Книги по психологии

Writing a Project Proposal
Периодика - Проблемы филологии язык и литература

Julia B. Kuzmenkova

The article highlights the results of the recent study of academic project presenta­tions made by High School Economy (HSE) graduates, focusing largely on developing skills of academic writing. The results have formed the basis for a course of language training intended to raise the effectiveness of under/post-graduates’ communication in English and is mostly concerned with An academic project, i. e. a research work under­graduates are to present by the end of their final year at School. The basic emphasis is laid on writing a brief outline of what is going to be investigated — A project proposal. Ob­viously, the latter should be much shorter than a Project Proper, and different from a Re­port As it is not aimed merely at description. Rather, it is a sort of a detailed plan of the research work similar — in a number of aspects — to an Introduction To a Russian candi­date dissertation, the main difference being stricter formal and structural rules of the pro­ject proposal1.

In Britain, writing a project proposal is based on certain requirements which focus round the following key aspects: Organization, content, use of source material, And Language, And the way those requirements are listed indicates high priority of logical ordering and overall structure. For our purposes it seems appropriate to analyse the former and the latter issues in greater detail below and give but a few comments about the Content And Use of source material.

Content — important though it is — is not an aspect to be thoroughly discussed in a language classroom; it needs professional guidance by an authority on the subject. It will

1 Kuzmenkova J. Academic Project Presentations. Moscow, 2009.

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116 Проблемы Теории И Методики Преподавания Филологических Дисциплин

Suffice to mention here that if a project fails to construct An informed argument — i. e. to inform or to argue — it fails to meet the expectations of an academic community, and British undergraduates are supposed to demonstrate their understanding of the conven­tions of scholarship2.

Use of source material Serves to show students’ abilities to work with literature, which typically has to follow the accepted lines of rationalistic reasoning so common for the English-speaking people. While constructing An informed argument The British with their linear logic tend to use a step-by-step procedure, namely: Summarising The informa­tion about the topic, its critical Evaluating (implying delicate balance between descriptive and evaluative writing), Analysing (i. e. closely examining various bits of information rele­vant to the study) and Synthesising (aimed at establishing connections and interrelations between ideas from several sources supporting key standpoints). Thus, the project is in­tended to create An umbrella argument Under which several observations and perspectives might stand, so to speak.

When creating an informed argument, one relies upon several organisational strategies. Having chosen the Topic X and formulated its Title (probably being guided by the need to simply answer the question: What can be learnt from x) you formulate a Thesis (e. g. X should serve as a model for z) and then structure the proposal along the following conventional lines: Introduction, Main body And Conclusion. Commonly you start with a Working title Which can be longer than its final variant and does not exceed 10 words (cf. a conference requirement to the number of words in a title is 7-10 words); so try to avoid lengthy explanations which can be included in the introduction.

The first part of the project proposal introducing the research problem is intended to set the tone for the readers, enable them to form some idea of the content, the struc­ture, and the writer’s position. Introduction is often preceded by a brief Abstract — to out­line overall structure and objectives. Commonly, the Introduction Itself includes — apart from an introductory paragraph or opening sentences — the following key elements: The background of the study, the problem statement, the professional significance, And possibly some other features (e. g. Definitions and explanations of the terms or key concepts) relevant for your study whose combination varies with various university requirements (so that some ele­ments are not always included).

The academic text analysis shows that in practice those elements can seldom be clearly distinguished — certain features overlap (like, e. g. Justification May be regarded in part as Background information, or Thesis Statement reflecting the writers’ viewpoint or per­spective may be connected with their Purpose). Still, since analysing those features might prove useful for academic text writing, they are briefly outlined below, the key elements being further discussed in greater detail.

An abstract Is a summary of the research topic, complete in its own right, describing major problems or issues. Possibly it might contain a general summary of all the features of a problem area or a chronological summary of its history. Here you accomplish two

2 White B. Dissertation Skills for Business and Management Students, London, 2004.

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Kuzmenkova Julia В.


