Evidence that your project is worth supporting

The research questions/goals/hypotheses are clearly and precisely articulated

  • While these should flow out of a literature review, they should be stated separately or else it might not be clear exactly what it is you are trying to achieve. For examples, if goals/research questions are dotted throughout a literature review, and these keep changing in focus, the reader can start wondering exactly what it is you intend to do.
  • It is also important that your research questions/goals aren't too broad, vague or ambitious. Aim.gif
    • For those unaccustomed to doing research, many research topics seem incredibly narrow in their scope. However, with experience you will find that if research topics aren't narrow, there are such a bewildering number of variables to consider that making any kind of progress is impossible. For example, doing research into what makes for an effective student team for a group assignment might seem a reasonable goal, until you consider that factors like level of study (Masters students are very different from first-year undergraduates for example), field of study, nature of the assignment and so on are all likely to influence the results and that collecting and analysing data from groups at different levels in different fields of study working on different types of assignments would be overwhelming. Consequently, you might narrow your study to student teams working on second-year undergraduate engineering design projects for example.
    • Regarding being overly ambitious, finding a cure for breast cancer for example, while a laudable goal, is unlikely to be achieved by a single PhD student. But there are many steps to finding cures for cancer, so contributing to one of these would be worthwhile.

The rationale or motivation for doing the research is clearly explained and supported with evidence

  • This convinces the reader that you're doing something important/useful/interesting/worthwhile. (The reason why your project is worthwhile may not be obvious to others who do not work directly in the area).
  • This might be done by explaining the size and costs of the problem you are addressing, or outlining that it has negative affects for a significant number of people, or showing that your question has cultural significance, or demonstrating that it has disciplinary significance in terms of aiding progress in the field.

Convincing evidence that an original contribution to the research area will be made by the project

  • This is done by critically reviewing existing literature on the topic: What's been done already? What's known? What's uncertain? What needs improving or clarifying? The gaps or problems you identify provide a "niche" in which you can make an original contribution.

Evidence that you are worth supporting

Provision of a high quality literature review

  • This convinces the reader that you're "on top of the field", that you know what's going on, and (in part) that you are competent to pursue the stated goals.

Provision of well explained and well justified research methods

  • It's not just enough to simply describe your proposed methods, you also need to explain and justify them. Why choose this approach rather than that? How exactly will doing X help you to answer question Y? (AIBN's guidelines for students (PDF) explicitly mention a requirement for evidence of: "Excellent understanding of the fundamental issues and limitations of procedures and techniques used in the reviewed work."
  • Doing the above provides further evidence to the reader that you've given your research approach a lot of careful thought (there's a lot of ways that badly designed research can end up with worthless data) and so are probably competent to achieve the stated goals.

High quality writing

  • Provides evidence that you have, or are well on the way to developing, written communication skills of a publishable standard (doing great research isn't of much value if you can't explain it well enough to others to get it published).

Other information required

  • If your research will involve people or animals, then your confirmation document is expected to include the necessary ethical clearance.
  • A well thought out, explained, and justified timeline and budget. It is particularly important to justify the budget - since money is not unlimited, grant assessors want to be convinced that the most cost effective approach to achieving the desired goals is being taken.

Things specific to a confirmation document

  • For a confirmation document, it is also necessary to identify any skills you need to acquire to complete your research project and how you will go about acquiring those skills.
  • Since one of the expected outcomes of a research degree is a capacity to communicate your work effectively and in an appropriate way, your communication skills are also one of the things that will be assessed in your confirmation document and confirmation presentation.
  • If you have already started achieving results, your confirmation document will be part proposal (what you intend to do), and part progress report (what you have achieved/found so far).