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Dissertation Guide: Submitting the outline proposal

There is no need to submit an outline proposal to FOM if you intend later to submit ‘equivalent evidence’ (such as a MSc dissertation) but it is good practice for all trainees to write such a proposal. You must discuss your thoughts about the dissertation with your educational supervisor, who will need to sign off your proposal and confirm that you have adequate resources, support, and training. They will be an important source of professional advice and an important link with the management structure of your employing organisation. If your study will involve access to workers and workplaces your supervisor will advise you about what is feasible within the organisation. You can identify and discuss any ethical issues and ensure that the necessary resources will be made available to you.

Once your study has evolved to be more than just thoughts you must focus your attention on how you are going to conduct it. You must pay a lot of attention to this aspect of the proposal. It is probably a good idea to discuss your proposals with someone who has some experience in research: an academic at your nearest university, perhaps an epidemiologist or a statistician, depending on what you are going to do. The outline proposal should explain the rationale for the study and explain how you are going to do it in no more than 1,000 words. In a nutshell:

  • What are you going to do?
  • Why do you want to do it?
  • How will you do it?
  • Who will be involved?
  • Where will it happen?
  • When are you going to do it?
  • How will ethical issues and permissions be handled? (e.g. Do you have access to the study population and the agreement of line managers? How will you address data confidentiality?)

Formulate a clear question that you wish to answer. Thinking about how you answer the question will help you to identify the factors that you need to take into account when interpreting the results.

Be as precise as possible when defining study groups, diagnostic categories, measurements of exposure, or any statistical methods that you envisage using. Be realistic about what you hope to achieve. Are you likely to recruit enough people or obtain a sufficient number of measurements? Will there be enough time for the study? What sort of things might go wrong? How will you address these problems? A plan of work and timeline will help you prepare. Try to ensure you include enough information in your outline to show that your project is properly considered and feasible. If you do not supply enough information, then the feedback you will receive from the Faculty reviewers can only be limited.

The outline proposal must be submitted to the Chief Examiner (Research Methods) via the FOM Examinations and Training Team. FOM recommends that it be submitted no later than the 18th month of full‐time training (or part‐time equivalent). The Chief Examiner will select two reviewers. The review of the outline proposal is a rapid screening process with the aim of providing quick informal advice on improving the protocol. Necessarily, such advice will be limited and FOM cannot issue detailed and iterative advice. It will be up to the candidate to flesh out and develop the full detail of their project with the help of their supervisor or academic advisors. It is important to appreciate that receiving feedback is not a guarantee that your assessors will accept the final submission as of a satisfactory standard.