The Top 25 Words, Grammar and Punctuation You Shouldn’t Use in Research Writing!

editing-red-penBefore you start writing a research document whether it be a research proposal, dissertation or paper you must get it into your head that it’s NOT CREATIVE WRITING. So throw away all your adverbs, fluffy descriptors, passive sentences and expressive punctuation.  We don’t want to see it.  Instead, focus on document structure and clear and concise sentences.

The top reason why we tend to write in the correct way for research is that we write like we speak.  I clearly recall being told this when my honours supervisor threw my dissertation back at me the first time. I’ve no doubt already broken many of the items listed below just in these few sentences.  But this is a blog not a research paper. So I may be excused.

Here’s a list of the top 25 writing mistakes/issues that I spend most of my time correcting in student work and journal paper submissions.  Do your supervisor/journal editor a favour and check these out.

1. Don’t Apologise

By this, I don’t mean saying sorry to the reader directly, but rather through your language.  First and foremost this refers to the use of passive sentences.  Try to write actively.  An active sentence puts the subject before the action.  For some reason when we speak we tend to put the action before the subject.  You’ll see this quite a bit in non-fiction.  Maybe as it gives the text variety.

Here’s an example of the difference:

[Active] Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the structure of DNA.
[Passive] The structure of DNA was discovered by Francis Crick and James Watson.

[Active] The lead researcher will perform the interviews.
[Passive] The interviews will be performed by the lead researcher.

Clues that you have a passive sentence is that you’ve used words and phrases including was, were, have been, has been, are being, will be etc.  Before version 2016, Word used to show passive sentences by underlining in green.  For some reason that feature has been taken away [?? why Microsoft?].  So if you want to thoroughly check your work I would recommend signing up for grammarly.com, shown below.  It will also pick up a multitude of other grammar and punctuation sins that Word will miss.

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Another way you apologise in research writing is to play down the significance of your work.  Sentences such as:

“This research will most likely reveal …”

should be avoided.  There’s no place for the words “most likely” anywhere in your document.  Come to think of it you should avoid things like:

“This study may…”
“This study might…”

and words to that affect.

2. Formatting

As research writing isn’t a creative writing task the format of the document isn’t open for negotiation (well, almost never). The type of document and its final destination will dictate the formatting you must use.

With respect to the paper’s layout check with the university, journal or conference as they will provide a template for you to use.  The template will provide you with guidelines for the layout as well as the paper size, margins, fonts, font-size, image placement and referencing style.  The International Journal of Games-Based Learning gives this advice to authors on their website.

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Sometimes the best guidance you might get is something as vague as “see APA guidelines”  which means you need to find a style guide for the particular style they are recommending and follow that.   The style guide for the before mentioned APA can be found at apastyle.org with the specifics on document layout here.  The style will differ from discipline to discipline so check with your supervisor or the journal’s website for more information.

And while we are on the topic of formatting, don’t forget to format your references correctly.  Although you might consider this the worse job on the planet, like myself, it is necessary.  If you don’t do it correctly you will have your work rejected until you can fix it.  A useful feature found in Google Scholar is the variety of citation texts that you can copy and paste for use in your reference list.  Its a great starting point, but be warned it might not be complete.

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3. Up-to-date and Relevant References

Research is about providing ground-breaking knowledge to the community at large.  With the speed at which information whizzes around the Internet it’s difficult to keep abreast of the latest developments. Having said this if you want to call yourself a researcher in a particular discipline, you will want to be on top of things.  When you start out writing a research proposal or justifying the relevance of your own studies be sure to reference the very latest work in your field.

For example, the statement:

Contemporary research into artificial intelligence techniques used in computer games has stalled (Yue & de Byl, 2006)

in a 2016 publication is saying that the author is basing their understand of the state of the field on a ten year old document.  For any technology based field this is indeed an out of date reference.

[As a side-line, the paper I’m referring to above, The State of the Art in Game AI Standardisation is a paper I co-authored in 2006 and it is still – to my amazement – being cited!]

If possible aim for references that were published in the last 5 years.  Sure, this won’t always be possible and you might be referring to important seminal works such as Freud, S. (1900) The Interpretation of Dreams, but if you are ever establishing the state of the art in your field then you need the very latest of references.

