In order to get admission from PMPP, sufficient English proficiency (reading and writing) and a good research proposal (study plan) are most important, in retrospect of application screening and student supervising so far. PMPP expects applicants to have TOEFL scores higher than 550 (paper-based test) in general; a score below 400 will be rarely accepted. When writing an acceptable research proposal, consider the following ten questions very carefully.
1. Are you studying public issues (as opposed to private ones)?
PMPP studies publicness and looks for strategies to solve public issues such as public health, transportation, safety, policing, and pollution. Your research topic should be closely related to the public (citizens) rather than private business. “Which vegetable do I have to plant in my farm?” is a private issue, for example, while “How to regulate the use of pesticides for public health” is a public one.
2. Are you studying public management or policy analysis (as opposed to engineering or natural science)?
Public management and policy analysis are social sciences with focus on the public and nonprofit sectors. PMPP does not give you the answer for an engineering or science question. For example, “How to build a hydroelectric power plant?” “How to design an efficient and effective public sewage system?” or “How to develop a machine to control traffic signals?” is not a relevant question to PMPP.
3. Did you identify an interesting and significant public problem?
Your research proposal must start with a public problem, which politely leads the audience to the research question. A big success or failure indicates an interesting problem. It is a good idea to observe carefully how people in a public organization behave and how public services are delivered to citizens. If many public servants are less motivated despite implementation of a performance appraisal system, for example, you are observing bureaucrats’ poor motivation although performance appraisal system is expected to improve their motivation. Then you may ask, “Did the performance appraisal system really motivate government employees?” It is not meaningful to simply say, “I want to study performance appraisal system” without explaining a related public problem.
4. What is your focus (specific aspect) to analyze the public problem?
A good research proposal includes researcher’s focus to approach a public problem. Do not simply mention terminologies as a research question. For instance, “Human resource management” or “performance appraisal” is vague without any focus. Instead, you may say, “I want to study whether performance indicators were well developed to measure individuals’ performance” (excluding how performance is measured and used) or “I want to know stakeholders’ incentive structures of the performance appraisal in a charity nonprofit organization.”
5. What is the unit of analysis?
You need to clarify the unit of analysis or the entity to be analyzed in your research. In general, a public or nonprofit organization (bureaucracy), policy project, or individual government employee is a typical unit of analysis in public management and policy studies. If your unit of analysis is a company or a machine (program module), you may be off the track.
6. Do you have a reasonable research scope (as opposed to too broad scope)?
Your research needs to have a specific and limited research scope. Global (international) or national level of analysis may be too much in PMPP. Niigata Prefecture, or Minami Uonuma city is better than Japan and Asia. For example, you may say, “I want to examine the process of performance evaluation in Minami Uonuma City Government.” “How to control the water pollution of Mekong River in Phnom Penh, Cambodia?” is better than “How to control the water pollution of Mekong River (from China all the way to Vietnam)?”
7. Do you have a reasonable time-span (as opposed to too wide time-span)?
A good research proposal has a specific time-span. “Performance appraisal system in Niigata Prefecture after the Great Earthquake” is better than “Performance appraisal system in Niigata Prefecture,” which is better than “Performance appraisal system.” These scope and time-span issues are closely related to plausibility of your research.
8. Is it plausible to finish your research on time?
Is it likely (legally, financially, or physically) to get sufficient data for the research? Do you or will you have sufficient experience and knowledge about the topic? Do you have necessary ability (knowledge and skills) to analyze data? Is the research question solvable? Do you have sufficient financial resources or equipment (software) to conduct the research? Is there anyone who can support your research (if you alone cannot finish the research)? Do not try to study a research question whose data are not available, too expensive to get, or completely confidential and thus not accessible. Do not try to solve insoluble question that does not have an answer (e.g., “How to make citizens happy?”).
9. Is your research topic related to your job?
If your topic is closely related to your job, you will be able to observe a significant problem easily, understand and analyze the problem efficiently, and get direct benefit from your research. Do not try to study what you are not familiar with and you cannot control. If your job is a tax auditor, don’t try to attack “Institutional rearrangement of the nursing home service industry,” for example, unless you are quite familiar with this issue. It should be useless for a front-end officer to ask “How to amend the Constitutional Law to make bureaucracy more democratic and efficient?”
10. Is your research question statement reasonable?
Write down your research question in a complete sentence and then read it several times. Check carefully if it sounds reasonable.