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Successful thesis proposals in architecture and urban planning

Successful thesis proposals in architecture and urban planning Purpose – The purpose of this research is to improve the understanding of what constitutes a successful thesis proposal (TP) and as such enhance the quality of the TP writing in architecture, planning and related disciplines. Design/methodology/approach – Based on extended personal experience and a review of relevant literature, the authors proposed a conception of a successful TP comprising 13 standard components. The conception provides specific definition/s, attributes and success rules for each component. The conception was applied for 15 years on several batches of Saudi graduate students. The implications of the conception were assessed by a students’ opinion survey. An expert inquiry of experienced academics from architectural schools in nine countries was applied to validate and improve the conception. Findings – Assessment of the proposed conception demonstrated several positive implications on students’ knowledge, performance and outputs which illustrates its applicability in real life. Experts’ validation of the conception and constructive remarks have enabled further improvements on the definitions, attributes and success rules of the TP components. Research limitations/implications – The proposed TP conception with its 13 components is limited to standard problem-solving research and will differ in the case of other types such as hypothesis-based research. Practical implications – The proposed conception is a useful directive and evaluative tool for writing and assessing thesis proposals for graduate students, academic advisors and examiners. Social implications – The research contributes to improving the quality of thesis production process among the academic community in the built environment fields. Originality/value – The paper is meant to alleviate the confusion and hardship caused by the absence of a consensus on what constitutes a successful TP in the fields of architecture, urban planning and related disciplines. Keywords Urban planning, Architecture, Built environment, Postgraduate research, Writing successful thesis proposals Paper type Research paper 1. Introduction After the postgraduate student completes her/his coursework in a master programme or passes the comprehensive exam and becomes a doctoral candidate in a doctoral programme, © Mahmoud Abdellatif and Reham Abdellatif. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/legalcode. Archnet-IJAR: International Journal of Architectural Research The authors acknowledge the sincere assistance provided by the team of experts from several Architectural Schools worldwide to verify and improve the TP Conception. Appreciation is also pp. 503-524 Emerald Publishing Limited extended to the post graduate students of the College of Architecture and Planning, IAU, who have 2631-6862 positively responded to the students’ opinion survey. DOI 10.1108/ARCH-12-2019-0281 s/he is allowed to submit a “Thesis Proposal” (TP) to her/his department whose main concern ARCH is to assess whether the topic is suitable for a graduate study and for the time and resources 14,3 available (Afful, 2008; Kivunja, 2016; Reddy, 2019). The department then sends the submitted TP to higher bodies for official approval. Once approved, the TP becomes a legal binding or “a formal contract” (Walliman, 2017)and “a statement of intent” (Hofstee, 2006) between the researcher and the university. If the student adheres to all prescribed TP requirements within the specified time, s/he will be awarded the degree (Leo, 2019). Guided by his/her academic advisor, the student prepares the TP within which the researcher explains the research problem, questions, aim and objectives, scope, and methodologies to describe, analyse and synthesize the research problem and develop solutions for it (Paltridge and Starfield, 2007). In addition, the proposal includes a brief about research significance and expected contributions; a preliminary review of literature; thesis structure and approximate completion timeline; and a list of relevant references (Kivunja, 2016; Thomas, 2016; Kornuta and Germaine, 2019). 1.1 Statement of the problem and research aim After decades of writing, supervising and refereeing master and doctoral theses in the fields of Architecture and Urban Planning, the authors noticed that TP’s differ in format and content from a school to another. This may be considered a healthy matter because it gives room for flexibility that absorbs the variety of research problems and techniques. Yet, the absence of a consensus on what constitutes a successful TP could cause confusion and hardship to both students and advisors (Kamler and Thomson, 2008; Abdulai and Owusu- Ansah, 2014). The review of literature indicates that TP writing has been tackled in depth in many fields (see for instance Gonzalez, 2007; Balakumar et al., 2013; Eco, 2015; Kivunja, 2016; Glatthorn and Randy, 2018; Kornuta and Germaine, 2019). Apart from thesis proposal instruction and guideline manuals posted on universities’ websites, the authors believe that there is a lack of in-depth research on the issue of producing successful thesis proposals in the fields of Architecture and Planning. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to improve the understanding of what constitutes a successful thesis proposal and as such enhance the quality of the TP writing in architecture and planning and related disciplines. To achieve such an aim, the paper has the following procedural objectives: (1) To propose a successful TP conception which determines the standard components of TP and sets specific definitions, attributes and rules of success for each component. (2) To apply the proposed conception on several batches of graduate students, then assess its impact on students’ performance and output along the years of application. (3) To validate the proposed conception by getting the insights of experienced academics from architecture and planning schools worldwide, and as such, improve and finalize the conception. 1.2 Research methodology Figure 1 summarizes the process pursued to develop the “Successful TP Conception”. From 2000 to 2005, the conception was proposed and included in an unpublished textbook (Abdellatif and Abdellatif, 2005). From 2005 to 2020, the conception has been applied on several batches of graduate students in the College of Architecture and Planning, Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University (IAU), Dammam, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). In February 2020, the impacts of the conception on students’ performances and outputs were Successful thesis proposals in architecture Figure 1. The stages of developing the successful thesis proposal conception assessed by students’ survey. From November 2019 through March 2020, the conception was validated by an experts’ inquiry of worldwide academics; then it was improved and finalized. (1) To propose the Successful TP Conception, the authors relied on two sources: knowledge extracted from their extended experience and a review of relevant studies and instruction manuals and guidelines for preparing TP in several worldwide universities. The Conception has been applied on several batches of master and doctoral students from IAU, KSA for almost 15 years between 2005 and 2020 during their enrolment in three courses in the College of Architecture and Planning, IAU, KSA. These courses are “ARPL 603 Research Methods” and “BISC 600 Research Methods” for the master’slevel and “URPL 803 Seminar (3): Doctoral Research Methods” for the doctoral level. (2) To assess the implications of the Successful TP Conception on students’ performance and outputs, the authors designed an online questionnaire (Students_Survey, 2020)and distributed it to a sample of 60 graduate students who studied and applied the conception: From a total of 60 students, 39 students (65%) completed the survey; of whom 12 students (31%) were doctoral and 27 students (69%) were masters students. The survey used a five-point Likert scale to assess the impact of applying the rules of Successful TP Conception taught to students on their performances and outputs; that is, how the conception helped the students: - Improve their understanding of the components of a successful TP. - Enhance their performance in developing their TP’s. - Conduct a more effective self-assessment of their developed TP’s. - Enhance their performance along other stages of producing their theses and ARCH dissertations. 14,3 - Maintain any other benefits adding to students’ research capabilities. (3) To validate and improve the conception, the authors used an expert inquiry to get the insights of a selected sample of academics experienced in supervising master and doctoral theses in worldwide architecture and planning schools. The authors designed an online survey (Experts_Survey, 2019) and sent it to 80 experts; of whom 35 experts (43.75%) responded. The survey included two parts: The first part recorded the general characteristics of respondents. The second inquired about experts’ viewpoints on the definitions, attributes and the rules of success of the components of the proposed TP conception. 2. Proposing the Successful TP Conception 2.1 Components of a TP for a standard problem-solving research type A review of thesis writing guidelines posted on universities’ websites and other related literature has indicated that the number of components of a masters’ or doctoral thesis proposal varies. After a thorough review of related literature and with their experience, the authors have been convinced that, in its standard form, a TP should include 13 components. Chronically arranged, as appearing in the proposal, they are: title page, abstract, keywords, background, statement of the problem, research questions, research aim and objectives, research scope, research significance and contributions, preliminary review of literature, research methodology, thesis structure and timeline, and references list (Ostler, 1996; Simpson and Turner, 2004; Zhou, 2004; Davies, 2011; Axelrod and Windell, 2012; Donohue, 2018; Glatthorn and Randy, 2018; Kornuta and Germaine, 2019). It is worth mentioning that these 13 components will differ in the case of a hypothesis-based research whose aim is to validate a specific hypothesis that a specific variable/s is/are or is/are not the main cause/s of an investigated research problem. This paper is limited only to the standard problem-solving research type. 2.2 Building the Successful TP Conception To propose the Successful TP Conception, the authors applied three steps on each of the 13 components: (1) Setting a general definition for each component including its meaning, importance, functions and contents. (2) Outlining the most important attributes that must be considered when writing the component. (3) Based on step 1 and 2, the authors extracted a list of success rules which provides a concise definition for each component of the TP, and/or describes the relationship between the component and other components of the TP (the list is summarized at the end of Part 2). 2.2.1 Research title. This is the first item that appears to the reader. It invites or detains him/her from proceeding to other contents (Blaxter et al.,2010). The research title is positioned in the title page along with several basic data, namely, the title; the names of the Department, College, University, study programme, researcher and advisory committee; and submission date. The research title should be useful, discussing an issue critical to society; true, conveying a real message about the investigated problem (Donohue, 2018); concise, presenting the message with the minimum number of words; adequate, using the right wording to explain Successful the intended meaning; and attractive, stimulating the reader’s attention. Iterations in refining thesis the research title go hand-in-hand with refining the research question (Groat and proposals in Wang, 2013). architecture 2.2.2 The abstract. It is the first item that appears in the TP after the title and of the same significance; yet, it is the last to be written (Kornuta and Germaine, 2019). It has a marketing function (Lamanauskas, 2019); it calls the reader in or alienates him out. A comprehensive abstract contains a summary of the problem, aim, scope, methodology, importance, contributions and outline (Koopman, 1997). The Abstract should be concise or brief with a maximum of 200–300 words; adequate, including profiles of all parts of the proposal; clear, expressing its message without ambiguity; and interrelated, serving as a body of sequential, coherent and connected ideas (Blaxter et al., 2010). 2.2.3 The keywords. These are a set of words or terms used for archiving, tabulation and electronic search on databases. They should include essential “subject terms” describing the research topic, the unique sub-specializations and focus of the research (what is researched), the contextual scope of the research (where and when), and the used research methodology (how to conduct the research) (Lamanauskas, 2019). They are better written by splitting the title into its separate single words or terms which must be found in the abstract, as well (Mack, 2012). Keywords should be brief, not more than 8–12 words; adequate, conveying the research theme, scope, aim and approach; exact, focusing on the investigated topic and scope; and standard, using scientific terminology used in the field. 2.2.4 The background. This is a gradual preparation of the reader from the larger scientific field to the specific field, from the wider geographic area to the immediate area, and from the larger timeframe to the immediate one. It starts from the strategic level and general scope of the research and gradually reaches the level closer to the examined problem (Abdellatif and Abdellatif, 2005). It places the study within the larger context of the research, creates interest to the reader and catches his attention, and includes quotations and statistics leading the reader to proceed (Babbie, 2014). The background statement should be striking, drawing the reader’s attention to the research; brief, not lengthy; gradual, moving from the general level surrounding the investigated issue to the specific level; and careful, not speeding up in disclosing the study problem, aim or methodology to the reader (Axelrod and Windell, 2012; Pautasso, 2013). 