While I’m discussing references it is pertinent to consider their relevance and validity.  While I have a special place in my heart for Wikipedia, it shouldn’t appear in a reference list (okay – maybe if you are using it to define a term), but its not considered valid or peer-reviewed (and sure you might want to argue that it is).  But cite it in your own research document at your own risk.  However, Wikipedia is an excellent source of peer-reviewed literature.  So if you find something you want to reference on Wikipedia work backwards.  You’ll find the relevant literature at the bottom of the page.  And remember – Donate to Wikipedia – it’s an excellent repository of information.

References that are considered peer-reviewed are documents that have been scrutinised by their peers (hence the term).  Such works include books, book chapters, journal papers, peer-reviewed conference papers and higher degree dissertations.

Information from blogs, magazines, newspapers, youtube, pod casts and similar are not seen as suitable references.  Even though they might be written by prominent researchers.  The issue is that they are not peer-reviewed.  Though in the case you are at the very forefront of technology related sciences you may find the only references that exist are in these formats.  I personally don’t have a problem seeing them appear in research documents but they should make up at most 10% of all the references.

An interesting article exploring this very issue can be found here.

But my advice on this – unless you are a well published and prominent researcher best to stick to the classics and not get embroiled in a political debate with your editors or supervisor as they are at liberty to reject your work outright.

4. Examples and Context

I’m not sure why research students and early career researchers are hesitant to include examples in their writing, but none-the-less it happens – a lot.  A sentence in a research document I saw recently, and I paraphrase, went something like this:

There are many examples of procedural generation of virtual terrains in computer games.

And that was it. “What are these examples?” I hear you ask.  Good question as the student didn’t elucidate.  I want examples!  Not a ship load, but one or two would be nice.  The number will depend on how many you have hinted exist.  If you describe the number as ‘a plethora’,  then 3 or 4 would be suitable, whereas, with ‘numerous’ you may get away with 2.

Having said this, if you are providing a full coverage of the research discipline with a paragraph beginning,

There are a multitude of learning style theories.

51r1QwrZyWL._SX400_BO1,204,203,200_Then an expansive coverage of all these would be appropriate in a dissertation literature review.  A lesser coverage would be acceptable in a journal or conference paper where you are limited by word count.  In this case pick the most well-know or relevant to your study.

The types of examples that you pick is also important.  Keep them relevant and in context to the topic you are writing about.  Let’s say you are giving examples of the use of gamification in education, then presenting a case study on Lee Sheldon’s Multiplayer Classroom is going to be more appropriate than one on American Airlines Frequent Flyer program.

5. Keep it in Order

Whenever you make a list of items that are about to be discussed further, keep the list and the following prose in order.  For example, the statement:

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences lists eight categories including bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal, interpersonal, linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, naturalistic and spatial (Gardner, 1983).

Following this you should provide a definition each of the items listed in the same order beginning with bodily-kinaesthetic and concluding with spatial.  The same goes for sections of a paper.  If you’ve provided a list of these section before-hand then you’ll want to write them in the same order.  For example,

Section 2 Gamification

Gamification is [insert stuff here]……  The core mechanics used in gamification include points, badges and leaderboards.  These will now be discussed in detail.

Section 2.1 Points

Section 2.2 Badges

Section 2.3 Leaderboards

6. THAT THE

This one was where my PhD supervisor used a lot of red pen in my dissertation; the superfluous ‘that’ before a ‘the’. Again this comes from writing the way we talk.  For example,

The study shows that the residents prefer recycled water.

works fine as

They study shows the residents prefer recycled water.

Whereas,

The research supported Bill Hardy’s opinion that the recycled water made no difference to their drinking habits.

doesn’t work as

The research supported Bill Hardy’s opinion the recycled water made no difference to their drinking habits.

To know when to leave out ‘that’ just read it out aloud and judge for yourself if you can do without it.  For more information check out these pointers.

7. Footnotes

footnotesFootnotes and Endnotes are used for including extra information or citations on the document text that you can’t work into or is not relevant to the content of your paragraph.  I was brought up on the policy that footnotes and endnotes are a big no no.  And the APA style guide doesn’t allow them. Most journals don’t accept footnotes as they are a formatting nightmare and seem to give the author a right to go over the word count.

