How to: the Perfect Research Proposal Project.

I’ve been spending hours searching for how to write a research project proposal for uni, but alas! Google has been scant of any that are structured in the way we’ve been instructed by our professors 😦 I just finished mine, after days upon days of unending writing [granted, I was actually also doing too many things that have nothing to do with revision hah but never mind..].

One question plagued me throughout my research: how do you even write one? Eventually, I finally figured it out, but it took forever! 

So hopefully by publishing my essay here I’ll help all the students who were struggling with this very same issue 🙂 Best of luck with your own essays and hope this helps! 

Does a Totalitarian State require an absence of external intervention in order to preserve its regime stability? 

Research Title: 

Does a Totalitarian State require an absence of external intervention in order to preserve its regime stability? 

Required Resources: 

Considering how my proposed research project bases its information primarily upon historical information, the resources required for my project is limited to locating and collecting existing publications; in particular, these comprise books and scholarly articles, which would be relatively easy to access in most cases as many of the required publications can be read online through a university library or service, although in the cases where the publication is not online or has limited publication, acquiring important texts would be more difficult for the researcher. On the other hand, searching for those texts which cannot, for the valuable information and insights they offer, be excluded from my research project would not be extensively arduous because of the greater ease by which I can locate required texts using the internet, and thus this potential obstacle can be overcome with not much difficulty. What I as the researcher must bear in mind, is the need for allocating time effectively and being able to accept and resolve unexpected situations where certain texts cannot be located. 

Research Project Description 

The aim of my research project is to determine whether or not totalitarianism is really inherent. The significance of such a study is that in the case where it may be found that the collapse of certain historical totalitarian states was accidental, having been caused by outside intervention for example, it could be argued that “future totalitarians could learn from history to indefinitely prolong their rule” (Bostrom & Cirkovic, 2011, p.507), an arguably great threat for the future of democracy. In giving thorough attention to the key determinants of totalitarian regime stability, my proposed research project will attempt to answer this question, which has importance for both analysts and world leaders alike. 

The cases available for analysis in this proposed research project are limited by the fact that relatively few totalitarian states have existed to date. North Korea, despite being a state that little is known about, should not be excluded from this case analysis because as arguably the most totalitarian state in the world, it is an interesting case for analysing in comparison to those totalitarian states which have, unlike it, collapsed. Crucially, this state has not yet engaged in foreign wars, or been subject to foreign invasion or intervention. Four other states have been important to totalitarian history and analysis: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Stalin’s USSR and Mao’s China. For these four cases, totalitarianism is treated as a system of government that existed at a specific time. However while all shared this particular system of government, it came to an end in different ways in each of the respective states: abruptly ending in the cases of Hitler and Mussolini and, separately, withering away slowly after the deaths of Stalin and Mao. 

Italy has been called a “totalitarian regime” (Kantowicz, 1999, p.289) by analysts only in the years that Mussolini ruled- with his defeat in the Second World War, so too did his regime collapse. Similarly, The People’s Republic of China according to analysts “has morphed into a one-party authoritarian system with a transitional economy falling somewhere between a Soviet-style command economy and a Western-style market economy” (Magstad, 2016, p.154). 

Stalin’s USSR was characterised by, as Mole (2012) explains, a deep “belief in the perfection of the ideology [of Marxism-Leninism]… [which] silenced all debate” until the loosening of controls and abandonment of ideological promotion commencing from Khrushchev’s denunciation of his predecessor. It has been argued that in fact the USSR was only totalitarian within the years that Stalin ruled, later entering a phase of “post totalitarianism” (Aliyev, 2015, p.14). In Nazi Germany too, “regime and leader lived and died together” (Arieli & Rotenstreich, 1984, p.287)- totalitarianism perished with Hitler in World War Two. In all these states (excluding North Korea), totalitarianism existed for a certain period of time, and thus this research project is limited in its analysis to these time periods. 

Research Questions 

My research project aims to answer two key questions which are significant to this study. The first of these; to what extent is the absence of outside invasion key to the survival of totalitarian states? China and the USSR are arguably not examples of totalitarian regimes becoming unstable or threatened but rather, changed. On the other hand, in the cases of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, totalitarianism was overthrown from external factors, thus suggesting that what really threatens the stability of totalitarian regimes is external interference. However, it is interesting to further investigate whether or not other, more underlying, factors are at play here, information that I will be searching for through a variety of different publications. 

