How to Write Your Research Proposal: an example


The Research Area:

The research is located within the following Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) research areas:

  • Language and Learning
  • Inclusion and exclusion: equality and diversity in education

The research is also located within the following Council of Europe’s Community Policy areas:

  • Equality and social Cohesion
  • Intercultural Dialogues


The Research Title/Main Research Question

‘The practice of inclusion in cross-cultural contexts: exploring the experience of Bilingual Adult students in the UK’.

The research originates from my practice as a teacher and tutor of Bilingual Adult students in further education colleges in the UK. However in the recent past the major factors that have influenced and shaped my research thinking about the experiences of Bilingual Adult students have been derived, firstly, from a previous research involving the Accreditation of Bilingual Adult students within the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) Framework and, secondly, from my employment as an Assessor of vocational courses within the National Vocational Qualification Framework.

The above factors have raised three issues which have challenged the inclusive mission of the UK Government’s post-compulsory education policy on Lifelong Learning. The first challenge was the question: what, for Bilingual Adult students, was meant by inclusion in Lifelong Learning? Are the curricular programmes of inclusion important in the definition of the meanings of inclusion in Lifelong Learning? Who owns Lifelong Learning? Is learning necessarily good? The second challenge questioned the meanings of choice, quality and achievement within the context of the Government’s Lifelong Learning policy. The third challenge was the extent to which the human values envisaged within the National Vocational Qualification Framework have been made to include the cultural and linguistic mosaics of the UK.

Thus the research is structured as follows:

  • The research is an educational research within the post-compulsory subsystem of the national educational education system of the UK.
  • The research is a policy research within the post-compulsory education subsystem of the overall national education policy system of the UK.



There are many theoretical positions on the meanings and the policy and practice of inclusion. Among the theoretical positions the following broad positions have been foremost:

a)      The Neo – Marxist theory of ‘Reproduction’. According to Neo-Marxist theory inclusive policy is a covert attempt by the State to use education to ‘reproduce’ certain characteristics for the labour market. Some of the proponents of the reproductive thesis are Althusser (1971: 5 -6); Bowles (1971: 27 – 31) and the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) (1981: 51 – 54).

b)      The Humanist and equal opportunities theory. According to humanist and equality theory inclusion means the empowerment of marginalised groups through open access to education. The ultimate aim is to improve the social, cultural and economic mobility of these groups. Among the proponents of equal opportunities theory are Butler (1973: 3); O’Shea and Corrigan (1979: 229 – 235), Rex and Tomlinson (1979: 189), Benn and Chitty (1996: 359), Armstrong (1995: 136 – 138).

c)       The eugenic theory. According to the eugenic theory the meaning of inclusion is that certain races are less genetically endowed; are intellectually inferior and hence are only fit for inclusion in education which requires ‘simpler abilities of memory and association’. Eugenic theorists and critics of include Burt (1969: 17 – 20); Jensen (1969) cited in Tucker (1994: 198 and 204), Eysenck (1969: 34 – 38), Gould (1982: 452).

d)      The market mechanism theory. According to market mechanism theory the meaning of inclusion in post-compulsory education is part of national economic development and the supply and demand for skilled labour. Proponents of the skills and ‘education market’ theory include Cassels (1989) cited in Tuckett (1995: 51); Clark (1996: 59), and Jensen and Van der Veen (1992: 124), (Murray 1989: 38 – 53), (O’Dwyer 1994 cited in Edwards and Raggatt: 31 – 32).


I will critically examine and review these theoretical positions in chapter 2 of the thesis. But overall the theoretical positions as they stand have a common flaw because they invite us to accept an order of reality in which inclusion and the policy and practice of inclusion has one, and only one, meaning in the cross-cultural contexts which will be argued in detail in the thesis. The thesis will argue that the origins of the flaw are rooted on a tradition of educational policy analyses in which the State is assumed to occupy the centre of policy gravity, with commands, instructions and orders flowing from the top for obedience and compliance at the bottom. And it will be part of the arguments of the thesis that the traditional approach to the analysis of policy and practice is a surface analysis and that it merely categorise and classify policy and practice into ideological compartments.


