Critical Friendship

The following is a dialogue between Laura McRae and Marianne Vander Dussen, both in their first year of the Master’s program. We decided to build our blog post to capture the conversational quality that has enabled us to act as critical friends and editing partners.

MVD: In my first term, I noticed that Laura was in all three of my classes, which I thought was a fun coincidence. Initially, her posts intimidated me; she always had her responses ready right at the beginning of the week, and reflected a high level of writing ability and critical thought. After a few weeks, the isolating effect of working alone in an online program was starting to take its toll on me, and I was desperate to connect with other students. I reached out to Laura to see if she would be interested in partnering with me on an assignment for our Research Methods class, and I’ve been working with her as my accountability partner and sounding board ever since. It was a little scary… I was afraid she’d say no!

LM: I was definitely thinking along the same lines as Marianne. Her posts were always exceptionally insightful and thought-provoking, and almost poetic in style. She is an excellent writer, which intimidated me at first! I was very happy when she reached out to me, as it gave me a chance to get to know her as a real person rather than to keep seeing her as another paragraph on my screen – a side effect of doing an online program that I am still not 100% comfortable with. Having Marianne to bounce ideas off of and to share learning experiences as well as frustrations with has definitely helped me feel more connected to my learning environment, and has helped me be accountable to more than just myself (which, personally, I need in order to remain on-task and on-time).

MVD: I agree. The accountability piece is huge. We worked together to set deadlines for each other for drafts and final pieces. Knowing that I had someone who I respected who was waiting to review my piece made me much more inspired to push through and get the work done. It meant that through my Fall and Winter terms, I was able to stay on top of my work and not allow it to pile up. It was also very helpful to have another set of eyes, in terms of catching APA errors, and noticing where there were gaps in the logic or in the supporting research. I would always look forward to her feedback, because I would much rather have a critical friend alert me to inconsistencies or areas of need than discover it after reading the grading professor’s comments!

LM: Agreed! Style was a big part of it too. Knowing Marianne would review my work without judgment made it much easier to ask about specific spots in assignments that I was having trouble with stylistically. I also enjoyed having an insider to work with – a new perspective on what our professors were after, if my work reflected the course expectations, and how she thought our professors would react to my work. Obviously we would never approach an assignment from the exact same perspective, so reading her assignments, and getting thorough feedback, helped me gain new perspectives, new ideas (which we sometimes shared) and a better understanding of course material. I wonder if we had ‘graded’ each other’s work (like we did in our Research Methods course) if we would have come out with more from the experience of working with a critical friend?

MVD: I wonder what that would look like… what we do with each other is so completely subjective. Although we both work within the context of the assignment structure whenever we’re swapping our work, our viewpoints are always tempered by the fact that it is completely and totally our own thoughts and opinions. I think that provides a layer of safety; when I’m giving my piece over to Laura, I’m not expecting her to take on any responsibility whatsoever for its academic success. Having another set of eyes is really just for my own improvement and betterment; she’ll ask questions, note areas where clarification is required. She’s incredibly thoughtful and thorough. But we’ve both released each other from any kind of responsibility about the paper’s grading once it’s been submitted. Our work is just that… our own, even though we’ve had the opportunity to share, tighten, and hone.

LM: I completely agree with this, but I also feel that Marianne’s comments and suggestions have always helped me to achieve better grades (even though I never held her accountable for my grades)! I also feel that having Marianne as a critical friend has helped me overcome a lot of my anxieties about taking Master’s level courses, specifically in relation to ‘impostor syndrome’. When I started my first semester, I felt overwhelmed and like I was not keeping up academically – when Marianne reached out to me as a critical peer, I gained confidence in my position in the program and insight into the mind of another new graduate student. I think the EGS blog offers a lot of the same social benefits of having a critical peer – in that it helps connect students to the program, but I would definitely suggest going a step further and finding a critical friend. I definitely would not have had as much success this year without Marianne’s insight and support!