From a reading point of view they are just plain annoying.  You have to divert your gaze from the main body of the text, down to the bottom of the page or to then end of the chapter so read the note disrupting the flow. In my opinion if you are writing something that needs footnotes then you’ve not explained yourself adequately enough.

In some cases there might be the need to give the reader a lot more information on a topic that won’t fit into the main body and this is what appendices are for.

8. Synonyms

Did I mention that research writing isn’t creative writing?  In creative writing it is good to use synonyms to mix things up and keep the reader on their toes.  It reduced the repeat use of words that would otherwise make the writing dull and dry. Synonyms in research writing though can confuse the topic for the reader.

I’ll use one of my recent post-grad student’s topics to illustrate (and by the way he didn’t do this – but it makes for a good example).  The topic focused on eBooks.  Now in literature an eBook is know as an ‘electronic book’, ‘Ebook’ (with and without a capital ‘E’), ‘E-book’, ‘digital book’, ‘online book’, ‘electronic text’ and so on. Depending on who is reading the document a book and a text could be very different things.  For example, book might be construed as non-fiction where as text thought of as non-fiction.  In addition, the words electronic and online while both similar in origin also mean different things.  So in this case picking just one way to refer to the topic is critical to reader understanding.

So pick a term that you will use throughout.  Define it clearly at the beginning of your document and don’t stray into the thesaurus.

9. Don’t Change Your Research Question

I think the roots of this particular issue arise from point 8 when we try and rephrase things to make the writing more interesting.  With the research questions clearly stated early on in the document it is compelling when you have to write them again to add some creative flare by wording them differently.  The problem is though that in the rewording you also change the meaning.

For example, something I see a lot goes something like this:

Research question stated early on:
What positive emotions are elicited in players by real-time strategy games?

Then later in the document:

The aim of this study is to examine how computer games make players feel.

then later…

This research will evaluate the way developers build emotions into their games.

then later…

The results will present player emotions with respect to the type of game.

Now, without intending to, the writer has confused the reader as to what the study is really about.  Is it about positive emotions, emotions in general, or feelings?  Is it all games or just real-time strategy games?  Does it focus on the game developers or the game players?   This is what will happen when you try and paraphrase your research question.  It will confuse.  So don’t to it.  There’s nothing wrong with repeating your own words where you have to.

10. Unsubstantiated Statements

There’s nothing I love more than to see as the justification for research in a document state:

No previous research on this topic has been done before.

First of all this is passive and the second half of the sentence is superfluous so it should better be written as:

There is no previous research on this topic.

When I read this, my immediate thought is “Really?  You know this for sure? No one else in the entire world has looked at this topic?”.  By making such a statement you immediately open yourself up for criticism.  It might be more true to say:

Previous research on this topic is scarce.

Even if it is the case that you’ve looked high and low across the Internet and in the dustiest corners of your university library and found nothing on the topic, it’s still a bold statement to make without substantiating it with references. For example,

Previous research on this topic is scarce (Bill & Jones, 2016; Toms & Philberth, 2016).

Note, you’ll want a pretty up-to-date reference to back up your statement as something like:

A rocket will never leave the earth’s atmosphere (NYT, 1920).

won’t cut it.

11. Too many direct quotesneil-gaiman-quote

A direct quote from another’s work should only be included if it is iconic and you really can’t say it another way through paraphrasing or the way they phrase it is not rephrasable.  The inability to paraphrase tells me as a supervisor that you don’t thoroughly understand what is being said by the researcher and are unable to critically analyse it.

If you are using a term someone has coined such as Prensky’s “Digital Natives” or stating policy then direct copies, with the appropriate referencing is fine.

12. Underlined Font

imagesI’ve added this in to pay homage to one of my mathematic’s professors, Tony Roberts.  He really hated to see anything in a document with an underline.  Do you see it in other research documents? No!  Then don’t use it.

 

 

13. Repeating Words in Close Proximity

This is one taken from creative writing and just makes sense.  For example,

The aim of this study is to study the study habits of habitual rituals of the 17th century monks.

Sure, this sentence is overkill but you’d be surprised how often people use the same word twice in a sentence or even use big unusual words many times in the same paragraph.  Its not good practice and jarring for the reader.