The aims of the research

The aims of the research are as follows:

  • To explore inclusion in the cross-cultural contexts of post-compulsory education in order to provide a cultural basis for the definition and explanation of bilingual approaches to inclusion in post-compulsory education.
  • To evaluate and compare nomothetic and normative approaches to inclusion with open approaches in terms of the following:

i)                    The strengths and weaknesses of nomothetic and normative approaches and bilingual approaches to inclusion in post-compulsory education.

ii)                   The reconciliation of nomothetic and normative and individuated and culturally defined approaches to inclusion in post-compulsory education.

iii)                 To identify and reduce the barriers to access of Bilingual Adult Learners to the National Vocational Qualification Framework.

iv)                 The improvement of inclusive policy in post-compulsory education through the development of inclusive and diversified curricular programmes within the National Qualification framework.

  • To disseminate information on the extent to which post-compulsory education policy and practice facilitate or hinder the experience of learning of Bilingual Adult Learners.


The Research Questions

  • What assumptions, values, and awareness underpin the notions of inclusion in different cultural contexts?
  • What form or forms of inclusion do these assumptions, values and awareness indicate? That is to say, what does inclusion mean in different cultural contexts?
  • What factors are important in the explanations of the meanings ascribed to inclusion by Bilingual Adult Learners?
  • Do culturally determined explanations of the meanings of inclusion mirror or deviate from the nomothetic and normative approaches to inclusion? If so, in what ways do they mirror or deviate? What form or forms do the mirroring and deviation take? Why do they take those form or forms – and to what effects?
  • How might the nomothetic and normative approaches to inclusion be improved such that they are reconciled to culturally determined approaches?


The research will focus on the following population samples:

  • Full – and part – time Bilingual Adult students in further education colleges in the UK.
  • Lecturers, teachers and tutors of Bilingual Adult Students
  • Course Co-ordinators, Advisors and managers in further education colleges in the UK
  • Principals and Chief Executives of FE colleges in the UK.

The research design would be based on a series of case studies in which each of the above population samples would constitute a case.

Accordingly, the research and data collection would be triangulated as follows:

  • Ethnographic interviews – interviews would be used to generate qualitative data for categorisation and analyses.
  • Ethnographic analyses of policy documents – The research will use convergent and divergent approaches. Convergent and divergent are approaches to ethnographic analyses of the contents of policy documents. The approaches are reflexive ethnographic dialogues with the writers of the documents through their writings and through making the problems that they faced and the policy solutions they have formulated to the problems they faced as a result of the interactions between Global Environment and National Environment the subject of the dialogue.
  • Surveys – the surveys will use questionnaires to generate quantitative data. The following levels of measurements will be involved: nominal – and ratio – level.  And subsequent quantitative analyses will use measures of central tendencies. And because the research is planning to use co-variation to demonstrate causation a bivariate analysis will also be used.


The Rationale
Are there needs for the research?  The answer is yes. Firstly, the research is focused on equality, inclusion and hence access to National Vocational Qualification Framework. These issues have become increasingly important parts of the UK and EU policy educational and social policies since the 1990s. Accordingly the above issues should be a legitimate focus for a research which aims to explore and hence document the practice of inclusion from the experiences of Bilingual Adults. Secondly, the research is evaluative because one its principal objective is to reconcile legislative approaches to inclusion to individualised and culturally defined approaches to inclusion. In other words, the research wants to examine the extent to which legislation matches implementation and practice in the hope that modest improvements could be made to the policy and practice of inclusion in the UK.


Important notes

a) Keep the thesis simple. Write it for everyone. This means that you should try as much as possible to use  standard English, if you are writing in English. Avoid cliches and meaningless academic  jargon

b) Keep the literature review simple. This means that you should make your literature relevant and judicious. Do not  overload your thesis by using too many literature to make the point that could be made with fewer sources.

c) The bibliography below should do for a PhD thesis in the Research Area mentioned above. This is because they are wide ranging and that they cover policy, ideological and teaching and learning issues within the post-compulsory education system in the UK.