MVD: As we move into the next stage of our Master’s work (we’re both pursuing the thesis route) it helps to know that we’ll both be there to empathize with each other’s struggles, and also be willing to unconditionally celebrate successes. The level of detachment that exists, since we haven’t ever met each other in person, serves us well on the more objective front whenever I want honest, clear feedback, but in many ways we’ve overcome those barriers of distance because we’re able to share our stories with each other without fear of judgment. Earlier this week, I was sharing some of the challenges I’ve come up against as a researcher; I’m nearly halfway through my data collection, and sometimes when I listen to the recordings of my research sessions, I get embarrassed or down on myself because I didn’t facilitate as well as I could have, or I allowed a conversation to drift on too long before redirecting it. Laura reminded me not to be too critical, and suggested envisioning myself as a third party listening to the research as opposed to being thrown off by my own voice. It was solid advice, and helped immensely. I think the secret to our success as critical partners is empathy. We’ve both independently selected almost identical courses (5 out of 6 were the same), we’re both choosing thesis, and we’re both pushing through our own respective life challenges. Her ability to manage her workload is an inspiration, and helps me break free from moments when I’d rather watch cat videos than do actual work.

LM: I couldn’t have summarized our partnership better! Marianne is lighting the way for me as she collects data and does field work, while I am still in the process of acquiring a thesis supervisor and team… Knowing she will be there for me as I begin to research and collect data is comforting – it will be a long process for both of us, and yes, cat videos are tempting, but we will keep our course!

MVD: Moving forward, I think anyone who needs ongoing support (and really, who doesn’t?) would benefit from finding a critical friend.

What we would personally look for is:

  • Someone who completes work at a pace that matches yours… were they the first to comment? The last? Find someone who has similar working speed to avoid frustration.
  • Someone whose writing style speaks to you and engages you.
  • Someone who is able to take a critical approach in discussion, while remaining tactful.
  • Someone whose interests parallel or complement your own – (i.e., literacy and FSL complement each other, or with a similar preference for methodology)
Avoid this problem...find someone in your area of interest!

Avoid this problem…find someone in your area of interest!

Evolution of the Thesis – Part 1

This post is written by Marianne Vander Dussen.

Further to the Demystifying the Thesis post, I wanted to share some of the things that I have learned over the course of the past six months that may help in your own considerations of whether or not to pursue the thesis. I will be providing more information for a part 2 follow up after my data collection has commenced.

This post is grounded in personal experience, and is not meant to be a universal how-to, but rather to provide a contextualized perspective with the goal of making the thesis option more accessible.

If you have any questions whatsoever about what the thesis route entails, beyond this post, please contact your faculty advisor, or Michelann Parr (Graduate Studies Chair) at

Thesis 2

I have always known that I would pursue the thesis route in the Master’s program; but initially, it was because I didn’t actually realize that other pathways even existed! Several of my friends already have Master’s degrees under their belts, and had discussed their thesis work at length, so I assumed that thesis research was a necessary component of acquiring the MEd degree. However, even after I learned that there were two other routes (Major Research Paper (MRP) and Research Project and Seminar (RPS)), I remained committed to the idea of pursuing a thesis.

This was mainly due to my positioning and my long-term career goals.

I am a full-time student living very close to the Nipissing campus, where I have ongoing access to both my supervisor and other professors with knowledge in my field. I acknowledge that this is a privilege that most students in Nip’s online program will not have, and while it has certainly smoothed the way for taking the necessary steps required for thesis, it is still definitely doable for distance learners.

In terms of my long-term career goals, I wanted an opportunity to develop as both an academic writer and researcher, which the thesis route facilitates. I am very interested in eventually pursuing a PhD, and many universities require a demonstration of research work prior to admission and making decisions about funding. Plus, I knew that the Master’s was the ideal place to try doing research for the first time to decide if I even enjoyed it…if I couldn’t do a Master’s level thesis, would I even be up for doing a full dissertation?

If you ever intend on working as a faculty member at a university, ongoing research and contributions to the academic community are mandatory, and the earlier you develop your research skill-set, the better. I’ve had conversations with several people (who are outside of the university) who were under the false impression that once you scoop up a PhD, your research work is over, and then you can get yourself comfortably situated in a postsecondary institution, delivering lectures to the admiring hordes while resting upon your laurels. Nope, although that sounds lovely. If anything, the research gets more complex and longitudinal, so the Master’s is the perfect arena to experiment and get a little messy.

