A successful research proposal or published academic paper or book almost always justifies its own existence. Omitting the reasoning that produced the bid, project paper or book can lead to bid failure and paper rejection.
A research project
In order to undertake a piece of research, we generally establish its raison d’etre at the outset. That makes sense if you think about it, because why would a funder or a research committee agree to research being done if they don’t know why it’s being proposed?
Establishing the reasons for research means that we need to ask, and answer, some important questions:
• Why is this research needed?
• Who needs this research and what will they do once they know its results?
• What/where is the evidence that this knowledge is needed and how persuasive is it?
• Why is research needed, and not something else (policy, practice)?
• What will change/be different if this research is done?
Sometimes it is easier to state these questions as a problem – so, What is the problem that this research addresses? To whom is this a problem, why and how will this research make a difference?
We might also want to add to these questions some others, such as:
• Why this research now?
• Why this research here?
• Why this research with this particular sample/method?
• Why am I/we the best positioned to do this work?
Answering these questions forces us to go beyond simply saying “Well, no one has done this research before, there is a gap here in what we know, and besides it’s just interesting to me”. Simply pointing to an absence, a lack of existing research, is insufficient. (“Blue skies” research usually offers a rationale which is more than “We don’t know”, it suggests why it might be good to find out.)
Answering the ‘rationale’ questions forces us to think about why knowing something, why filling a gap, why doing something of wider interest, actually matters. And this may not be something new at all, but something that has been hanging around for a very long time!
An academic publication
We have to ask and answer similar questions at the start of an academic paper or book. We have to provide the rationale for the reader so that they understand why they need to read on. So before we begin to write we need to ask ourselves the same kinds of questions:
• Why is this paper or book needed?
• Who needs this paper or book and what will they do once they know its results?
• What is the evidence that this knowledge is needed and how persuasive is it?
• Why is an academic paper or book needed, and not something else (a website, a newspaper article, a text book)?
• What will change/be different if this paper or book is written and read?
Sometimes it is easier to state these questions as a problem – so, What is the problem that this paper or book addresses? To whom is this a problem, why and how will this publication make a difference?
We might also want to add to these questions some others such as:
• Why this paper/book now?
• Why this paper/book here – and in this journal?
• Why this paper/book in this particular genre/style?
• Why am I/why are we the best positioned to do this writing?
The rationale almost always goes in the introduction to a paper or in the introductory chapter to a book. However, the rationale may be further explained in the paper through a literature review or through some kind of policy or practice analysis. The rationale is integral to what Barbara and I call the Locate work in an introduction or abstract.
The rationale in the paper anticipates the So What question, that is, the significance of the work that is being reported. It also frames discussions of the implications of the research. Thus, the rationale established at the outset is almost always returned to at the end of the paper or book, in the conclusion.