2.2.5 The statement of the problem. This is a statement presented in two forms: an overall/ general form and a specific/articulated form (sub-problems). (1) Statement of the General Research Problem is a narrative describing a negative aspect/s prevailing in the investigated urban environment/ecosystem or architectural setting; it is equivalent to the negative wording of the research aim (Abdellatif and Abdellatif, 2005). It stimulates interest in the study; scientifically explained to convey a simple, clear and specific issue to which a reader can relate and is useful to the society at large (Balakumar et al., 2013). In the humanities and social sciences many dissertations endeavour to establish the conditions of the problem, not to solve it (Dorst, 2011). In formulating the research problem, it is useful to consider it a problem which hinders the natural development of the society and/or environment andleads to adeclineinthe QualityofLife(QOL) or Quality of Environment (QOE) or both. A development problem is a factor/cause leading to either a quantitative or qualitative deficiency in satisfying a human need or both such as a lack of certain service or inadequate provision of the service (Abdellatif, 2015). To arrive at a successful statement of the general problem, the researcher should pinpoint the main cause/s behind the study problem. All what comes next depends on the clarity of the problem statement. Research problems in architecture and related disciplines may be classified under ARCH different frames of references (Salama, 2019): 14,3 Technically oriented research (TOR), which places emphasis on the process and procedures as the primary basis of effective design, TOR can be either systematic, or computational, or managerial. Conceptually driven research (CDR), which can be either psychological or person– environment. The psychological type is driven by the goal of matching knowledge with the nature of the design problem, its components, context and social and environmental requirements. Whereas, the person–environment type places emphasis on the socio-cultural and socio-behavioural factors as they relate to the design process itself and to settings, buildings and urban environments. The general problem of the study should be brief, comprised from one to two sentences; clear, using straightforward words with simple meaning that cannot be confused; specific, focusing on the main cause of the study problem (Kornuta and Germaine, 2019); and outlining, highlighting the general problem without elaborating on sub-problems. (2) Statement of the research sub-problems is a narrative that describes the general problem in detail; sub-problems are simply the various causes of the general problem (Goetz et al., 2005). Identifying sub-problems will ensure focusing during the investigation on important factors causing the general problem. It is useful when tracing sub-problems to apply the following steps (Abdellatif, 2015): Classify the investigated situation to branched dimensions, e.g. demographic, planning, regulatory, economic, social, environmental, etc. Trace the causes or the influencing factors that lead to the emergence or aggravation of the problem/s in each dimension. Clarify the problem more by identifying the consequences or adverse effects (the symptoms of the problem) that resulted from those causes. This helps isolate the causes from the consequences to focus on treating the causes not the consequences. Using temporary painkillers will not eliminate the disease; it only tranquilizes the symptoms. The research sub-problems should be focused, where each sub-problem concentrates on one independent side of the general problem; articulate, non-compositing and non-overlapping with other sub-problems; rooted, relating to one of the roots of the general problem; deep, addressing the cause not the symptom of the problem; and comprehended, easy to perceive, determine and describe (Groat and Wang, 2013). (3) Statement of the consequences of the problem is a narrative that describes the negative effects caused by sub-problems on the investigated environment (Goetz et al., 2005). The statement of consequences of the problem should be focused, where each consequence focuses on one independent sub-problem; articulate, not overlapping with other consequences; rooted, relating to one of the roots of the general problems; deep, providing description for specific symptom; and comprehended, could be perceived, described and determined (Abdellatif, 2015). 2.2.6 Research questions. These are a set of questions the research tries to answer. Each question usually covers one of the research sub-problems. Questioning is an alternative way to present research problem/s but in a question format. As indicated by Grix (2001) and Groat and Wang (2013), research questions simplify the problem and provide insight for articulating the aim and objectives and setting the proper methods to achieve them. Research questions should “contain within themselves the means for assessing their achievement” Successful (Blaxter et al., 2010). If the environment under investigation suffers from a specific thesis development problem/s, the following are typical examples of questions raised (Abdellatif proposals in and Abdellatif, 2005): architecture (1) What is the nature of the development problem as defined by the latest findings of previous literature, similar studies and published statistical reports? (2) What are the key features of the investigated problem according to a direct field survey? (3) What are the appropriate links between different variables of the study (causes, consequences, etc.) according to the information gathered from the theoretical review and field surveys? (4) What are the extracted results and the appropriate solutions and/or recommendations to deal with the general research problem and its sub-problems? (5) What are the critical contributions of the research findings on the life and/or environmental qualities? (6) How can the research increase the benefits of research results on the ground? (7) What are the research areas/points that need further investigation? Research questions should be specific, each question addresses one sub-problem; unduplicated, each question does not repeat itself in a different format; sequential, or arranged according to their importance and order; and interrelated, where each question relates to other questions. 2.2.7 Research aim, goals and objectives. It is advisable to define the general aim of the study first then define two kinds of objectives: procedural and developmental objectives. (1) The general aim of the research is a specific and clear statement presenting the overall purpose of the study. It is directed to find an appropriate and effective solution to the general research problem (Donohue, 2018). It is an attempt to fill a gap between a negative reality of an environment/ecosystem/or development situation and a desired positive future to be achieved at the end of the research process (Glatthorn and Randy, 2018). The aim should be properly stated to ensure the success of all the following stages of the scientific research process. The general aim of the research should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely (SMART) (Doran, 1981): specific, by focusing on a branch or root of a complicated development problem; measurable, by using standard units to enable measuring the achievement of goals; achievable, by being real not elusive or difficult to investigate considering available resources which include the time allowed for the degree and the funding available to gather information, to conduct the planned experiments and measurements, to finalize the necessary research analysis and to develop appropriate solutions; the scientific expertise of the researcher in the subject of research; the level of academic support from the academic advisor; access to references, and office and field resources needed to collect information on the problem; realistic, dealing with a real problem happening in the environment surrounding the researcher; and timely, directed towards an urgent problem with high societal priority not outdated and studied many times before. (2) The procedural objectives are the sub-goals emanating from the main aim of the study. They provide a roadmap and illustrate important stages leading to sequential targets towards achieving the general aim. They are articulated sub-goals that in their totality compose the main research aim (Abdulai and Owusu-Ansah, 2014). Procedural ARCH objectives of a typical research include conducting the following tasks (Abdellatif and 14,3 Abdellatif, 2005): Exploring the problem by defining the research problem, formulating aim and objectives, designing the methodology, defining the scope, and highlighting the expected contributions. Collecting secondary data by defining basic concepts and terms, reviewing relevant literature and previous studies, and describing the most important characteristics of the investigated environment from secondary sources and statistical reports. Collecting primary data via direct field surveys and based on the views of concerned population, experts and officials to describe the characteristics of the investigated development problem. Analysing the gathered data by using theoretical and field data to determine the appropriate links among different variables of the study (e.g. causes, consequences, etc.). Synthesizing the gathered data by integrating the findings of analysis to build appropriate approaches or solutions to deal with the general problem. Extracting conclusions and writing recommendations to highlight research findings and make them more useful and effective. Procedural objectives, in addition to being SMART, they should be focused, where each objective focuses on a phase of achieving the overall goal; non-overlapping, where every objective does not exceed a defined limit; and sequential, chronologically arranged as specified in the timeline. (3) The development objectives are objectives which focus on solving the research sub- problems leading to solving the main research problem. They should describe quantitative and/or qualitative improvements in the physical and/or human environment rather than stating the steps of a study (Donohue, 2018). Well-defined development objectives help focus on solving the studied problems only. They deal with development problem/s on the micro level but will contribute to the macro level, as well (Abdellatif, 2015): A micro level objective contributes to solving the specific investigated problem (e.g. a specific quantitative or qualitative problem that hinders the development of a sector of society, environment, or eco-system). A macro level objective contributes to realizing a higher goal (e.g. improving the overall quality of life of a larger community, upgrading the quality of the larger environment, etc.). Development objectives should apply the SMART goal rule (previously explained); and be non-overlapping by ensuring that each objective is focused and not conflicting with other objectives. 2.2.8 Research scope. This is a statement which defines the thematic, geographic/spatial and temporal limits of research. By narrowing these three scopes, the research process becomes more effective, efficient and doable (Abdellatif and Abdellatif, 2005): (1) Thematic scope clarifies the general and specific areas of the research (e.g. the Successful research falls within the field of sustainable development in general and focuses on thesis social sustainability). proposals in (2) Geographic/Spatial scope specifies the spatial boundaries of the physical environment architecture within which the research is applied (e.g. a specific local or regional setting). (3) Temporal scope shows the past, present and future spans the research will cover indicating the number of years from the historical information inventory until the expected completion date. If the research aim is to develop future strategies or policies, the span will extend to future target point. Research Scope should be categorized, by being classified by subject, place and time; focused, by reaching the closest limits of the investigated research problem, environment and time; and clear, by not being so general or ambiguous. 2.2.9 Research significance and contributions. They highlight the most important benefits and the main beneficiaries from solving the research problem; the potential positive impacts of the study on the life and environmental qualities (Groat and Wang, 2013). Contributions differ in nature (theoretical or applied or both) and in size (huge, average, or marginal). There is a positive relationship between the size of contributions and the size of impacted beneficiaries (individuals, groups, institutions, communities, societies), the scale of the impacted geographic boundaries (local, national or global), the type of impacted development sectors (service, production, etc.) and the numbers of the impacted sectors (one, a few, or all sectors). Research significance increases as the size of contributions increases. Specifying the research significance, expected contributions and potential beneficiaries helps promote the research and provides rational justifications for conducting it. The higher the contributions and the greater the sectors of the beneficiaries, the more significant the research is (Abdellatif and Abdellatif, 2005). According to Balakumar et al. (2013) research significance justifies the need for the research that is being proposed. Research significance and expected contributions should be categorized, in terms of type (theoretical or applied contribution or both), size and nature of the beneficiaries (individuals, institutions, communities, etc.) and geographical extent (small site, district, city, region, nation, etc.); clear, simple and comprehensible to the reader; and realistic, real, accurate and not exaggerated. 2.2.10 The preliminary review of literature. This is an initial review of literature dealt with relevant problems. It aims to build an initial understanding of the problem, identify the most important variables that have been considered, cite methodologies used to deal with the problem; make use of the latest findings and record the various recommendations/solutions suggested to deal with the problem (Hart, 1998; Grix, 2001). According to Dunleavy (2003),it is a critical review on related recent research that is well documented, structured, analysed and synthesized. It offers the researcher an opportunity to engage with other scholars in one’s disciplinary community. In addition to having a separate part, it is useful to combine the literature review with other components of the TP (e.g. the research problem, questions, aim and objectives, and methodology). It is important that the review presents differing perspectives or contrasting views of the topic and reports the complexities of the issue (Kornuta and Germaine, 2019). By conducting the review, the researcher becomes able to build an initial but comprehensive understanding of the causes and consequences of the problem, the methodologies used to study and analyse the problem and the solutions proposed to deal with it by synthesizing various viewpoints of previous studies, thereby, supporting her/his principle argument about the study problem with the results derived from previous ARCH literature (Pautasso, 2013). 14,3 The preliminary literature review in the TP is a “pilot review” or a sample of the extensive literature review to be made later in the actual thesis. It contains three subsidiaries (Abdellatif and Abdellatif, 2005): (1) Definitions of key terms and concepts; standard terms to appear in the research and special concepts which are not formally provided by previous scholars. The definitions must be logic and derived from scientifically recognized sources. (2) Review of previous studies; focusing on identifying several issues, namely, the most important dimensions and variables of the research problem (the causes of the problem; why the problem has emerged or aggravated; the most important consequences of this problem on the human and/or physical environment); the methods used to deal with the problem; the latest findings of previous studies and the various approaches/solutions suggested to deal with the problem. (3) Contextual aspects of the investigated development situation; including a review of relevant characteristics of the researched environment (its basic dimensions and elements) as found in previous studies. Contextual aspects may be classified into physical and human components; or into environmental, functional, aesthetic, structural, economic and social design determinants; or into demographic, planning, regulatory, economic, social, environmental sectors or other classifications. Preliminary review of literature should be indexed, from reliable scholarly sources; categorized or documented according to standard classification system; employed, used wisely to achieve a desired purpose; up to date, recent, however, in topics which address chronological development or evolutionary aspects references could be recent and old; and related, relevant to the study problem (Hart, 1998). 