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How To Write A Research Proposal

A Straightforward How-To Guide (With Examples)

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Reviewed By: Dr. Eunice Rautenbach | August 2019 (Updated April 2023)

Writing up a strong research proposal for a dissertation or thesis is much like a marriage proposal. It’s a task that calls on you to win somebody over and persuade them that what you’re planning is a great idea. An idea they’re happy to say ‘yes’ to. This means that your dissertation proposal needs to be   persuasive ,   attractive   and well-planned. In this post, I’ll show you how to write a winning dissertation proposal, from scratch.

Before you start:

– Understand exactly what a research proposal is – Ask yourself these 4 questions

The 5 essential ingredients:

  • The title/topic
  • The introduction chapter
  • The scope/delimitations
  • Preliminary literature review
  • Design/ methodology
  • Practical considerations and risks 

What Is A Research Proposal?

The research proposal is literally that: a written document that communicates what you propose to research, in a concise format. It’s where you put all that stuff that’s spinning around in your head down on to paper, in a logical, convincing fashion.

Convincing   is the keyword here, as your research proposal needs to convince the assessor that your research is   clearly articulated   (i.e., a clear research question) ,   worth doing   (i.e., is unique and valuable enough to justify the effort), and   doable   within the restrictions you’ll face (time limits, budget, skill limits, etc.). If your proposal does not address these three criteria, your research won’t be approved, no matter how “exciting” the research idea might be.

PS – if you’re completely new to proposal writing, we’ve got a detailed walkthrough video covering two successful research proposals here . 

Free Webinar: How To Write A Research Proposal

How do I know I’m ready?

Before starting the writing process, you need to   ask yourself 4 important questions .  If you can’t answer them succinctly and confidently, you’re not ready – you need to go back and think more deeply about your dissertation topic .

You should be able to answer the following 4 questions before starting your dissertation or thesis research proposal:

  • WHAT is my main research question? (the topic)
  • WHO cares and why is this important? (the justification)
  • WHAT data would I need to answer this question, and how will I analyse it? (the research design)
  • HOW will I manage the completion of this research, within the given timelines? (project and risk management)

If you can’t answer these questions clearly and concisely,   you’re not yet ready   to write your research proposal – revisit our   post on choosing a topic .

If you can, that’s great – it’s time to start writing up your dissertation proposal. Next, I’ll discuss what needs to go into your research proposal, and how to structure it all into an intuitive, convincing document with a linear narrative.

The 5 Essential Ingredients

Research proposals can vary in style between institutions and disciplines, but here I’ll share with you a   handy 5-section structure   you can use. These 5 sections directly address the core questions we spoke about earlier, ensuring that you present a convincing proposal. If your institution already provides a proposal template, there will likely be substantial overlap with this, so you’ll still get value from reading on.

For each section discussed below, make sure you use headers and sub-headers (ideally, numbered headers) to help the reader navigate through your document, and to support them when they need to revisit a previous section. Don’t just present an endless wall of text, paragraph after paragraph after paragraph…

Top Tip:   Use MS Word Styles to format headings. This will allow you to be clear about whether a sub-heading is level 2, 3, or 4. Additionally, you can view your document in ‘outline view’ which will show you only your headings. This makes it much easier to check your structure, shift things around and make decisions about where a section needs to sit. You can also generate a 100% accurate table of contents using Word’s automatic functionality.

writing thesis and dissertation proposals

Ingredient #1 – Topic/Title Header

Your research proposal’s title should be your main research question in its simplest form, possibly with a sub-heading providing basic details on the specifics of the study. For example:

“Compliance with equality legislation in the charity sector: a study of the ‘reasonable adjustments’ made in three London care homes”

As you can see, this title provides a clear indication of what the research is about, in broad terms. It paints a high-level picture for the first-time reader, which gives them a taste of what to expect.   Always aim for a clear, concise title . Don’t feel the need to capture every detail of your research in your title – your proposal will fill in the gaps.

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writing thesis and dissertation proposals

Ingredient #2 – Introduction

In this section of your research proposal, you’ll expand on what you’ve communicated in the title, by providing a few paragraphs which offer more detail about your research topic. Importantly, the focus here is the   topic   – what will you research and why is that worth researching? This is not the place to discuss methodology, practicalities, etc. – you’ll do that later.

You should cover the following:

  • An overview of the   broad area   you’ll be researching – introduce the reader to key concepts and language
  • An explanation of the   specific (narrower) area   you’ll be focusing, and why you’ll be focusing there
  • Your research   aims   and   objectives
  • Your   research question (s) and sub-questions (if applicable)

Importantly, you should aim to use short sentences and plain language – don’t babble on with extensive jargon, acronyms and complex language. Assume that the reader is an intelligent layman – not a subject area specialist (even if they are). Remember that the   best writing is writing that can be easily understood   and digested. Keep it simple.

The introduction section serves to expand on the  research topic – what will you study and why is that worth dedicating time and effort to?

Note that some universities may want some extra bits and pieces in your introduction section. For example, personal development objectives, a structural outline, etc. Check your brief to see if there are any other details they expect in your proposal, and make sure you find a place for these.

Ingredient #3 – Scope

Next, you’ll need to specify what the scope of your research will be – this is also known as the delimitations . In other words, you need to make it clear what you will be covering and, more importantly, what you won’t be covering in your research. Simply put, this is about ring fencing your research topic so that you have a laser-sharp focus.

