Crafting research proposal

One of the interesting, challenging, exasperating and demanding moments of PhD is writing research proposal. I had a similar experience while writing my proposal. I experienced the tantalizing moments of finding research topic, structuring research questions, finding theoretical framework, research methodology and philosophical underpinnings. Through this article I would like to share the experience of intellectual labor pain, which may be helpful to other PhD candidates. Beware, this is one of the many ways to explore and inscribe research proposals. I coined it as crafting because it is both a science as well as an art.

My exploration started with finding a suitable research topic. In my opinion, finding a research topic doesn’t imply finding a title for the research. The topic implies the comprehensive knowledge of the phenomenon that you want to examine. I followed two basic principles to identify my research topic. The first principle was my personal motivation for the topic, for instance, I was interested in understanding the link between information and communication technology (ICT) and socioeconomic development of developing countries. Therefore, I started to read related literature, case studies, and UNDP reports, furthermore, discussed with researchers and practitioners in this research domain. After reading loads of literature, I was still not be able to find a link between ICT and development. Aha! And that was the clicking point in my exploration moment; consequently, I formed my initial research topic. The topic was ‘finding a link between ICT and socioeconomic development in developing countries’. Now, the second principle was relevance of the topic to the contemporary society (academic and non-academic), for example, I asked myself what are the implications of my study on policy makers and practitioners of the third world countries, likewise, I asked, whether academic world were interested in this research topic. By going through the reports and research articles, I identified the relevance of subject; I found that the topic of information and communication technology for development (ICT4D) was a hot subject of discourse in academia and non-academia. Therefore, I decided to continue with this research topic.

The second task after finalizing the topic was to identify the philosophical, theoretical, and methodological underpinnings. Initially, to me, the term ICT4D sounded easy; however, after going through the process of inquiring its anatomical features, my views were completely different. I identified four complex topics and philosophies concealed inside this easy looking term ICT4D. The ICT4D was composed of multidisciplinary subjects, ‘I’ information, ‘C’ communication, ‘T’ technology and ‘D’ development. It was a pretty tough time to find relevant theories that integrate all these four fragmented alphabets. To understand this gigantic subject, I decided to read multidisciplinary literature, such as computer science, information systems, and development studies. As Richard Heeks stated, from computer science we learn what is possible with digital technology; from information systems we learn what is feasible with digital technology; and from development studies we learn what is desirable with the digital technology. At the same time, I attended many ICT4D related seminars, summer schools, workshops and conferences. During that time I always tried to relate gained knowledge, experiences, and insights with my research topic. It truly helped me to blend my scattered knowledge. Three courses that directly contributed to understand the subject were philosophy of science, theory of information systems, and research methodology. The philosophy of science course taught me to understand the meaning of concept through micro-analysis of the concept; the theory of information systems helped me to understand the ICT and its implications on society; the research methodology course helped me to find the suitable method, tools, and techniques for data collection and data analysis. Finalizing research methodology is an equally difficult part of the proposal crafting process. The philosophical understanding, such as paradigm, ontology and epistemology helped me to recognize the particular theory and methodology for the research topic. These philosophical, theoretical and methodological connections are important to define our work as a science.

Crafting a research proposal is a hermeneutic circle as Gadamer expressed,” The hermeneutic circle is an iterative process through which a new understanding of a whole reality is developed by means of exploring the detail of existence. Understanding is linguistically-mediated, through conversations with others in which reality is explored and an agreement is reached that represents a new understanding,” similarly, crafting requires to read in breadth and depth, to relate concepts with theories, philosophies and methodologies, to write and rewrite, to present, discuss, listen, and sometimes defend. Writing research proposal is not a mere process of copying and pasting ideas, but it’s a rigorous process of Structuration through learning and reflecting. The outcome (research proposal) of this intellectual labor pain will leads to rigorous and relevant empirical study vis-à-vis theory and practice.


  1. very well written and experienced, agree with you.i went through such process to write a research proposal but was failed to get the phd position relevant to this field. i was really stuck and it was painful for me.
    Best wishes!

  2. Writing a good research proposal and getting PhD position are two different but interrelated proceedings. For example, good research proposal may increase your chances of getting PhD position, whereas, poor research proposal will always be unsuccessful. I am posting some tips on finding ICT4D related PhD positions. Seems useful:

  3. Very wonderful and productive write up. Thank you Devinder bhai.

    Best Wishes
    Omar Faisal