(One 'old saw' about research in the social sciences is that the finding is always: "some do and some don't".Try to avoid such insight-less findings; finding "who do and who don't" is better.) One problem with this type of project is that it is often impossible to tell when you are "done".Another problem is that the nature of argument for a position rather than the reasoned rejection of alternatives to it encourages shepherding a favored notion rather than converging more directly toward a truth. A good proposal helps one see and avoid these problems.
Getting a good idea hinges on familiarity with the topic.
This assumes a longer preparatory period of reading, observation, discussion, and incubation. Then just write the important parts as the proposal. Our MA program statement used to say that a thesis is equivalent to a published paper in scope.
In approving the proposal, your committee gives their best judgment that the approach to the research is reasonable and likely to yield the anticipated results.
They are implicitly agreeing that they will accept the result as adequate for the purpose of granting a degree.
by Matthew Mc Granaghan This is a work in progress, intended to organize my thoughts on the process of formulating a proposal. Use these guidelines as a point of departure for discussions with your advisor.
If you have any thoughts on the contents, or on the notion of making this available to students, please share them with me. They may serve as a straw-man against which to build your understanding both of your project and of proposal writing.What style of work is published in your sub-discipline? To that end, a proposal needs to show how your work fits into what is already known about the topic and what new contribution your work will make.Specify the question that your research will answer, establish why it is a significant question, show how you are going to answer the question, and indicate what you expect we will learn.(Of course you will have to write the thesis in acceptable form, and you probably will discover things in the course of your research that were not anticipated but which should be addressed in your thesis, but the minimum core intellectual contribution of your thesis will be set by the proposal.) Both parties benefit from an agreed upon plan.The objective in writing a proposal is to describe what you will do, why it should be done, how you will do it and what you expect will result.Read everything that you can in your area of interest. Filling in the things that we do not know and that will help us know more: that is what research is all about. These days, sixty double spaced pages, with figures, tables and bibliography, would be a long paper.Figure out what are the important and missing parts of our understanding. Your proposal will be shorter, perhaps five pages and certainly no more than fifteen pages.This guide includes an outline that looks like a "fill-in the blanks model" and, while in the abstract all proposals are similar, each proposal will have its own particular variation on the basic theme.Each research project is different and each needs a specifically tailored proposal to bring it into focus. In the end, they may well all be interpretations of observations, and differentiated by the rules that constrain the interpretation.One problem with this type of research is that you might find the perfect succinct answer to your question on the night before (or after) you turn in the final draft --- in someone else's work.This certainly can knock the wind out of your sails.