All too often, students feel the need to go broad and try to address as many issues as possible, in the interest of producing comprehensive research. Whilst this is admirable, it’s a mistake. By tightly refining your scope, you’ll enable yourself to   go deep   with your research, which is what you need to earn good marks. If your scope is too broad, you’re likely going to land up with superficial research (which won’t earn marks), so don’t be afraid to narrow things down.

Ingredient #4 – Literature Review

In this section of your research proposal, you need to provide a (relatively) brief discussion of the existing literature. Naturally, this will not be as comprehensive as the literature review in your actual dissertation, but it will lay the foundation for that. In fact, if you put in the effort at this stage, you’ll make your life a lot easier when it’s time to write your actual literature review chapter.

There are a few things you need to achieve in this section:

  • Demonstrate that you’ve done your reading and are   familiar with the current state of the research   in your topic area.
  • Show that   there’s a clear gap   for your specific research – i.e., show that your topic is sufficiently unique and will add value to the existing research.
  • Show how the existing research has shaped your thinking regarding   research design . For example, you might use scales or questionnaires from previous studies.

When you write up your literature review, keep these three objectives front of mind, especially number two (revealing the gap in the literature), so that your literature review has a   clear purpose and direction . Everything you write should be contributing towards one (or more) of these objectives in some way. If it doesn’t, you need to ask yourself whether it’s truly needed.

Top Tip:  Don’t fall into the trap of just describing the main pieces of literature, for example, “A says this, B says that, C also says that…” and so on. Merely describing the literature provides no value. Instead, you need to   synthesise   it, and use it to address the three objectives above.

 If you put in the effort at the proposal stage, you’ll make your life a lot easier when its time to write your actual literature review chapter.

Ingredient #5 – Research Methodology

Now that you’ve clearly explained both your intended research topic (in the introduction) and the existing research it will draw on (in the literature review section), it’s time to get practical and explain exactly how you’ll be carrying out your own research. In other words, your research methodology.

In this section, you’ll need to   answer two critical questions :

  • How   will you design your research? I.e., what research methodology will you adopt, what will your sample be, how will you collect data, etc.
  • Why   have you chosen this design? I.e., why does this approach suit your specific research aims, objectives and questions?

In other words, this is not just about explaining WHAT you’ll be doing, it’s also about explaining WHY. In fact, the   justification is the most important part , because that justification is how you demonstrate a good understanding of research design (which is what assessors want to see).

Some essential design choices you need to cover in your research proposal include:

  • Your intended research philosophy (e.g., positivism, interpretivism or pragmatism )
  • What methodological approach you’ll be taking (e.g., qualitative , quantitative or mixed )
  • The details of your sample (e.g., sample size, who they are, who they represent, etc.)
  • What data you plan to collect (i.e. data about what, in what form?)
  • How you plan to collect it (e.g., surveys , interviews , focus groups, etc.)
  • How you plan to analyse it (e.g., regression analysis, thematic analysis , etc.)
  • Ethical adherence (i.e., does this research satisfy all ethical requirements of your institution, or does it need further approval?)

This list is not exhaustive – these are just some core attributes of research design. Check with your institution what level of detail they expect. The “ research onion ” by Saunders et al (2009) provides a good summary of the various design choices you ultimately need to make – you can   read more about that here .

Don’t forget the practicalities…

In addition to the technical aspects, you will need to address the   practical   side of the project. In other words, you need to explain   what resources you’ll need   (e.g., time, money, access to equipment or software, etc.) and how you intend to secure these resources. You need to show that your project is feasible, so any “make or break” type resources need to already be secured. The success or failure of your project cannot depend on some resource which you’re not yet sure you have access to.

Another part of the practicalities discussion is   project and risk management . In other words, you need to show that you have a clear project plan to tackle your research with. Some key questions to address:

  • What are the timelines for each phase of your project?
  • Are the time allocations reasonable?
  • What happens if something takes longer than anticipated (risk management)?
  • What happens if you don’t get the response rate you expect?

A good way to demonstrate that you’ve thought this through is to include a Gantt chart and a risk register (in the appendix if word count is a problem). With these two tools, you can show that you’ve got a clear, feasible plan, and you’ve thought about and accounted for the potential risks.

Gantt chart

Tip – Be honest about the potential difficulties – but show that you are anticipating solutions and workarounds. This is much more impressive to an assessor than an unrealistically optimistic proposal which does not anticipate any challenges whatsoever.

Final Touches: Read And Simplify

The final step is to edit and proofread your proposal – very carefully. It sounds obvious, but all too often poor editing and proofreading ruin a good proposal. Nothing is more off-putting for an assessor than a poorly edited, typo-strewn document. It sends the message that you either do not pay attention to detail, or just don’t care. Neither of these are good messages. Put the effort into editing and proofreading your proposal (or pay someone to do it for you) – it will pay dividends.

When you’re editing, watch out for ‘academese’. Many students can speak simply, passionately and clearly about their dissertation topic – but become incomprehensible the moment they turn the laptop on. You are not required to write in any kind of special, formal, complex language when you write academic work. Sure, there may be technical terms, jargon specific to your discipline, shorthand terms and so on. But, apart from those,   keep your written language very close to natural spoken language   – just as you would speak in the classroom. Imagine that you are explaining your project plans to your classmates or a family member. Remember, write for the intelligent layman, not the subject matter experts. Plain-language, concise writing is what wins hearts and minds – and marks!