2.2.11 Research methodology. This provides explanation of the appropriate methods to be used in data collection, analysis, synthesis and presentation; for the extraction of results; and for the development of appropriate approaches or solutions to deal with the research problem (Blaxter et al., 2010; Kivunja, 2016). The following methods could be used (Abdellatif and Abdellatif, 2005): (1) Data collection methods including office methods used to collect secondary data from previous literature and case studies as well as field methods used to gather original data through field visits, surveying, questionnaires, interviews with stakeholders, etc. (2) Data analysis methods including methods used to analyse both the secondary and primary information collected from office and the field surveys such as Statistical Analysis, Environmental Scanning (SWOT), Development Components Analysis, etc. (3) Data synthesis methods including methods used to compile, synthesize the analysis and develop appropriate alternative scenarios or solutions to deal with the problem. (4) Data presentation methods including methods to present the research process and findings such as scientific research paper containing narratives, tables, figures, forms, maps, results and recommendations as well as final visual presentation to review panel to get remarks and write the last version of the TP. Research methodology should be appropriate, aligned with the purpose/s in which they will be used; achievable, within the reach of the researcher; effective, achieving the purpose fast and with high quality; reliable, previously tested, applied and approved in similar cases; and Successful precise, accurate and specific. thesis 2.2.12 Research structure and timeline. This is a brief statement of the main sections of the proposals in master’s/doctoral thesis with tentative dates for completing the various stages of the architecture research. Careful preparation of research structure and timeline ensures the effectiveness and integrity of the plan of actions towards the completion of the study (Kivunja, 2016). It is also a criterion to judge the achieved progress and seriousness of the researcher. Research structure and timeline should be sequential, arranged according to a standard scientific research process; logical, proportionate to the total period available for completion; and balanced, distributing time properly among various stages. 2.2.13 The list of references. This is a list which contains a reasonable number of relevant references on the topic which were actually cited in the TP (Kornuta and Germaine, 2019). Including a list of the references about the topic demonstrates that the researcher is familiar with the basic and latest knowledge on his/her problem. The list of references should be relevant, closely related to the investigated subject; up to date, recent yet containing old and new according the topic and context; and reliable, published in dependable vessels. 2.3 Extracting the success rules Based on the above definitions and attributes provided for each of the 13 TP components, the authors were able to extract a number of success rules that took the form of equations, each of which describes an equality function between each component and its counterpart component/s as shown in Table 1. For instance, rule #1 shows that “research title” is equal to “the general aim of the research” and is equal to “the negative wording of the research problem”. 3. Assessing the Successful TP Conception from students’ viewpoints After proposing the Successful TP Conception and applying it on several batches of graduate students in the College of Architecture and Planning at IAU for a period of 15 years from 2005 to 2019, it becomes necessary to assess the conception to ascertain its positive impacts on improving the quality of students’ performance and outputs concerning the development of their TP’s and their overall research capabilities. This part summarizes the results of the survey of a group of graduate students who studied and applied the TP conception from the College of Architecture of Planning, IAU, KSA. The survey contains a five-indicator scale which assesses the impact of applying the success rules of the TP Conception on the students’ performance and output. The results of the survey demonstrated the following positive impacts: (1) The students’ understanding of the components of thesis proposals has improved as follows: They better understood the meanings of each component (97% agree and strongly agree and 3% neutral). They better understood the attributes of each component (94% agree and strongly agree and 6% neutral). They better understood the rules which control the relations between the various components of the TP (87% agree and strongly agree and 13% neutral). (2) The students’ performance in developing their thesis proposals has improved as follows: ARCH # Research proposal component Equals The corresponding component 14,3 1 Research title 5 The general aim of the research 5 Solving the main research problem 2 The abstract 5 Profiles of all components of the research proposal 3 Keywords 5 Title in a fragmented manner 5 Words that compose the research title 4 Background 5 Gradual preparation of the reader to enter the study 5 The statement of the problem 5–1 General problem of research 5 The main cause of quantitative or qualitative deficiency in the investigated environment 5–2 Research sub-problems 5 The secondary causes of each sub-problem of the general problem 5–3 Research consequences 5 Subsidiary symptoms of the general illness of the examined environment 6 Research questions 5 Presenting general problem and sub-problems of the research in the question format 7 Research aims, goals and 5 Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely objectives goals 7–1 General aim of the research 5 Solving the general problem of the research 7–2 Procedural objectives of the 5 Research stages research 5 Sections or chapters of the thesis 7–3 Development objectives of the 5 Solving sub-problems of the study research 5 Finding a cure for the secondary causes of the problem 8 The scope of the research 5 Thematic, geographical and temporal limits of the study 9 Importance of the study and 5 expected positive impacts of research (theoretical, expected contributions practical or both) 10 Preliminary review of 5 Building a comprehensive conception from previous literature studies about the causes and consequences of the problem, the methodologies used to understand and analyse it, the most important findings and the solutions developed to deal with it 11 Research methodology 5 Techniques, methods and tools used in each stage of study 12 Research skeleton and 5 Main chapters of research along the completion timeline completion timeline 5 Stages of the scientific research process along the completion timeline 12 List of references 5 Latest local and international references about the research Table 1. 14 Thesis proposal (using future 5 General introduction of the final thesis (Using past tenses) Proposed list of success tenses) rules for the TP components Source(s): Prepared by the authors based on the above definitions and attributes of the TP components The process of writing the proposal has become easier and more convenient (100% agree and strongly agree). The effort, cost and time spent in submitting the proposal have been substantially saved (87% agree and strongly and 12% neutral). The relationship with academic advisor has improved (87% agree and strongly agree and 12% neutral). (3) The students have become able to make a more effective self-assessment of the research proposal before submitting it to their academic advisor: The students’ confidence in advancing their own learning abilities has improved (93% agree and strongly agree and 7% neutral).  The students’ abilities to address the strengths and weaknesses of their personal Successful skills have improved (93% agree and strongly agree and 7% neutral). thesis The students’ abilities to manage their learning process more independently have proposals in improved (90% agree and strongly agree, 7% neutral and 3% disagree). architecture (4) The students’ performance along other stages of producing their theses has improved: The students have created a clearer and better mutual understanding with their academic advisors (90% agree and strongly agree and 10% neutral). The students have reduced their distraction from the original target set out in the proposal (81% agree and strongly agree, 16% neutral and 3% disagree). The students have been able to finish their research on time (78% agree and strongly agree, 19% neutral and 3% disagree). (5) The students have gained other benefits that improve their overall research skills, including: They gained better analytical skills (87% agree and strongly agree, 10% neutral and 3% disagree). They gained better problem-solving skills (87% agree and strongly agree, 10% neutral and 3% disagree). They gained better critical thinking skills (87% agree and strongly agree, 10% neutral and 3% disagree). 4. Verifying the Successful TP Conception based on experts’ viewpoints Having proposed, applied and assessed the Successful TP Conception, it becomes important to validate it using the insights of experienced academics from Architectural and Planning schools worldwide. This part summarizes the results of the experts’ inquiry survey conducted in November 2019 to February 2020. It shows the characteristics of experts and their viewpoints and remarks on the originally proposed definitions, attributes and success rules. 4.1 Experts’ characteristics The characteristics of the 39 experts who participated in the inquiry are summarized as follows: (1) They were from nine countries, namely, the United States of America, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain. (2) About 75% of the experts were males and 25% were females. About 5% were 35–45 years old, 20% were 45–55 years, 55% were 55–65 years and 20% were 65 years and over. (3) About 5% were Assistant Professors, 10% Associate Professors and the majority (85%) were Professors. (4) The experts had teaching experiences in undergraduate and graduate levels (masters, doctoral, diploma, postdoctoral and continuing professional development). (5) The general specialization of 70% of the experts was Architecture and 30% of ARCH experts were specialized in Urban Planning. They taught in several built environment 14,3 fields (Architecture, Interior Design, Building Technology, Urban Design, Landscape Architecture and Urban and Regional Planning). (6) The experts had several focus areas, namely, Architecture, History and Theories of Architecture, Assessment of Designed Environments, Design Methods, Pedagogy, Architecture and Digital Technologies, Heritage Conservation, Middle East Architecture and Cities, Construction Project Management, Urban Design, Spatial Development Planning, Landscape, Built Environment and Behaviour, Urban Studies, Techniques and Quantitative Methods of Urban Planning, Urban Conflict, Urban Justice, Community Development, Environmental Management and Planning and Development Approaches. (7) About 10% of the experts supervised 5 theses, 5% supervised 6–10 theses, 50% supervised 11–20 theses and 35% supervised more than 20 theses. 4.2 Experts’ viewpoints and remarks The contributions of experts have been very constructive; the experts have verified the proposed definitions, attributes and success rules; their acceptance rates and remarks could be summarized as follows: (1) Concerning the proposed definitions of the TP components, the experts expressed their agreement which ranged between 73 and 96%. Some experts provided additional remarks to help improve the definitions. Table 2 presents the originally proposed definitions, the percentages of agreed experts and their additional remarks. (2) Regarding the attributes of each component of the TP, the original conception proposed 38 attributes, the experts added 18 attributes resulting in a total of 56 attributes. Table 3 presents a matrix showing the percentages of experts’ agreement of the originally proposed attributes as well as the added attributes. The lowest agreement percentage was 59% and the highest was 96%. (3) Concerning the proposed success rules which were called “equations” in the originally proposed conception, the experts suggested to change the expression into “rules”; which is more appropriate for subjective contents than mathematical expression. Table 4 presents the final 19 success rules for the components/sub-components of a TP and the percentage of experts’ agreement which ranged between 57 and 95%. 5. Conclusion Based on their experience in preparing and supervising masters and doctoral theses and after a thorough review of the literature on preparing thesis proposals, the authors drafted a conception of a successful thesis proposal comprising specific definitions, attributes and rules for each of the 13 components of a standard TP. The conception had been applied over a duration of 15 years (2005–2020) on several batches of master and doctoral students in IAU, KSA. Through an online survey, the majority of students (78–100%) have indicated that understanding and applying the conception helped them improve their performances and outputs during the TP development process and beyond. The conception was then validated by getting the insights of 39 experienced academics from worldwide architectural schools. The experts accepted the proposed definitions with (73–96%) agreement rate. The experts also accepted the proposed attributes with (59–96%) agreement rate. As for the success rules, the experts’ agreed as well with an acceptance rate Successful Component of a % of experts agreement of thesis # thesis proposal Proposed definition % Experts additional remarks proposals in 1 Research title The first item that appears to the 73 It should be reflective of research architecture reader. It invites the reader to topic, questions, objectives, content proceed to other contents and approach and convey the aim, the purpose, the scope and the outcome 2 The abstract The first item that appears in the 79 Although some experts commented TP after the title and of the same that in several schools an abstract is significance. It calls the reader in not a compulsory component of TP, or alienates him out 79% of the experts agreed that the abstract is needed 3 Keywords A set of words or terms used for 75 Keywords are better written by archiving, tabulation and splitting the title into its separate electronic search on databases single words or terms. They should include essential terms describing the research topic, the unique sub- specializations and focus of the research (what is researched), the contextual scope of the research (where and when) and the used research methodology (how to conduct the research) 4 Background A gradual preparation from the 74 The background should place the larger scientific field to the study within the larger context of the specific field, from wider research, create interest to the reader geographic area to the immediate and catch his attention, help him area, and from the strategic level understand why the study is to the level closer to the examined significant, include limitation and problem arguments of pervious research, and include quotations and statistics leading the reader to go to the next component of the TP 5 Statement of the problem 5–1 Statement of the A narrative describing a negative 92 A statement which stimulates interest general research situation prevailing in the in the study; scientifically explained to problem investigated urban environment/ convey a simple, clear and specific ecosystem or architectural issue to which a reader can relate”; setting “equivalent to the negative wording of the research aim”; and “in the humanities and social sciences many dissertations endeavour to establish the conditions of the problem, not to solve it 5–2 Statement of the A narrative that describes the 84 One expert commented that “the research sub- general problem in detail; sub- above definition is valid and useful in problems problems are simply the various causal research types only; other causes of the general problem research types might consider different approaches” Table 2. 