by Thomas Bill and Jack Allan

Writing a research proposal can be a difficult and daunting process at the best of times, never mind having to write one on exchange at a new University, in a new country. Here are our Top Ten Tips for writing a research proposal whilst abroad.

Discipline and Focus

Don’t get distracted by your new home. The new environment and surrounding are thrilling and interesting. Staying on top of the work is important. Methodically working through the research allows you to have a clearer picture of what you need to achieve.

Go on holiday

Don’t get too bogged down in work. You may find yourself in a subtropical paradise, the snowy wastes of Northern Canada or a great European city, go and visit your new home and everything it has to offer, there is no point in being there otherwise.

Location, location, location

The new location of your study offer a fresh perspective on your research. Business culture is different across the globe, take it in and see how local organisations operate and compare them to your home country. This could make for an interesting dissertation or help your research stand out.

Don’t forget about your home campus

Every little helps. You are still a student there too, and you have access to all those resources. Use as many resources as you can to help you through the research process. Don’t limit your research to a single set of resources, use those of both your home and away campuses.

Make sure it interests you

Like any good relationship you have to be interested in what the other has to say. Having an interest in the subject matter really helps provide a source of motivation to continue deeper into the subject matter. Be prepared to research this literature thoroughly over a prolonged period of time.

Reading – by the pool

You have moved abroad, away from your home comforts, your own bed and favourite seat in the library. Finding somewhere comfortable to read is essential (a local coffee shop or the pool?). Ideas come from journal papers, cocktails and stunning scenery. They won’t write your proposal for you, but they can provide inspiration.

Make it manageable

This goes for everyone writing a dissertation proposal, not just those abroad. When faced with writing a dissertation the potential theories and contexts to examine seem limitless, but don’t get carried away. As an undergraduate you are not attempting to restructure an international corporation or provide recommendations to the CEOs of top Fortune 500 companies. Make sure your research is manageable given your tight time-frame.

Get help from ALL of your tutors

This will likely be your first time putting together a research proposal so you’re going to need all the help you can get. Luckily, if you’re studying abroad you will have two sets of professors: those at your university abroad and those from back home. It’s often useful to seek help from both groups of professors. Different professors will have different expertise and they may offer you an alternative perspective on your proposal.

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Early bird catches the worm

Get to the core of the theory as soon as you can. Identify the key authors and familiarise yourself with their research. Take a good look into your context. If it’s a particular industry, then get to know its key players. If it’s a country, then learn a bit about its history. This will give you a great grounding and will equip you with knowledge that will make writing your proposal easier.

Set deadlines, and STICK TO THEM!!

Your actual dissertation will usually take up two modules in your final year, so you will have a tonne of other stuff going on. Organisation is a major key to success. When you’re abroad there are a lot of distractions, so get into good habits for your final year and start setting deadlines and sticking to them. We found it helpful to have written a good draft two weeks before the submission date. This left plenty of time for editing and fine tuning.


Meet our guest writers

I am Thomas Bill, a student from Edinburgh, currently studying my third year of University at Heriot-Watt Malaysia campus. I am studying for an MA in Business Management. The opportunity was presented to me to transfer to Malaysia in early 2015. I have always been interested in traveling to South East Asia so being given the opportunity to live for a year in Malaysia was as experience I wasn’t going to miss. Being able to study at the same time with no disruption to my university course was a major upside. Having experienced the Malaysian culture has helped me understand how culture plays a major role in the success of multi nation businesses. I was interested in the strategic management literature. My research idea came from having an interest in how firm differentiate themselves from one and other.
My name is Jack Allan and I am a 3rd year International Business Management student from Edinburgh, currently spending the year on a campus transfer in Malaysia. My business interests largely focus on entrepreneurship, business development and marketing. My time studying in Malaysia has particularly highlighted the increasingly global nature of business. When the opportunity of a campus transfer presented itself I didn’t hesitate to apply. These days, with the Asian economies booming, I could quite possibly be offered a role with a firm in Asia in a couple of years time as a new graduate. Experiencing life out here at this stage is surely only an advantage. In the future I hope to be involved with an organisation that helps firms grow and maximise their potential.

Picture by Vinoth Chandar under CC license