Let’s Recap: Research Proposal 101

And there you have it – how to write your dissertation or thesis research proposal, from the title page to the final proof. Here’s a quick recap of the key takeaways:

  • The purpose of the research proposal is to   convince   – therefore, you need to make a clear, concise argument of why your research is both worth doing and doable.
  • Make sure you can ask the critical what, who, and how questions of your research   before   you put pen to paper.
  • Title – provides the first taste of your research, in broad terms
  • Introduction – explains what you’ll be researching in more detail
  • Scope – explains the boundaries of your research
  • Literature review – explains how your research fits into the existing research and why it’s unique and valuable
  • Research methodology – explains and justifies how you will carry out your own research

Hopefully, this post has helped you better understand how to write up a winning research proposal. If you enjoyed it, be sure to check out the rest of the Grad Coach Blog . If your university doesn’t provide any template for your proposal, you might want to try out our free research proposal template .

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Psst… there’s more!

This post is an extract from our bestselling Udemy Course, Research Proposal Bootcamp . If you want to work smart, you don't want to miss this .

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29 Comments

Mazwakhe Mkhulisi

Thank you so much for the valuable insight that you have given, especially on the research proposal. That is what I have managed to cover. I still need to go back to the other parts as I got disturbed while still listening to Derek’s audio on you-tube. I am inspired. I will definitely continue with Grad-coach guidance on You-tube.

Derek Jansen

Thanks for the kind words :). All the best with your proposal.

NAVEEN ANANTHARAMAN

First of all, thanks a lot for making such a wonderful presentation. The video was really useful and gave me a very clear insight of how a research proposal has to be written. I shall try implementing these ideas in my RP.

Once again, I thank you for this content.

Bonginkosi Mshengu

I found reading your outline on writing research proposal very beneficial. I wish there was a way of submitting my draft proposal to you guys for critiquing before I submit to the institution.

Hi Bonginkosi

Thank you for the kind words. Yes, we do provide a review service. The best starting point is to have a chat with one of our coaches here: https://gradcoach.com/book/new/ .

Erick Omondi

Hello team GRADCOACH, may God bless you so much. I was totally green in research. Am so happy for your free superb tutorials and resources. Once again thank you so much Derek and his team.

You’re welcome, Erick. Good luck with your research proposal 🙂

ivy

thank you for the information. its precise and on point.

Nighat Nighat Ahsan

Really a remarkable piece of writing and great source of guidance for the researchers. GOD BLESS YOU for your guidance. Regards

Delfina Celeste Danca Rangel

Thanks so much for your guidance. It is easy and comprehensive the way you explain the steps for a winning research proposal.

Desiré Forku

Thank you guys so much for the rich post. I enjoyed and learn from every word in it. My problem now is how to get into your platform wherein I can always seek help on things related to my research work ? Secondly, I wish to find out if there is a way I can send my tentative proposal to you guys for examination before I take to my supervisor Once again thanks very much for the insights

Thanks for your kind words, Desire.

If you are based in a country where Grad Coach’s paid services are available, you can book a consultation by clicking the “Book” button in the top right.

Best of luck with your studies.

Adolph

May God bless you team for the wonderful work you are doing,

If I have a topic, Can I submit it to you so that you can draft a proposal for me?? As I am expecting to go for masters degree in the near future.

Thanks for your comment. We definitely cannot draft a proposal for you, as that would constitute academic misconduct. The proposal needs to be your own work. We can coach you through the process, but it needs to be your own work and your own writing.

Best of luck with your research!

kenate Akuma

I found a lot of many essential concepts from your material. it is real a road map to write a research proposal. so thanks a lot. If there is any update material on your hand on MBA please forward to me.

Ahmed Khalil

GradCoach is a professional website that presents support and helps for MBA student like me through the useful online information on the page and with my 1-on-1 online coaching with the amazing and professional PhD Kerryen.

Thank you Kerryen so much for the support and help 🙂

I really recommend dealing with such a reliable services provider like Gradcoah and a coach like Kerryen.

PINTON OFOSU

Hi, Am happy for your service and effort to help students and researchers, Please, i have been given an assignment on research for strategic development, the task one is to formulate a research proposal to support the strategic development of a business area, my issue here is how to go about it, especially the topic or title and introduction. Please, i would like to know if you could help me and how much is the charge.

Marcos A. López Figueroa

This content is practical, valuable, and just great!

Thank you very much!

Eric Rwigamba

Hi Derek, Thank you for the valuable presentation. It is very helpful especially for beginners like me. I am just starting my PhD.

Hussein EGIELEMAI

This is quite instructive and research proposal made simple. Can I have a research proposal template?

Mathew Yokie Musa

Great! Thanks for rescuing me, because I had no former knowledge in this topic. But with this piece of information, I am now secured. Thank you once more.

Chulekazi Bula

I enjoyed listening to your video on how to write a proposal. I think I will be able to write a winning proposal with your advice. I wish you were to be my supervisor.

Mohammad Ajmal Shirzad

Dear Derek Jansen,

Thank you for your great content. I couldn’t learn these topics in MBA, but now I learned from GradCoach. Really appreciate your efforts….

From Afghanistan!

Mulugeta Yilma

I have got very essential inputs for startup of my dissertation proposal. Well organized properly communicated with video presentation. Thank you for the presentation.