5–3 Consequences of A narrative that describes the 83 None Proposed definitions of the problem effects of sub-problems on the each component of the investigated environment TP and experts’ agreements and (continued) remarks ARCH Component of a % of experts agreement of 14,3 # thesis proposal Proposed definition % Experts additional remarks 6 Research questions A set of questions the research 96 None tries to answer. Each question usually covers one of the research sub-problems 518 7 Research aim/goal/ The goal should be Specific, 96 None objectives Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely 7–1 General aim of the A specific and clear statement 96 None research presenting the overall purpose of the study 7–2 Procedural The sub-goals emanating from 79 They are articulated sub-goals that in objectives of the the main aim of the study. They their totality compose the main research provide a roadmap and illustrate research aim important stages leading to sequential targets towards achieving the general aim 7–3 Development The objectives which focus on 74 None objectives of the solving the research sub- research problems and eventually solving the main problem of the investigated situation 8 Research scope A statement which defines the None thematic, geographical/spatial and temporal limits of research 9 Research Highlight potential positive 87 Expected contributions can only be significance and impacts of the study on the life tentative in the early research contributions and environmental qualities proposal stage, the researcher must remain open to unexpected findings upon the finishing stage of his/her study 10 Preliminary review Builds an initial understanding of 91 Related directly to the stated research of literature the problem, identify the most questions; identify areas of controversy important variables considered, in the literature; describe the cite methodologies used; make use relationship of each work to others; of the latest findings and record the point the way forward for further various recommendations/ research; and be organized into solutions suggested categories or themes 11 Research Contains explanation of the 82 None methodology appropriate methods to be used in data collection, analysis, synthesis and presentation; for the extraction of results; and for the development of appropriate approaches or solutions to deal with the research problem 12 Research structure A brief statement of the main 95 None and timeline sections of the master’s/doctoral thesis arranged on the tentative dates for completing the various stages of the research 13 List of references A list which contains a 82 None reasonable number of relevant references on the topic Table 2. Source(s): Prepared by the authors based on the above analysis and the results of expert inquiry Successful thesis proposals in architecture Table 3. Experts’ remarks on the proposed attributes of each component of the thesis proposal Experts’ Agreement of Attributes (%: of Experts Agreed) or (√: additional attribute suggested by Experts) Component of a Thesis Proposal Research Title 70 83 87 √ √ 93 71 √ √ √ 2 The Abstract 71 79 79 √ √ √ 71 3 Keywords 75 61 71 68 √ 4 Background 70 70 √ 59 74 √ √ √ √ 5 Statement of the Problem General Research Problem 96 92 √ 77 81 √ √ 5-1 5-2 Research Sub-problems 92 92 96 96 92 Consequences of the 5-3 92 83 92 88 88 Problem 6 Research Questions √ √ √ 79 √ 92 √ 92 79 7 Aims/Goals/Objectives 96 96 96 96 88 General Aim of the 7-1 96 96 96 96 88 Research 7-2 Procedural Objectives 91 96 √ 96 96 88 78 87 √ √ 7-3 Development Objectives 96 96 96 96 88 79 8 Research Scope 91 91 74 significance &Contributions √ 91 91 √ 70 Preliminary Review of 10 95 86 73 73 86 literature Research Methodology 77 82 95 96 96 Research Structure and 12 √ √ √ 95 95 95 Timeline 13 List of References √ 95 86 95 Source(s): Prepared by the authors based on the above analysis and the results of expert inquiry Useful True Adequate Scientific Standard Clear Exact To the point Real Realistic Co mprehended Careful Concise Specific Focused Simple Brief Measurable Articulate Interesting Attractive Stimulating Appealing Striking Flexible Musical Interrelated Relevant Gradual critical Integrated Structured Outlining Documenting Contextual Evidenced Doable Achievable Rooted Deep Unduplicated Sequential Timely Non-overlapping Sequential Discursive Responsive Categorized Indexed Employed Up to Date Appropriate Effective Reliable Logical Balanced ARCH %of Success rule 14,3 Rule experts Component of a thesis Relationship Its concise definition (and/or) its # agreed proposal nature (→) relationship to another component/s 1 60% Research title Should reflect The general aim and scope of the research The negative wording of the research problem 2 75% The abstract Should be A concise brief of all necessary components of the research proposal 3 74% Keywords Should include Terms representing research title, topic, unique sub-specializations, methodology and scope 4 74% Research background Should cover A gradual contextual literary analysis relevant to the study preparing the reader to enter the study 5 The statement of the problem 5–1 73% Statement of the Should reflect The main cause of a quantitative and/or general research qualitative deficiency in the problem environment under investigation The negative wording of the research aim 5–2 80% Research sub- Should describe The subsidiary causes of the main problems problem 5–3 79% Consequences of the Should describe Subsidiary symptoms of the general Problem illness of the examined environment 6 79% Research questions Should rephrase The research sub-problems in a question format The research objectives in a question format 7 63% Research aims, goals Should be SMART (specific, measurable, and objectives achievable, realistic and timely) 7–1 63% General aim of the Should reflect A target responding to the general research research problem/question A potential alternative scenario that may enable the development of solutions The research title with the same or different wording 7–2 57% Procedural objectives Should The sub-goals that compose the main of the research articulate/ research aim represent The stages of the research The sections or chapters of the thesis 7–3 70% Development Should reflect Targeted solutions to the sub-problems objectives of the of the study research Targeted possible cures/fixes for the subsidiary causes of the problem 8 83% Research scope Should cover Thematic, geographic and temporal limits of the study 9 87% Research significance Should highlight The expected positive theoretical or and contributions practical impacts of the research or both 10 95% Preliminary review of Should cover A well-documented, structured, Table 4. literature analysed and synthesized critical review An extracted list of of relevant research success rules for thesis proposals (continued) Successful %of Success rule thesis Rule experts Component of a thesis Relationship Its concise definition (and/or) its proposals in # agreed proposal nature (→) relationship to another component/s architecture 11 82% Research Should explain The methods, techniques and tools used methodology to accomplish the research objectives in each stage of the study 12 82% Research structure Should The stages/phases of the research and and timeline articulate/ their expected completion dates represent The main chapters of the research distributed along the completion timeline 13 77% List of references Should present The references relevant to the research problem 14 General The thesis proposal Should resemble The general introduction of the final rule (using future tenses) thesis (using past tenses) Source(s): Prepared by the authors based on the above analysis and the results of expert inquiry Table 4. ranging from (57–95%). The experts suggested constructive remarks which were considered in writing the final version of the conception. The extracted success rules combine the definitions and attributes of each component of the TP and present them in a concise statement which defines the component and, where applicable, exemplifies its relationship to another corresponding or counterpart component of the TP. For example, rule #1 shows that “research title” should reflect “the general aim and scope of the research” and should also reflect “the negative wording of the research problem”. Extracted also is rule #14 which indicates that “the whole thesis proposal” written in future tenses, should resemble “the introduction of the final thesis” written in past tenses. The research has reached a conviction that the proposed conception with its success rules can provide a useful model to follow when preparing thesis proposals. It provides both researchers and academic advisors with a directive and evaluative tool to apply along the process of developing proposals of master or doctoral theses: (1) A directive tool that assists the researcher in writing a sound TP. Combining the last three tables (2, 3 and 4) into a comprehensive checklist would aid the students in preparing their TP’s; enhancing the quality of their performance and outputs. (2) An evaluative tool that helps in assessing the validity and integrity of the submitted TP’s that can be used by the researcher for self-assessment, or by the academic advisor, or by an examiner/evaluator before sending the proposal to higher authorities for approval. The findings of this paper could be useful not only in evaluating thesis proposals, but also, with proper modifications, in assessing various scientific research documents, including scientific thesis, research papers and others; which is another research topic that will be addressed in the future. References Abdellatif, M. (2015), The Simplifying-Integrating Approach to Deal with Contemporary Design, Planning and Urban Development Problems, Scientific Publication Center, Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University, Dammam. Abdellatif, M. and Abdellatif, R. (2005), Scientific Research Methods and Techniques in Architecture ARCH and Urban Planning, Unpublished Textbook for Graduate Students in Abdulrahman bin Faisal 14,3 University, Dammam. Abdulai, R.T. and Owusu-Ansah, A. (2014), “Essential ingredients of a good research proposal for undergraduate and postgraduate students in the social sciences”, SAGE Open, Vol. 4 No. 3, pp. 1-15. Afful, J.B. (2008), “Research proposal and thesis writing: narrative of a recently graduated researcher in applied linguistics”, Nebula, Vol. 5 No. 4, pp. 193-211. Axelrod, B. and Windell, J. (2012), Dissertation Solutions: A Concise Guide to Planning, Implementing, and Surviving the Dissertation Process, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Plymouth. Babbie, E. (2014), The Basics of Social Research, 6th ed., Wadsworth Cengage Learning, Belmont, CA. Balakumar, P., Inamdar, M. and Jagadeesh, G. (2013), “The critical steps for successful research: the research proposal and scientific writing”, Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics, Vol. 4 No. 2, pp. 130-138. Blaxter, L., Hughes, C. and Tight, M. (2010), How to Research, Open University Press MaGraw-Hill Education, New York, NY. Davies, W.M. (2011), Study Skills for International Postgraduate Students, Palgrave, MacMillan, Basingstoke. Donohue, M. (2018), “Research proposal toolkit: design tools for developing multi-stakeholder research proposals”, available at: https://repository.library.northeastern.edu/files/neu:m044c6541 (accessed 24 October 2019). Doran, G.T. (1981), “There’s, a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives”, Management Review, Vol. 70 No. 11, pp. 35-36. Dorst, K. (2011), “The core of “design thinking” and its application”, Design Studies, Vol. 32 No. 6, pp. 521-532. Dunleavy, P. (2003), Authoring a PhD: How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Thesis or Dissertation, Macmillan International Higher Education, Hampshire. Eco, U. (2015), How to Write a Thesis, MIT Press, ProQuest Ebook Central, Cambridge. Experts_Survey (2019), “Opinion poll on definitions, attributes and equations of the successful thesis proposal”, available at: https://www.questionpro.com/t/AOkM7ZdeXy (accessed 01 November 2019). Glatthorn, A.A. and Randy, L.J. (2018), Writing the Winning Thesis or Dissertation; a Step-by-step Guide, Corwin, Thousand Oaks, CA. Goetz, S.J., Shortle, J.S. and Bergstrom, J.C. (2005), Land Use Problems and Conflict: Causes, Consequences and Solutions, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, London. Gonzalez, A.M. (2007), Shaping the Thesis and Dissertation: Case Studies of Writers across the Curriculum, Texas Christian University, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, Fort Worth, TX. Grix, J. (2001), Demystifying Postgraduate Research from MA to PhD, University of Birmingram Press, Birmingham. Groat, L. and Wang, D. (2013), Architectural Research Methods, Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ. Hart, C. (1998), Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination, Sage Publications, London. Hofstee, E. (2006), Constructing a Good Dissertation: A Practical Guide to Finishing a Master’s, MBA or PhD on Schedule, EPE, Sandton. Kamler, B. and Thomson, P. (2008), “The failure of dissertation advice books: toward alternative’”, Educational Researcher, Vol. 37 No. 8, pp. 507-514. Kivunja, C. (2016), “How to write an effective research proposal for higher degree research in higher education”, International Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 5 No. 2, pp. 163-172. Koopman, P. (1997), “How to write an abstract”, available at: http://users.ece.cmu.edu/∼koopman/ Successful essays/abstract.html (accessed October 2019). thesis Kornuta, H.M. and Germaine, R.W. (2019), A Concise Guide to Writing a Thesis or Dissertation proposals in Educational Research and beyond, Routledge, New York, NY. architecture Lamanauskas, V. (2019), “Scientific article preparation: title, abstract and keywords”, Problems in Education in the 21st Century, Vol. 77 No. 4, pp. 456-462. Leo, S. (2019), “Pitfalls of tourism graduate students in presenting the ingredients of research proposals”, Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sports and Tourism Education, Vol. 24, pp. 178-189. Mack, C. (2012), “How to write a good scientific paper: title, abstract, and keywords”, Journal of Micro/ Nanolithography, MEMS, and MOEMS, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 1-5. Ostler, E. (1996), Guidelines for Writing Research Proposals, Reports, Theses, and Dissertations, The Educational Resources Information Center (Eric), Washington, DC. Paltridge, B. and Starfield, S. (2007), Thesis and Dissertation Writing in a Second Language: A Handbook for Supervisors, Routledge, London. Pautasso, M. (2013), “Ten simple rules for writing a literature review”, PLoS Computational Biology, Vol. 9 No. 7, pp. 1-4. Reddy, C.D. (2019), “Thinking through a research proposal: a question approach”,in 18th European Conference on Research Methodology for Business and Management Studies, Academic Conferences International Limited, Johannesburg, pp. 271-277. Salama, A.M. (2019), “Methodological research in architecture and allied disciplines: philosophical positions, frames of reference, and spheres of inquiry”, Archnet-IJAR: International Journal of Architectural Research, Vol. 13 No. 1, pp. 8-24. Simpson, D.D. and Turner, L.W. (2004), “Guide for preparing a thesis or dissertation”, American Journal of Health Behavior, Vol. 28 No. 5, pp. 477-478. Students_Survey (2020), “Implication of the successful thesis proposal conception on the students’ performance and output”, available at: https://www.questionpro.com/t/AOkM7ZgieG (accessed 