That being said, there are many who equate research with number crunching and staring at graphs, which is a method, but not the only method. I’ve just received ethical clearance on my research project, in which I have chosen narrative inquiry and participatory action research as my methodology, and it’s purely qualitative. This essentially means that I’ll be working directly with my participants as we create, explore, and converse. There may be some interviews as we progress, but they are guiding the work, and it will be an organic process. The methodology matches my experience and passion; I love storytelling, and so I get to use it as the tool through which I collect and disseminate my data. Qualitative is a recognized, valid, and respected approach to research, and it’s entirely possible to do a thesis through interviews, observations, and stories (so long as you’re able to provide a theoretical framework to support!).


The ethics process itself was a little daunting, and it took me approximately one month to get the form to the point where my supervisor and I felt comfortable submitting. If you’re thinking about doing a thesis, I’d go to the website and print off the form, just to keep a copy by your desk. You never know, as you’re working through your courses, you could jot down an idea or two in the appropriate boxes, making it easier for when you need to go through and fill it out.

After I submitted to ethics, I received recommended revisions by email approximately one month later. It is unheard of that someone makes it through ethics on the first round, so do not have any expectations about being able to immediately start your research. Allow yourself a buffer zone. It took about a week or two to make the recommended changes (mostly because I just needed to take a few hours, sit down and focus on it), and I resubmitted. I received conditional ethical clearance one week later, pending the school board’s approval, which has its own separate procedure for approving researchers. You may wish to investigate this prior to applying to the Research Ethics Board, as you may be able to kill two birds with one stone in your applications.

Forming the backbone of your ethics application will be your research proposal. In all likelihood, you have one from your mandatory Research Methods course. For the purposes of submitting to your supervisor, second reader, and the Chair for approval, this will likely need to be fleshed out in order to meet with their expectations.

Whoa, wait, what? Second reader? Chair?

When you write your research proposal, you will require both a supervisor and a second reader. Usually, the second reader is another professor with experience in the field you will be researching in, allowing them to provide you with additional references, suggestions, and ideas that will be applicable to your work. Your supervisor or faculty advisor may have suggestions for who to approach to be your second reader.

Once both your supervisor and your second reader have approved your research proposal, it goes to the Chair (or to the Dean if the Chair is your supervisor). He/she will offer suggestions, revisions, questions, etc. Once you have passed through this process, you will be able to register for the thesis course, and you’re off to the races!

The process can be incredibly stressful, and sometimes seems about as clear as Mississippi mud water. I’ve done my fair share of fretting, worrying, and complaining. When I think about entering into the school in less than a month to meet and work with my participants, I feel like I am entering into the proverbial lion’s den, and I’m terrified. But I also have enough trust in myself to know that I will be fine, and that the path I’m walking is well-tread. Because I am passionate about the nature of my project, I’m allowing myself to be nudged along by the belief that it will all be for something.

While doing a thesis may not be for everyone, and that’s perfectly fine, it’s definitely the right decision for me. Don’t be discouraged by the idea of a defence, or feel dissuaded from investigating thesis options because you’re doing distance learning. Now that I’m past the first set of gates, I can see in retrospect that it was a series of small steps, as opposed to the gargantuan goliath-beast that I had initially conceptualized. Contact your school/school board (if you will be working in a school). Prepare your research proposal. Fill out and submit your ethics forms. Revise everything based on feedback. Resubmit. Receive approval (hopefully). If not, revise again, and that’s okay. You’ll be there before you know it.

For the MEd thesis handbook, including a step-by-step breakdown of the thesis process from start to finish, please visit here


The Dreaded Research Question: What to Do if You Don’t Know What to Do

This week’s blog post is written by Amanda Carvalho, who is currently working towards her PhD. We’d like to thank Amanda for being able to so neatly unpack a fear that so many grad students share at both the Master’s and Doctoral levels.  

