Providing
A Rationale

Providing a rationale

Typically, a rationale consists of a line of reasoning that performs two principal functions. First, it describes a context within which the intended project must be located and developed. Second, it explains why there is a need to do this study. As a third function, it may justify the methods you plan to use for solving your research problem.

Roles of the rationale

The rationale plays a vital role at two stages of your project. When you first submit your research proposal to your advisors for their opinions and approval, it helps them make an impression on your work. And when you write the final version of the thesis or dissertation, the rationale is needed for the readers to understand the contribution your work represents.

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Placing your work in the context

To locate the study in a context, one needs to identify a proper scope of a domain to fit the research into. The best way to accomplish this is to introduce a label that you assume to be familiar to your readers. Labels can be on different levels of specificity. As an example, imagine a hypothetical study of Mexican-American families and consider three alternatives that descend from the general to the specific. The first label is a social change - places your work within a vast field. The second is family structure - it identifies a more limited realm. The third trends in family structure and function among Mexican-Americans –represents a very narrow field, indeed. Your rationale might start with the label that represents the area to which you think your work belongs. For instance:

Among theories of social change, the most prominent types ....

The literature on family structure can be divided into ....

Investigations of trends in family structure and function among Mexican-Americans treat such issues as ....

Your next task is that of showing how your project fits into the selected field. Here is one way that could be applied for the second option – family structure.

The literature on family structure can be divided into six categories. Each category will focus on a specific structure unite, namely on (1) family members' roles, (2) types of human needs met within different family structures, (3) nuclear and extended forms of family, (4) lineage and governance (i.e. patrilineal, matrilineal), (5) explanations of family structural change over time, and (6) cross-cultural comparisons. This study links the second and fifth categories by addressing the following question: what changes have occurred in the structure and functions of Mexican-American families during the twentieth century. Besides, by centering attention on a particular ethnic group – Mexican-Americans – the study provides useful material to the people, interested in the last category, i.e., cross-cultural comparisons.

Identifying your intended contribution

Probably the most crucial function of an author's rationale is to explain project's contribution to knowledge (basic research that corrects or expands people's understanding of the world) and to practice (applied research that improves the conduct of some aspect of life). This function is typically performed by the author's identifying shortcomings in the existing body of knowledge or practice that could be remedied by the proposed research. Contributions can be of various types, including:

Evidence about events, individuals, groups, or institutions not studied before.

Outcomes derived from applying existing theories or methods of investigation to events, individuals, groups, or institutions not yet studied in such a fashion.

The use of new data-gathering methods or instruments for studying phenomena.

A novel theoretical view on familiar events.

Modern interpretations of existing data.

Conclusions, drawn from comparing the results of similar studies (meta-analysis)

The above examples illustrate two ways of wording research proposals so that they either specify the question to be answered, locate the study in a domain of knowledge or practice, or identify the study's intended contribution.

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