02 February 2020). Thomas, D. (2016), The PhD Writing Handbook, Palgrave, Macmillan Publisher Limited, New York, NY. Walliman, N. (2017), Research Methods: The Basics, Routledge, New York, NY. Zhou, A.A. (2004), Writing the Dissertation Proposal: A Comparative Case Study of Four Nonnative- and Two Native -English -speaking Doctoral Students of Education, University of Toronto, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, Toronto. About the authors Mahmoud Abdellatif is a Professor of Urban and Regional Planning, College of Architecture and Planning, Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University (IAU), Dammam, Saudi Arabia. He received an MSc from Assuit University, Egypt in 1977 and another MSc from Iowa State University in 1981 and a PhD degree from Texas A&M University in 1985. He has taught and practiced Architecture and Urban Planning for more than 45 years in Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. His main research focus is on research methods, strategic planning and design and development approaches. He is currently the adviser of IAU Vice President for Studies, Development and Community Services. His last book (published in Arabic) entitled The Simplifying-Integrating Approach to Contemporary Design, Planning and Urban Development articulates his own problem-solving approach. He is the principle editor of the Strategic Plan of Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University 2018–2025. Mahmoud Abdellatif is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: mlatif@iau.edu.sa Reham Abdellatif is an Assistant Professor in Architecture, College of Design, Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University (IAU), Dammam, Saudi Arabia. She obtained an MSc degree from Assiut University in 2003 and a PhD degree from Newcastle University, UK, in 2012. She has taught and practiced Architecture and Interior Design for more than 22 years in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Her main ARCH research focus is on Architectural Education and Curriculum Development, Analysing Design Learning 14,3 Activities, Distant/Online Learning, Communication and Computation, VR and Information Technologies in Architecture. She ran the interior design curriculum development committee in Assiut University and in IAU. For instructions on how to order reprints of this article, please visit our website: www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/licensing/reprints.htm Or contact us for further details: permissions@emeraldinsight.com http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Archnet-IJAR: International Journal of Architectural Research Emerald Publishing

Successful thesis proposals in architecture and urban planning

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Publisher
Emerald Publishing
Copyright
© Mahmoud Abdellatif and Reham Abdellatif
ISSN
2631-6862
DOI
10.1108/arch-12-2019-0281
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Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this research is to improve the understanding of what constitutes a successful thesis proposal (TP) and as such enhance the quality of the TP writing in architecture, planning and related disciplines. Design/methodology/approach – Based on extended personal experience and a review of relevant literature, the authors proposed a conception of a successful TP comprising 13 standard components. The conception provides specific definition/s, attributes and success rules for each component. The conception was applied for 15 years on several batches of Saudi graduate students. The implications of the conception were assessed by a students’ opinion survey. An expert inquiry of experienced academics from architectural schools in nine countries was applied to validate and improve the conception. Findings – Assessment of the proposed conception demonstrated several positive implications on students’ knowledge, performance and outputs which illustrates its applicability in real life. Experts’ validation of the conception and constructive remarks have enabled further improvements on the definitions, attributes and success rules of the TP components. Research limitations/implications – The proposed TP conception with its 13 components is limited to standard problem-solving research and will differ in the case of other types such as hypothesis-based research. Practical implications – The proposed conception is a useful directive and evaluative tool for writing and assessing thesis proposals for graduate students, academic advisors and examiners. Social implications – The research contributes to improving the quality of thesis production process among the academic community in the built environment fields. Originality/value – The paper is meant to alleviate the confusion and hardship caused by the absence of a consensus on what constitutes a successful TP in the fields of architecture, urban planning and related disciplines. Keywords Urban planning, Architecture, Built environment, Postgraduate research, Writing successful thesis proposals Paper type Research paper 1. Introduction After the postgraduate student completes her/his coursework in a master programme or passes the comprehensive exam and becomes a doctoral candidate in a doctoral programme, © Mahmoud Abdellatif and Reham Abdellatif. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/legalcode. Archnet-IJAR: International Journal of Architectural Research The authors acknowledge the sincere assistance provided by the team of experts from several Architectural Schools worldwide to verify and improve the TP Conception. Appreciation is also pp. 503-524 Emerald Publishing Limited extended to the post graduate students of the College of Architecture and Planning, IAU, who have 2631-6862 positively responded to the students’ opinion survey. DOI 10.1108/ARCH-12-2019-0281 s/he is allowed to submit a “Thesis Proposal” (TP) to her/his department whose main concern ARCH is to assess whether the topic is suitable for a graduate study and for the time and resources 14,3 available (Afful, 2008; Kivunja, 2016; Reddy, 2019). The department then sends the submitted TP to higher bodies for official approval. Once approved, the TP becomes a legal binding or “a formal contract” (Walliman, 2017)and “a statement of intent” (Hofstee, 2006) between the researcher and the university. If the student adheres to all prescribed TP requirements within the specified time, s/he will be awarded the degree (Leo, 2019). Guided by his/her academic advisor, the student prepares the TP within which the researcher explains the research problem, questions, aim and objectives, scope, and methodologies to describe, analyse and synthesize the research problem and develop solutions for it (Paltridge and Starfield, 2007). In addition, the proposal includes a brief about research significance and expected contributions; a preliminary review of literature; thesis structure and approximate completion timeline; and a list of relevant references (Kivunja, 2016; Thomas, 2016; Kornuta and Germaine, 2019). 1.1 Statement of the problem and research aim After decades of writing, supervising and refereeing master and doctoral theses in the fields of Architecture and Urban Planning, the authors noticed that TP’s differ in format and content from a school to another. This may be considered a healthy matter because it gives room for flexibility that absorbs the variety of research problems and techniques. Yet, the absence of a consensus on what constitutes a successful TP could cause confusion and hardship to both students and advisors (Kamler and Thomson, 2008; Abdulai and Owusu- Ansah, 2014). The review of literature indicates that TP writing has been tackled in depth in many fields (see for instance Gonzalez, 2007; Balakumar et al., 2013; Eco, 2015; Kivunja, 2016; Glatthorn and Randy, 2018; Kornuta and Germaine, 2019). Apart from thesis proposal instruction and guideline manuals posted on universities’ websites, the authors believe that there is a lack of in-depth research on the issue of producing successful thesis proposals in the fields of Architecture and Planning. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to improve the understanding of what constitutes a successful thesis proposal and as such enhance the quality of the TP writing in architecture and planning and related disciplines. To achieve such an aim, the paper has the following procedural objectives: (1) To propose a successful TP conception which determines the standard components of TP and sets specific definitions, attributes and rules of success for each component. (2) To apply the proposed conception on several batches of graduate students, then assess its impact on students’ performance and output along the years of application. (3) To validate the proposed conception by getting the insights of experienced academics from architecture and planning schools worldwide, and as such, improve and finalize the conception. 1.2 Research methodology Figure 1 summarizes the process pursued to develop the “Successful TP Conception”. From 2000 to 2005, the conception was proposed and included in an unpublished textbook (Abdellatif and Abdellatif, 2005). From 2005 to 2020, the conception has been applied on several batches of graduate students in the College of Architecture and Planning, Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University (IAU), Dammam, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). In February 2020, the impacts of the conception on students’ performances and outputs were Successful thesis proposals in architecture Figure 1. The stages of developing the successful thesis proposal conception assessed by students’ survey. From November 2019 through March 2020, the conception was validated by an experts’ inquiry of worldwide academics; then it was improved and finalized. (1) To propose the Successful TP Conception, the authors relied on two sources: knowledge extracted from their extended experience and a review of relevant studies and instruction manuals and guidelines for preparing TP in several worldwide universities. The Conception has been applied on several batches of master and doctoral students from IAU, KSA for almost 15 years between 2005 and 2020 during their enrolment in three courses in the College of Architecture and Planning, IAU, KSA. These courses are “ARPL 603 Research Methods” and “BISC 600 Research Methods” for the master’slevel and “URPL 803 Seminar (3): Doctoral Research Methods” for the doctoral level. (2) To assess the implications of the Successful TP Conception on students’ performance and outputs, the authors designed an online questionnaire (Students_Survey, 2020)and distributed it to a sample of 60 graduate students who studied and applied the conception: From a total of 60 students, 39 students (65%) completed the survey; of whom 12 students (31%) were doctoral and 27 students (69%) were masters students. The survey used a five-point Likert scale to assess the impact of applying the rules of Successful TP Conception taught to students on their performances and outputs; that is, how the conception helped the students: - Improve their understanding of the components of a successful TP. - Enhance their performance in developing their TP’s. - Conduct a more effective self-assessment of their developed TP’s. - Enhance their performance along other stages of producing their theses and ARCH dissertations. 14,3 - Maintain any other benefits adding to students’ research capabilities. (3) To validate and improve the conception, the authors used an expert inquiry to get the insights of a selected sample of academics experienced in supervising master and doctoral theses in worldwide architecture and planning schools. The authors designed an online survey (Experts_Survey, 2019) and sent it to 80 experts; of whom 35 experts (43.75%) responded. The survey included two parts: The first part recorded the general characteristics of respondents. The second inquired about experts’ viewpoints on the definitions, attributes and the rules of success of the components of the proposed TP conception. 2. Proposing the Successful TP Conception 2.1 Components of a TP for a standard problem-solving research type A review of thesis writing guidelines posted on universities’ websites and other related literature has indicated that the number of components of a masters’ or doctoral thesis proposal varies. After a thorough review of related literature and with their experience, the authors have been convinced that, in its standard form, a TP should include 13 components. Chronically arranged, as appearing in the proposal, they are: title page, abstract, keywords, background, statement of the problem, research questions, research aim and objectives, research scope, research significance and contributions, preliminary review of literature, research methodology, thesis structure and timeline, and references list (Ostler, 1996; Simpson and Turner, 2004; Zhou, 2004; Davies, 2011; Axelrod and Windell, 2012; Donohue, 2018; Glatthorn and Randy, 2018; Kornuta and Germaine, 2019). It is worth mentioning that these 13 components will differ in the case of a hypothesis-based research whose aim is to validate a specific hypothesis that a specific variable/s is/are or is/are not the main cause/s of an investigated research problem. This paper is limited only to the standard problem-solving research type. 2.2 Building the Successful TP Conception To propose the Successful TP Conception, the authors applied three steps on each of the 13 components: (1) Setting a general definition for each component including its meaning, importance, functions and contents. (2) Outlining the most important attributes that must be considered when writing the component. (3) Based on step 1 and 2, the authors extracted a list of success rules which provides a concise definition for each component of the TP, and/or describes the relationship between the component and other components of the TP (the list is summarized at the end of Part 2). 2.2.1 Research title. This is the first item that appears to the reader. It invites or detains him/her from proceeding to other contents (Blaxter et al.,2010). The research title is positioned in the title page along with several basic data, namely, the title; the names of the Department, College, University, study programme, researcher and advisory committee; and submission date. The research title should be useful, discussing an issue critical to society; true, conveying a real message about the investigated problem (Donohue, 2018); concise, presenting the message with the minimum number of words; adequate, using the right wording to explain Successful the intended meaning; and attractive, stimulating the reader’s attention. Iterations in refining thesis the research title go hand-in-hand with refining the research question (Groat and proposals in Wang, 2013). architecture 2.2.2 The abstract. It is the first item that appears in the TP after the title and of the same significance; yet, it is the last to be written (Kornuta and Germaine, 2019). It has a marketing function (Lamanauskas, 2019); it calls the reader in or alienates him out. A comprehensive abstract contains a summary of the problem, aim, scope, methodology, importance, contributions and outline (Koopman, 1997). The Abstract should be concise or brief with a maximum of 200–300 words; adequate, including profiles of all parts of the proposal; clear, expressing its message without ambiguity; and interrelated, serving as a body of sequential, coherent and connected ideas (Blaxter et al., 2010). 