Oscar Wilde

Allow me to begin with a story. This past July, I attended my first on-site summer residency for Nipissing’s PhD program in educational sustainability. In the thirty minutes before my first class, I sat outside in the parking lot reading and rereading the program of study I wrote for my admissions application, almost certain that I would be asked to share my research topic. I walked into class and sure enough, within twenty minutes I was staring at a handout that asked me to chart my interests and methodological intentions. When we were asked to turn those charts into research questions and to write them on large chart paper in permanent marker, I felt more worried about the style of my question than I did about my topic. After all, I had already applied to the school to study one topic; surely I could not change it now. When we were finished, our questions were taped to the wall of our classroom.

You might be wondering why I am sharing a story that makes it seem like I knew my research topic from the first week of my program. Well, I’m sharing it because after being invited daily to stare at our research questions, an interesting thing started to happen. By the second week of our course, our neatly written questions, that only a week before stood as signs of our commitment, started to feature scribbles in other coloured markers. Words were substituted, omitted, added, and in some cases, even the content was slightly altered. By the third week, most of us had either slightly revised or completely changed our questions. A few of us even changed topics drastically. When we reached out to our professors and other PhD students, I was surprised to hear that almost all had gone through a similar process, and, more importantly, felt positive about the outcome. They made me realize that changing your interests, whether slightly or drastically, is to be expected in the face of being exposed to so many new ideas and approaches. After all, course work is a mandatory part of a graduate degree for a reason.

So, for those of who a) do not have a topic yet; b) are thinking about changing your research focus or topic; or c), have completely changed your research focus or topic, you are right where many other graduate students are or have been, and likely your professors would say, “You are right where you should be.” I am certainly no expert on this topic, but I wanted to share what worked for me.

  1. Continue to explore new topics and approaches through your course work. 

For me, being uncertain of what I wanted to research was a blessing in disguise; it allowed me to keep an open mind during my course work. I am currently set on conducting critical narrative research, a methodological approach I did not even know existed before I began my program.

  1. Dig deeper when something interests you.

For a course presentation, I was assigned the introductory chapter to a collection of essays edited by the authors of a work called Women’s Ways of Knowing (1986). Their research intrigued me, so I decided to read their original work. I can say without embellishment that reading that book changed my path forever. It not only helped me to understand my true passion for the field of education, but it showed me a way of conducting research that I did not know was possible.

  1. Don’t be afraid to talk through your research plans (and doubts) with your colleagues.

I would stake money on the fact that most graduate students know what it feels like to feel unsure about their research plans. I can’t imagine a more sympathetic audience than that. You may not be in a physical classroom with your peers, but you can always use the course discussion forums to strike up conversations that allow you to explore your interests. Even if your interests don’t necessarily seem related to the content, challenge yourself to make connections and see where the conversation takes you.

  1. Practice writing (and rewriting) a research question for each topic that interests you.

There’s nothing like seeing your question (and topic) staring at you every day to make you really consider whether or not you want to follow through with studying it. But, how do you get to a research question in the first place? The best advice I got was to choose three or four words that represent topics or phenomena that really interest you. Write them down in separate bubbles and start to look for the connections. How do the topics intersect? How are they different? What do you want to know about these topics? For example, my three words to start off with were a) vocational education; b) student experiences; and c) online education. As I learned more and continued to look for connections and differences, it became clear to me that online education was the piece that just wasn’t fitting. I took it off my list and through more reading and course work was able to add something that made the other two fit together in a way that made more sense to me.

  1. Finally, remember that there is a difference between getting sick of your topic and not feeling passionate about it. You’ll hear often, “You’d better love your question as you’re going to spend a long time with it.” Believe it and choose accordingly! 

Though rewarding, research (and preparing for research) is not easy. It involves more work than at times feels healthy, and there is nothing like being knee-deep into books and articles on your topic to make you second guess your choice. Just remember to really reflect (or talk through) whether you are feeling a bit saturated with your topic or if you are not interested in it at all. There is a difference.

