Introducing Research Questions & Hypotheses in a Proposal or Thesis

Introducing Research Questions & Hypotheses in a Proposal or Thesis
Not all proposals (or theses) introduce explicit research questions and hypotheses, but most doctoral research is based on questions and hypotheses whether they are openly stated or not. Research questions are the questions you ask about the topic, problem or phenomenon you are exploring in order to guide and shape your research, while hypotheses are the tentative working answers you develop based on previous scholarship, predominant theories, natural laws and tendencies, and your own assumptions and expectations. Determining exactly what your research questions and hypotheses are can help you define and understand your research more clearly, and including them in your introduction not only allows you to focus on the exact wording and content of those questions and hypotheses, but also opens the door to commentary and assistance from your supervisor and other members of your thesis committee. Your research questions and hypotheses will undoubtedly be closely related to the aims and objectives of your research, and, like those aims and objectives, they can be effectively included in your introduction by displaying them in a list and/or numbering them in order of importance or in relation to your methodology.
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Finally, outlining the contents of the proposal (or thesis) as a whole is traditional in an introduction, so a brief summary of the chapters and other sections that follow the introduction usually closes an introduction. In a proposal introduction, this may cover only what you include in the proposal itself or it may also include chapters and sections that have not yet been written, but will ultimately appear in the final thesis. Your supervisor will be able to tell you which approach is most appropriate for the proposal stage of a thesis in your discipline and department. In the introduction for the thesis itself, however, the contents of the entire thesis should, of course, be considered in the summary.

Not all of the elements I have mentioned in this and previous postings on the proposal process will necessarily be required in any given proposal (or thesis) introduction, and in some introductions, further elements may be needed. University or department guidelines or the advice you receive from your thesis committee may necessitate presenting the elements of your introduction in separate sections, which are always a good idea because they make your text more accessible and digestible for readers. You may also need to present these sections in a specific order, or you may be able to arrange them in whatever order seems most appropriate for providing the introductory material your proposal (and thesis) requires. If you are in doubt about how to organise your introduction (which can be a notoriously difficult chapter to organise in an effective manner), remember that your supervisor and the other members of your thesis committee may be able to offer practical advice regarding what might be effectively rearranged, added, deleted, shortened, clarified or expanded, so do address the problem with them as you work on your chapter and again in the proposal meeting if necessary.

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