2.2.3 The keywords. These are a set of words or terms used for archiving, tabulation and electronic search on databases. They should include essential “subject terms” describing the research topic, the unique sub-specializations and focus of the research (what is researched), the contextual scope of the research (where and when), and the used research methodology (how to conduct the research) (Lamanauskas, 2019). They are better written by splitting the title into its separate single words or terms which must be found in the abstract, as well (Mack, 2012). Keywords should be brief, not more than 8–12 words; adequate, conveying the research theme, scope, aim and approach; exact, focusing on the investigated topic and scope; and standard, using scientific terminology used in the field. 2.2.4 The background. This is a gradual preparation of the reader from the larger scientific field to the specific field, from the wider geographic area to the immediate area, and from the larger timeframe to the immediate one. It starts from the strategic level and general scope of the research and gradually reaches the level closer to the examined problem (Abdellatif and Abdellatif, 2005). It places the study within the larger context of the research, creates interest to the reader and catches his attention, and includes quotations and statistics leading the reader to proceed (Babbie, 2014). The background statement should be striking, drawing the reader’s attention to the research; brief, not lengthy; gradual, moving from the general level surrounding the investigated issue to the specific level; and careful, not speeding up in disclosing the study problem, aim or methodology to the reader (Axelrod and Windell, 2012; Pautasso, 2013). 2.2.5 The statement of the problem. This is a statement presented in two forms: an overall/ general form and a specific/articulated form (sub-problems). (1) Statement of the General Research Problem is a narrative describing a negative aspect/s prevailing in the investigated urban environment/ecosystem or architectural setting; it is equivalent to the negative wording of the research aim (Abdellatif and Abdellatif, 2005). It stimulates interest in the study; scientifically explained to convey a simple, clear and specific issue to which a reader can relate and is useful to the society at large (Balakumar et al., 2013). In the humanities and social sciences many dissertations endeavour to establish the conditions of the problem, not to solve it (Dorst, 2011). In formulating the research problem, it is useful to consider it a problem which hinders the natural development of the society and/or environment andleads to adeclineinthe QualityofLife(QOL) or Quality of Environment (QOE) or both. A development problem is a factor/cause leading to either a quantitative or qualitative deficiency in satisfying a human need or both such as a lack of certain service or inadequate provision of the service (Abdellatif, 2015). To arrive at a successful statement of the general problem, the researcher should pinpoint the main cause/s behind the study problem. All what comes next depends on the clarity of the problem statement. Research problems in architecture and related disciplines may be classified under ARCH different frames of references (Salama, 2019): 14,3 Technically oriented research (TOR), which places emphasis on the process and procedures as the primary basis of effective design, TOR can be either systematic, or computational, or managerial. Conceptually driven research (CDR), which can be either psychological or person– environment. The psychological type is driven by the goal of matching knowledge with the nature of the design problem, its components, context and social and environmental requirements. Whereas, the person–environment type places emphasis on the socio-cultural and socio-behavioural factors as they relate to the design process itself and to settings, buildings and urban environments. The general problem of the study should be brief, comprised from one to two sentences; clear, using straightforward words with simple meaning that cannot be confused; specific, focusing on the main cause of the study problem (Kornuta and Germaine, 2019); and outlining, highlighting the general problem without elaborating on sub-problems. (2) Statement of the research sub-problems is a narrative that describes the general problem in detail; sub-problems are simply the various causes of the general problem (Goetz et al., 2005). Identifying sub-problems will ensure focusing during the investigation on important factors causing the general problem. It is useful when tracing sub-problems to apply the following steps (Abdellatif, 2015): Classify the investigated situation to branched dimensions, e.g. demographic, planning, regulatory, economic, social, environmental, etc. Trace the causes or the influencing factors that lead to the emergence or aggravation of the problem/s in each dimension. Clarify the problem more by identifying the consequences or adverse effects (the symptoms of the problem) that resulted from those causes. This helps isolate the causes from the consequences to focus on treating the causes not the consequences. Using temporary painkillers will not eliminate the disease; it only tranquilizes the symptoms. The research sub-problems should be focused, where each sub-problem concentrates on one independent side of the general problem; articulate, non-compositing and non-overlapping with other sub-problems; rooted, relating to one of the roots of the general problem; deep, addressing the cause not the symptom of the problem; and comprehended, easy to perceive, determine and describe (Groat and Wang, 2013). (3) Statement of the consequences of the problem is a narrative that describes the negative effects caused by sub-problems on the investigated environment (Goetz et al., 2005). The statement of consequences of the problem should be focused, where each consequence focuses on one independent sub-problem; articulate, not overlapping with other consequences; rooted, relating to one of the roots of the general problems; deep, providing description for specific symptom; and comprehended, could be perceived, described and determined (Abdellatif, 2015). 2.2.6 Research questions. These are a set of questions the research tries to answer. Each question usually covers one of the research sub-problems. Questioning is an alternative way to present research problem/s but in a question format. As indicated by Grix (2001) and Groat and Wang (2013), research questions simplify the problem and provide insight for articulating the aim and objectives and setting the proper methods to achieve them. Research questions should “contain within themselves the means for assessing their achievement” Successful (Blaxter et al., 2010). If the environment under investigation suffers from a specific thesis development problem/s, the following are typical examples of questions raised (Abdellatif proposals in and Abdellatif, 2005): architecture (1) What is the nature of the development problem as defined by the latest findings of previous literature, similar studies and published statistical reports? (2) What are the key features of the investigated problem according to a direct field survey? (3) What are the appropriate links between different variables of the study (causes, consequences, etc.) according to the information gathered from the theoretical review and field surveys? (4) What are the extracted results and the appropriate solutions and/or recommendations to deal with the general research problem and its sub-problems? (5) What are the critical contributions of the research findings on the life and/or environmental qualities? (6) How can the research increase the benefits of research results on the ground? (7) What are the research areas/points that need further investigation? Research questions should be specific, each question addresses one sub-problem; unduplicated, each question does not repeat itself in a different format; sequential, or arranged according to their importance and order; and interrelated, where each question relates to other questions. 2.2.7 Research aim, goals and objectives. It is advisable to define the general aim of the study first then define two kinds of objectives: procedural and developmental objectives. (1) The general aim of the research is a specific and clear statement presenting the overall purpose of the study. It is directed to find an appropriate and effective solution to the general research problem (Donohue, 2018). It is an attempt to fill a gap between a negative reality of an environment/ecosystem/or development situation and a desired positive future to be achieved at the end of the research process (Glatthorn and Randy, 2018). The aim should be properly stated to ensure the success of all the following stages of the scientific research process. The general aim of the research should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely (SMART) (Doran, 1981): specific, by focusing on a branch or root of a complicated development problem; measurable, by using standard units to enable measuring the achievement of goals; achievable, by being real not elusive or difficult to investigate considering available resources which include the time allowed for the degree and the funding available to gather information, to conduct the planned experiments and measurements, to finalize the necessary research analysis and to develop appropriate solutions; the scientific expertise of the researcher in the subject of research; the level of academic support from the academic advisor; access to references, and office and field resources needed to collect information on the problem; realistic, dealing with a real problem happening in the environment surrounding the researcher; and timely, directed towards an urgent problem with high societal priority not outdated and studied many times before. (2) The procedural objectives are the sub-goals emanating from the main aim of the study. They provide a roadmap and illustrate important stages leading to sequential targets towards achieving the general aim. They are articulated sub-goals that in their totality compose the main research aim (Abdulai and Owusu-Ansah, 2014). Procedural ARCH objectives of a typical research include conducting the following tasks (Abdellatif and 14,3 Abdellatif, 2005): Exploring the problem by defining the research problem, formulating aim and objectives, designing the methodology, defining the scope, and highlighting the expected contributions. Collecting secondary data by defining basic concepts and terms, reviewing relevant literature and previous studies, and describing the most important characteristics of the investigated environment from secondary sources and statistical reports. Collecting primary data via direct field surveys and based on the views of concerned population, experts and officials to describe the characteristics of the investigated development problem. Analysing the gathered data by using theoretical and field data to determine the appropriate links among different variables of the study (e.g. causes, consequences, etc.). Synthesizing the gathered data by integrating the findings of analysis to build appropriate approaches or solutions to deal with the general problem. Extracting conclusions and writing recommendations to highlight research findings and make them more useful and effective. Procedural objectives, in addition to being SMART, they should be focused, where each objective focuses on a phase of achieving the overall goal; non-overlapping, where every objective does not exceed a defined limit; and sequential, chronologically arranged as specified in the timeline. (3) The development objectives are objectives which focus on solving the research sub- problems leading to solving the main research problem. They should describe quantitative and/or qualitative improvements in the physical and/or human environment rather than stating the steps of a study (Donohue, 2018). Well-defined development objectives help focus on solving the studied problems only. They deal with development problem/s on the micro level but will contribute to the macro level, as well (Abdellatif, 2015): A micro level objective contributes to solving the specific investigated problem (e.g. a specific quantitative or qualitative problem that hinders the development of a sector of society, environment, or eco-system). A macro level objective contributes to realizing a higher goal (e.g. improving the overall quality of life of a larger community, upgrading the quality of the larger environment, etc.). Development objectives should apply the SMART goal rule (previously explained); and be non-overlapping by ensuring that each objective is focused and not conflicting with other objectives. 2.2.8 Research scope. This is a statement which defines the thematic, geographic/spatial and temporal limits of research. By narrowing these three scopes, the research process becomes more effective, efficient and doable (Abdellatif and Abdellatif, 2005): (1) Thematic scope clarifies the general and specific areas of the research (e.g. the Successful research falls within the field of sustainable development in general and focuses on thesis social sustainability). proposals in (2) Geographic/Spatial scope specifies the spatial boundaries of the physical environment architecture within which the research is applied (e.g. a specific local or regional setting). (3) Temporal scope shows the past, present and future spans the research will cover indicating the number of years from the historical information inventory until the expected completion date. If the research aim is to develop future strategies or policies, the span will extend to future target point. Research Scope should be categorized, by being classified by subject, place and time; focused, by reaching the closest limits of the investigated research problem, environment and time; and clear, by not being so general or ambiguous. 2.2.9 Research significance and contributions. They highlight the most important benefits and the main beneficiaries from solving the research problem; the potential positive impacts of the study on the life and environmental qualities (Groat and Wang, 2013). Contributions differ in nature (theoretical or applied or both) and in size (huge, average, or marginal). There is a positive relationship between the size of contributions and the size of impacted beneficiaries (individuals, groups, institutions, communities, societies), the scale of the impacted geographic boundaries (local, national or global), the type of impacted development sectors (service, production, etc.) and the numbers of the impacted sectors (one, a few, or all sectors). Research significance increases as the size of contributions increases. Specifying the research significance, expected contributions and potential beneficiaries helps promote the research and provides rational justifications for conducting it. The higher the contributions and the greater the sectors of the beneficiaries, the more significant the research is (Abdellatif and Abdellatif, 2005). According to Balakumar et al. (2013) research significance justifies the need for the research that is being proposed. Research significance and expected contributions should be categorized, in terms of type (theoretical or applied contribution or both), size and nature of the beneficiaries (individuals, institutions, communities, etc.) and geographical extent (small site, district, city, region, nation, etc.); clear, simple and comprehensible to the reader; and realistic, real, accurate and not exaggerated. 