Preparing a research proposal

The proposal is a key part of the process where applicants must demonstrate the value of their research and their suitability for program selection.

All applicants for a postgraduate research program at RMIT University should have a proposed research topic that is aligned with at least one of RMIT's identified research strengths. Your discussion with the academic staff in your proposed school will assist you to identify whether your research proposal will be an appropriate fit for RMIT's research strengths.

Your proposal should be a two to five page overview of your research divided under the following headings:

  • Title and topic
  • Research questions you plan to investigate in the context of existing research/literature in the area
  • Significance and impact of the research
  • Methodology/research tasks required to undertake the research
  • Any particular needs, if applicable (e.g. resources, facilities, fieldwork or equipment that are necessary for your proposed research program).

A good way to start your proposal is to think about your potential audience.

  • Who is your academic audience and how might this work affect their understanding of the field?
  • Is there an audience beyond academics, such as practitioners or the general public, who might care about your work? Why should they care?

In most cases it is sufficient to demonstrate that there is academic interest, but identifying the potential broader interest in your findings can be a way to help you find the most relevant and pressing problems.

Unsuccessful proposals tend to suffer from a number of common problems. The most common is that the researcher is not really asking a genuine research question, but seeking supporting evidence for a preconceived idea. Ask yourself: are you seeking new knowledge or trying to prove something you think you know?

Sometimes, especially in creative practice based research questions do not easily present themselves. Some research is ’iterative’: the researcher must test their assumptions through field work or creative project work before the questions come into focus. In these cases it is important to focus on what your research has to offer others beyond your own personal and professional development.

The research proposal can be a difficult document to write. If you are already in contact with potential supervisors they may read over early drafts and provide advice.

These books might also be helpful in understanding research degrees and how to write a research proposal:

  • Evans and Gruba (2002), How to write a better thesis, Melbourne University Press.
  • Denholm and Evans (ed) (2006), Doctorates Downunder, ACER Press.
  • Booth, Colomb and Williams (2003), The craft of research, University of Chicago Press.
  • Dunleavy, P (2003), Authoring a PhD, Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Rugg and Petre (2004), The unwritten rules of PhD research, Open University Press.

Some programs require more lengthy proposals with additional elements or additional selection tasks, such as the presentation of a portfolio. These are detailed in Program Overviews.

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