Writing a SoP or Research Proposal. Show passion, not perfection!

So, you meet all the criteria for that PhD position you have been eyeing. The last and the most important thing left on the checklist is a Statement of Proposal or a Research Proposal. How do you write one having had no prior experience? Well, let me first start with what is a Statement of Purpose (SoP)? A SoP is a personal statement given by a candidate which outlines the nature of the research you will be undertaking for the next five years based on your research interest. While the research committee does not expect you to ace the SoP, the purpose behind his exercise is to examine the candidate’s suitability.

A SoP is a personal statement about you. It is not a resume. It is an opportunity to tell about yourself and why you make an excellent choice. The SoP should indicate your research topic and a compelling reason for choosing so. It should highlight your academic achievements including how your academic studies and/or work experience will aid you in the research programme. The SoP should also highlight how this degree aids you in achieving your career goals.

Research Proposal, on the other hand, is a more structured plan indicative of the research you plan to undertake. They are elaborate and propose a which identifies a research problem and suggests a way to solve that problem. In short, a research proposal is a blueprint to problem-solving. While a SoP is usually about 1000-1500 words, while a research proposal is lengthy and involves background to the current problem, basic literature review, identifying research questions and outlining the objectives, research methodology involving a research design and a sampling technique of the proposed plan.

While all this might seem scary, it actually is very simple. Here are some tips to write a research proposal:

Identify a research topic

Identifying a research topic is of utmost importance for it will remain with you throughout your PhD. Make sure you choose a topic which sparks your interest and is relevant. Spend a considerable amount of time reading on the topic. Be updated on the latest research happening in the area of your interest. Make sure the topic is manageable and your objectives can be realised in the given time frame of your PhD

Identify the objective

Identify the research questions and objectives early on. Reading on the topic will help you identify research gaps which will further help you identify your research questions and objectives, Writing the research statement helps you to further limit your research topic so that it is not vague.

(Source: Abdulai & Owusu-Ansah,2014)

Writing Drafts

Write not one draft but as many drafts as possible. Organize the draft into further sub-sections:

Introduction, literature review, objectives, methodology. If possible, show your proposal to a peer working on the topic or a potential supervisor. As you read you will be able to ideate and sharpen your writing skills. Remember to edit, revise, polish, rinse, and repeat, until you are satisfied with the outcome.

Communicate your passion for the research through persuasive arguments

While presenting your research topic, be sound and logical. Back up your arguments with facts and sound knowledge of the topic. Be persuasive and confident.

Don’t run after perfection

You are a novice and no one expects you to be perfect. You will have ample of time to hone your skills during your degree as you go through your course work and drafting your thesis. Remember one does not become a researcher overnight, it is an acquired skill.

Resources for writing a research proposal

  1.  https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/researchproposal
  2. Cohen, et. al. (2007). Research Methods in Education available at https://bit.ly/3drZ1nc
  3. Research Methods Knowledge Base by Prof William M.K. Trochim available at https://socialresearchmethods.net/kb/
  4. Saramaki, J (2018). How To Write A Scientific Paper: An Academic Self-Help Guide for PhD Students.
  5. Abdulai, R. T., & Owusu-Ansah, A. (2014). Essential Ingredients of a good research proposal for undergraduate and postgraduate students in the Social Sciences. Sage Open, 4(3), pp. 1–15.