Siphesihle Macu

Wow, this is absolutely amazing guys. Thank you so much for the fruitful presentation, you’ve made my research much easier.

HAWANATU JULLIANA JOSEPH

this helps me a lot. thank you all so much for impacting in us. may god richly bless you all

June Pretzer

How I wish I’d learn about Grad Coach earlier. I’ve been stumbling around writing and rewriting! Now I have concise clear directions on how to put this thing together. Thank you!

Jas

Fantastic!! Thank You for this very concise yet comprehensive guidance.

Fikiru Bekele

Even if I am poor in English I would like to thank you very much.

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writing thesis and dissertation proposals

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writing thesis and dissertation proposals

Doctoral handbook

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  • Dissertation Proposal

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Proposal Overview and Format

Proposal committee, proposal hearing or meeting.

  • Printing Credit for Use in School of Education Labs

Students are urged to begin thinking about a dissertation topic early in their degree program. Concentrated work on a dissertation proposal normally begins after successful completion of the Second-Year Review, which often includes a “mini” proposal, an extended literature review, or a theoretical essay, plus advancement to doctoral candidacy. In defining a dissertation topic, the student collaborates with her or his faculty advisor or dissertation advisor (if one is selected) in the choice of a topic for the dissertation.

The dissertation proposal is a comprehensive statement on the extent and nature of the student’s dissertation research interests. Students submit a draft of the proposal to their dissertation advisor between the end of the seventh and middle of the ninth quarters. The student must provide a written copy of the proposal to the faculty committee no later than two weeks prior to the date of the proposal hearing. Committee members could require an earlier deadline (e.g., four weeks before the hearing).

The major components of the proposal are as follows, with some variations across Areas and disciplines:

  • A detailed statement of the problem that is to be studied and the context within which it is to be seen. This should include a justification of the importance of the problem on both theoretical and educational grounds.
  • A thorough review of the literature pertinent to the research problem. This review should provide proof that the relevant literature in the field has been thoroughly researched. Good research is cumulative; it builds on the thoughts, findings, and mistakes of others.
  • its general explanatory interest
  • the overall theoretical framework within which this interest is to be pursued
  • the model or hypotheses to be tested or the research questions to be answered
  • a discussion of the conceptual and operational properties of the variables
  • an overview of strategies for collecting appropriate evidence (sampling, instrumentation, data collection, data reduction, data analysis)
  • a discussion of how the evidence is to be interpreted (This aspect of the proposal will be somewhat different in fields such as history and philosophy of education.)
  • If applicable, students should complete a request for approval of research with human subjects, using the Human Subjects Review Form ( http://humansubjects.stanford.edu/ ). Except for pilot work, the University requires the approval of the Administrative Panel on Human Subjects in Behavioral Science Research before any data can be collected from human subjects.

Registration (i.e., enrollment) is required for any quarter during which a degree requirement is completed, including the dissertation proposal. Refer to the Registration or Enrollment for Milestone Completion section for more details.

As students progress through the program, their interests may change. There is no commitment on the part of the student’s advisor to automatically serve as the dissertation chair. Based on the student’s interests and the dissertation topic, many students approach other GSE professors to serve as the dissertation advisor, if appropriate.

A dissertation proposal committee is comprised of three academic council faculty members, one of whom will serve as the major dissertation advisor. Whether or not the student’s general program advisor serves on the dissertation proposal committee and later the reading committee will depend on the relevance of that faculty member’s expertise to the topic of the dissertation, and his/her availability. There is no requirement that a program advisor serve, although very often he or she does. Members of the dissertation proposal committee may be drawn from other area committees within the GSE, from other departments in the University, or from emeriti faculty. At least one person serving on the proposal committee must be from the student’s area committee (CTE, DAPS, SHIPS). All three members must be on the Academic Council; if the student desires the expertise of a non-Academic Council member, it may be possible to petition. After the hearing, a memorandum listing the changes to be made will be written and submitted with the signed proposal cover sheet and a copy of the proposal itself to the Doctoral Programs Officer.

Review and approval of the dissertation proposal occurs normally during the third year. The proposal hearing seeks to review the quality and feasibility of the proposal. The Second-Year Review and the Proposal Hearing are separate milestones and may not occur as part of the same hearing or meeting.

The student and the dissertation advisor are responsible for scheduling a formal meeting or hearing to review the proposal; the student and proposal committee convene for this evaluative period. Normally, all must be present at the meeting either in person or via conference phone call.

At the end of this meeting, the dissertation proposal committee members should sign the Cover Sheet for Dissertation Proposal and indicate their approval or rejection of the proposal. This signed form should be submitted to the Doctoral Programs Officer. If the student is required to make revisions, an addendum is required with the written approval of each member of the committee stating that the proposal has been revised to their satisfaction.

After submitting the Proposal Hearing material to the Doctoral Programs Officer, the student should make arrangements with three faculty members to serve on her or his Dissertation Reading Committee. The Doctoral Dissertation Reading Committee form should be completed and given to the Doctoral Programs Officer to enter in the University student records system. Note: The proposal hearing committee and the reading committee do not have to be the same three faculty members. Normally, the proposal hearing precedes the designation of a Dissertation Reading Committee, and faculty on either committee may differ (except for the primary dissertation advisor). However, some students may advance to Terminal Graduate Registration (TGR) status before completing their dissertation proposal hearing if they have established a dissertation reading committee. In these cases, it is acceptable for the student to form a reading committee prior to the dissertation proposal hearing. The reading committee then serves as the proposal committee.

