How to write a professional Kenyan Proposal
This presentation will outline the process of researching and writing a dissertation. It is aimed at Kenyan Masters students but the principles may be helpful to students who have to write dissertations as part of their undergraduate degrees.
Before doing any planning or writing, it is important to find the answers to some questions. With a big piece of work like a dissertation, you can save yourself a lot of time by asking these questions at an early stage.
- Who is my dissertation supervisor?
- When is the final deadline?
- What is the dissertation word limit?
Choosing a topic can be daunting. It is important to select something that will sustain your interest. The topic should also be manageable. Avoid choosing a problem that researchers have spent many years trying to solve. You are aiming to produce a brief research project in a short timescale, rather than a Ph.D. thesis or a life’s work.
Start by thinking about the modules on your course. Is there an area of research that raised some interesting questions or that you really enjoyed studying? Once you have thought of something, jot down some possible research questions. Try to make these look like essay titles. E.g. To what extent are the Government offering support to the children of substance misusers? Play about with a range of titles until you have found a couple of options that you think might work.
You are likely to have around 6 months to complete your dissertation, but you may be writing it alongside other commitments. It is important to be realistic about what you can achieve in the available time. Make sure you have considered the following:
- Can I achieve my goals before the deadline?
- Are there any costs associated with the research and can I meet these?
- Will I need to travel to the research site and is this feasible?
- Can I get access to the research site?
Your supervisor is likely to be a very useful source of support throughout the dissertation process. He/she is likely to be very knowledgeable about your topic. He/she will have supervised many students and can offer helpful advice. At your first meeting, take along your proposed research questions. Don’t worry if these seem basic or not very impressive. They will act as a starting point for discussion and will help your supervisor to see where your interests lie.
Ask whether your question is workable and whether it can be improved. Ask for some ideas about where to start with the reading. Write down what your supervisor says so that you can remember the advice later. Keep in touch with your supervisor throughout the dissertation process. Supervisors are very keen to help students who take specific questions to meetings and who can show evidence of having thought carefully about the issues.
The organization is the key to producing your dissertation on time and without unnecessary stress. Some initial planning should help you to remain motivated and to see that the task is manageable. Work out how many chapters you need to write. Count the number of weeks between now and the deadline. Work out how many weeks you will spend on each chapter – both researching and writing. Leave enough time at the end for proofreading and writing. Try to look at the dissertation as a series of short pieces of work, rather than as a 10,000 word whole. Breaking the task down into chunks should help you to do this.
Make a ‘To Do’ list for each chapter Break the tasks right down. E.g. ‘Read and make notes on Jones and Thomas article’, rather than ‘write chapter’. Plot these tasks onto a weekly planner, and then onto a daily planner. Tick tasks off the list as you achieve them. You will be able to see that you are making progress.
The structure of the dissertation depends on the sort of research that you are carrying out. There are two main types of a dissertation.
- A project that involves an element of primary research. Primary research is research which involves gathering data of your own, perhaps via interviews or questionnaires that you have designed. OR
- A project that is based on an extended literature review or theoretical research.
This sort of project relies on data that has been collected by other researchers. It is useful when the topic you are studying is very sensitive, or the data very difficult to collect. There is a set format for the structure of your dissertation. Always check your course handbook for exact details. The broad structure of a primary research project is outlined below. More details about each chapter will be outlined later in the article.
The suggested word count for each chapter is based on an 8 – 10,000-word dissertation. The dissertation could be set out in the following way. Introduction (800-1,000 words) Literature Review (1,200-2,000 words) Methodology (1,500 – 2,000 words) Research process (800 – 1,000 words) (School of Social Work only) Data Analysis (2,000 – 2,200 words) Research Findings (1,000 – 1,200 words) Conclusion (800 – 1,000 words)
The suggested word count for each chapter is based on an 8 – 10,000-word dissertation. The dissertation could be set out in the following way: Introduction (800-1,000 words), Methodology (1,500 – 2,000 words) Specific issues or debates. This should include 2 or 3 chapters, each devoted to specific issues in the literature (4,000-5,000 words), Key themes; This should draw together key themes from the above chapters, relating them to your research question (1,000-2,000 words), Conclusion (800 1,000 words).
Some Kenyan University departments require students to produce a dissertation plan or proposal before they start writing. Producing a plan or proposal is a good idea, even if it is not a course requirement. It will help you to identify where you are going with the project. The research proposal could be organized in the following way: This project will consider… The project aims to… The data will be gathered by… These methods were chosen because… Potential problems with the project are… Expected outcomes are… Once you have produced this and shown it to your supervisor, you may be ready to start your research.
The next section will describe the purpose of each dissertation chapter, and what you need to do before you start writing.
The purpose of the introductory chapter is to set out the scope of your Kenyan research project and to explain how you will go about answering your research questions. This chapter should be between 800 and 1,000 words.
The Introduction should: Describe your topic and introduce the research questions. Explain the significance or importance of the topic and why you have chosen it. Explain the structure of your dissertation by briefly describing the purpose of each chapter. For a lot of students, the Introduction will be the last chapter that they write. The purpose of the introductory chapter is to set out the scope of your research project and to explain how you will go about answering your research questions. This chapter should be between 800 and 1,000 words.
