Research Proposal Guidelines

Students who wish to apply for the MPhil and PhD programmes are required to submit a research proposal. Please follow the Communication Management Division guidelines provided below:






The title (or working title) should preferably not be more than 15 words.  It is possible, however, that the title can change or be adapted during the course of the study.  A title should include the following two aspects: What (exactly) will be researched, specifying the relevant concepts that will be investigated; and the context/domain.



The research proposal is the work plan, outline, statement of intent or draft plan describing what, why, how, where, and when the research will be done.  A well-planned and adequate research proposal is essentially a road map, showing where the journey begins; the destination to be reached; and the method of getting there.



The research proposal should comply with the following: It should be a well-structured, easy to read document containing only the relevant information for the proposed study.  Literature references that substantiate the rationale or need for the research should also be included. (See 4.3 Literature Review.)  The research proposal should follow a logical sequence indicating the process as to how the research problem/question will be addressed.




4.1Problem statement

The problem statement must be clear and the use of unnecessary idioms or clichés should be avoided.  The background to the problem (i.e. the problem or phenomenon in practice, that is the management problem); sub-problems (if any); the consequences thereof; the necessity to solve the problem or improve the status quo; how the study or research can contribute to solve the problem; and the contribution towards the expansion of scientific knowledge, are aspects that should be discussed in this section.


4.2Research questions, objectives and hypotheses

The purpose of the research must be stated clearly in the form of research questions, objectives and/or hypotheses, depending on the problem or phenomenon that is investigated.


4.3Literature review

The literature review forms an integral part of the draft / final research proposals as well as of your final research script.  The literature review examines, summarises and critically debates recent (and historically important) research studies and other information sources that are relevant to a proposed study.


A literature review should always address the following issues:

  • Conceptual and operational definitions of all the key concepts/constructs which are relevant to the proposed study.
  • A focussed summary of relevant previous research involving the concepts/constructs which are relevant to the proposed study.  Previous research may indicate:
  • Possible relationships between the chosen constructs (e.g. a correlation between communication satisfaction and job satisfaction)
  • Possible differences between groups on the chosen constructs (e.g. differences between males and females with regard to sensation seeking)
  • The context in which the constructs have previously been tested (e.g. among MBA students or in a specific industry)
  • The results of previous hypothesis tests involving the selected constructs/concepts
  • Possible untested hypotheses/propositions involving the constructs
  • Different approaches to the measurement of the constructs.
  • Many of the theoretical concepts/constructs in Communication Management are abstract, complex and multi-dimensional.  Think of concepts/constructs such as perceived value, perceived service quality, brand loyalty, brand image, perceived risk, variety seeking tendency, corporate reputation, corporate social responsibility, communication satisfaction, and two-way symmetric communication style.  To measure these concepts/constructs, one has to use reliable and valid measurement scales.  A literature review must always provide a summary of existing approaches to the measurement of the relevant concepts/constructs.  (Note that there may be different schools of thought when it comes to defining and measuring a specific concept/construct.  Your literature review should always summarise the points of view of different schools of thought where applicable.)
  • Finally, a literature review must provide sufficient theoretical support for the hypotheses to be tested or questions to be answered in a research project.


4.4Importance, value or benefits of the study

Describe explicit benefits that will accrue from your study.  The importance of “doing it now” should be emphasised.  Indicate the benefits, uses, and value of the research and its contribution to solve communication problems.  Also indicate how future research on the topic could benefit from this study.  This section should convince the reader that the study would contribute towards the scientific evolution of communication theory and its practical application.


4.5Research design

The research design describes what the researcher intends doing in technical terms.  The study may be viewed as exploratory or formal.  An exploratory study develops propositions, hypotheses or research questions; the goal of formal studies is to test the hypotheses or answer the research questions. 

The following descriptors are suggested:

  • Identify information types and sources (secondary and primary data).
  • Determine methods of accessing data (observational or communication mode study; qualitative or quantitative research, data collection methods, e.g. focus groups and in-depth interviews vs survey data collection methods).
  • Describe sample selection and size (probability vs non-probability sampling methods).
  • Indicate the method and time of data collection (done by researcher/trained interviewers; cross-sectional studies vs longitudinal studies). 
  • Give a brief description of the methods used in analysing data (Involves descriptive statistics, tabulation, cross-tabulation and statistical tests.  Were applicable, also refer to software that will be used to analyse the data.)



Include a time frame or schedule for the proposed study.


4.7List of sources

Supply a list of the sources used to compile the proposal.


4.8The length

The length of the research proposal should be about 15 – 20 typed pages.  The typeface should be Arial and the line spacing should be 1.5.







The following table can be used as a guideline for assessment of the Research Proposal:


1 = Poor               2 = Inadequate                 3 = Fair                  4 = Good              5 = Outstanding








1  Suitability of title






2  Significance of introduction






3  Problem statement, aim, objectives, research questions






4  Explanation of research design






5  Outline of final report (intended structure)






6  Scientific approach






7  Formulation and logic of reasoning






8  Technical aspects






9  Reference technique






10  Bibliography 







- Author

Copyright © University of Pretoria 2024. All rights reserved.

COVID-19 Corona Virus South African Resource Portal

To contact the University during the COVID-19 lockdown, please send an email to [email protected]

FAQ's Email Us Virtual Campus Share Cookie Preferences