This first question brings us onto the second key question my research project would attempt to tackle: is totalitarianism inherent? In other words, is it always doomed to fail? As mentioned beforehand in this proposal, answering this question would give analysts insight into, for example, the future of totalitarian states such as North Korea. World leaders have, especially recently, been concerned with how to approach the North Korea issue; in this way, the insights of my proposed research project may have some significance to them. I will rely on new publications to tackle this particular question because I will need a more recent account of the political situation in North Korea. 

For both these questions, I will be using existing publications, although with a different approach to past literatures (this will be discussed further in the next section, ‘literature review’). While all have particularly significant observations and analysis as singular literatures, a research project which incorporates all of the important findings of past authors would provide a unique perspective, particularly as I will in addition be using recent articles and publications to provide up to date analysis and research. 

Literature Review 

Linz and Stepan (2011) provide a particularly significant analysis on totalitarian states, distinguishing between authoritarian and totalitarian systems of government. The latter are notable for their “guiding…utopian ideology” and the fact that they “[have] eliminated almost all pre-existing political, economic, and social pluralism”. These states are “made up of individuals systematically deprived of their political ties and subjected to the ‘total’ power of an ideological party and its leader” (Furet, 1999, p.180). The existing literature analysing totalitarian states and classifying them separately to other regime types is most important to our study because they enrich our analysis and understanding of how such states function. 

There are, in addition, many additional literatures more focused on my specific research project. In some cases, previous accounts of totalitarian regimes have been mostly focused on power seizures as the main cause for instability (Braun and Barany, 1999) while others have centered their attention on the sources for stability, the most significant of these arguably being the employment of force and terror (Jackson, 2014, p.179). On the other hand, scant attention has been given to the factor of external interference and how it aids the survival of totalitarian states. A notable exception to this fact, however, is Saxonberg (2013), who refrains from neglecting this issue and instead observes that “up until now, in fact, no totalitarian regime has ever fallen save through outside invasion” (Saxonberg, 2013, p.304). Saxonberg’s (2013) use of the word “fallen” (Saxonberg, 2013, p.304) is interesting because it paradoxically distinguishes between states that fall and states that evolve into post-totalitarian systems of government. 

This unique perspective on totalitarian regimes is shared by Friedrich and Brzezinski (1963) who argued that totalitarian regimes, like the “Roman Empire… [and] the despotic monarchies of the Near and Far East”, would survive indefinitely unless some “conquest by a rival empire” may prove to be its downfall (Friedrich and Brzezinski, 1963, p.10). Rather incorrectly, they have been critisised for predicting that the USSR would not collapse, however I wish to emphasise the need for distinguishing between a state disintegrating and one that has evolved to a different regime type, something many previous analysts have failed to address (Prof. Qualls’ Course Blogs, 2014). 

Thus what I mean to argue is that there exist some overlooked and yet significant gaps in the literature on totalitarian states, gaps which I propose through my research project to fill, using research and comparative analysis; my methods will be discussed in further detail in the next section. 


I wish to examine the concept of totalitarianism using a positivist epistemological approach, with my proposed research project being a primarily theoretical as opposed to empirical study. Totalitarianism in this case is not measured numerically, making quantitative methods unnecessary and irrelevant here. Using secondary research- to be exact, existing literature, is more beneficial for my particular research question because I will not be measuring, for example, public perceptions of totalitarian state stability, but rather, concepts and theories, and comparing my cases; I are researching and asking not “how much”, but rather, “why”. (Berkes et al, 2001, p.122) draws attention to two important drawbacks of using secondary literature: reliability and validity of innformation may be difficult to ascertain and information is… out of date”. However as the use of secondary sources and literature is unavoidable considering my particular research project, I will instead strive to limit the potential of my research project suffering from these issues, by cross-checking the analysis made by authors, researching the reliability of sources, and checking a variety of literature databases for new inputs on my research question topic. 

On the other hand, as my research is a comparative one, I will be using the most similar systems design- the ‘method of difference’- to undertake my project. This design is “based on selecting countries that share many (theoretically) important characteristics, but differ in one crucial respect” (Halperin and Heath, 2012, p.219). Thus in my research project I propose to strive to explain how it may be that these cases, which all shared the same systems design- this being totalitarianism (my independent variable)- later faced very distinct outcomes (my dependent variable). 