2.2.10 The preliminary review of literature. This is an initial review of literature dealt with relevant problems. It aims to build an initial understanding of the problem, identify the most important variables that have been considered, cite methodologies used to deal with the problem; make use of the latest findings and record the various recommendations/solutions suggested to deal with the problem (Hart, 1998; Grix, 2001). According to Dunleavy (2003),it is a critical review on related recent research that is well documented, structured, analysed and synthesized. It offers the researcher an opportunity to engage with other scholars in one’s disciplinary community. In addition to having a separate part, it is useful to combine the literature review with other components of the TP (e.g. the research problem, questions, aim and objectives, and methodology). It is important that the review presents differing perspectives or contrasting views of the topic and reports the complexities of the issue (Kornuta and Germaine, 2019). By conducting the review, the researcher becomes able to build an initial but comprehensive understanding of the causes and consequences of the problem, the methodologies used to study and analyse the problem and the solutions proposed to deal with it by synthesizing various viewpoints of previous studies, thereby, supporting her/his principle argument about the study problem with the results derived from previous ARCH literature (Pautasso, 2013). 14,3 The preliminary literature review in the TP is a “pilot review” or a sample of the extensive literature review to be made later in the actual thesis. It contains three subsidiaries (Abdellatif and Abdellatif, 2005): (1) Definitions of key terms and concepts; standard terms to appear in the research and special concepts which are not formally provided by previous scholars. The definitions must be logic and derived from scientifically recognized sources. (2) Review of previous studies; focusing on identifying several issues, namely, the most important dimensions and variables of the research problem (the causes of the problem; why the problem has emerged or aggravated; the most important consequences of this problem on the human and/or physical environment); the methods used to deal with the problem; the latest findings of previous studies and the various approaches/solutions suggested to deal with the problem. (3) Contextual aspects of the investigated development situation; including a review of relevant characteristics of the researched environment (its basic dimensions and elements) as found in previous studies. Contextual aspects may be classified into physical and human components; or into environmental, functional, aesthetic, structural, economic and social design determinants; or into demographic, planning, regulatory, economic, social, environmental sectors or other classifications. Preliminary review of literature should be indexed, from reliable scholarly sources; categorized or documented according to standard classification system; employed, used wisely to achieve a desired purpose; up to date, recent, however, in topics which address chronological development or evolutionary aspects references could be recent and old; and related, relevant to the study problem (Hart, 1998). 2.2.11 Research methodology. This provides explanation of the appropriate methods to be used in data collection, analysis, synthesis and presentation; for the extraction of results; and for the development of appropriate approaches or solutions to deal with the research problem (Blaxter et al., 2010; Kivunja, 2016). The following methods could be used (Abdellatif and Abdellatif, 2005): (1) Data collection methods including office methods used to collect secondary data from previous literature and case studies as well as field methods used to gather original data through field visits, surveying, questionnaires, interviews with stakeholders, etc. (2) Data analysis methods including methods used to analyse both the secondary and primary information collected from office and the field surveys such as Statistical Analysis, Environmental Scanning (SWOT), Development Components Analysis, etc. (3) Data synthesis methods including methods used to compile, synthesize the analysis and develop appropriate alternative scenarios or solutions to deal with the problem. (4) Data presentation methods including methods to present the research process and findings such as scientific research paper containing narratives, tables, figures, forms, maps, results and recommendations as well as final visual presentation to review panel to get remarks and write the last version of the TP. Research methodology should be appropriate, aligned with the purpose/s in which they will be used; achievable, within the reach of the researcher; effective, achieving the purpose fast and with high quality; reliable, previously tested, applied and approved in similar cases; and Successful precise, accurate and specific. thesis 2.2.12 Research structure and timeline. This is a brief statement of the main sections of the proposals in master’s/doctoral thesis with tentative dates for completing the various stages of the architecture research. Careful preparation of research structure and timeline ensures the effectiveness and integrity of the plan of actions towards the completion of the study (Kivunja, 2016). It is also a criterion to judge the achieved progress and seriousness of the researcher. Research structure and timeline should be sequential, arranged according to a standard scientific research process; logical, proportionate to the total period available for completion; and balanced, distributing time properly among various stages. 2.2.13 The list of references. This is a list which contains a reasonable number of relevant references on the topic which were actually cited in the TP (Kornuta and Germaine, 2019). Including a list of the references about the topic demonstrates that the researcher is familiar with the basic and latest knowledge on his/her problem. The list of references should be relevant, closely related to the investigated subject; up to date, recent yet containing old and new according the topic and context; and reliable, published in dependable vessels. 2.3 Extracting the success rules Based on the above definitions and attributes provided for each of the 13 TP components, the authors were able to extract a number of success rules that took the form of equations, each of which describes an equality function between each component and its counterpart component/s as shown in Table 1. For instance, rule #1 shows that “research title” is equal to “the general aim of the research” and is equal to “the negative wording of the research problem”. 3. Assessing the Successful TP Conception from students’ viewpoints After proposing the Successful TP Conception and applying it on several batches of graduate students in the College of Architecture and Planning at IAU for a period of 15 years from 2005 to 2019, it becomes necessary to assess the conception to ascertain its positive impacts on improving the quality of students’ performance and outputs concerning the development of their TP’s and their overall research capabilities. This part summarizes the results of the survey of a group of graduate students who studied and applied the TP conception from the College of Architecture of Planning, IAU, KSA. The survey contains a five-indicator scale which assesses the impact of applying the success rules of the TP Conception on the students’ performance and output. The results of the survey demonstrated the following positive impacts: (1) The students’ understanding of the components of thesis proposals has improved as follows: They better understood the meanings of each component (97% agree and strongly agree and 3% neutral). They better understood the attributes of each component (94% agree and strongly agree and 6% neutral). They better understood the rules which control the relations between the various components of the TP (87% agree and strongly agree and 13% neutral). (2) The students’ performance in developing their thesis proposals has improved as follows: ARCH # Research proposal component Equals The corresponding component 14,3 1 Research title 5 The general aim of the research 5 Solving the main research problem 2 The abstract 5 Profiles of all components of the research proposal 3 Keywords 5 Title in a fragmented manner 5 Words that compose the research title 4 Background 5 Gradual preparation of the reader to enter the study 5 The statement of the problem 5–1 General problem of research 5 The main cause of quantitative or qualitative deficiency in the investigated environment 5–2 Research sub-problems 5 The secondary causes of each sub-problem of the general problem 5–3 Research consequences 5 Subsidiary symptoms of the general illness of the examined environment 6 Research questions 5 Presenting general problem and sub-problems of the research in the question format 7 Research aims, goals and 5 Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely objectives goals 7–1 General aim of the research 5 Solving the general problem of the research 7–2 Procedural objectives of the 5 Research stages research 5 Sections or chapters of the thesis 7–3 Development objectives of the 5 Solving sub-problems of the study research 5 Finding a cure for the secondary causes of the problem 8 The scope of the research 5 Thematic, geographical and temporal limits of the study 9 Importance of the study and 5 expected positive impacts of research (theoretical, expected contributions practical or both) 10 Preliminary review of 5 Building a comprehensive conception from previous literature studies about the causes and consequences of the problem, the methodologies used to understand and analyse it, the most important findings and the solutions developed to deal with it 11 Research methodology 5 Techniques, methods and tools used in each stage of study 12 Research skeleton and 5 Main chapters of research along the completion timeline completion timeline 5 Stages of the scientific research process along the completion timeline 12 List of references 5 Latest local and international references about the research Table 1. 14 Thesis proposal (using future 5 General introduction of the final thesis (Using past tenses) Proposed list of success tenses) rules for the TP components Source(s): Prepared by the authors based on the above definitions and attributes of the TP components The process of writing the proposal has become easier and more convenient (100% agree and strongly agree). The effort, cost and time spent in submitting the proposal have been substantially saved (87% agree and strongly and 12% neutral). The relationship with academic advisor has improved (87% agree and strongly agree and 12% neutral). (3) The students have become able to make a more effective self-assessment of the research proposal before submitting it to their academic advisor: The students’ confidence in advancing their own learning abilities has improved (93% agree and strongly agree and 7% neutral).  The students’ abilities to address the strengths and weaknesses of their personal Successful skills have improved (93% agree and strongly agree and 7% neutral). thesis The students’ abilities to manage their learning process more independently have proposals in improved (90% agree and strongly agree, 7% neutral and 3% disagree). architecture (4) The students’ performance along other stages of producing their theses has improved: The students have created a clearer and better mutual understanding with their academic advisors (90% agree and strongly agree and 10% neutral). The students have reduced their distraction from the original target set out in the proposal (81% agree and strongly agree, 16% neutral and 3% disagree). The students have been able to finish their research on time (78% agree and strongly agree, 19% neutral and 3% disagree). (5) The students have gained other benefits that improve their overall research skills, including: They gained better analytical skills (87% agree and strongly agree, 10% neutral and 3% disagree). They gained better problem-solving skills (87% agree and strongly agree, 10% neutral and 3% disagree). They gained better critical thinking skills (87% agree and strongly agree, 10% neutral and 3% disagree). 4. Verifying the Successful TP Conception based on experts’ viewpoints Having proposed, applied and assessed the Successful TP Conception, it becomes important to validate it using the insights of experienced academics from Architectural and Planning schools worldwide. This part summarizes the results of the experts’ inquiry survey conducted in November 2019 to February 2020. It shows the characteristics of experts and their viewpoints and remarks on the originally proposed definitions, attributes and success rules. 4.1 Experts’ characteristics The characteristics of the 39 experts who participated in the inquiry are summarized as follows: (1) They were from nine countries, namely, the United States of America, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain. (2) About 75% of the experts were males and 25% were females. About 5% were 35–45 years old, 20% were 45–55 years, 55% were 55–65 years and 20% were 65 years and over. (3) About 5% were Assistant Professors, 10% Associate Professors and the majority (85%) were Professors. (4) The experts had teaching experiences in undergraduate and graduate levels (masters, doctoral, diploma, postdoctoral and continuing professional development). (5) The general specialization of 70% of the experts was Architecture and 30% of ARCH experts were specialized in Urban Planning. They taught in several built environment 14,3 fields (Architecture, Interior Design, Building Technology, Urban Design, Landscape Architecture and Urban and Regional Planning). (6) The experts had several focus areas, namely, Architecture, History and Theories of Architecture, Assessment of Designed Environments, Design Methods, Pedagogy, Architecture and Digital Technologies, Heritage Conservation, Middle East Architecture and Cities, Construction Project Management, Urban Design, Spatial Development Planning, Landscape, Built Environment and Behaviour, Urban Studies, Techniques and Quantitative Methods of Urban Planning, Urban Conflict, Urban Justice, Community Development, Environmental Management and Planning and Development Approaches. (7) About 10% of the experts supervised 5 theses, 5% supervised 6–10 theses, 50% supervised 11–20 theses and 35% supervised more than 20 theses. 4.2 Experts’ viewpoints and remarks The contributions of experts have been very constructive; the experts have verified the proposed definitions, attributes and success rules; their acceptance rates and remarks could be summarized as follows: (1) Concerning the proposed definitions of the TP components, the experts expressed their agreement which ranged between 73 and 96%. Some experts provided additional remarks to help improve the definitions. Table 2 presents the originally proposed definitions, the percentages of agreed experts and their additional remarks. (2) Regarding the attributes of each component of the TP, the original conception proposed 38 attributes, the experts added 18 attributes resulting in a total of 56 attributes. Table 3 presents a matrix showing the percentages of experts’ agreement of the originally proposed attributes as well as the added attributes. The lowest agreement percentage was 59% and the highest was 96%. (3) Concerning the proposed success rules which were called “equations” in the originally proposed conception, the experts suggested to change the expression into “rules”; which is more appropriate for subjective contents than mathematical expression. Table 4 presents the final 19 success rules for the components/sub-components of a TP and the percentage of experts’ agreement which ranged between 57 and 95%. 