The Literature review Section
A lot of people write the Literature Review chapter first. This is a chapter that you can write without having gathered any primary data. Students carrying out an extended literature review will need 2 or 3 literature review chapters. The function of the Literature Review chapter is: To identify the key debates in your research area which includes the theories or ideas of researchers in the field to evaluate these ideas. Can you see any flaws in the arguments presented? To analyze the assumptions of other researchers.
The process of collecting data only applies to students who are carrying out a Kenyan primary research project. Students who are carrying out an extended literature review will produce two or three ‘literature review’ chapters that present what other researchers have found. The data collection for primary researchers can be time-consuming. It needs to be well thought out to avoid collecting more data than you can use. Ask your supervisor for guidance on data collection Leave enough time to negotiate access to the research site when interviewing people, make sure you are well-prepared for the meeting. Think about how you will record any information that you collect and set up a system for analyzing and storing your data.
The Research Methodology Section
The Methodology chapter is another chapter that can be written early in the process. You can start on this as soon as you have decided on your data collection methods. The purpose of the Methodology is to allow you to justify your chosen research methods. In this chapter, you should: State your research question and how it relates to existing literature. Describe how you will investigate your research questions (interview? questionnaire?). Explain why these methods are suitable in helping you to answer your research questions. Why these and not other methods? What are the limitations of your chosen approaches? Are there any ethical issues you need to consider? It’s expected that your Methodology chapter will include references. There are a number of books in your university library that cover the strengths and weaknesses of different research methods and you should refer to some of these in relation to the methods that you have chosen.
The research process chapter is only required of School of Social Work students. It allows you to explain how your research changed over the course of the project. This chapter needs to be between 800 and 1,000 words. Most people find that they have to adapt their research methods in some way after the project has started. This chapter should: Highlight the way the research has developed over time. Highlight any key issues to do with the research process that the reader needs to know about.
Data Analysis Section
The purpose of the data analysis chapter is for you to outline the results of your data collection. If you have interview data or written survey responses, you may want to select some quotations that help you to answer your research questions. This chapter might be 2,000-2,200 words. Explain the results of your research and link the findings to your original research questions. What is your data saying? Link this information to what other researchers have said about your research area. Refer back to your Literature Review. Make sure you provide enough evidence to allow your reader to evaluate whether your conclusions are valid. Explain any problems you encountered with the data.
The purpose of the research findings chapter is for you to link your data to your research questions and the views of other researchers in the field. The chapter should be 1,000 to 1,200 words.
The research findings chapter should: Explain the specific outcomes of your research project. Refer back to your research questions and show how the project outcomes address the original questions. If there are aspects of the question that have been difficult to answer, explain the reasons.
The Conclusion Section
The Conclusion should aim to take an overview of the whole project and draw some broad conclusions. This chapter should be between 800 and 1,200 words. The following questions may help you to write your Conclusion.
- How has the research project extended our knowledge and understanding of the topic?
- What have key themes emerged from the project?
- What are the limitations to the research?
- What direction for future research?
A dissertation should include a full list of all the sources that have been referred to. Each department has their own referencing conventions. Check your departmental handbook to make sure that you present your references correctly. Some general guidance might be to:
- Check spellings of author names throughout your writing.
- Check that every reference in the text is in your references list
Each department has specific guidelines on the format of references. Make sure you follow these. There are a few elements to a dissertation that are not needed for essays. These are pages for contents, an abstract, acknowledgments and appendices.
These are short pieces to write, but you need to devote some time to them once the main chapters are written. The abstract is placed after your title page. This should summarize what you set out to achieve and your main findings.
Acknowledgements are placed after the contents page. This is where you thank people who have helped you with the research project.
Appendices go at the back of the dissertation. Aim to keep these to a minimum. You might include your interview schedule, but not full transcripts. You will also need a contents page.
Writing the Dissertation
The next section will offer some general advice about writing a Kenyan dissertation. Dissertations that score highly will have a well-developed argument. This means that there is a clear a sense of direction in the piece. The arguments of other researchers and your own data will be drawn in to lend credibility to your developing argument.
Here are some ways to develop an argument:
- You could Agree with or reject the point of view of another researcher or researchers. E.g. Smith suggests that….However, his argument does not take account of …
- You could Develop an existing point of view. E.g., If Bernstein’s ideas about ‘framing’ are applied to this problem, it is possible to see that….
- You could Come up with a new perspective on a problem or issue – perhaps by applying a new theory or introducing new information. E.g., In view of the Government’s new policy on…, the problem can now be redefined as.
Developing an argument does involve stating your opinion. The invigilator is interested in your opinion and wants to hear your thoughts on the research question. However, there are conventions for expressing your opinion in academic writing. Avoid saying ‘I think’ or ‘I believe’
There are a number of ways of making your opinion clear, but presenting this opinion in a more balanced way. For example, It seems clear from the evidence that. On balance, the evidence suggests that. It is not certain that.
It is easier to develop an argument if you have some linking words that you can use. These words might also be called ‘signposting words because they indicate to the reader an alternative point of view or a change of direction.
Words for adding to or developing: In addition: Adding a further point Furthermore: Moving the argument along, Moreover: Beyond what has been said, therefore: For that reason, Hence: From this time onwards
Words for considering other views or evidence: Alternatively: A different approach is. Nevertheless: In spite of what has gone before Even so: Despite what has gone before However: Despite what has gone before
- You may find the following books helpful if you are interested in doing some further reading. ‘Essays and Dissertations’ by Chris Mounsey
- ‘Doing Your Research Project’ by Judith Bell