Realistically, there comes a time when we have to commit to a topic. That time will be different for everybody, depending on whether you have a set deadline for submitting a proposal, or for finishing your degree. Until that time, however, enjoy the process and remember that you are not alone. What happens to us during the time between applying for our programs and submitting research proposals is significant and worthwhile. I say celebrate the transitions and the expanded viewpoints gained along the way.

Rainer Maria

Demystifying the Thesis

So you’re interested in a thesis! Perhaps you see yourself pursuing a PhD down the road, or a specific area of education speaks so loudly to you that you feel intrinsically nudged towards investigating and developing it. Something I have learned as I have been preparing to begin work on my thesis is that you must be passionate about it; you are going to spend countless hours reading articles, sorting ideas, writing proposals, and performing research, and the only thing (aside from caffeine) that will keep you going is your inner passion and motivation. Make no mistake, the thesis route is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re up for the challenge, it can also be immensely rewarding, both personally and professionally.

Note: if you are considering PhD down the road, it is strongly advised that you consider taking the thesis or MRP route. Many PhD programs will not accept students who have chosen the Research Project and Seminar route, as it does not demonstrate the skillset required at the PhD level. Alternatively, they may ask you to submit a Qualifying Research Paper in order to demonstrate the skillset.

Setting out from the Shire

My journey towards a thesis began before I even began my courses. Knowing that I was interested in pursuing graduate work, I began researching topics of interest nearly a year before beginning the MEd. Initially, I thought I was going to be investigating students who are gifted, and I read through several prominent books to get a snapshot of the current educational landscape. However, as I soon learned, there is a certain organic quality to research, and nothing was really speaking to me in that field. Shortly afterwards, I read a particular article linking gifted students to another field, and I happily switched tracks.

I met with my supervisor in April 2014, and was given several articles and books to read to help prepare myself over the summer. Having done this, I strongly recommend early research for anyone considering thesis. Some great books to start with are listed below. Touch base with your faculty advisor ASAP, and begin reading about your chosen area of interest. The sooner you begin reading and internalizing the theories and methods that will inform your research efforts, the better. I have had experiences while preparing for ethics where I’ve said, “Wait a minute, I just need to find that article I read back in May about such and such, and it’ll all get neatly tied together!” There is so much theoretical history to any given topic, and the depth of your knowledge will shine through in your writing.


Michelann recommends familiarizing yourself with a few websites and texts that will help you make the ultimate decision of whether to write or not write a Thesis or MRP:


**Kamler, B., & Thomson, P. (2014). Helping doctoral students write: Pedagogies for supervision. New York, NY: Routledge.

Murray, R. (2011). How to write a thesis (3rd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Open University Press.

Oliver, P. (2014). Writing your thesis (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

**Roberts, C. M. (2010). The dissertation journey: A practical and comprehensive guide to planning, writing, and defending your dissertation research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin: A SAGE Company.

And once you’ve made the decisions, check out these websites (in addition to our great blog!) for support:

American Pyschological Assocation gradPSYCH: A digital magazine aimed at graduate students.  Available at:

GradHacker: A collaborative blog and ‘bootcamp’ program that spans universities and programs.  Available at:

Dymystifying Dissertation (Inside Higher Education): A series of articles designed to move you from the initial stages of brainstorming to putting the final touches on your dissertation.

Available at

The Thesis Whisperer: A blog newspaper dedicated to the topic of doing a thesis edited by Dr. I. Mewburn, Director of research training at the Australian National University. Available at

Don’t forget to come up with an organization system for your readings so you can quickly access them later. I have them saved in my computer both under specific file folders and also in Mendeley. Mendeley is a great citation tool and organizer for your references, and is available for free as a desktop and mobile app.

Encounters with Ethics

Don’t let the ethics form fool you … it may look like a simple check-box system with a few paragraphs for writing, but it is a very rigorous process. It took me about a month to put together my ethics proposal, and that was with the literature review and research proposal for my methods class already complete.

Once you submit, you have to wait 6-8 weeks for it to be returned with revisions…if you make those revisions within 24-48 hours, you’ll likely make the next deadline for submission. Even experienced, tenured professors have to go through several rounds of revisions, so anticipate waiting several months before you are able to proceed with your research.