The proposal and reading committee forms and related instructions are on the GSE website, under current students>forms.

Printing Credit for Use in GSE Labs

Upon completion of their doctoral dissertation proposal, GSE students are eligible for a $300 printing credit redeemable in any of the GSE computer labs where students are normally charged for print jobs. Only one $300 credit per student will be issued, but it is usable throughout the remainder of her or his doctoral program until the balance is exhausted. The print credit can be used only at the printers in Cubberley basement and CERAS, and cannot be used toward copying.

After submitting the signed dissertation proposal cover sheet to the Doctoral Programs Officer indicating approval (see above), students can submit a HELP SU ticket online at helpsu.stanford.edu to request the credit. When submitting the help ticket, the following should be selected from the drop-down menus for HELP SU:

Request Category :  Computer, Handhelds (PDAs), Printers, Servers Request Type :  Printer Operating System : (whatever system is used by the student, e.g., Windows XP.)

The help ticket will be routed to the GSE's IT Group for processing; they will in turn notify the student via email when the credit is available.

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Handbook Contents

  • Timetable for the Doctoral Degree
  • Degree Requirements
  • Registration or Enrollment for Milestone Completion
  • The Graduate Study Program
  • Student Virtual and Teleconference Participation in Hearings
  • First Year (3rd Quarter) Review
  • Second Year (6th Quarter) Review
  • Committee Composition for First- and Second-Year Reviews
  • Advancement to Candidacy
  • Academic Program Revision
  • Dissertation Content
  • Dissertation Reading Committee
  • University Oral Examination
  • Submitting the Dissertation
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  • Race, Inequality, and Language in Education (RILE)
  • Social Sciences, Humanities, and Interdisciplinary Policy Studies in Education (SHIPS)
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How to Write a Dissertation Proposal | A Step-by-Step Guide

Published on 14 February 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on 11 November 2022.

A dissertation proposal describes the research you want to do: what it’s about, how you’ll conduct it, and why it’s worthwhile. You will probably have to write a proposal before starting your dissertation as an undergraduate or postgraduate student.

A dissertation proposal should generally include:

  • An introduction to your topic and aims
  • A literature review  of the current state of knowledge
  • An outline of your proposed methodology
  • A discussion of the possible implications of the research
  • A bibliography  of relevant sources

Dissertation proposals vary a lot in terms of length and structure, so make sure to follow any guidelines given to you by your institution, and check with your supervisor when you’re unsure.

Table of contents

Step 1: coming up with an idea, step 2: presenting your idea in the introduction, step 3: exploring related research in the literature review, step 4: describing your methodology, step 5: outlining the potential implications of your research, step 6: creating a reference list or bibliography.

Before writing your proposal, it’s important to come up with a strong idea for your dissertation.

Find an area of your field that interests you and do some preliminary reading in that area. What are the key concerns of other researchers? What do they suggest as areas for further research, and what strikes you personally as an interesting gap in the field?

Once you have an idea, consider how to narrow it down and the best way to frame it. Don’t be too ambitious or too vague – a dissertation topic needs to be specific enough to be feasible. Move from a broad field of interest to a specific niche:

  • Russian literature 19th century Russian literature The novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky
  • Social media Mental health effects of social media Influence of social media on young adults suffering from anxiety

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Like most academic texts, a dissertation proposal begins with an introduction . This is where you introduce the topic of your research, provide some background, and most importantly, present your aim , objectives and research question(s) .

Try to dive straight into your chosen topic: What’s at stake in your research? Why is it interesting? Don’t spend too long on generalisations or grand statements:

  • Social media is the most important technological trend of the 21st century. It has changed the world and influences our lives every day.
  • Psychologists generally agree that the ubiquity of social media in the lives of young adults today has a profound impact on their mental health. However, the exact nature of this impact needs further investigation.

Once your area of research is clear, you can present more background and context. What does the reader need to know to understand your proposed questions? What’s the current state of research on this topic, and what will your dissertation contribute to the field?

If you’re including a literature review, you don’t need to go into too much detail at this point, but give the reader a general sense of the debates that you’re intervening in.

This leads you into the most important part of the introduction: your aim, objectives and research question(s) . These should be clearly identifiable and stand out from the text – for example, you could present them using bullet points or bold font.

Make sure that your research questions are specific and workable – something you can reasonably answer within the scope of your dissertation. Avoid being too broad or having too many different questions. Remember that your goal in a dissertation proposal is to convince the reader that your research is valuable and feasible:

  • Does social media harm mental health?
  • What is the impact of daily social media use on 18– to 25–year–olds suffering from general anxiety disorder?

Now that your topic is clear, it’s time to explore existing research covering similar ideas. This is important because it shows you what is missing from other research in the field and ensures that you’re not asking a question someone else has already answered.

You’ve probably already done some preliminary reading, but now that your topic is more clearly defined, you need to thoroughly analyse and evaluate the most relevant sources in your literature review .

Here you should summarise the findings of other researchers and comment on gaps and problems in their studies. There may be a lot of research to cover, so make effective use of paraphrasing to write concisely:

  • Smith and Prakash state that ‘our results indicate a 25% decrease in the incidence of mechanical failure after the new formula was applied’.
  • Smith and Prakash’s formula reduced mechanical failures by 25%.