14. Mention figures and table in text BEFORE they appear and please number them

Without exception all figures, tables and lists should be numbered and have a title.  They should also be mentioned, by number, in the text before they appear in the document.  ALWAYS!  Never refer to a figure, table or list as being above or below in the text as text can move around as it is changed and formatted.

For example,

The data gathered from the survey is displayed in the table below.  [WRONG!!!] [insert table here]

or

[insert table here] The data gathered from the survey is displayed in the table above.  [WRONG!!!]

rather

The data gathered from the survey is displayed in Table 4.5. [CORRECT] Table 4.5 Data gathered from the survey.
[insert table here]

15. Thesis versus Dissertation

This one is for post-grad students.  The document you are writing is called a dissertation.  Your thesis are the ideas you are putting forward.

You do not write a thesis.  You write a dissertation.

16. Inappropriate Punctuation Marks

UnknownThis is for one of my favour students [you know who you are].  It goes without saying there is no place for an exclamation mark in research writing even if you feel one is deserved. For example,

The results of the study were significant!

This also goes for one I see a lot, the ‘-‘.  As a hyphen it’s fine.  As an em dash (used as a substitute for commas, parentheses or colons) it is not necessary as you have ready access to commas, parentheses and colons.  In creative writing it is often used to change thought mid sentence, indicate an interrupted train of thought or suggest a dramatic pause.  There’s not place for drama in research writing.  So please leave the ‘-‘ for your next novel.

17. Affect versus Effect

Another red pen magnet for my PhD supervisor and to complicate matters I was researching emotion commonly referred to in literature as affect.  But if you aren’t talking about emotion then the rule is that affect is a verb (doing word) and effect is a noun (thing).

For example,

The effect of the drugs was to increase the rate of serious crime.

and

How does the rate of drug taking affect the rate of serious crime.

The rule?  If it has a ‘the’ in front of it then use effect.

18. Then and Than

These two words are often mixed up, even I do it.  You probably also do it unknowingly when you speak.  Than is a conjunctive.  Its used for comparisons.  For example,

The results of the second experiment were less conclusive than the first.

Then, is used when talking about time or additions. For example,

Subjects were exposed to cold water, and then tested again.

19. First Person

The majority of research documents are written in third person.  That means I don’t want to see:

I think…

I believe…

I did this….

We conducted the study…

We analysed the results…

Instead write yourself out of the text with:

The study was conducted…

The results were analysed…

Some journals and conferences will accept first person perspective but I personally don’t like it.  Check with your paper’s destination before you start writing.

20. Talking about other researchers by name in text

When discussing other’s research it is more common to mention it and then cite the researchers rather than talk about the researchers themselves. Writing in this way seems to be a hangover from undergraduate essays that I commonly see.  I guess there’s nothing wrong with writing like this except that is not usually done and rather than focusing on a whole bunch of names in your text you are focusing on the research.

For example:

Baillie (2002) suggests emotion is a non-concise term in many of the domains that boast an understanding of the topic. These range from Pert’s neurology theory (1997) and Smith and Kirby’s psychology model (2009) to Picard’s artificial intelligence (1997).

is better written as

Emotion presents itself as a non-concise term in many of the domains that boast an understanding of the topic (Baillie, 2002). These range from neurology (Pert, 1997) and psychology (Smith & Kirby, 2009) to artificial intelligence (Picard, 1997).

The only time you need to refer to the researcher by name in your text is when they are a field leader, well-known or you want to point them out as key people.

21. Ending Sentences with Prepositions

So they told you throughout your entire learning of the English language that you should never, ever, finish a sentence with a preposition.  Well that’s not entirely true and for the answers I defer to the experts.

22. Fluff

a-so-fluffy-10Once again, research writing is not a creative writing task.  If you are overly expression or include sentences that doesn’t really saying anything just to bulk up your word count or hide the fact that you don’t really know what you are talking about – the reader will notice.

One thing my editor friend Kayleen really hates is words that end in ‘ly’ (you might have noticed I’ve thrown a few around in this post just for her 🙂 ).  And she is correct.  Words that end in ‘ly’ otherwise known as adverbs are used in creative writing to modify verbs, adjectives, nouns and phrases.  They are overly expressive and not appropriate in a research document when used to describe things.  For example,

Amazingly, no participants were found to have an adverse reaction to the drug.

or

This research is extremely important to the community of the Gold Coast.

