1 | Hosseini, S A Hamed (2021 [ 2016]) Template for Writing your PhD Confirmation Document in Social Sciences,
Template for Writing your PhD Confirmation Document in Social
Approximate word length = 8000-10,000 words equivalent to 20-30 pages (1.5 spaced)?
Title Page (including your name, student number, Title of thesis,
Table of Contents
Abstract (350 words; it is sometimes helpful to start with the abstract as per the following model!)
“This project is an investigation of [something], in [somewhere] during [some time]. 30-50
The project focuses on/studies [the events, stories, places, people, materials/documents]. By
using [the approach and methods and/or and theoretical perspectives], the project aims to: [2-
5 clear aims]. 150-250 words
In doing so, this project addresses [limitations of past work] and offers [possibilities of this
project]. 30-60 words
The research will [produce “research outputs”. These outputs will build a unifying picture]
Your reflections on (1) your scholarly/educational/professional background concerning your
research topic; how would your research benefit from what skills/knowledge you had already
acquired, (2) your motivation for studying it and (3) your personal/ideological/political
positions that may affect your commitment to remain objective enough.
Please note, this is not part of the confirmation document and needs to be removed from the final
draft. However, it is highly recommended that you use this space to cast light on your relationship
with your project. This will help your supervisors to adjust their expectations of you and themselves
more realistically by recognizing the strengths that can be drawn on as well as the gaps in your
skills/knowledge that needs to be addressed perhaps through extra training opportunities.
For instance, if you have completed a degree in Sociology of Education but your topics requires the
employment of some considerable insights from Sociology of ethnic/cultural relations or Political
Sociology or Economics etc, then your supervisory panel can address the needs by reorganizing the
allocation of roles, recommending some auxiliary training courses and/or resources to consult,
1 © Initially developed by S A Hamed Hosseini, March 23, 2016 — 10.13140/RG.2.2.13662.23364/1
2 I am thankful to Professor Duncan McDuie-Ra for sharing this very useful formulation of a research project abstract/opening
2 | Hosseini, S A Hamed (2021 [ 2016]) Template for Writing your PhD Confirmation Document in Social Sciences,
and/or help you redefine your topic to maximise the use of your strengths and minimise the need for
The sooner the above matters are addressed between you and your early supervisors, the more
productive the supervision of your project will be.
Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations (if necessary)
Section 1 – Aims and Background (around 3-4 pages, 1.5 spaced)
• The social issue/problem and its importance (problematize your topic here): What is the social
problem you want to study, and why it is important to study the topic/problem; here you need to
clarify the issue and justify the topic as a social problem in its context, worthy of investigation
(problematization); briefly explain what makes your study unique compared to others; (of course
you later in this document expand on all of these); Some initial conceptual clarifications are needed
here. Describe the topic using the key concept(s); introduce the key concepts briefly but clearly for
a broader audience than the experts in your specific area of study. (Refer your readers to later
sections in this document where they can find more detailed and technical elaborations of the
• Aims (2-5 aims): What are the aims of your study (This study aims to explore, to examine, to
• Research Question(s) (at least one research question per aim): Translate the aims into your
major research questions (in the case of quantitative research, for instance, you need to have at least
one how question like how single parenthood is viewed by the public in …. and you need have at
least one why question like what sociological and/or social psychological factors determine the
public’s perception of single parenthood)
• Social Context: (You may have already mentioned something about the context when
problematizing the topic, but here you need to more closely) introduce the ‘social context’ in
which this study is going to happen. You do not need to describe the context in terms of every
detailed geographical or demographic or cultural feature. Present only those aspects of the context
that are relevant to the topic and help the readers understand the importance of studying the topic in
the context; avoid referring to theories in this stage, and avoid using generalized stereotypical
(orientalist) descriptions of the society. Refer to facts and figures about those aspects of the context
that are directly relevant to the topic and those aspects that are indirectly but significantly influential.
Section 2 – Critical Literature Review (around 8 pages, 1.5 spaced)
2.1. Critically review the most relevant studies of the exact same problem/issue in your given social context;
describe, evaluate and compare them in terms of five main components: their formulation of the problem,
3 | Hosseini, S A Hamed (2021 [ 2016]) Template for Writing your PhD Confirmation Document in Social Sciences,
their aims, their findings, their methods, and their theoretical perspectives; explain what are their strengths
and weaknesses and in what ways your research is different from them.
2.2. Critically review the most relevant and recent studies of the problem/issue in a broader context (only
the closest ones to your topic); describe, evaluate and compare them in terms of four main components:
their definitions of the topic, their methodology, their theoretical perspectives and findings; then explain
what are their strengths and weaknesses.
2.3. Gaps in the literature: What do you learn from the literature (to help us with our theory and method),
what are the gaps in the literature (especially in the given context); what aspects of the topic are
inadequately addressed and what questions are not answered sufficiently in the literature, and how is your
research going to fill the gap? What aspects of your project are innovative relative to the existing knowledge
Section 3- Theory and Method (about 5-8 pages, 1.5 spaced)
Conceptual Framework (can be developed or completed later after completing the next subsections):
Start with your definition of the key concepts used to describe the social issues under investigation. Make
references to the literature and clarify the similarities and differences between your conception of the topic
and the notions presented in the literature. Explain why your definition is more suitable. Social issues or
phenomena are normally multidimensional. Define the dimensions and justify their dimensionality.
Translate the theories already used in the literature (as reviewed in the previous section) into a more
integrated theoretical argument with the purpose of hypothetically argument (in the case of quantitative or
mixed-method research) or of providing logical backing for the exploration of the reality/topic (in the case
of qualitative research); if you cannot integrate these theories into one framework, then clarify which one(s)
you prefer to choose and why? Clarify if it is necessary to make any alterations to those theories. If there
are theories and notions not already presented in the literature, then you need to propose them here and
explain why and how you want to apply them. Here you can claim novelty about your project and mention
it in the first chapter of your thesis too. Some researchers may decide to examine the applicability of an
important theory and discuss the implications of their findings for reforming the theory.
Methodology: Outline your research approach, strategy, design, research tools, sampling, data collection
and analysis. Explain what evidence is going to be drawn on to support hypotheses or main arguments.
How would you access your research subjects/participants or materials/documents?
Discuss the limitations of your methodology and the barriers that you may face in the course of its
implementation. Justify your methodology (based on the nature of the topic, the in/adequacy of existing
4 | Hosseini, S A Hamed (2021 [ 2016]) Template for Writing your PhD Confirmation Document in Social Sciences,
information, theory, and background knowledge around the topic and the required time and resources).
Discuss the issues of Human Ethics that might be involved in your project.
Section 4- Research Design (about 3-5 pages)
This will be a summary of your research plan/proposal and includes the following sections:
2. Project description (350-word Abstract)
3. Aims (this study aims to explore … and examine ….)
4. Research question(s): (1) (2) ….
5. Chapter plan (list the chapters in your prospective thesis draft)
6. Timetable for completion of the project (after the confirmation approval); divided between years
and months (be realistic); include Human Ethics clearance process if required.
7. Fieldwork budget (Flights? Accommodation? Living expenses per diem, ground transport, and the
costs associated with the collection of data including translation, transcription, analyses, special
equipment and/or software, etc.)
8. Data collection schedule (how many interviews in how many days/weeks, focus group? Survey?
When and where?)
Bibliography (including all the resources you have used in this document and the ones that you may later
Appendices (if relevant)
1. Interview plan/questions (provisional)
2. Survey questionnaire (provisional)
3. Focus group discussion schedule (provisional)
4. Observation plan (provisional)
5. Documentary analyses (provisional)