A Guide for Research-Thesis Students (RSIS)

This is a brief introductory guide for students who have been assigned to me for supervision of a post-graduate level research-thesis at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. You should read this as supplementary guidance to any material or instructions that have been formally issued by the School or Nanyang Technological University.

General Expectations

  • It is in your best interest to produce a detailed research proposal, which will eventually form part of the introductory chapter/s of your final thesis, no more than 4 weeks after commencing the research-thesis programme. This document should contain the following:
    • a clear and explicit research question,
    • a discussion of the context and justification for the research question. You should demonstrate clearly why the research question is important, interesting, and/or worthy of the time and effort that you will invest. Ideally, you should identify how your research question emerges from, and contributes to, existing debates in the literature/discipline, AND
    • how you propose to investigate (or respond to) the research question, in other words your methodology or analytical framework.
  • At least 24-hours (if not 48) before each supervisory meeting, you should send me at least one of the following. We are more likely to have a productive meeting if we have something concrete to discuss.
    • a list of questions for discussion,
    • a (brief) written update of the progress that you have made on your work, and/or
    • draft copies of written work (preferably in Word docx format so that I can provide feedback within the document). It may be obvious but it is worth pointing out that I will need more lead time to read a long document than a short one.
  • Within 48 hours of a supervisory meeting, send me an email documenting key points that emerged from our discussion. In particular, note items for action that have been agreed. This will help you reflect on our conversation and clarify tasks that you might need to undertake in order to make progress on your work.


  • In the first month, we should meet once a week to discuss the progress of your work. This is critical at the early stage to ensure that you lay a firm foundation for timely and satisfactory completion of your research project. Thereafter, meetings can be less frequent depending on the progress that will have been made and the requirements of individual projects.
  • I recommend that you use an online scheduling service to book a time for meetings, as it helps avoid multiple emails going back and forth to determine availability. The scheduling website, which you can access at the following links, has ‘real time’ information on my availability as it is synced with my calendar. You will be able to choose a time slot that best suits you. The website has instructions and it should be quite clear what you need to do. You do not need to set up an account with the online scheduling service.

How to formulate a research question

  • This brief primer outlining types of research questions is a good place to start. Do bear in mind that explanatory questions tend to lead to more interesting theses/projects in Political Science.
  • Peter Liberman’s brief response to “What is a political science research paper?” offers a very useful introduction to the nature of research projects (available at this link)
  • Chapter 3 of Alan Bryman’s Social Research Methods, 3rd edition (Oxford University Press, 2008) entitled “Planning a Research Project and Formulating Research Questions” offers a more extensive discussion on issues to consider when formulating a research project. A PDF copy of the chapter can be obtained at this link.
  • Scott Minkoff has written an excellent “Guide to Developing and Writing Research Papers in Political Science” that is available at his website here.
  • Stefan Götze offers an alternative, and shorter, take on developing research questions in Political Science that is available here.
  • Conducting and writing a literature review are important aspects of both formulating and writing research proposals. You may find this brief guide written by Jeffrey Knopf helpful for this task:

Useful Books

Help with writing

  • The Elements of Style written by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White is a classic text that prescribes ‘good’ practice on the use of the English language in writing. A version of the text can be found online here.
  • This article on modernising the practice of academic citation by Patrick Dunleavy is worth a read.
  • This page offers advice on writing a good introduction for an academic paper (a piece of work that is usually about 6,000 to 10,000 words long), and is written with the Economics discipline in mind. The general advice is nevertheless useful for students writing a post-graduate level thesis.