The first step towards getting a PhD-position is writing a research proposal. I was a bit nervous to start this because I haven’t done a research master. In the Netherlands, you can do either a normal master or a research master, where the latter prepares you for academic research and you learn valuable skills like how to write a proposal, do research, or prepare a paper for publication. Because I wasn’t looking for an academic career yet when I had to choose a master, I have never learned these things in class. But luckily, last week I spoke to one of my old teachers, and I explained I was nervous to write a research proposal to which he reacted: “Nonsense. If you can write a thesis, you can write a research proposal.” So, as I actually wrote a very good thesis, apparently I’m able to do this.

But where to start? The book Promoveren (“Doing a PhD”) by H. Lelieveldt did not help a lot, it just says you have to do it. Luckily, when I googled “How to write a research proposal” I stumbled upon this wonderful page the University of Westminster. It explained how long my proposal needed to be (2.000-3.500 words) and what it needs to include. I copied their structure to a word document and now at least I have a basis to work from.

Still, there are some things I have some difficulties with. It’s a proposal for at least four years of research, so of course you need to explain a bit what you’re going to do. On the other hand, if I already had all the answers, I wouldn’t need to do the research. Some parts of what I want to research are still so unclear to me, I wouldn’t know how to explain what I want to do.

Let try to make that more clear. At this point in time, I want to research the concept of identity in the work of Breyten Breytenbach. How does he construct identity and more importantly, how does he deconstruct it? I can see this is a big theme in his work, but when I want to research it, I will have to include lots of theories I’m not familiar with. I have a background in trauma and memory studies, but even though some of the concepts from those studies can be used in identity studies as well, I will need to do a lot of research on just identity studies. Furthermore, when looking at Breytenbach, I also will have to look into Zen Buddhism, Afrikaner history and I would love to include how he relates himself to Black Philosophy. However, these are subjects I’m not very familiar with, so how will I clearly explain the added value of these things for my research? And which sources can I name as books I want to examine (seriously, if anyone know a good theoretical introduction to Zen Buddhism, let me know). Which scholars are the big names in these fields that I will have to mention in my proposal?

The solution to this problem is tea. In the next few months I’m going to drink lots of cups of tea with people who know a bit more about these subjects. I will explain what I want to do and I will ask them what they can recommend me to read. So, do you know anything about a subjects that is even remotely related to this? Let’s drink some tea (or just comment below this post, or send me an email or something)!

2 thoughts on “On writing a research proposal

  1. The solution has been realized for thousands of years.. It’s called “SKILLS AT 17”. Make sure you have the proper definition of SKILLS: (working with your hands). Now that the answer has been revealed everyone can PACK UP THEIR CLASS and have a nice day..


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