Sometimes you might get away with an ‘ly’ word when leaving that word out changes the meaning of the sentence. For example,

The degree of difficulty plaguing this subject matter is that a person rarely experiences a pure emotion (Koestler, 1967).

that I’ve taken from one of my recent papers but now on further reflection I could have written it:

The degree of difficulty plaguing this subject matter is that it is rare for a person to experiences a pure emotion (Koestler, 1967).

So even I’m not perfect. 🙂

Something else that adds fluff to text is starting a sentence with a word that doesn’t really need to be there.  For example,

So, the research will reveal..

doesn’t need the ‘So’.

A good rule of thumb here is that if you have single word followed by a comma at the beginning of a sentence then you probably don’t need it.

23. Tense

baby_faceHave you finished the research, about to perform it or doing it right now?  That is the question.  How you answer this question will assist you with the correct phrasing.  If you are writing a research proposal then you won’t have done the research yet so the phrasing will be:

The research will reveal…

If you are finished then

The research reveals…

Another area where tense gets confusing is in talking about other’s research – which we assume has been completed.  Do you say:

Researchers at Bond University suggest…

or

Researchers at Bond University suggested…

Well it depends on the context.  In a literature survey as you are wading through the research you can phrase it in past tense for the historical and outdated theories or for when talking about researchers who have passed away.  But for theories that still hold then you’ll want to phrase it in present tense.

24. Words to avoid

Some words don’t belong in a research document including maybe, a bit, got, etc, done, did and other little words for which there is a better alternative.

Try:

  • performed instead of done
  • it may be the case instead of maybe
  • obtained instead of got

Don’t use phrases such as ‘a bit’ or ‘a few’ when you can quantify the terms more precisely.  For example,

There are a few theories on emotional intelligence.

Instead:

There are five theories on emotional intelligence.

In the case of ‘etc‘ don’t use it.  Etc assumes the reader knows what the end of a list of words is going to look like, but you can’t assume.  You need to spell it out.

25. Significant

Last but not least, the word significant should not be used in relation to your results unless you have statistical analysis that they are indeed significant. In fact qualifying your results as valuable, meaningful, representative, compelling or pronounced is unacceptable unless you can prove through rigorous analysis that you have the numbers to support your statements.

So, that’s my top 25.  I’m sure after I post this that many more issues will come to light.  But for now, do yourself (and your supervisor/editor) a favour and try and remedy as many of these as you can before submitting your drafts.

BTW, not included on my list are emojis.  But this is a given, right? :p

P.S. Research writing isn’t a creative writing activity!!

P.P.S. As I alluded to above I thought of another thing immediately after I posted this, so …

26. Acronyms

Researchers love to make up and use acronyms.  And this is fine.  I don’t have a problem with acronyms as long as they are defined the very first time they are used and always spell them out first with the acronym in brackets.  For example,

The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) is an information systems framework that models user adaption to the use of technology.  TAM has been applied in many research studies including …..

after which TAM can be used every time to refer to the Technology Acceptance Model.  Note also the capitalisation in the words that make up the acronym.

How to Write a Higher Degree Research Proposal

Even if you are not just starting out in research, writing a proposal can be a daunting task.  You need the proposal to convince the university, you are applying to, that you are up for the job.  Unfortunately there seems to be very little by way of guidelines to help you write such a document.  So where do you start?

Let’s get one thing straight before you launch into your help-paper document.  The proposal is NOT the same as the confirmation of candidature document that you must present a year or so into your degree although the formats have much in common. The proposal is simply an outline of the work that you intend to undertake.  A reader of your proposal must be able to grasp the essentials of the research and come to the conclusion that your ideas are sound and worthwhile pursuing.  That means addressing the big questions of who?, why?, where?, when?, what? and how?.

Who:

  • is doing the research?  What makes YOU the suitable researcher?
  • will benefit from the outcomes of the research?
  • is involved in the research?  Who are the subjects?
  • will be your supervisor?

Why:

  • is the research beneficial?
  • is the research necessary?
  • do YOU need to do the research?

