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1. What is a research plan/proposal?

The research plan is the most important component of the doctoral student application process in the IMPDET-LE doctoral programme. The main purposes of the research plan are:

  1. the primary way to assess the applicant
  2. the basis for judging the value and viability of the proposed research, and the candidate's ability to carry out the research work
  3. a way to receive feedback from the supervisors and peers
  4. forces the candidate to carefully think through the research project
  5. guide the implementation of the research project

2. Developing the research plan

Writing of the research plan is a process of building an argument that supports the research work, and the applicant candidate needs to demonstrate the competence for completing the proposed research work. The proposal needs to be both internally and logically consistent.  The general steps in developing a proposal in the IMPDET-LE programme:

  1. select a research area related to research interests of the IMPDET-LE
  2. examine a set of topics within the selected area together with the supervisor candidate
  3. develop research questions (2-3 main research questions supported by 1-2 sub-questions) that are bot general and specific to the topic
  4. determine the actions required to answer each of the research questions
  5. plan the research design, methods and data collection procedure required to complete the actions

An important aspect of a research proposal is that it needs to be well focused. Tedre (2013) give six "W" questions to narrow the research focus:

  • What: What is the theme of your study?
  • Where. Where do you want to study it?
  • When: When does your study start and finish?
  • Who: Who are your informants, participants or stakeholders?
  • Why: Why or for which purpose is technology used?
  • hoW: How/which technology will be sued?

The following are characteristics of a good research plan

  1. Easy to read, self-contained
  2. Simple structure
  3. Well motivated, relevant, with an original perspective
  4. Based on earlier results, leading to novel findings
  5. Realistic in regards to time and resources
  6. Appropriate methods are used to get an answer to meaningful research questions

3. Example of a research plan structure

A template for the research plan can be found at:


4. Advises

Please take into account the following aspects:

  1. the research problem might change during the doctoral studies; the research proposal or plan must be updated accordingly
  2. the sub-questions should produce an answer to the main research questions (based on the  answer to the sub-questions conclude the answer to the main question)
  3. the answers to research questions should contribute to the existing knowledge base

Reflective questions for refining the proposal

  • What is the work all about? => clear and well-aligned problem statement, goal setting, expected outcomes.
  • What makes the work relevant, exciting, beneficial or novel? => look at your work from outsider's perspective. Why would potential funder fund your project?
  • So what? => how is the work interrelated to scientific, societal or other contexts? What is the practical or real-life contribution of the research?
  • To whom are you writing? => language: style, flow, terms, (visual) effects

5. Frequently given comments by supervisors

Here you can find a list of frequently given comments by IMPDET-LE supervisors to the IMPDET-LE candidates:

  • Introduction: The introduction section should define all the technical terms used in the title. The motivation behind the study should be introduced in the introduction, while the significance of the study should be discussed in the end. The introduction needs to spark the interest of the reader to the topic of the study, establish the problem that leads to the study, place the study within the larger context of the research literature, and communicate the contribution of the work to the wider audience.
  • Literature: You need to think what you ask from the literature, and organize the literature section accordingly. The section should also identify the most authoritative and significant (e.g., measured by citations) publications and their authors, the champions, in the area.
  • Design or constructive contribution of the research work: Consider designing new approaches, methods or application in your research. Think how you can design something novel as part of your research work
  • Problem statement, objectives of the study and research question: Differentiate clearly between general problem statement from the (overall) purpose of the study, stated as objectives and research questions. A research problem is problem or issue that leads to the need for the study, while research objectives and questions concretise how the study will contribute towards solving the research problem.
  • Research design section: The section where you describe the research settings and steps of conducting the study: 1. Description of the context, 2. Steps to solve each of the research questions, including number of expected participants, methods of data collection and analysis. It is also important to include the tentative plan for papers related to the PhD research work.


Creswell, J.W. (2009). Research design - Qualitative, Quantiative and Mixed Approaches (3rd. Ed.). Sage Publications, Inc.

McLaughlin, C. (2006) Producing a research proposal. Seminar presentation at the IMPDET Summer School. Mekrijärvi, Finland, June 2006.

Tedre, M. (2013) Methodology education in computing: Towards a congruent design approach. Proceedings of ACM Computer Science Education (SIGCSE) 2013 Conference, March 6-9, 2013, Denver, Colorado, USA: pp.159-164.

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