If you are performing research within a board of education, make sure that you have the go-ahead before entering ethics, and take a look at some of the board-specific forms you are to sign.Thesis2Financial Considerations

Woo hoo, thesis work! That means I don’t have to buy books for courses!

Hang on there, sparky. Now that you’ve budgeted several months worth of time for the ethics process, have you budgeted your resources for once you hit the pavement and start your data collection?

Unless you have a grant, or are working with an organization providing funding (which would need to be disclosed for ethics), you will be paying for your thesis out of your own pocket.

In my case, the board where I reside is not currently accepting new research, they’re already saturated with researchers and they can’t allow any more projects. So I had to look elsewhere, and the school in which I will eventually be working in is approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes away. Not only do I have to consider how this will impact the frequency of my data collection, I also have to consider vehicle rental costs (as I don’t currently own a vehicle). It’s a balancing act … too few times at the school could mean I don’t get enough information, but going down too frequently would drain both my energy and my finances. This is where my passion comes in; ultimately, I think the work that will arise out of this project is worth the cost of my time and money, so I see it as an investment as opposed to simply expenditure.

Waiting in Limbo

Now that my ethics proposal is submitted, all I can do at this point is fine tune my research procedures, continue to read up on my topic, and savour the excitement of starting new courses in the winter term. It’s also the perfect time to practise something that grad students are particularly poor at: self care. Although I still have some research commitments, this month I’ll be able to relax, get caught up on sleep, exercise, and hopefully try to start putting a health routine together (just in time for ethics to come through and completely derail it). For me, balance doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m providing ongoing self-care when I get super busy, but it does mean that I allow myself the luxury of a few days entirely to myself as a reward for when I finish.

On that note…

This blog will be taking a Holiday Hiatus. Have a beautiful, merry, and light-filled holiday season with your nearest and dearest, and we’ll see you again in January!


Written by Marianne Vander Dussen, verified by Michelann Parr.

Calling All Presenters – The Conference Proposal

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 10.25.33 AM

Over the past year, I have had multiple conversations with my daughter, a PhD student in the Neuroscience Department at Queen’s. Each conversation seemed to be on the tail end of a conference presentation (and she’s done many!). She would begin with, “I’m tired. I’m jetlagged. I’m not getting any research done. I’m never going to finish. There is another proposal due next week. Wait, let me get a glass of red wine.”

Re-energized, she would recount her conference experiences. She would tell me about prominent researchers in her field who had attended her presentation, the same ones who have now invited her as collaborator at their host institutions, the great questions asked, and the insights gained.

Our conversation inevitably turned to the need for us, as researchers (emergent and established), to understand that conference participation is a critical component of the research process. Presenting reduces the isolation that we often feel as researchers and offers opportunities to defend our research and build our research identities. Even more importantly, discussion and questions (formal and informal) force us to widen our lenses as we consider perspectives beyond our own.

Getting there, and being comfortable presenting takes time; importantly, it requires that we have fully considered our options, understand the proposal components, and the dos and don’ts of writing a great proposal.


Have I fully considered my options? 

Typical conferences offer you multiple ways of presenting your research; you can choose what fits your style based on both your comfort level and the topic you are presenting.

Multiple single-paper sessions are often grouped together by conference organizers. Three to five papers on similar themes/topics are presented followed by audience participation or a question and answer session. A moderator is often assigned for timing purposes and to facilitate. A powerpoint or keynote often serves as cue cards for the presenters. You’ll often be asked to bring your presentation on a USB key.

Symposium or panel sessions allow of in-depth examination of a topic or theme. These are often organized by multiple presenters and suggest their own moderator who will facilitate audience participation. For example, as graduate students you could each bring together your views on isolation as graduate students – some onsite, some online, some in Canada, some overseas. Although you are bound by your graduate student experience, each of you has a different piece of the puzzle.

Workshop sessions often engage the audience in a hands-on experience to deepen their understanding of a particular topic or approach.

