AAU logo

Guidelines for the elaborate proposal (EP)

Guidelines for the elaborate proposal (EP)

Within three months after registration the PhD student has submitted a study plan (the PhD plan) and must have this approved in order to be able to continue at the doctoral programme. The Elaborate Proposal is an elaboration of the research project and is submitted by the end of the first semester (within 6 months full time, 8-9 months for four year students, and 12 months for half-time students).

The elaborate proposal will be reviewed by two selected experts, including at least one person from the PhD advisory board.

The Elaborate Proposal must be clearly structured, not exceed 100 pages, and should include:

  1. an introduction to the research study, and rationale for the proposal
  2. an extended literature review
  3. clearly stated research questions or hypotheses.
  4. comprehensive description of method and design for the research, including a description and status of ethical approval and agreements for data collection
  5. references in APA style

1. An introduction to the research study, and rationale for the proposal

An introduction to a research study must include both a personal and a professional motivation. The personal level helps to understand why you wanted to do this in the first place, what was the inspiration, what gave you the idea. It could be related to observations or experiences in clinical work, important literature or something else. The fact that you find a topic interesting to you personally is not enough. Therefore it is also important to place your topic in a professional context. This is not the same as a literature review, more a presentation of material and (lack of) evidence that can explain the relevance of the topic for you research. Finally you should state your initial focus for the research (a working hypothesis, a description of the phenomenon, the object, the intervention, the population) that is targeted in this research.

2. An extended literature review

A literature review includes two important elements: the search for literature and the review of the identified literature. Both elements are equally important.

The search for literature include the following:

  • A description of your search strategy (identification and use/combination of search terms),
  • A record of bibliographical resources used in the search (databases, bibliographies etc., incl. dates of search),
  • Results of the search (can be presented systematically, e.g. as journal articles/book chapters/ dissertations; or primary/secondary/ tertiary literature etc.)
  • Presentation of inclusion and exclusion criteria for the selection of literature for the review.

All this can be done with a narrow or a broad focus. It is recommended that you begin with a narrow search: include research on effect and/or process research (qualitative/quantitative/mixed). The review should also include literature about clinical practice with in the target population/client group. This is important because it offers the possibility to compare your clinical protocol with prior knowledge in the field. So the literature should include: Effect studies, process research, clinical method and the phenomenon/object for research (e.g. the specific intervention and its theoretical background, or the medical or psychosocial characteristics of the medical problem/disease).

If no or very little literature is identified, a broader search is necessary. This could include e.g. different theoretical perspectives on the target problem (psychodynamic – culture-centred – humanistic-existential - behavioural etc.)

The review of the literature can be structured in different ways, starting from either a narrow (focused) or a broader (theoretical, medical or psychosocial) perspective. This means looking “outside” music therapy, or looking historically from the past to the present. If the review starts with the narrow focus, it will then broaden to include relevant “external” knowledge and sources.

The identified and selected literature must be abstracted and synthesized in an appropriate style, and you must state how you find it relevant for your research in a reflective/critical way. The purpose of the literature review is to identify gaps in knowledge, thus making a rationale for your study. For RCTs and other studies with fixed design the literature review from the Elaborate Proposal will be included in the final thesis, and possible changes and new literature included in the discussion chapter. For studies with flexible or multi-strategy designs the literature review may be included in the final thesis as a final chapter or in a changed version with new literature added.

3. Clearly stated research questions or hypotheses

When you have made the review of the literature it is time to present the research question(s), sub-questions and/or eventual hypotheses. There are different requirements to a hypothesis regarding the type of research question(s) you wish to investigate. Effect studies are usually based on a null-hypothesis. This is a definite statement that stays the same throughout the study (when the design is defined and the data collection begun).

A process study, on the other hand, may begin with a working hypothesis, and this hypothesis will probably be modified and developed through the study. In the end a final hypothesis is produced. If you do a mixed methods/multi-strategy study, you need to include both kinds in your research question(s)/hypotheses.

4. Method and design of the study

In the method and the design sections you explain how you are going to answer the questions you have presented above. This includes the overall design of the study, and a flowchart describing the whole research process must be included. A separate flowchart can be produced to explain how participants are recruited and allocated to different groups and measure points.

If you want to use mixed method you need to state, which is the most important: The quantitative part or the qualitative part, and what type of mixed methods design you have chosen. This is important in relation to the research questions and will influence the order in which you build your design.
You may also relate to literature on research paradigms and/or relate you design to Robson’s concepts of ‘fixed’,‘flexible’ and ‘multi-strategy’ designs. Describe explicitly if you follow guidelines such as the Consort Statement, EPICURE or other relevant guidelines, standards and agendas.

The method part should include relevant description of:

  1. Bias/pre-understanding
  2. Epistemology and ontology related to the overall research question: Quantitative method, qualitative method or mixed method
  3. Design flowchart
  4. Data selection (criteria) and procedures related to data collection
  5. Measurement tools (e.g. questionnaires, tests, assessments)
  6. Method(s) of analysis (statistical, phenomenological, hermeneutic etc.)
  7. Ethics

Ad. 1: Bias/pre-understanding: To make explicit your pre-understanding is especially important and required when you do qualitative research. It includes a clarification of how your personal understandings may influence the research process. In hermeneutic studies this is mandatory, but we recommend reflections on bias in all types of study.

Ad. 2: The epistemology part is a reflection on how you develop knowledge in this study. The ontology part is a clarification of how you understand the phenomena you investigate. Both will include reflections about the research paradigm used in the research. This should include meta-theory, and theory about the methodology itself. Also considerations about the knowledge this research will produce and how the estimated answers of the research questions may be clinically relevant.

Ad. 3: A design flowchart helps clarify your ideas and how your method is related to the research questions. If your carry out an RCT a flow diagram according to the Consort Statement is necessary.

Ad. 4: The data selection criteria and collection procedure is very important. You need to state how (and why) you choose your informants. If you do experimental research there are certain standards and if you do naturalistic or action research there are others. RCT studies have the most demanding requirements to a clear description of the selection and collection processes, and we recommend you follow the Consort Statement.

Ad. 5: Measurement tools selected to provide information on selected variables must be presented thoroughly, including information on their prior use and relevance in the clinical context, as well as information on reliability and validity, and standardization. If you want to include or develop new tools this must be explained.

Ad 6: The method(s) of data analysis is directly related to the research questions and the epistemology/paradigm. If you expect to do statistical analyses, these should be described in detail and their use explained. If you do interviews, observations and/or musical analyses you are expected to present a guide for the analysis and relate the analytical procedure to the method literature.

Ad. 7: It is essential to consider how you want to deal with ethics in relation to the design (e.g. concerning the ‘control condition’), recruitment of participants, data collection, data protection, etc. This may also include your wording of participant information. You need to clarify the ethical aspects of your study, and also consider/document where and how you apply for ethical approval either by supplying a draft or a finished application to an ethical committee.


The elaborate proposal should be written in a reader-friendly font, and with headings, sub-headings, citations and references in APA format. Footnotes are permitted. The elaborate proposal is submitted in an electronic version in pdf-format to the head of the doctoral programme.


The reviewers will be asked to evaluate if the theoretical framework for this study is

  • well grounded in the field of study and in music therapy theory,
  • if the literature review is comprehensive,
  • if the research questions make sense and give a good focus of the enquiry,
  • if the method is consistent with the research questions and the theoretical framework,
  • and if ethical issues are clearly addressed and explained.