbers. Subheadings should be indented. 1. Title Page 4. Introduction (i) Tentative thesis title (ii) Your full-name This section sets the context for your proposed project and must capture the reader’s (iii) Name of your supervisor interest. You should explain the background of your study starting from a broad picture (iv) Degree sought narrowing in on your research questions, listing the relevant references, as appropriate. (v) Department of study The introduction should be at a level that makes it easy to understand for readers with a (vi) Date of submission general background in your fi eld. The thesis title should be concise, descriptive and fairly self-explanatory. Choose a title that is easy to understand and represent the main theme of your thesis. For example, the 5. Literature Review phrase “An investigation of …” should be omitted and students could consider stating the title in terms of a functional relationship so as to clearly indicate the independent and The section demonstrates that you are knowledgeable of the primary texts and secondary dependent variables. research studies done by other researchers and ensure that you are not “reinventing the wheel”. It is important to note that this section is not merely a summary of the relevant A sample title page is given at Appendix I Appendix I. literature you have read but instead, you have to provide a critical review on it and be able to relate the literature to your proposed research. You should point to areas overlooked or inadequately addressed by previous studies and discuss how your proposed research 2. Abstract of Thesis Proposal could contribute to the knowledge advancement in the area. This shows your ability to integrate and synthesize the literature and to develop new ideas and innovations. Proper The abstract is a summary of your thesis proposal. It is usually not more than 1 or 2 referencing in this section is very important. pages containing the problem statement, the rationale of the study, the hypothesis, the methodology that you are proposing to use, the expected result and the signifi cance of The followings are the most common defi ciencies of a literature review and you should your study. This section gives the reader an overview of your thesis proposal. Don’t try to avoid all of them: try to explain the technical details or methodology of your study here, as these should be included in the latter sections. Try to present your idea in layman language so that - lack of organization and structure even readers who are not in your fi eld could understand. This section should not contain - lack of focus and coherence references. - being repetitive - failing to cite infl uential papers or studies - citing irrelevant and trivial references - failing to cite the current papers or studies - failing to critically evaluate cited papers 45 45If you have conducted a pilot study, please also provide the details here and discuss how 6. Research Questions and Hypotheses the methodology will be improved in view of the previous experience. This section tells reader what you would like to fi nd out in your research. State your For qualitative research, as there are no well-established and widely accepted general research questions and hypotheses explicitly in this section. In most cases, the primary research question should be broad enough to cover your whole proposed research and the rules or principles, you need to elaborate more on the data collection process and how you will analyze the results. subsidiary research questions and hypotheses are more specifi c and each of them should focus on a certain aspect of your research. These hypotheses usually form chapters or The methodology carries great weight to affect the success of a piece of research. You sub-sections of your fi nal thesis. You should explain how these research questions and can have a very good research topic but a poor research methodology could easily ruin hypotheses are formulated. 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 7. Methodology specifi c methods will you used in analyzing your data. This section explains “how” you are going to conduct your research. You should demonstrate that you are fully aware of the alternative research methods and explain 8. Work Schedule how your proposed methodology is more advantageous than the others in attaining your stated objectives. 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 For quantitative research, you should include: (i) the research design, e.g. a questionnaire study or a laboratory experiment (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 (ii) the subjects or data source, e.g. who will participate in the data collection, the study period. sample size and sampling methodology (iii) the instruments, e.g. the kind of measuring instruments or questionnaires and In this section, you need to identify the tasks and make realistic estimates of the time the reason for choosing these instruments (iv) procedure, e.g. how you are going to carry out your study, what activities are required for each task. This could be easily done in a table or chart format. Setting important milestones could defi nitely help to monitor the research progress. involved and how long does it take (v) the methods of analysis, e.g. modeling techniques or statistical methods You should also discuss the limitations of the proposed methodology, the assumption and 9. Expected Results and Implication of Results the range of validity in data collection. Obviously you do not have results at the proposal stage. However, you need to have Where the thesis research involves human subjects, you must also obtain the approval some idea about what kind of data you will be collecting, and what methods will be used from the appropriate ethics committee. A copy of the approval, if available, should be in order to answer your research question or test your hypothesis. You should also state attached to the proposal. the contribution expected from your research efforts. 