Where:

  • will you undertake the research?
  • will you publish the results?
  • will the research take you in the future?

When:

  • are you going to do the research?  What are the stages and when are they taking place?
  • are you going to start?
  • are you going to finish?

What:

  • has been researched in this area before?
  • what are the gaps/unanswered questions in existing research?
  • questions are you going to attempt to answer?
  • domain are you working in?
  • resources are you going to need?
  • are the ethical considerations?

How:

  • are you going to perform the research?
  • are you going to gather the data?
  • are you going to analyse the data?

Before you even begin to attempt a document that looks like something that resembles a proposal you should attempt to answer all of the above questions.  Write a paragraph on each if you can.

It is also vitally important that you justify everything you write.  This is where you need to read over the previous set of paragraphs and ask yourself again why?

  • Why is the research important?
  • Why are you the best person to be doing the research?
  • Why are the methods you have chosen for data collection and analysis the most appropriate?
  • Why do you need the resources you’ve mentioned to complete the study?

Once you’ve done this you should have enough content to structure into a formal proposal.  It doesn’t have to be long it just has to answer all the questions an academic accessing the work will be looking for.  Some universities might have a formal template that you are required to complete though in my experience these are few and far between with most giving very little guidance.  So to give you a little guidance, here are the essential sections a proposal should contain.  Aim for around 8-10 typed pages at 1.5 line spacing.

1. Title (20 – 30 words)

I’m going to say this right up front as I tell all my research students.  A research dissertation IS NOT A CREATIVE WRITING EXERCISE.  Therefore you don’t want some clever title that is funny or a play on words.  The title should be succinct and answer as many of the questions posed beforehand but usually focusing on the “what”. My dissertation title was:

  • The synthesis of emotions in artificial intelligences: an affective agent architecture for intuitive reasoning in computer game characters.

Here are some others:

  • A Novel Scoring Method to Evaluate Associations Between Dietary Variety and Body Adiposity among a National Sample of U.S. Adults by M. Vadiveloo
  • The Social Life of the Pill: An Ethnography of Contraceptive Pill Users in a Central London Family Planning Clinic by V. Boydell
  • The Impact of the Great Recession and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) on the Occupational Segregation of Black Men by M. Holder.

Notice how they tell the reader exactly what to expect by giving specifics.  This is what to aim for.  If you don’t get it exactly right in the proposal, don’t fret as I can guarantee your title will change at least 3 or more times over the course of your studies.

2. Purpose Statement (up to 200 words)

In this section you condense everything that was written in the paragraphs above into one or two sentences that clearly answer who, what, why, where, when and how.  Sounds hard?  You bet.  Sometimes I consider the ability to write a purpose statement as the equivalent of a fire stick challenge right of passage.  If you can write a purpose statement (that makes sense) you deserve a PhD.  But I jest – a little.

The purpose statement will look something like this:

This [type of study e.g. qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods] study will investigate [what] toward (developing/understanding/answering) [gap in understanding in this field] by examining [who and how]. In this study [what] methods will be employed to address the research questions [what] because [why]. The results will add to the body of knowledge in his domain [how] providing significant information to [who and why].

Depending on the methodology that you decide on using this statement will change.  But this provides you with a starting point.

3. Brief Literature Review/Background Context (2-3 pages)

The literature survey provides background to the domain in which you are working and justifies your study.  It should provide a definition and context to your area of study as well as point out where the gaps are.  This section will also be heavily referenced as you need to present the domain and the issue within through the works of others.

My supervisor once told me that every sentence in the literature survey needed to be referenced.  At the time I thought this was extreme overkill and made the document unreadable, but when it comes down to it you just need to do it.

And don’t pick wishy washy references.  You need to identify who the leaders in the field are and reference their peer-reviewed work.  This includes journal papers, books and published conference proceedings.  Blogs, wikipedia and forums are not acceptable as references.

The literature review in a propose will be short and succinct – much shorter than the 20 or 30 pages that you’ll write for the final dissertation. So you need to write with purpose to define the domain and get your point across while pointing out the gaps in the existing understanding.  The literature review should also funnel the topic by starting with the bigger picture and narrowing it to the area you are working in.  For example the structure might go something like this:

Part 1:  Define the domain your topic fits within.  If you want to examine “emotions in computer games”  then start with something like”

Computer games are well known for eliciting emotional responses (insert reference here).  