Small round table sessions allow presenters to informally discuss their papers with a small group of audience participants interested in that particular topic.  There are often multiple tables set up in an area with a timed rotation allowing participants to move from one to the next, allowing presenters to discuss their papers on multiple occasions.

Poster sessions allow informal discussion featuring the use of a poster or multimedia materials. Participants wander through the poster hall, stop at posters that interest them, and ask questions individually. If you are interested in this type of session, check out the YouTube how-tos. Also, know that you can have your poster printed out (facilitated by Powerpoint or Keynote) at the print centre here the university.


Do I understand the proposal components?

What we need to know about the proposal often lies in the call for proposals. Print it out, highlight it, look at the mandatory components, and adhere to them. Proposals that don’t meet the minimum requirements (or those that exceed the word limit) are often those that are rejected right off the bat. If you are unsure of how to construct a proposal or what it looks like in its final form, ask a faculty member to share a successful proposal or two.

The Title. Make sure that your title fits the word limit and summarizes effectively what you intend to present. Although we like catchy, gimmicky titles, they often detract from the content of the proposal. Find a healthy balance and try to write a title that hooks the audience’s attention.

The Abstract. A formulaic approach does not work well for most of us – it’s hard to fit the square peg of our research into the round hole of a template. Pay attention to the word limits – they can be as few as 75 and yet at other times, they are the crux of the proposal. Essentially, your abstract is a summary of your presentation. Begin with a description of your problem/issue/question and why it is important. Introduce the context of your study including participants. Briefly describe your project including methods, strategies, and techniques used.  Provide an overview of your results and lessons learned. Conclude with a statement of significance or implications for your research. Remember: Ultimately, it is your abstract that will attract your audience.

abstract madlibs

The Body of the Proposal. The proposal will typically include headings such as:

  • Objectives/Outcomes – What will the audience know by the end of the session? What are your goals for the session?
  • Purpose/Research Questions – What were the purposes of, or research questions, that drove the research? Setting this out at the beginning of the proposal allows the reader to gain an understanding of what you hope to do.
  • Perspectives/Theoretical Framework/Brief Literature Review – What peer-reviewed research have your reviewed that is informing your presentation and ultimately your project? Make sure to cite salient references in your field, and lead you reader to a gap that you have identified – typically the theme of your session.
  • Methods – What research methods, procedures, or techniques did you use in the completion of this study?
  • Data sources – Where and how did you collect data?
  • Results/Conclusions/Interpretations – What can you offer? If it is preliminary data, then say so and that you anticipate offering a more detailed explanation at the conference.
  • Significance of the Study/Implications – Why is this research important? What does it bring to the field? What will it offer over the short-term and long-term? What are the potential benefits to society or the educational community?


How do I write a great proposal?


  • Read through abstracts of years gone by. Familiarize yourself with tone, writing style, language use, themes, topics, etc.
  • Find a critical friend to review for you. This will ensure that you have been clear and explicit in the description of your ideas.
  • Avoid overly critical views and/or unsubstantiated claims. Be honest and be clear, but be humble.
  • Make every word count. Reviewers appreciate someone who is clear, concise, gets to the point, and does not use excessive jargon.
  • Be explicit and specific about your topic and the question/issue/topic you intend to explore.
  • Use the template, if one is provided. If one is not provided, then follow closely the headings given.
  • Use APA formatting (typically in education), even if it not called for.
  • Ensure that your conventions are near perfect – this includes spelling, grammar, punctuation. etc.
  • If in doubt, reference. Include ‘classic’ and ‘cutting edge’ references – attend to the limit you are given (often a single page at the end of the proposal).

Do not…

  • Go over your word limit or page limit. If it says double-space with 1″ margins, follow it!
  • Have a vague title or a title that does not reflect the content of the proposal.
  • Have an unbelievable premise or present unsubstantiated views.
  • Present an abstract without adequate description.
  • Attempt to do too much in the short time period you are allotted.

academia (high res)

Additional Resources

Thanks to today’s blogger and facilitator of the discussion:

Michelann Parr

October 31, 2014