67 67IV. Presentation and Language 10. Tentative Thesis Chapter Outline 1. Presentation You should check with your supervisor if this is a required section of the thesis proposal. (i) Fonts Present the chapter outline as a draft contents page with brief annotations of expected content or stages will help you in thinking through the process and outcome of your Even with access to all the power and variety that the combination of modern software research. Follow the standard sections relevant to your type of research. Look at past and hardware offers, resist the temptation to use fancy or decorative fonts in the main theses in your area and discuss your ideas with your supervisor. part of the proposal. Look at any textbook, or a newspaper, and note that their body text is almost invariably printed in a serif font (a serif is a small cross stroke at the tops and bottoms of the main strokes of the letters, such as Roman, Times, Times Roman or Palatino). Sans serif (sans = without) fonts lack embellishments and are usually used 11. List of References only in titles, headings or other blocks of text, such as quotations, which need to be set apart from the main text. This list is desirable only if the proposal contains six or more references. Otherwise, the references can be inserted in the text within parentheses, i.e. Use a standard font size (12 cpi). Small fonts are uncomfortable to read, while large ones are extremely distracting. Don’t try to use a small font in order to cram everything that (Morita, Y 1996, Spring torrents: The catastrophic effects of corn snow meltdown. you want to say into specifi ed page limits. European Ski Journal, 5, 141-162). (Note that brackets, not parentheses, are used within parentheses.) (ii) Sections and Headings The style and format of the references depend on the disciplinary fi eld. The main To improve the layout of your proposal and make it easier to read, you can divide it into consideration is consistency; whatever style is chosen should be followed scrupulously sections and sub-sections, each with a relevant heading. Use line spaces to separate the throughout. (Please see IV(1)(v) below.) sections from one another, and bold, capitals or italics to highlight the headings. (iii) Point Form If you have to write a list of points/items, it may be a good idea to use point form. If your list consists of three items or fewer, you may as well write it sequentially, but for more than three, or if each point is quite long, point form is neater and easier to read. You can use bullets, asterisks, dashes, numbers or letters to introduce the points. 89 89(iv) In-text Citations 2. Language In a document as short as a research proposal, it is advisable to use a name-year (Smith, (i) Sentences 1994) system and to structure the corresponding reference list alphabetically. This has at least two advantages. First, the reader may actually be familiar with the text(s) that In general, try to keep your sentences simple and short. It is not necessary for a piece of you cite and will instantly know what you are referring to rather than having to take the writing to be “diffi cult” in order to be properly “academic”. To help keep your reader’s time to fl ick back and forward to the reference list. Secondly, it will save you having interest, it is certainly a good idea to vary sentence lengths throughout any piece of to re-order numbers, and the numbers in the corresponding reference list, if you add writing, but overlong sentences invariably confuse the reader; they have to be read more further citations later. You may, however, prefer to use a number system, if that is what than once, sometimes over and over, until they no longer make any sense. It never hurts you are familiar with. There are various different styles within both systems, and there is to make your meaning quite clear: not everyone has the time to unravel long, unwieldy, probably a preferred one in your fi eld. In the long run, it is immaterial which you use, as jargon-fi lled sentences. long as you are consistent. (ii) Linking Devices Where there is more than one author, the citation should read (Smith & Jones, 1994), or (Smith et al., 1994), in the case of multiple authors. Some conjunctions used to link ideas within and between sentences have become rather overused, particularly in an academic context. The most obvious are moreover, (v) Reference Lists furthermore, hence and thus. It should almost always be possible to link sentences using a logical fl ow of ideas rather than conjunctions, but on the rare occasions that internal