Then expand this statement out into a couple of paragraph with examples.  If you think it is appropriate provide some history to the domain.

Part 2:  Break the topic up into chunks.  What are the sub categories that are examined within the domain? How are each of these studied and important?  If we continue the the “emotions in games” example you would write about what emotions are studied and what mechanisms are provided in games to form emotional responses.

Part 3:  End the previous section such that it focuses on the area that you are particularly interested in.  Then you can start this part by defining that particular area and identifying why it is significant. At this point you also need to demonstrate that there is a lack of understanding in the area with respect to the specifics of your study.  That will lead you into the next section.

*NOTE* Examples are very, very important. First they help to illustrate your point and second they provide substance to your document.  Don’t ever give a statement and leave the reader hanging without an example.

4. Research Questions (500 words)

By the end of the previous section you will have demonstrated a gap in existing research and should be ready to present your research questions.  You might think the more questions you have the better, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.  A higher research degree is about pin pointing and issue and studying the life out of it.  If you’ve got to many research questions your research proposal isn’t refined and narrow enough.  Two research questions are fine, one is better.

The questions your research is attempting to answer must be narrow enough that you will be able to succinctly provide an answer.  Something like:

Do computer games make people emotional?

is far too broad and generalised.  Instead consider narrowing and focussing.  Like this:

How does the difficulty of a computer game influence a player’s anxiety levels?

5. Significance of Proposed Research (500 words)

This section you’ve probably already answered in the literature review, but best to reiterate and focus.  This is where you have to justify your reasons for doing the research.  Why is it important?  What are YOU going to contribute to the field?

6. Scope (200 words)

More often than not a higher degree research student comes to me and wants to solve the problems of the world.  This ain’t going to happen.  Well it might, but don’t count on it.  As I’ve already emphasised the research has to be narrow and focussed.  Very focussed.  Even the question I’ve given as an example in section 4. is still quite broad.  So in the scope, if I were addressing this, I would add something as to restricting the study to 18-24 year olds and testing with only a tile based game on an iPad.

And be honest.  You don’t have time to study every aspect of your research question so therefore say so.

7. Methodology (1-2 pages)

This section is probably the most important section of the proposal (besides establishing how ground breaking and important the research is).  The methodology tells the reader what you are going to do and how you are going to do it.  What existing research methodology are you going to follow and why?  Who are the participants in the study going to be?  Where and when are you going to do the study?

The methodology that you chose will depend on what the research question is and the domain in which you are working.  This is something your supervisor should help you with.

But as a starting point, try this:IMG_0624

Once you’ve decided on the methodology you’ll need to become familiar with it in order to write up how your particular project will proceed.  If you’ve come to the conclusion that your study will be a literature review – then start again – it won’t be appropriate for a Masters or PhD.

Check out these resources for more assistance:

Of course these aren’t the ONLY methodologies available to you, the the decision chart above will point you in the right direction.  In addition to the above generic methods consider Googling for more information in your particular discipline such as “Research Methods in Education” to find even more literature.

If you are still confused as to which methodology to use, take guidance from the literature in your literature review.  Have a look at how the people in your domain carry out their studies.  You could do much worse than mimicking the prominent researchers in your particular discipline.

8. Dissertation Outline (1 page)

This section lists the chapters that you intend to be in your final dissertation.  The structure for a research dissertation is quite mundane and follows a particular formulae which you may stray from at your own risk.  Remember, THIS IS NOT CREATIVE WRITING.  Essentially you will end up with something not dissimilar to this:

  1. Introduction
  2. Literature Review
  3. Methodology
  4. Analysis
  5. Results
  6. Conclusion
  7. References
  8. Appendices (if you have any)

Depending on the type of study you might but Analysis and Results together.

The above list of chapters and a one sentence description of their content is all you need in this section.

9. Research Timeline (1 page)

The research timeline presents the start and end dates of what you will be doing throughout your degree.  Naturally this will change as you proceed but it does provide reviewers of the document (and yourself) with the plan.  It will also give you an idea if what you are proposing is humanly possible within the restricted time of your studies. As a rule of thumb, make an estimate of how long it will take you to complete a task and then multiply by 4.