Things: declare your argument (and the goal to be achieved) and place it within a broader context (indicating the area the research conducted ranks among). The thesis statement usually forms part of Introduction. At present, there seems to be no rigorously defined set of criteria as to what elements should necessarily be present in an abstract — the choice largely depends on the goal set.

Commonly, abstracts are brief (no more than a few hundred words in British tradi­tion) and to the point, contain no examples or other substantiating information. This is particularly relevant when one is going to prepare an abstract for the oral presentation. It should be short — about 60 words — like a conference abstract, since in both cases the time is rather limited. It is necessary to choose the aspects of the project carefully though it is impossible to include everything.

The background Presents the context for the study and explains what external factors might influence or affect it. In identifying the background factors you might outline the general state of knowledge about the research problem very briefly (a more detailed ac­count is expected in the Literature review) And account for key reasons for your choice of the topic focus (i. e. Justify It). Justification Suggests the rationale for doing research on the topic chosen, in other words, you explain why the research needs to be done on this par­ticular problem. According to the British tradition, in this introductory part you make a brief reference to the literature, gaps in knowledge, potential usefulness of a methodol­ogy and possible benefits of outcomes for understanding, practice and policy. You should also provide key references to support your case.

The problem statement Is a very clear formulation of the research problem. Having justified your choice of the topic focus, you now turn to indicate some likely Hypotheses — for quantitative research or Research questions — for qualitative research. The typical rela­tion between the type of research and that of the problem statement should also be indi­cated. Defining The scope Of the project presupposes stating delimitations for the research with respect to the time period, subject area, regions and sample along with units of analysis (like, e. g. policies, programmes, patterns of behaviour etc.). Delimitations of the Study Are intended to emphasise that no claims to generalisation beyond the limits indi­cated will be made.

The professional significance Explains in what sense the proposed study is worth do­ing and what contribution it will make to professional knowledge. Here you define your Aims And Objectives. The former are commonly treated as general statements on the intent or direction for the research, include reference to the methodological, practical and theo­retical aims, while the latter are more specific. Objectives are clear and succinct state­ments of intended research outcome (possibly connected with e. g. search and review of the literature and assessment of a debate). When working on this part of the project, at­tempt to give it some originality by isolating how the goals set in your research and ques­tions it is intended to answer are different from what is already known about the subject.

The main body Includes an outline of the theoretical literature and empirical research and concise justification of the methodological approach you intend to use (with refer­ences in support of your case). Since in Britain formal aspects are of paramount impor-

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118 Проблемы Теории И Методики Преподавания Филологических Дисциплин

Tance and at times Form Prevails over Content It is necessary to mention here that to be properly accepted, the project proposal should be structured as indicated and the Litera­ture review Should have the same ‘weight’ or significance as Methodology (and therefore those parts are of approximately equal length). And finally, it seems logical to conclude the main body by A brief report on the results anticipated — although those issues are not always included in proposals, it might still be useful to discuss the possible outcome.

The literature review Is aimed at setting your project in the context of existing knowl­edge, to reveal the instances of linkage with what has been done before and those of new insights and show the major issues or practical problems to identify the gap you intend to look at in your research. Thus, in conformity with a time-honoured tradition of scientific research, you should briefly outline the general state of knowledge about the research problem (the history of the topic, key landmark studies which indicate the methodologies used and arguments made) and to present the knowledge base upon which the study is built, i. e. to show clear linkages between what was known in the past about the topic and what you intend to discover.

The major components (each having its own divisions) to be outlined are as follows: A discussion of the theoretical literature And A review of the empirical research. The theoretical part briefly covers the main theories related to the problem and explicates in depth those most useful in the study and should be connected to the part to follow. The review of empirical research should be effectively organized, its pattern being made clear in one of the following ways:

• chronological (with a time pattern),

• conceptual (a conceptual analysis in which the major factors or concepts appear­ing in the literature are identified),

• opposing camps (when reviewing an issue about which researchers have reached different conclusions).