Again, you will probably adopt the layout style that your department, faculty or discipline logic is not enough, the words ‘and’, ‘and’, ‘and’, ‘also’, ‘also’, ‘also’, ‘but’, ‘but’, ‘but’, ‘so’ ‘so’ ‘so’ and and the the occasional occasional ‘therefore’, recommends, and, as before, consistency is important. For easier reading, it is helpful if ‘however ‘however ‘however’ ’ ’ or or ‘although’ ‘although’ ‘although’ should be enough. Use others sparingly should be enough. Use others sparingly, if at all. , if at all. you can leave a one-line space between each entry, highlight book/journal titles in some way, and bold your own name and those of your co-investigators wherever they appear. (iii) Other Overused Words For both references and citations, make sure that you read the relevant style manual thoroughly, double-checking all of your entries against it so that inconsistencies do not aforementioned paradigm notwithstanding above-mentioned parameter interpersonal arise. Using reference list software (such as Reference Manager) is also useful. (the) above ___ etc impact (used as a verb) (the) said ___ signifi cantly very Appendix Appendix II II contains some examples of the issues that we have just covered on viz prior to besides presentation. correlate indeed utilise respectively interrelated inherent Spend some time thinking of alternatives to these so that your writing does not become clichéd - and don’t use a thesaurus. Thesauri usually list equally exotic alternatives, which will in their turn become overused. Stick to simple language. 1011 1011(iv) Jargon (vii) Grammar Jargon is generally best kept to a minimum. If it becomes necessary to use a word that you Almost all of us, whether native English speakers or not, have problems with grammar at think the reader might not understand, then you should give a brief explanation, either by some time or another. In our haste to get our ideas down on paper, we are more concerned supplying clues about the meaning of a word throughout the sentence, or by placing the with content than form, and so we often make mistakes. Some mistakes are easily defi nition in brackets or between commas or dashes after the word. It is easier to cut out discovered during proofreading, while others, particularly if you are not literary-minded, unnecessary jargon if you avoid importing work from elsewhere - for example, from a are not so easy either to spot or to remedy. If grammar is a problem for you - and you will lecture or journal article that you have written. Not only will it be obvious that you have usually know if this is the case - then you should be honest and try to do something about done so (the style will differ from other parts of your proposal), but it will usually require it rather than submitting a sub-standard piece of work. There are some simple things you substantial rewriting before it is suitable for your new audience - much more bother than can do to help yourself: writing it fresh in the fi rst place. • Write short sentences, as recommended in Sentences, above. The longer a sentence (v) Variation and the Use of Pronouns is, the more complicated the grammar becomes, and the more likely it is that you will make mistakes. A common problem in academic writing is a lack of variation, with writers using the same nouns over and over throughout a paragraph. This quickly becomes very monotonous. • Ask colleagues or friends to proofread your work. This will help with grammar Make good use of variants and pronouns to ensure that your writing is more interesting. problems as well as any gaps in logic or unclearly-explained points. You know what you meant when you wrote something down, but part of the explanation may still Along the same lines, you may fi nd that there is some overlap in your answers to various be in your head and not on the paper A good proofreader will help sort this out. questions. If this happens, refer the reader back/forwards to the relevant section rather Alternatively, consult consult consult a a a professional professional professional editor editor editor or or or proofreader proofreader proofreader if if you you feel feel that that you you need need than repeating the same sentences or paragraphs all over again. Even if you do have to more help than your colleagues can provide. repeat information - in the abstract, for example - don’t use exactly the same words as before. It bores the reader and gives the impression that the writer is unimaginative. (viii) Spelling Paraphrase them instead. Probably more than anything else, bad spelling irritates a literate reader. Often it is your (vi) Spoken vs. Written Language typing rather than your spelling that is at fault, but whichever it is, if you do not correct mistakes, it looks as though you rushed your proposal, can’t be bothered to use a spell- Spoken, informal language is often inappropriately used in proposals, which should checker or dictionary, and are therefore a sloppy worker - not a very good impression to contain more formal writing. The most common examples of this are the words ‘get’, make on someone who is going to decide whether or not to confi rm your candidature. ‘like’ ‘like’ ‘like’ (for (for making making comparisons), comparisons), and and ‘all’ ‘all’ ‘all’ (as (as in in “all “all (of) (of) the the books”). books”). Some Some synonyms synonyms for ‘get’, depending on the context, are: ‘obtain’, ‘gain’, ‘acquire’, ‘fi nd’. ‘For example’ A word on American vs. British spelling: BE CONSISTENT in your use of the one that can often be used in place of ‘like’. you choose. As it is likely, if you are not a native speaker of the one that you choose, that you will not be aware of the many differences between the two, it is crucial that you use the relevant spellchecker to help iron out any inconsistencies in your proposal. Please see Appendix Appendix III III for more detailed examples and further discussion of language matters. 