Researching your Major Project Proposal

I really want you to understand two things:

  • The major project is a lot more work than you realise.
  • The more you do now, the easier it will be.

It’s clear from the supervisions this month that unfortunately many of you have not done enough research around your idea to write a good proposal.

So here are some things that you should all be doing.

  1. A Google News search on “Your subject area + UK” — so, for example “Cost of Childcare UK.” When the results come up, make sure you click on the NEWS tab. A lot of the time the results won’t be any use, but if you do this regularly you will see how your subject is being covered by other journalists and this may give you ideas for case studies or areas to focus on, or leads to follow. Try to do this every day.
  2. A general Google search on Your Subject Area.
  3. A general Google search on your “Your Subject Area + charity” or “Your subject area + experts.” Many of you will have a story where there is a charity involved in one way or another. Many charities carry out valuable research that you can use, or they may be able to help with case studies etc. It was surprising to me how few of you have actually used Google to look for basic information about your idea. It’s simple and easy.
  4. For more background information, you could also try the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia
  5. You could look on Amazon to see if there is a general introductory book about your subject and then see if the book is in the library or perhaps buy it secondhand. It’s likely that any reasonably well written book will have its own bibliography which will help you to delve deeper into your subject.
  6. Search on Box of Broadcasts for UK documentaries about your subject. Watch them. Do the same on YouTube.

Doing more research will help you to come up with a good research question. Many of you haven’t given any real thought to the question you are trying to answer with your major project. Having a research question forces you to think carefully about your story. What is new about your research? Are you telling us something we already know? Is the question too wide? A research question forces you to give a shape to your idea and to stop it being a series of random interviews. You are trying to tell a story, remember. Focus!

Photo: Anna Shvets

So let’s imagine I want to do a documentary about Tuberculosis (TB) and I am writing a proposal for it. A quick Google search throws up lots of useful information from reliable sources. What would I need to say in the Proposal? (Note how I am using the geography questions…)

  • I would explain what Tuberculosis is. What are the symptoms? How do you catch it? How is it treated?
  • I would need to explain how many people have TB (how much?) and how badly they are affected.
  • Where is it most common?
  • When did TB first appear? Tuberculosis has a long history. Many famous people have suffered from it and even been killed by it. I would write about this.
  • I would explain why I am interested in the story personally, if I am.

As you would quickly realise from basic research, TB is becoming more common and therefore there is potential to make my story new. So a possible research question could be: “Why is TB coming back to the UK and how is it being tackled?” (Putting two questions together as one like this is OK.)

Next I would need to think about who I will interview. I will need two or three case studies. Real people who have been affected by the story. I want my case studies to be slightly different from each other. I don’t need to name these people in the Proposal but I definitely need to talk generally about them and reflect on how I will find them. So maybe I could aim for:

Somebody who has TB and is being treated for it.
Somebody who has recovered from TB.
Somebody who has lost a family member from TB and is campaigning to raise awareness about the disease.

There will be a charity that is campaigning around TB and I will want to speak to them. They will also hopefully help me to find the case studies. If you’ve found a charity you should say who they are at this stage.

I will probably want to speak to a doctor or medical expert. So that’s five voices, which is a good number to work with.

Finally I will think about how I will film this story. What will the pictures be? Think very carefully about this and remember, you can make a radio documentary if you really want to do a story but there aren’t very many good pictures.

If you’re contacting people try to get a native English speaker to check through your email for grammar and punctuation before you send it off. (It was depressing for me to hear how few of you have actually made friends with anybody from the UK in the past four months. Now is the time to do so.)

So a lot to think about. But remember, the more work you do now, the easier it will be to make your documentary.

There’s more information about Major Project ideas here.