The point is to identify findings and theories that will influence your own research, but also to highlight gaps and limitations in previous research which your dissertation can address:

  • Subsequent research has failed to replicate this result, however, suggesting a flaw in Smith and Prakash’s methods. It is likely that the failure resulted from…

Next, you’ll describe your proposed methodology : the specific things you hope to do, the structure of your research and the methods that you will use to gather and analyse data.

You should get quite specific in this section – you need to convince your supervisor that you’ve thought through your approach to the research and can realistically carry it out. This section will look quite different, and vary in length, depending on your field of study.

You may be engaged in more empirical research, focusing on data collection and discovering new information, or more theoretical research, attempting to develop a new conceptual model or add nuance to an existing one.

Dissertation research often involves both, but the content of your methodology section will vary according to how important each approach is to your dissertation.

Empirical research

Empirical research involves collecting new data and analysing it in order to answer your research questions. It can be quantitative (focused on numbers), qualitative (focused on words and meanings), or a combination of both.

With empirical research, it’s important to describe in detail how you plan to collect your data:

  • Will you use surveys ? A lab experiment ? Interviews?
  • What variables will you measure?
  • How will you select a representative sample ?
  • If other people will participate in your research, what measures will you take to ensure they are treated ethically?
  • What tools (conceptual and physical) will you use, and why?

It’s appropriate to cite other research here. When you need to justify your choice of a particular research method or tool, for example, you can cite a text describing the advantages and appropriate usage of that method.

Don’t overdo this, though; you don’t need to reiterate the whole theoretical literature, just what’s relevant to the choices you have made.

Moreover, your research will necessarily involve analysing the data after you have collected it. Though you don’t know yet what the data will look like, it’s important to know what you’re looking for and indicate what methods (e.g. statistical tests , thematic analysis ) you will use.

Theoretical research

You can also do theoretical research that doesn’t involve original data collection. In this case, your methodology section will focus more on the theory you plan to work with in your dissertation: relevant conceptual models and the approach you intend to take.

For example, a literary analysis dissertation rarely involves collecting new data, but it’s still necessary to explain the theoretical approach that will be taken to the text(s) under discussion, as well as which parts of the text(s) you will focus on:

  • This dissertation will utilise Foucault’s theory of panopticism to explore the theme of surveillance in Orwell’s 1984 and Kafka’s The Trial…

Here, you may refer to the same theorists you have already discussed in the literature review. In this case, the emphasis is placed on how you plan to use their contributions in your own research.

You’ll usually conclude your dissertation proposal with a section discussing what you expect your research to achieve.

You obviously can’t be too sure: you don’t know yet what your results and conclusions will be. Instead, you should describe the projected implications and contribution to knowledge of your dissertation.

First, consider the potential implications of your research. Will you:

  • Develop or test a theory?
  • Provide new information to governments or businesses?
  • Challenge a commonly held belief?
  • Suggest an improvement to a specific process?

Describe the intended result of your research and the theoretical or practical impact it will have:

Finally, it’s sensible to conclude by briefly restating the contribution to knowledge you hope to make: the specific question(s) you hope to answer and the gap the answer(s) will fill in existing knowledge:

Like any academic text, it’s important that your dissertation proposal effectively references all the sources you have used. You need to include a properly formatted reference list or bibliography at the end of your proposal.

Different institutions recommend different styles of referencing – commonly used styles include Harvard , Vancouver , APA , or MHRA . If your department does not have specific requirements, choose a style and apply it consistently.

A reference list includes only the sources that you cited in your proposal. A bibliography is slightly different: it can include every source you consulted in preparing the proposal, even if you didn’t mention it in the text. In the case of a dissertation proposal, a bibliography may also list relevant sources that you haven’t yet read, but that you intend to use during the research itself.

Check with your supervisor what type of bibliography or reference list you should include.

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Writing a dissertation or thesis proposal, what is a proposal, what is the purpose of a proposal.

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The proposal, sometimes called the prospectus, is composed mainly of the Introduction, Research Questions, Literature Review, Research Significance and Methodology. It may also include a dissertation/thesis outline and a timeline for your proposed research. You will be able to reuse the proposal when you actually write the entire dissertation or thesis.

In the graduate student timeline, the proposal comes after successfully passing qualifying or comprehensive exams and before starting the research for a dissertation or thesis.

Each UNT department has slightly different proposal requirements, so be sure to check with your advisor or the department's graduate advisor before you start!

  • Examples of Proposals from UTexas More than 20 completed dissertation proposals are available to read at the UT Intellectual Entrepreneurship website.
  • Dissertation Proposal Guidelines This document from the Department of Communication at the University of Washington is a good example of what you might be expected to include in a proposal.

The purpose of a proposal is to convince your dissertation or thesis committee that you are ready to start your research project and to create a plan for your dissertation or thesis work. You will submit your proposal to your committee for review and then you will do your proposal defense, during which you present your plan and the committee asks questions about it. The committee wants to know if your research questions have academic merit and whether you have chosen the right methods to answer the questions.

  • How to Prepare a Successful Dissertation Proposal Defense Some general tips for a proposal defense from synonym.com

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Proposing, Writing, and Filing Your Thesis or Dissertation

Graduate Student Resource Center

You’ll find the most comprehensive information about thesis and dissertation writing in published books. A range of sites, however, do provide advice that is more extensive than mere lists of the document’s components and directives to “revise” and “be concise.”

