This is a brief introductory guide for students who have been assigned to me for supervision in an Honours/Minor thesis programme in The University of Melbourne‘s School of Social and Political Sciences. This is in addition to the general “Student Guidelines for Supervision” document that is issued by the School.
- It is in your best interest to produce a detailed research proposal within 4-8 weeks of commencing the Honours/Minor 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,
- how you propose to investigate (or respond to) the research question, in other words your methodology, AND
- a timeline/schedule of proposed work and output (to which you will of course adhere…!).
- 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 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.
- In the first 2-3 months, we should meet every 10-14 days 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.
- Please use this online scheduling service to book a time to meet me in my office, as it helps avoid multiple emails going back and forth to determine availability. The scheduling website 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.
How to formulate a research question
- Peter Liberman’s brief response to “What is a political science research paper?” is a good place to start (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.
- 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:
- Jeffrey W. Knopf, “Doing a Literature Review,” PS: Political Science & Politics 39, no. 01 (2006): 127-132.
- Gerry Stoker and David Marsh, Theory and Methods in Political Science (Palgrave Macmillan)
- Gary King, Robert Keohane and Sidney Verba, Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research (Princeton University Press)
If you intend to conduct fieldwork that involve human beings in order to gather data for your research project, you MUST obtain ethics approval BEFORE commencing your work. Please carefully consult The University of Melbourne’s School of Social and Political Sciences’ policy on ethics clearance for fieldwork research on this page.
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 reading.