1213 1213V. Further Readings APPENDIX I - TITLE PAGE (SAMPLE) Cooley, Linda and Lewkowicz, Jo (2003), Dissertation Writing in Practice: Turning Ideas into Text, Hong Kong : Hong Kong University Press. Cryer, Pat (2000), The Research Student’s Guide to Success, Buckingham: Open University Press. Day, Robert A. (1995), Scientifi c English, Westport: Oryx Press. Strunk, William, Jr. (2000), The Elements of Style, Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Your Tentative Thesis Title Here by Your Full-name Degree Sought Department of Study Name of your Supervisor Date of Submission 14 15 1415APPENDIX II - PRESENTATION (EXAMPLES) APPENDIX III - LANGUAGE (EXAMPLES) Use of Point Form Sentences The following sentence: Overlong sentences cause confusion. They usually become too long for one of two reasons: Our objectives are to fi nd 1) a suitable format, 2) suffi cient transmission speed, and 3) minimum corruption of data. (i) using ten words where one will do, or might have been more effectively presented as either: (ii) trying to include too many ideas. Our objectives are to fi nd: - a suitable format; 1. Here is an example of a sentence that uses too many words: - suffi cient transmission speed; and - minimum corruption of data. Since there is such a large variety of potential applications with industrial contributions or: that can be made, we need to identify a particular application that is both original, cost-effective and has a high potential for achievability within the time frame of this proposed project. Our objectives are to fi nd a suitable format, suffi cient transmission speed, and minimum corruption of data. (45 words) Looking at the highlighted phrases in order: Reference List Layout (i) such a large variety : the word ‘large’ is essentially redundant; Compare the following two extracts from reference lists, both roughly following the APA (ii) that can be made : too many words; style: (iii) both : 3 things follow, so ‘both’ is incorrect. It is usually redundant anyway; Bloggs, J and Hartley, J R (1995, December). How to write a better résumé. Job Job Hunting Hunting (iv) cost-effective : a trendy buzz-word that usually simply means Quarterly Quarterly Quarterly Quarterly Quarterly Quarterly,,, 5 - 24. ‘cheap’; (v) has a high potential... : ‘achievability’ has been invented by the author, Geront, K R and Wong, Y L (1995). Ré é ésum sumé Basics (3rd ed). London: Little, Brown. and the whole phrase simply contains too many words. Lemain, F (1992). Basic résumé construction. Eastern Eastern Eur European opean R Ré é ésum sumé Journal Journal Journal, , , 64 64 64, 157 - 206. It can be signifi cantly cut down, as follows: This is much easier to read than: Given the range of potential industrial applications, we must identify one in particular that is original, cheap, and can be achieved by the end of the project. Bloggs, J and Hartley, J R (1995, December). How to write a better résumé. Job Hunting (27 words) Quarterly, 5 - 24. Geront, K R and Wong, Y L (1995). Résumé Basics (3rd ed). London: Little, Brown. Lemain, F (1992). Basic résumé construction. Eastern European Résumé Journal, 64, 157 - 206. 17 1616172. Now here is a sentence with too many ideas in it: Linking Devices The following paragraph uses a lot of linking words (marked in bold), most of them A selected group of girders is subjected to a simple correction process to expand the unnecessary. They are very intrusive, tending to draw the reader’s attention away from number of rust-eating agents assigned to individual girders to improve the suppression what is actually being said: rate of the rust that forms on the structure as a whole. Problems often occur at the time of transmission, and the resultant crystal loss You probably can’t understand this straight away. The number of ofofofs s and and tos confuses is usually due to congestion in the tubes. However, the FRG6 routine, which us, until we are not sure what process is being carried out with what kind of effect on has a built-in error detection scheme, will abort transmission if an error is which thing. The sentence would be much better slightly rewritten and divided into two, found. Nevertheless, if FRG6 aborted every time errors were detected, many like this: more crystals would ultimately be lost. Furthermore, this would pre-empt the machine’s ability to carry out error management and loss recovery. Therefore, A selected group of girders is subjected to a simple correction process which expands passing damaged crystals to the decoder for correct treatment without aborting the number of rust-eating agents assigned to individual girders. This