We’ve listed the most useful sites below in the following categories:

Writing Your Proposal

Resources for Proposal Writers : An annotated list of books and websites compiled by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center.

Dissertation Proposal Resources : The University of Texas at Austin has a website with real dissertation proposals from a variety of fields, which may be useful for understanding possible options for organization and other aspects; and examples of successful NSF and Fulbright proposals.

Writing Thesis and Dissertation Proposals : A detailed document for proposal writers in all disciplines, developed by Penn State’s Graduate Writing Center.

Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or Dissertation : A short, free e-book on thinking about the project, writing the proposal, completing the project, and defending it, by S. Joseph Levine of Michigan State University.

Writing Your Thesis and Dissertation

Resources for Dissertators : An annotated list of books and websites compiled by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center.

Dissertation Calculator : Enter the start date and target completion date for your dissertation, and get a timeline of research and writing milestones, which range from creating a dissertation support network to writing the abstract. Clicking on any milestone will retrieve a page of detailed advice, along with links. Developed by the University of Minnesota.

Dissertations : Resources and tips from UNC Chapel Hill’s Writing Center for their dissertation boot camp.

PhinisheD : A discussion group for people working on theses and dissertations. You will need to create an account to view posts, and a moderator must approve your registration before you can access them. Once you do have access, though, check out the posts in response to frequently asked questions on managing your dissertation, advisor, and life.

Filing Your Thesis and Dissertation

Policies and Procedures for Dissertation Thesis and Dissertation Preparation and Filing : Did you know that your left and bottom margins have to be at least 1.5 inches wide? Or that your page numbers have to be centered? Read this official UCLA manuscript preparation guide to learn more shocking (and essential) tips.

Thesis and Dissertation Meetings : Attend one of these meetings in the quarter in which you plan to file. UCLA Graduate Division and Library staff will walk you through university regulations, important dates, and the above Policies and Procedures packet.

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Dissertations 1: getting started: writing a proposal.

  • Starting Your Dissertation
  • Choosing A Topic and Researching
  • Devising An Approach/Method
  • Thinking Of A Title
  • Writing A Proposal

What is a Proposal?

Before you start your dissertation, you may be asked to write a proposal for it.  

The purpose of a dissertation proposal is to provide a snapshot of what your study involves. Usually, after submission of the proposal you will be assigned a supervisor who has some expertise in your field of study. You should receive feedback on the viability of the topic, how to focus the scope, research methods, and other issues you should consider before progressing in your research. 

The research proposal should present the dissertation topic, justify your reasons for choosing it and outline how you are going to research it . You'll have to keep it brief, as word counts can vary from anywhere between 800 to 3,000 words at undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral levels.  

It is worth bearing in mind that you are not bound by your proposal. Your project is likely going to  evolve and may move in a new direction . Your dissertation supervisor is aware that this may occur as you delve deeper into the literature in your field of study. Nevertheless, always discuss any major developments with your supervisor in the first instance.  

Reading for your Proposal

Before writing a proposal, you will need to read. A lot! But that doesn’t mean you must read everything. Be targeted! What do you really need to know?  

Instead of reading every page in every book, look for clues in chapter titles and introductions to narrow your focus down. Use abstracts from journal articles to check whether the material is relevant to your study and keep notes of your reading along with clear records of bibliographic information and page numbers for your references.  

Ultimately, your objective should be to create a dialogue between the theories and ideas you have read and your own thoughts. What is your personal perspective on the topic? What evidence is there that supports your point of view? Furthermore, you should ask questions about each text. Is it current or is it outdated? What argument is the author making? Is the author biased?  

Approaching your reading in this way ensures that you engage with the literature critically. You will demonstrate that you have done this in your mini literature review (see Proposal Structure box).  

If you have not yet started reading for your proposal, the Literature Review Guide offers advice on choosing a topic and how to conduct a literature search. Additionally, the Effective Reading Guide provides tips on researching and critical reading.  

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Proposal Structure

So, how is a dissertation proposal typically structured? The structure of a proposal varies considerably.

This is a list of elements that might be required. Please check the dissertation proposal requirements and marking criteria on Blackboard or with your lecturers if you are unsure about the requirements.

Title : The title you have devised, so far - it can change throughout the dissertation drafting process! A good title is simple but fairly specific. Example: "Focus and concentration during revision: an evaluation of the Pomodoro technique."

Introduction/Background : Provides background and presents the key issues of your proposed research. Can include the following:

Rationale : Why is this research being undertaken, why is it interesting and worthwhile, also considering the existing literature?

Purpose : What do you intend to accomplish with your study, e.g. improve something or understand something? 

Research question : The main, overarching question your study seeks to answer. E.g. "How can focus and concentration be improved during revision?"

Hypothesis : Quantitative studies can use hypotheses in alternative to research questions. E.g. "Taking regular breaks significantly increases the ability to memorise information."

Aim : The main result your study seeks to achieve. If you use a research question, the aim echoes that, but uses an infinitive. E.g. "The aim of this research is to investigate how can focus and concentration be improved during revision."