Althusser, L. (1971) Essays on Ideology: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, London, Verso

Armstrong, F. (1995) Language through the Curriculum: Equality of Access in Potts, P., Armstrong, F. and Masterton, M. (eds) Learning, Teaching and Managing in Schools, London, Open University in assoc. with Routledge

Benn, C. and Chitty, C. (1997) Thirty Years On: Is Comprehensive Education Alive and Well or Struggling to Survive? London, Penguin Books

Bowles, S. (1971) Unequal education and the reproduction of the social division of labour in Cosin, B. and Hales, M. (eds) Education, Policy and Society: Theoretical Perspectives, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul

Burt, C. (1969) The Mental Difference Between Children in Cox, C.B. and Dyson, A.E. (eds) Black Paper 2: The Crisis in Education, London, The Critical Quarterly Society: 17 – 20

Butler, R.A. (1973) The Politics of the 1944 Education Act in Fowler, G., Morris, V. and Ozga, J. (eds) Decision – making in British Education, London and Milton Keynes, Open University in assoc. with Heinemann

Cassels, J. (1989) Demographic change and the marketplace in Blandford, D. and Jameson, A. (eds) Building Partnerships in Education, Cambridge, CRAC

Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (1981) Unpopular Education: Schooling and Social Democracy in England since 1940, London, Hutchinson

Clarke, A. (1996) Competitiveness, technological innovation and the challenge to Europe in Raggatt, P., Edwards, R. and Small, N. (eds) The learning society: challenges and trends, London, Open University in assoc. with Routledge:

Eysenck, H.J. (1969) The Rise of the Mediocracy in Cox, C.B. and Dyson, A.E. (eds) Black Paper 2: The Crisis in Education, London, The Critical Quarterly Society: 34 – 38

Gould, S. J. (1982) A nation of morons in Cross, R. (ed) Key Studies in psychology, 4th Edition, London, Hodder and Stoughton.

Igbinomwanhia, J.O. (1998) The Experience of Learning, Milton Keynes: MA in Education Project: Open University

Igbino, J.O. (2009) Explorations of Lifelong Learning Ethics in 5th International Conference on Lifelong Learning at the Centre for Research in Lifelong Learning, University of Stirling 23rd – 26th June 2009, Stirling, Scotland

Igbino, J.O. (2012) The meanings of Inclusion in Cross-cultural Contexts: exploring the experiences of adult learners and teachers in two FE colleges in the London Area, Munich, GRIN Academic Publishers

Jansen, T. and Van der Veen, R. (1992) Adult education in the light of the risk society in Raggatt, P., Edwards, R. and Small, N. (eds) the learning society: challenges and trends, London, Open University in assoc. with Routledge

Jensen, A. R. (1969) How much can we boost IQ and Scholastic achievement? cited in Tucker, W.H. The science and Politics of Racial Research: 204, 222 – 223, University of Illinois Press

Murray, R. (1989) Fordism and Post-Fordism in Hall, S. and Jacque, M. (eds) New Times: The Changing Face of Politics in the 1990s, London, Lawrence and Wishart

O’Dwyer, T. (1994) The search for tomorrow’s jobs in Edwards, R. and Raggatt, P. (authors) E827 Course Guide, Adult Learners: Education and Training, Milton Keynes, Open University

O’Shea, J. and Corrigan, P. (1979) Surviving Adult Education, Adult Education 52 (4): 229 – 235

Rex, J. and Tomlinson, S. (1979) Colonial immigrants in a British City, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul

Tucker, W.H. (1994) The Science and Politics of Racial Research, Urbana, University of Illinois Press

Tuckett, A. (1996) Scrambled eggs: social policy and adult learning in Raggatt, P., Edwards, R. and Small, N. (eds) The learning society: challenges and trends, London, Open University in assoc. with Routledge

Unwin, L. (1996) Training Credits: the Pilot doomed to succeed in Ahier, J., Cosin, B. and Hale, M. (eds) Diversity and Change: Education, Policy and Change, London, Routledge in Association with the Open University.