5. Conclusion Based on their experience in preparing and supervising masters and doctoral theses and after a thorough review of the literature on preparing thesis proposals, the authors drafted a conception of a successful thesis proposal comprising specific definitions, attributes and rules for each of the 13 components of a standard TP. The conception had been applied over a duration of 15 years (2005–2020) on several batches of master and doctoral students in IAU, KSA. Through an online survey, the majority of students (78–100%) have indicated that understanding and applying the conception helped them improve their performances and outputs during the TP development process and beyond. The conception was then validated by getting the insights of 39 experienced academics from worldwide architectural schools. The experts accepted the proposed definitions with (73–96%) agreement rate. The experts also accepted the proposed attributes with (59–96%) agreement rate. As for the success rules, the experts’ agreed as well with an acceptance rate Successful Component of a % of experts agreement of thesis # thesis proposal Proposed definition % Experts additional remarks proposals in 1 Research title The first item that appears to the 73 It should be reflective of research architecture reader. It invites the reader to topic, questions, objectives, content proceed to other contents and approach and convey the aim, the purpose, the scope and the outcome 2 The abstract The first item that appears in the 79 Although some experts commented TP after the title and of the same that in several schools an abstract is significance. It calls the reader in not a compulsory component of TP, or alienates him out 79% of the experts agreed that the abstract is needed 3 Keywords A set of words or terms used for 75 Keywords are better written by archiving, tabulation and splitting the title into its separate electronic search on databases single words or terms. They should include essential terms describing the research topic, the unique sub- specializations and focus of the research (what is researched), the contextual scope of the research (where and when) and the used research methodology (how to conduct the research) 4 Background A gradual preparation from the 74 The background should place the larger scientific field to the study within the larger context of the specific field, from wider research, create interest to the reader geographic area to the immediate and catch his attention, help him area, and from the strategic level understand why the study is to the level closer to the examined significant, include limitation and problem arguments of pervious research, and include quotations and statistics leading the reader to go to the next component of the TP 5 Statement of the problem 5–1 Statement of the A narrative describing a negative 92 A statement which stimulates interest general research situation prevailing in the in the study; scientifically explained to problem investigated urban environment/ convey a simple, clear and specific ecosystem or architectural issue to which a reader can relate”; setting “equivalent to the negative wording of the research aim”; and “in the humanities and social sciences many dissertations endeavour to establish the conditions of the problem, not to solve it 5–2 Statement of the A narrative that describes the 84 One expert commented that “the research sub- general problem in detail; sub- above definition is valid and useful in problems problems are simply the various causal research types only; other causes of the general problem research types might consider different approaches” Table 2. 5–3 Consequences of A narrative that describes the 83 None Proposed definitions of the problem effects of sub-problems on the each component of the investigated environment TP and experts’ agreements and (continued) remarks ARCH Component of a % of experts agreement of 14,3 # thesis proposal Proposed definition % Experts additional remarks 6 Research questions A set of questions the research 96 None tries to answer. Each question usually covers one of the research sub-problems 518 7 Research aim/goal/ The goal should be Specific, 96 None objectives Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely 7–1 General aim of the A specific and clear statement 96 None research presenting the overall purpose of the study 7–2 Procedural The sub-goals emanating from 79 They are articulated sub-goals that in objectives of the the main aim of the study. They their totality compose the main research provide a roadmap and illustrate research aim important stages leading to sequential targets towards achieving the general aim 7–3 Development The objectives which focus on 74 None objectives of the solving the research sub- research problems and eventually solving the main problem of the investigated situation 8 Research scope A statement which defines the None thematic, geographical/spatial and temporal limits of research 9 Research Highlight potential positive 87 Expected contributions can only be significance and impacts of the study on the life tentative in the early research contributions and environmental qualities proposal stage, the researcher must remain open to unexpected findings upon the finishing stage of his/her study 10 Preliminary review Builds an initial understanding of 91 Related directly to the stated research of literature the problem, identify the most questions; identify areas of controversy important variables considered, in the literature; describe the cite methodologies used; make use relationship of each work to others; of the latest findings and record the point the way forward for further various recommendations/ research; and be organized into solutions suggested categories or themes 11 Research Contains explanation of the 82 None methodology appropriate methods to be used in data collection, analysis, synthesis and presentation; for the extraction of results; and for the development of appropriate approaches or solutions to deal with the research problem 12 Research structure A brief statement of the main 95 None and timeline sections of the master’s/doctoral thesis arranged on the tentative dates for completing the various stages of the research 13 List of references A list which contains a 82 None reasonable number of relevant references on the topic Table 2. Source(s): Prepared by the authors based on the above analysis and the results of expert inquiry Successful thesis proposals in architecture Table 3. Experts’ remarks on the proposed attributes of each component of the thesis proposal Experts’ Agreement of Attributes (%: of Experts Agreed) or (√: additional attribute suggested by Experts) Component of a Thesis Proposal Research Title 70 83 87 √ √ 93 71 √ √ √ 2 The Abstract 71 79 79 √ √ √ 71 3 Keywords 75 61 71 68 √ 4 Background 70 70 √ 59 74 √ √ √ √ 5 Statement of the Problem General Research Problem 96 92 √ 77 81 √ √ 5-1 5-2 Research Sub-problems 92 92 96 96 92 Consequences of the 5-3 92 83 92 88 88 Problem 6 Research Questions √ √ √ 79 √ 92 √ 92 79 7 Aims/Goals/Objectives 96 96 96 96 88 General Aim of the 7-1 96 96 96 96 88 Research 7-2 Procedural Objectives 91 96 √ 96 96 88 78 87 √ √ 7-3 Development Objectives 96 96 96 96 88 79 8 Research Scope 91 91 74 significance &Contributions √ 91 91 √ 70 Preliminary Review of 10 95 86 73 73 86 literature Research Methodology 77 82 95 96 96 Research Structure and 12 √ √ √ 95 95 95 Timeline 13 List of References √ 95 86 95 Source(s): Prepared by the authors based on the above analysis and the results of expert inquiry Useful True Adequate Scientific Standard Clear Exact To the point Real Realistic Co mprehended Careful Concise Specific Focused Simple Brief Measurable Articulate Interesting Attractive Stimulating Appealing Striking Flexible Musical Interrelated Relevant Gradual critical Integrated Structured Outlining Documenting Contextual Evidenced Doable Achievable Rooted Deep Unduplicated Sequential Timely Non-overlapping Sequential Discursive Responsive Categorized Indexed Employed Up to Date Appropriate Effective Reliable Logical Balanced ARCH %of Success rule 14,3 Rule experts Component of a thesis Relationship Its concise definition (and/or) its # agreed proposal nature (→) relationship to another component/s 1 60% Research title Should reflect The general aim and scope of the research The negative wording of the research problem 2 75% The abstract Should be A concise brief of all necessary components of the research proposal 3 74% Keywords Should include Terms representing research title, topic, unique sub-specializations, methodology and scope 4 74% Research background Should cover A gradual contextual literary analysis relevant to the study preparing the reader to enter the study 5 The statement of the problem 5–1 73% Statement of the Should reflect The main cause of a quantitative and/or general research qualitative deficiency in the problem environment under investigation The negative wording of the research aim 5–2 80% Research sub- Should describe The subsidiary causes of the main problems problem 5–3 79% Consequences of the Should describe Subsidiary symptoms of the general Problem illness of the examined environment 6 79% Research questions Should rephrase The research sub-problems in a question format The research objectives in a question format 7 63% Research aims, goals Should be SMART (specific, measurable, and objectives achievable, realistic and timely) 7–1 63% General aim of the Should reflect A target responding to the general research research problem/question A potential alternative scenario that may enable the development of solutions The research title with the same or different wording 7–2 57% Procedural objectives Should The sub-goals that compose the main of the research articulate/ research aim represent The stages of the research The sections or chapters of the thesis 7–3 70% Development Should reflect Targeted solutions to the sub-problems objectives of the of the study research Targeted possible cures/fixes for the subsidiary causes of the problem 8 83% Research scope Should cover Thematic, geographic and temporal limits of the study 9 87% Research significance Should highlight The expected positive theoretical or and contributions practical impacts of the research or both 10 95% Preliminary review of Should cover A well-documented, structured, Table 4. literature analysed and synthesized critical review An extracted list of of relevant research success rules for thesis proposals (continued) Successful %of Success rule thesis Rule experts Component of a thesis Relationship Its concise definition (and/or) its proposals in # agreed proposal nature (→) relationship to another component/s architecture 11 82% Research Should explain The methods, techniques and tools used methodology to accomplish the research objectives in each stage of the study 12 82% Research structure Should The stages/phases of the research and and timeline articulate/ their expected completion dates represent The main chapters of the research distributed along the completion timeline 13 77% List of references Should present The references relevant to the research problem 14 General The thesis proposal Should resemble The general introduction of the final rule (using future tenses) thesis (using past tenses) Source(s): Prepared by the authors based on the above analysis and the results of expert inquiry Table 4. ranging from (57–95%). The experts suggested constructive remarks which were considered in writing the final version of the conception. The extracted success rules combine the definitions and attributes of each component of the TP and present them in a concise statement which defines the component and, where applicable, exemplifies its relationship to another corresponding or counterpart component of the TP. For example, rule #1 shows that “research title” should reflect “the general aim and scope of the research” and should also reflect “the negative wording of the research problem”. Extracted also is rule #14 which indicates that “the whole thesis proposal” written in future tenses, should resemble “the introduction of the final thesis” written in past tenses. The research has reached a conviction that the proposed conception with its success rules can provide a useful model to follow when preparing thesis proposals. It provides both researchers and academic advisors with a directive and evaluative tool to apply along the process of developing proposals of master or doctoral theses: (1) A directive tool that assists the researcher in writing a sound TP. Combining the last three tables (2, 3 and 4) into a comprehensive checklist would aid the students in preparing their TP’s; enhancing the quality of their performance and outputs. (2) An evaluative tool that helps in assessing the validity and integrity of the submitted TP’s that can be used by the researcher for self-assessment, or by the academic advisor, or by an examiner/evaluator before sending the proposal to higher authorities for approval. The findings of this paper could be useful not only in evaluating thesis proposals, but also, with proper modifications, in assessing various scientific research documents, including scientific thesis, research papers and others; which is another research topic that will be addressed in the future. 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(2004), “Guide for preparing a thesis or dissertation”, American Journal of Health Behavior, Vol. 28 No. 5, pp. 477-478. Students_Survey (2020), “Implication of the successful thesis proposal conception on the students’ performance and output”, available at: https://www.questionpro.com/t/AOkM7ZgieG (accessed 02 February 2020). Thomas, D. (2016), The PhD Writing Handbook, Palgrave, Macmillan Publisher Limited, New York, NY. Walliman, N. (2017), Research Methods: The Basics, Routledge, New York, NY. Zhou, A.A. (2004), Writing the Dissertation Proposal: A Comparative Case Study of Four Nonnative- and Two Native -English -speaking Doctoral Students of Education, University of Toronto, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, Toronto. About the authors Mahmoud Abdellatif is a Professor of Urban and Regional Planning, College of Architecture and Planning, Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University (IAU), Dammam, Saudi Arabia. He received an MSc from Assuit University, Egypt in 1977 and another MSc from Iowa State University in 1981 and a PhD degree from Texas A&M University in 1985. He has taught and practiced Architecture and Urban Planning for more than 45 years in Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. His main research focus is on research methods, strategic planning and design and development approaches. He is currently the adviser of IAU Vice President for Studies, Development and Community Services. His last book (published in Arabic) entitled The Simplifying-Integrating Approach to Contemporary Design, Planning and Urban Development articulates his own problem-solving approach. He is the principle editor of the Strategic Plan of Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University 2018–2025. Mahmoud Abdellatif is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: mlatif@iau.edu.sa Reham Abdellatif is an Assistant Professor in Architecture, College of Design, Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University (IAU), Dammam, Saudi Arabia. She obtained an MSc degree from Assiut University in 2003 and a PhD degree from Newcastle University, UK, in 2012. She has taught and practiced Architecture and Interior Design for more than 22 years in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Her main ARCH research focus is on Architectural Education and Curriculum Development, Analysing Design Learning 14,3 Activities, Distant/Online Learning, Communication and Computation, VR and Information Technologies in Architecture. She ran the interior design curriculum development committee in Assiut University and in IAU. For instructions on how to order reprints of this article, please visit our website: www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/licensing/reprints.htm Or contact us for further details: permissions@emeraldinsight.com

Journal

Archnet-IJAR: International Journal of Architectural ResearchEmerald Publishing

Published: Nov 11, 2020

Keywords: Urban planning; Architecture; Built environment; Postgraduate research; Writing successful thesis proposals

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