Personal Qualifications and Skills 

Throughout my life in education, I have undertaken extensive reading on the USSR and Nazi Germany, later broadening my research to North Korea, Italy after the First World War, and China during Mao’s rule. However, perhaps the most significant knowledge I have gained for the benefit of my proposed research project was during the first year module Understanding Politics II: How Politics Works, in which I first became familiar with the works of Linz and Stepan (2011) on totalitarian regimes. My module History of European Political Ideas introduced me to the works of Arendt, who gave me much insight into totalitarian regimes through her work The Origins of Totalitarianism (1973). Finally, the modules Comparative political Analysis and Researching politics have given me the practical knowledge and methods for undertaking my research project.


Aliyev, H. (2015) Post-Communist Civil Society and the Soviet Legacy: Challenges of Democratisation and Reform in the Caucasus. Hampshire and New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 

Ardent, H. (1973) The Origins of Totalitarianism. Florida: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 

Arieli, Y and Rotenstreich, N. (1984) (ed.) Totalitarian Democracy and After. Jerusalem: Frank Cass Publishers. 

Berkes, F, et al. (2001) Managing Small-scale Fisheries: Alternative Directions and Methods. Canada: IDRC. 

Bostrom and Cirkovic (2011) (ed.) Global Catastrophic Risks. London and New York: Oxford University Press. 

Braun, A and Barany, Z. (1999) (ed.) Dilemmas of Transition: The Hungarian Experience. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield. 

Brooker, P. (2014) Non-Democratic Regimes. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. 

Dallin, A. (1992) Causes of the Collapse of the USSR. Post Soviet Affairs. Volume 8 Issue 4. pp. 279-302. 

Dooley, K and Patten, J. (2012) Why Politics Matters: An Introduction to Political Science. Boston: Cengage Learning. 

Friedrich, C and Brzezinski, Z. (1963) Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy. 2nd Ed. New York and London: Frederick A. Praeger. 

Furet, F. (1999) The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 

Gardiner, R. (2015) Gender, Authenticity and Leadership: Thinking with Arendt. New York and Hampshire: Springer. 

Halperin, S. and Heath, O. (2012) Political Research: Methods and Practical Skills. Great Britain: Oxford University Press. 

Jackson, K. (2014) (ed.) Cambodia, 1975-1978: Rendezvous with Death. USA: Princeton University Press. 

Kantowicz, E. (1999) The Rage of Nations. Michigan and Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. 

Lim, J. (2008) Kim Jong-il’s Leadership of North Korea. Oxon and New York: Routledge. 

Linz, J and Stepan, A. (2011) Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe. Baltimore and London: JHU Press. 

Lukes, S. (2005) Power: A Radical View. Hampshire and New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 

Magstadt, T. (2016) Understanding Politics: Ideas, Institutions, and Issues. Boston: Cengage Learning. 

McMahon, R. (2013) (ed.) The Cold War in the Third World. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 

Mole, R. (2012) The Baltic States from the Soviet Union to the European Union: Identity, Discourse and Power in the Post-Communist Transition of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Oxon: Routledge. 

Perry, M. (2012) Western Civilization, A Brief History. 10th Ed. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. 15004891 

Prof. Qualls’ Course Blogs. (2014) The Importance of Totalitarianism. [Online] Available from: [Accessed:1st January 2017). 

Saleem, S. et al. (2011) Environment for Business: Strictly as per requirements of the Gujarat Technological University. India: Pearson Education India. 

Saxonberg, S. (2013) Transitions and Non-Transitions from Communism: Regime Survival in China, Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam. New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Siegel, A. (1998) (ed.) The Totalitarian Paradigm After the End of Communism: Towards a Theoretical Reassessment. The Netherlands: Rodopi. 

Shlapentokh, D. (2011) The Proto-Totalitarian State: Punishment and Control in Absolutist Regimes. USA: Transaction Publishers. 

Stoner, K and McFaul, M. (ed.) (2013) Transitions to Democracy: A Comparative Perspective. Maryland: JHU Press. 

Strayer, R. (2016) Why Did the Soviet Union Collapse?: Understanding Historical Change: Understanding Historical Change. Oxon and New York: Routledge.


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