The studies should be described sufficiently for the reader to understand their find­ings, the key conclusions being brought together, and finally related to the proposed study making a clear connection between what has been learnt in the past and what is proposed to do. It is by no means a catalogue of references arranged in chronological or­der, each one briefly summarised. Rather, your study should pick out trends and pat­terns, offering and explaining reasons for and against a particular situation, attempt to relate theory to practice and argue why under certain conditions some established theo­ries and ideas are or are not acceptable. In other words, the review should provide a criti­cal insight into the topic under investigation.

Methodology Is considered vital for the project: the way you study the problem is no less important than the results you get. A balanced methodological approach based upon appropriate well thought-out data-collection techniques ensures that the conclusions and recommendations finally made are more valid and credible. In this part you are expected to give a concise justification (not a description) for the quantitative, qualitative or some other approach within the existing paradigm you intend to employ, or, in other words, to explain why alternative methodologies were rejected and to provide references in sup-

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Kuzmenkova Julia В.


Port of your case. You should also account for the use of the data - or evidence-collection techniques and anticipation of problems and issues (like, e. g. ethics, access to data and its analysis, agreements from corroborating organisations etc.).

A brief report on the results anticipated Commonly ranges from transcriptions of in­terviews to tables of raw data. In the British dissertations results are presented in a separate chapter titled Summary and Discussion, The two parts being clearly distin­guished. Summary Contains tables and figures to summarise quantitative results and describes the trends and concepts identified from qualitative analysis, while Discussion Would include a full analysis of data interpretation and details of calculations. So the two tasks are separated: while Describing Results you are to refrain from Explanations And Comments — otherwise it would be confusing to readers. You are also supposed to care­fully select the illustrative material to be included — both in the written proposal (whose format does not presuppose detailed discussion) and its oral presentation (which has strict time limits). In the latter case you might deliberately reserve some in­teresting examples till the final stage.

Conclusion Contains evidence of evaluation of the work. It refers back to the thesis statement and draws upon the comments made about the features described to provide a summative comment. Possible is reference to further analysis that might be carried out on the topic, or a theory about its future, and acknowledgements (if necessary)

The language of an academic proposal Is often said to reveal the author’s relationship to the topic, the perspective it is viewed through. In British literature recommendations are found with respect to choosing an appropriate (rhetorical) stance on the topic under study which largely depends on the target audience (readers) and the degree of the au­thor’s awareness with the topic. If an Informative Stance is permissible for an authority on the subject (writing, say, for laymen), similar attitude of a student not too confident about the topic might look authoritative and ridiculous. In this case you have more questions than answers and an Inquisitive Stance is more acceptable. Anyway, it is commonly ac­cepted that authors cannot avoid taking a position on a subject; it is considered one of their responsibilities.

It should be mentioned in this connection that in Britain it is an author who is en­tirely responsible for making a text understandable for the audience and everything is to be spelled out and discussed in detail (while in Russia the text interpretation is the issue of the responsibility Shared Between writers and readers). It is also noted that using the pronoun I An author is accepting responsibility for interpreting facts which often mani­fests itself in academic writing. Overusing I, However, might be considered as the au­thor’s personal opinion and therefore suggest inability to offer proof.

There is currently still another evolving tendency: at times, I Is replaced by We. Pre­viously it was not so common for those writing in English and Russian Мы Was translated by I. Note that Americans still consider using I By a single author “outrageously pedan-tic3‘. As to using You, it can be treated as if authors want to shorten the distance separat-

3 Day R. How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, 1979. Цит. по Рябцева, 2006. С.87.

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120 Проблемы Теории И Методики Преподавания Филологических Дисциплин

Ing them from readers and thus invite a more subjective or intensely critical response — which is against the rules accepted. To be on the safe side, you should take care not to overuse those pronouns (and reserve I For oral presentations).

To illustrate features peculiar to academic style various clichйd expressions can be in­troduced. Thus, e. g. in Britain, criticism is handled with care, and direct statements (espe­cially negative) should be softened, E. g. N offered no practical solution — N failed to offer any Practical solution. Consider more examples below where the clichйs mentioned are grouped thematically to express the clustering ideas (In italics) summarizing their essence.

