A Framework of Rhetorical Moves Designed to Scaffold the Research Proposal Development Process

Colin D Reddy
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 18  •  2023  •  pp. 077-097

To provide a research proposal writing framework to help doctoral students argue and motivate their efforts at furthering the existing knowledge available to understand some phenomenon or theory.

I discuss how the cognitive process theory of writing and the science writing heuristic can lead to a set of rhetorical moves and question prompts that students can use to develop the content of their research proposals.

I searched the literature on research proposal writing and, more broadly, academic writing to locate teaching and learning concepts associated with my recent question prompt approach used to guide my doctoral students. I used search words such as “writing” and “question prompts.” My review led me to the cognitive process theory of writing and heuristic scaffolding. I searched further using keywords such as “rhetorical move” and “heuristic prompts.” I performed several iterations of literature searches and reviews.

Instead of guiding a linearly developed research proposal that begins with an Introduction and proceeds to a Literature Review and then a Research Design and Methods section, the framework reveals a research proposal’s underlying logical flow and content by describing five rhetorical moves: establishing a topic question from an interesting phenomenon, establishing research opportunities, selecting a research question, providing a tentative solution, and establishing a plan to investigate the solution. Thus, the framework contributes to scholarship about how educators can facilitate independent reflection and broader problem-solving at the doctoral research proposal development stage. Particularly for the social sciences, it reveals the promise of the cognitive process theory of writing, dual problem space model of reflection, and heuristic scaffolding as valuable theoretical perspectives for the supervision of the planning phase of doctoral research.

Teachers and advisors may use the framework’s rhetorical moves and question prompts as cognitive scaffolds to help students navigate an ill-structured problem typical of doctoral research projects in the social sciences. The question type of scaffolding gives the research student more responsibility; rather than the thesis supervisor or advisor articulating a model or nominating the technique, they require the student to self-regulate and develop it independently. This helps deal with the oft-experienced circumstance in which the supervisor does not have time to interact directly and regularly with the student.

research proposal, pedagogy, problem, heuristic, cognitive, writing, scaffolding, doctoral
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