A synopsis is a structured outline of a research thesis and the steps followed to answer the research question. The goal of writing a synopsis is to clearly and thoroughly explain the need to investigate a certain problem using particular practical methods to conduct the study. One of the main components of this written work is an extensive literature review containing strong evidence that the proposed research is feasible.
Establishing the Background
A supervisor may ask you to write a synopsis for one or more reasons:
- to help you improve your critical thinking and writing skills
- to help you understand how to design a comprehensive synopsis
- to encourage you to write a comprehensive literature review to make sure that the research problem has not been answered yet
- to make you conduct a logical analysis of the steps that should be followed to meet the objectives of the research
A synopsis should be coherent in terms of research design. Thus, you should ensure that the research problem, aims, and research methods are logically linked and well-considered. Note that all synopses should contain answers for several crucial questions:
- Why should research on the proposed problem be undertaken?
- What is expected to be achieved?
- What has been done by other researchers on the proposed topic?
- How will the objectives of the study be achieved?
The Writing Process
Before proceeding, consider answering the following questions:
- Why am I going to study this topic?
- Why do I consider it to be important?
- Have I conducted an extensive literature review on the topic?
- What problem will the research help to solve?
- How do I incorporate previous studies on the topic?
The structure of a synopsis should correspond to the structure of qualifying research work, and the word count should be 2,500–3,000 words (Balu 38). The basic elements of a synopsis include a title page, contents page, an introduction, background, literature review, objectives, methods, experiments and results, conclusions, and references.
As this comprises the first part of the main text, the introduction should convince readers that the study addresses a relevant topic and that the expected outcomes will provide important insights. Also, this section should include a brief description of the methods that will be used to answer the research question. Usually, the introduction is written in 1–3 paragraphs and answers the following questions:
- What is the topic of the research?
- What is the research problem that needs to be meaningfully understood or investigated?
- Why is the problem important?
- How will the problem be studied?
In this section, you should set the scene and better introduce the research topic by proving its scientific legitimacy and relevance. It is important to establish a clear focus and avoid broad generalizations and vague statements. If necessary, you may explain key concepts or terms. Consider covering the following points in this section:
- Discuss how the research will contribute to the existing scientific knowledge.
- Provide a detailed description of the research problem and purpose of the research.
- Provide a rationale for the study.
- Explain how the research question will be answered.
- Be sure to discuss the methods chosen and anticipated implications of the research.
A review of existing literature is an important part of a synopsis, as it:
- gives a more detailed look at scientific information related to the topic
- familiarizes readers with research conducted by others on a similar subject
- gives insight into the difficulties faced by other researchers
- helps identify variables for the research based on similar studies
- helps double-check the feasibility of the research problem.
When writing the literature review, do not simply present a list of methods researchers have used and conclusions they have drawn. It is important to compare and contrast different opinions and be unafraid to criticize some of them. Pay attention to controversial issues and divergent approaches used to address similar problems. You may discuss which arguments are more persuasive and which methods and techniques seem to be more valid and reliable. In this section, you are expected not to summarize but analyze the previous research while remembering to link it to your own purpose.
Identify the objectives of the research based on the literature review. Provide an overall objective related to the scientific contribution of the study to the subject area. Also include a specific objective that can be measured at the end of the research.
When writing this section, consider that the aim of the research is to produce new knowledge regarding the topic chosen. Therefore, the research methodology forms the core of your project, and your goal is to convince readers that the research design and methods chosen will rationally answer the research questions and provide effective tools to interpret the results correctly. It may be appropriate to incorporate some examples from your literature review into the description of the overall research design.
When describing the research methodology, ensure that you specify the approaches and techniques that will be used to answer the research question. In addition, be specific about applying the chosen methods and what you expect to achieve. Keep in mind that the methods section allows readers to evaluate the validity and feasibility of the study. Therefore, be sure to explain your decision to adopt specific methods and procedures. It is also important to discuss the anticipated barriers and limitations of the study and how they will be addressed. Specify what kind of contribution to the existing knowledge on the topic is expected, and discuss any ethical considerations that are relevant to the research.
Experiments and Results
Logically present and analyze the results of the study using tables or figures.
In this section, you should again state the significance of the research and summarize the study. Be sure to mention the study objectives and methods used to answer the research questions. Also, discuss how the results of the study contribute to the current knowledge on the problem.
A synopsis should contain a list of all references used. Make sure the references are formatted according to the chosen citation style and each source presented in this section is mentioned within the body of the synopsis.
The purpose of writing a synopsis is to show a supervisor a clear picture of a proposed project and allow him or her to find any gaps that have not been considered previously. A concisely written synopsis will help you gain approval to proceed with the actual research. While no rigid rules for writing this type of paper have been established, a synopsis should be constructed in a manner to help a supervisor understand the proposed research at first glance.
Balu, R. “Writing a Good Ph.D Research Synopsis.” International Journal of Research in Science and Technology, vol. 5, no. 4, 2015, pp. 38–48.