This section can be presented in a table giving dates and then the task thus:

1 June – 30 December        Literature Review

1 Jan – 10 Jan                      Create Survey Instrument

11 Jan – 30 April                  Distribute Survey via online channels to participants

etc.

10. References (2 pages)

The references are a list of all the literature you have referred to throughout the document, with the most of it residing in the literature review.  How you present the references will depend on the requirements of your academic discipline and university.  If you are undertaking a research degree I would assume you are familiar with referencing literature but if you need a refresher might I suggest you visit the dedicated websites for the different formats such as APA, Harvard, Chicago and others.  You can also find style guides for these formats all over the web – just Google them.

51i6j+wj8wL._SX350_BO1,204,203,200_For more information and assistance in writing up proposals and other research documents I can’t recommend enough “Research Design” by John W. Crewel.  I have the print copies of the third and forth editions as well as the eBook!

Good luck with your research studies.  I hope this post as gone someway in providing a little guidance in what will most like seem to you at the beginning of your journey into academia quite a chaotic black hole.

Suzanna J. Linton

Today’s indie author is Suzanna J. Linton.  A self confessed geek and menagerie owner, Suzanna is definitely my kind of people.  Lacking confidence in the traditional publishing route, Suzanna decided to take the plunge and publish herself which she considers the best decision she ever made.  Her latest book, Clara’s Return, sees the return of her hero Clara, a mute castle servant with extraordinary precognitive abilities.  A five star rating on Amazon describes Suzanna’s work as richly descriptive and completely immersive.  If you love a good medieval fantasy with a strong female protagonist then these books are for you.
Let’s hear from Suzanna in her own words.
SuzannaJLinton-2015-150x130

Tell me a little about yourself.

I live in South Carolina with my husband and our small herd of pets. Both of us are geeks, which means many of our conversations are us quoting our favorite movies to each other. I started writing full-time in 2014 and haven’t regretted that decision.

Who are the literary heroes that inspire your writing?

My heroes are Charles de Lint, Dean Koontz, Robin McKinley, and Anne McCaffrey.

Why did you decide to become an indie author?

I was repeatedly rejected with form letters telling me either it
wasn’t what they were looking for or the agent wasn’t “excited” about
the project. In the end, I decided telling my story was more important
than getting in with a big publisher.

What were you before you were a writer?

I’ve always been a writer but before I began to do that full-time, I worked in a library’s reference department as a library assistant. Mostly, I helped patrons with the public computers and contemplated how much I hated customer service-oriented jobs.

If you could give one piece of advice to new indie authors what would it be?

Don’t give up. It’s easy to give up when you feel as if no one is paying attention or that you’re not an overnight success. It takes a lot of work to be an indie author and it requires a lot of patience. Whenever you feel as if you’re going to give up, remember why you write and then carry on.

What’s your number one cure for writer’s block?

I try to see if the problem is in the manuscript or in me.

What is your greatest accomplishment to date?

Right now, it’s the fact that I’m getting ready to publish a third book, Clara’s Return.

Look out the closest window.  What’s the first thing you see?

A leafless tree on the edge of our property, set against a pale blue sky.

Name one thing in your refrigerator that probably shouldn’t be there.

An empty pickle jar.

What do you least like about writing?

Endings. I really hate endings. Why does anything have to end?

Finish this paragraph: “Helena shook the flashlight, hard.  She …”

…heard the batteries within it rattle. The beam of light flickered back on, revealing a mildew-stained wall. Something skittered behind her, rustling papers. Helena wiped around. Her breath bloomed white on the air. From the hall came the unmistakable scuff of a shoe heel on concrete.

ClarasReturn2_Final-FJM_ARE_200x300Latest Novel: Clara’s Return

After the civil war, Clara does not know who or what she is. Answers may lie in her home village of Bluebell. As she and the Captain of the Royal Guard make their journey, a new threat to the kingdom arises in the form of a traitor.

Emmerich’s struggles with his new role as king and his ever-present nightmares leave him feeling inadequate to the task of finding the traitor and keeping his kingdom from plunging into chaos. What he needs most is Clara.

Read more here.

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