Independent Study Proposal

Aims, Structure and Content

The study proposal is your opportunity to:

  • Demonstrate to a supervisor and/or external examiner that you have engaged seriously with a topic/area of interest.
  • Consolidate your own current knowledge on a particular topic
  • Describe what your plans are to expand this area of interest/knowledge.
  • Outline systematically the procedure involved in pursuing your study.
  • Attempt to assess the feasibility of conducting whatever study you have in mind.

Proposal Structure

The structure provided here is the suggested format for your proposal. Any significant alterations to this format should be negotiated with your supervisor.

  • What are you going to do?

Outline the main aim(s) of your study. What is your study about, or what are you planning to make? Include the main aspects or features that you intend to address or create in your study.

Outline the way(s) in which your proposed project is relevant to ‘Communication’.

If you are working towards a named degree, then make sure you give an account of how your proposed work is relevant to that specific area of communication.

  • Why do you want to do this study?

There can be a diverse range of reasons for engaging in any research project. In this section, you should outline and expand on, at least one reason or rationale for doing the study you are proposing. Your reasons may include:

personal interest (is there an extracurricular activity that you’d like to explore more formally?)

practical interest (is there some ‘problem’ that you have identified that you think you could raise awareness about, or do something constructive about? Is there some policy or social interventions that you want to evaluate?)

political interest (is there a Charity or Campaigning organization that interests you? Is there a P/political cause that you’d like to explore/research?)

theoretical interest (is there a theory or set of ideas that has particularly engaged you while you’ve been a student? Maybe there’s a particular theoretical writer that you are interested in researching at greater length.)

technical interest (is there some hardware or software that you’d like to test out, or even develop? Do you fancy trying your hand at innovating some sort of technology?

Whatever the basis of your interest in the topic, you should explore some of the following: in what ways is this topic of interest? Why is it of interest? How have your interests in this area started and developed?

  • What is the theoretical/academic context of your study?

Make clear the academic background to your research study. You should give a brief overview of the relevant academic research that provides a context or your proposed study.

  • What do you hope to achieve in conducting your research study?

For example, are you trying to raise awareness, or test out some ideas on a particular audience? Are you interested in how certain people/groups feel, or communicate in particular situations? Are you interested in developing a theoretical account of how a communication phenomenon occurs?

  • How will you know if your study has achieved this?

Make an attempt to outline what you think would be the criteria by which you could measure the success of your project/study. For example, in designing and delivering a training package, success might be measured by trainee outputs (e.g. participants’ ability to understand concepts, or perform a task); or, the success of a web discussion group that you’ve initiated and managed might be measured by the amount or diversity of users involved.

  • How are you going to carry out and complete the study?

In this section you must outline and give a thorough breakdown of the steps and processes needed to successfully complete the study. Again this section will vary depending on the nature and type of study that you are proposing. However, you should include the following (where appropriate):

a preliminary outline of the theoretical grounding for your study

an outline and discussion of the kind of method(s) you will use in your study

evidence that you have engaged with a theoretical/practical framework for your study (what have you read so far? What do you think you will need to read during the course of the study? Whose previous work might you look to for guidance?)

Will other people be involved in the successful completion of the study? For example, will you have to negotiate access to an external organization, or to a group of study participants, or to special technical facilities?

  • What difficulties are you likely to encounter in conducting your study and what do you suggest as solutions?

In this section you should outline what you think are likely to be the (a) ethical and (b) practical difficulties in conducting your study.

Ethical. Every study has ethical issues that should be considered fundamental in proposing research. These may range from the philosophical/political (for example, as a white fe/male, how are my interests in race and sex/uality justified? What are the power dynamics involved in conducting a study like this one?) to the more practical (For example, what procedures should I put in place in doing a study looking at a group of vulnerable people? How best can I deal with people in an external organization when negotiating access to do my study? What are the copyright, or intellectual property issues involved in creating a certain kind of cultural artefact?)
Practical. Practical difficulties might include some of the following: How will I access particular documents or policy statements? How can I become literate in a particular software package? Are there timing constraints on what I can do in the space of an academic year? Are there material resource issues that I need to consider in proposing this study? How can I schedule any technical requirements within the resource base of the department?

Many of these issues are dealt with in books and literature that are addressed to students who are conducting research studies for the first time. In addition, your supervisor will be able to direct and advise you on appropriate solutions.

  • Appendices:
  • Time table

Give a detailed description of the research activities that you plan for the academic year. Include a month-by-month schedule and outline what you hope to have achieved at a number of points throughout the academic year. You (and your supervisor) can then use this time-table as a way of monitoring your actual progress during the year.

  • References and bibliography.

At this point in your career as a student you will be citing and referencing all the material that you have used in writing this proposal. Do this in the normal ways.

In addition, your supervisor will expect to see evidence of a range of literature that you expect to engage with in the process of your research. Again, reference these in the normal way.

  • Word length

The main body of the proposal should not exceed 2,000 words.

Assessment Criteria

The proposal will be marked using the following marking scheme:

  • 30% – Clear and detailed description
  • 35% – Systematic support: evidence, argument and other forms of justification (include citation and references here)
  • 20% – link between initial aims of study and proposed method/procedure
  • 15% – discretionary: innovativeness of proposal, thoroughness of research to date.
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