N’s works have certain deficiencies

The hy­potheses /N’s ap­proach (to treating the prob­lem) / The theory of­fered by N

Is not

Universal /quite so neat/ one which can be settled in ab­stract

Devoid of some serious draw­backs/shortcomings/flaws/disadvantages

Seems to be / is (some­what)

Vague and uncertain/diffuse

/confusing/ambiguous/misleading / error prone/ uncon­vincing /illegitimate/inadequate/vulnerable/ contradic­tory / limited/ polemical (for n reasons)/commonplace /prejudiced in favour of...

Is an evi­dence /signifies that

The fault line actually runs through the discipline / line of the fault is becoming more visible and vulnerable

Little advance in [x] may be achieved / (regrettably) [x] research is evolving in isolation from… studies

N’s approach doesn’t explain …

(From the point of view of.[z]) The ap­proach / A focus on [x]

Seems proves/ appears/ turns out to / can

Be theoretically challenged/ doomed to failure/no longer be assumed

Suffer from the patent flaw /reveal an evident lack of (concern for) [x]

Lead us into a cul-de-sac/ operate in a roundabout way

Reinforce the contemporary preoccupation with [x] at the expense of [z]

Render [x] less relevant/ run counter to the principle of

Does not (appear to)

Be compatible with facts /judged as valid

Stand up to closer examination (especially within the framework suggested)

Lend itself to easy visualization (in terms of any scale of [x])

Account for[x]/ provide sufficient explanation/ definitive guidance concerning [x] / have any explanatory power for the observed phenomena

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Kuzmenkova Julia В. Writing a Project Proposal


N does not consider


Has not

Fully realized/ elaborated /managed to explain

A vital point / an important factor /the requirements for /possible con­sequences /implications

Fails to

See / grasp / realise




Underestimate/ overlook/ ignore /neglect / lack / miss

Displace the concern with [x] by a preoccupation with [z]/ place stress on the fault line

Use the notion of [x] very broadly to refer both to [z] and [y] / (routinely) use the term [x] which now has lost any hint of connection to [z]/ have an unbalanced view of [x]

Induce / provoke misunderstanding /confuse the symptom and the cause/ (n) separable elements

And finally a few more remarks on style. Here specialists’ recommendations amount to the following.

1.Writing an academic text try to avoid:

• categorical statements (e. g. substitute less dogmatic impersonal structures with modals or Could Or Would For Must Or Should Where appropriate);

• clusters of abstract nouns which impede understanding;

• lengthy sentences which can easily be broken into simpler ones (e. g. Which, whose, that Used to connect parts within a sentence could be replaced by When, then, where, but, and);

Of To connect nouns within a chain using different ways of replacing it by:
а) corresponding verbs,

В) prepositions other than Of With narrower meaning,

C) Ab Or A’s b Structures instead of B of a (where possible),

D) gerund or infinitive instead of verbal nouns.

2.Writing an academic text you are encouraged to use:

• active voice which is usually more precise and less wordy (e. g. for definitions, descriptions and the like);

• impersonal passive structures instead of those with personal pronouns (e. g. It can be shown that…) When generalising or unsure in stating your own judgements;

• tentative (indirect) statements (e. g. There is a common perception that…) when criti­cising or evaluating;

• parallel structures (e. g. N found the way to check [x] and to change [z] — instead of N Found the way to check [x] and how to change [z]);

• future tenses where appropriate (since it is a proposal).

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122 Проблемы Теории И Методики Преподавания Филологических Дисциплин

Summing up, to follow the above recommendations you should avoid word for word translating into English a draft version composed in your mother tongue — it has proved much more worthwhile to render most essential ideas using clichйs and pat­terns common for the target language. In brief, this kind of activities can be equally useful for those who work on dissertations, or need to discuss the results of their re­search in English — orally, at international conferences, or in writing — getting materi­als ready to be published.

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