improves the the entire transmission process is defi nitely something that we must concentrate suppression rate of the rust that forms on the structure as a whole. on in the future. Hence, developing an effi cient error management and loss recovery system must take priority over all other issues involved in the various methods of transmission. It could even have been left as one sentence, if it had been slightly better organized: The passage can be easily rewritten, using internal logic to join the various ideas together A selected group of girders is subjected to a simple correction process which expands the instead: number of rust-eating agents assigned to individual girders, which in turn improves the suppression rate of the rust that forms on the structure as a whole. Problems often occur at the time of transmission, and the resultant crystal loss is usually due to congestion in the tubes. The FRG6 routine, with its built-in error-detection scheme, will abort the transmission if an error is found; although 3. An example of an overly complicated sentence: if it aborted every time, many more crystals would ultimately be lost, and the machine’s ability to carry out error management and loss recovery would be pre-empted. Passing damaged crystals to the decoder for treatment without The proposed method does not require the user to manipulate a keyboard when responding aborting the entire transmission process is defi nitely something that we must to screen prompts, but instead employs an interactive touch-screen device. concentrate on in the future. The development of an effi cient error management and loss recovery mechanism should take priority over all other issues involved (25 words) in the various methods of transmission. With simpler vocabulary, it could be much clearer: The ideas in the passage now fl ow much more easily, leading us effortlessly from one sentence to the next. With this method, the user does not need to type his/her answers to the computer’s questions, but can simply touch reply-boxes on the screen instead. (27 words) There is very little difference in length, but the second sentence is much easier to understand, as it does not use unnecessarily diffi cult words. 1819 1819The redundant snow snow snow which which preceded preceded machine has been deleted, and two other occurrences Jargon have been replaced with pronouns. Now let’s look at Hong Kong: The following examples show some ways of explaining technical terms, whenever their use is unavoidable: Hong Kong doesn’t get very much snow. In fact, most people who live here have never seen any. The proposed machine can create snow whenever we want it, and will make sure that everybody in the territory has a White Christmas In some plants, the honey guides (petal markings indicating the position of the nectaries) appear to the insect as orange dots. every year. The people native to this area used to play a little-known musical instrument called an ocarina - an elongated egg-shaped wind instrument - until the early Spoken vs. Written Language years of this century. The following sentences show the inappropriate use of spoken, colloquial English: Formerly, the standard treatment for hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar, was a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. We hope we can get get get the fi the fi nal results within a year nal results within a year.. This process will be useful in many situations, like playing football, watching Variation and the Use of Pronouns TV or eating in a restaurant. We need to talk to all all all the subjects within six months. the subjects within six months. The following paragraph shows the kind of deadly, dull repetitiousness of certain words that occurs all too often in research proposals: They should have been written as: Hong Kong doesn’t get very much snow. In fact, most people who live in Hong Kong have never seen snow. The proposed snow machine can create snow We hope to have the fi nal results within a year. whenever we want snow, and will make sure that everybody in Hong Kong has a truly White Christmas every year. It will be useful in many situations, such as playing football, watching TV or eating in a restaurant. Fortunately, the remedy is simple. First, let’s deal with the word snow: We need to talk to all of all of all of the subjects within six months. the subjects within six months. Hong Kong doesn’t get very much snow. In fact, most people who live in Hong Kong have never seen any. The proposed machine can create snow whenever we want it, and will make sure that everybody in Hong Kong has a truly White Christmas every year. 2021 2021Compound Words Following is an example of a possible ambiguity resulting from a missing hyphen: We will have to ensure decisions are made and follow up actions taken. Does the writer mean that he and his co-researchers will make sure that decisions are made and follow-up actions taken, or are they going to fi rst make sure that decisions are made, and then follow up the actions taken? This ambiguity will never become clear without actually consulting the writer. Always check your compound words to ensure that there is no possibility of misunderstandings arising. 22 22 How to Prepare Thesis Proposal A guide for MPhil and PhD students