Objectives : The stepping stones to achieve your aim. E.g. "The objectives of this research are 1) to review the literature on study techniques; 2) to identify the factors that influence focus and concentration; 3) to undertake an experiment on the Pomodoro technique with student volunteers; 4) to issue recommendations on focus and concentration for revision."

Literature review : Overview of significant literature around the research topic, moving from general (background) to specific (your subject of study). Highlight what the literature says, and does not say, on the research topic, identifying a gap(s) that your research aims to fill. 

Methods : Here you consider what methods you are planning to use for your research, and why you are thinking of them. What secondary sources (literature) are you going to consult? Are you going to use primary sources (e.g. data bases, statistics, interviews, questionnaires, experiments)? Are you going to focus on a case study? Is the research going to be qualitative or quantitative? Consider if your research will need ethical clearance.

Significance/Implications/Expected outcomes : In this section you reiterate what are you hoping to demonstrate. State how your research could contribute to debates in your particular subject area, perhaps filling a gap(s) in the existing works. 

Plan of Work : You might be asked to present your timeline for completing the dissertation. The timeline can be presented using different formats such as bullet points, table, Gantt chart. Whichever format you use, your plan of work should be realistic and should demonstrate awareness of the various elements of the study such as literature research, empirical work, drafting, re-drafting, etc.

Outline : Here you include a provisional table of contents for your dissertation. The structure of the dissertation can be free or prescribed by the dissertation guidelines of your course, so check that up. 

Reference List : The list should include the bibliographical information of all the sources you cited in the proposal, listed in alphabetical order. 

Most of the elements mentioned above are explained in the tabs of this guide!

Literature-based dissertations in the humanities

A literature-based dissertation in the humanities, however, might be less rigidly structured and may look like this: 

  • Short introduction including background information on your topic, why it is relevant and how it fits into the literature. 
  • Main body which outlines how you will organise your  chapters .
  • Conclusion which states what you hope your study will achieve. 
  • Bibliography .  

After Writing

Check your proposal! 

Have you shown that your research idea is: 

Ethical? 

Relevant? 

Feasible with the timeframe and resources available?  

Have you: 

Identified a clear research gap to focus on? 

Stated why your study is important? 

Selected a methodology that will enable you to gather the data you need? 

Use the marking criteria for dissertation proposals provided by your department to check your work.  

Locke, L.F.,  Spirduso, W.W. and Silverman, S.J. (2014).  Proposals that Work: A Guide for Planning Dissertations and Grant Proposals . Sage.

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Chapter 2 discusses the guidelines for writing a proposal, dissertation, or thesis and how to construct a good problem statement. Additionally, the chapter provides more than ten practical considerations for conducting a comprehensive and in-depth literature review. Good practices are also discussed, as well as common errors that students make. While the whole idea focuses on thesis writing, the information presented in this chapter is also applicable to writing research proposals aimed at securing research funding.

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Prize-Winning Thesis and Dissertation Examples

Published on September 9, 2022 by Tegan George . Revised on July 18, 2023.

It can be difficult to know where to start when writing your thesis or dissertation . One way to come up with some ideas or maybe even combat writer’s block is to check out previous work done by other students on a similar thesis or dissertation topic to yours.

This article collects a list of undergraduate, master’s, and PhD theses and dissertations that have won prizes for their high-quality research.

Table of contents

Award-winning undergraduate theses, award-winning master’s theses, award-winning ph.d. dissertations, other interesting articles.

University : University of Pennsylvania Faculty : History Author : Suchait Kahlon Award : 2021 Hilary Conroy Prize for Best Honors Thesis in World History Title : “Abolition, Africans, and Abstraction: the Influence of the “Noble Savage” on British and French Antislavery Thought, 1787-1807”

University : Columbia University Faculty : History Author : Julien Saint Reiman Award : 2018 Charles A. Beard Senior Thesis Prize Title : “A Starving Man Helping Another Starving Man”: UNRRA, India, and the Genesis of Global Relief, 1943-1947

University: University College London Faculty: Geography Author: Anna Knowles-Smith Award:  2017 Royal Geographical Society Undergraduate Dissertation Prize Title:  Refugees and theatre: an exploration of the basis of self-representation

University: University of Washington Faculty:  Computer Science & Engineering Author: Nick J. Martindell Award: 2014 Best Senior Thesis Award Title:  DCDN: Distributed content delivery for the modern web

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University:  University of Edinburgh Faculty:  Informatics Author:  Christopher Sipola Award:  2018 Social Responsibility & Sustainability Dissertation Prize Title:  Summarizing electricity usage with a neural network

University:  University of Ottawa Faculty:  Education Author:  Matthew Brillinger Award:  2017 Commission on Graduate Studies in the Humanities Prize Title:  Educational Park Planning in Berkeley, California, 1965-1968

University:  University of Ottawa Faculty: Social Sciences Author:  Heather Martin Award:  2015 Joseph De Koninck Prize Title:  An Analysis of Sexual Assault Support Services for Women who have a Developmental Disability

University : University of Ottawa Faculty : Physics Author : Guillaume Thekkadath Award : 2017 Commission on Graduate Studies in the Sciences Prize Title : Joint measurements of complementary properties of quantum systems

University:  London School of Economics Faculty: International Development Author: Lajos Kossuth Award:  2016 Winner of the Prize for Best Overall Performance Title:  Shiny Happy People: A study of the effects income relative to a reference group exerts on life satisfaction

University : Stanford University Faculty : English Author : Nathan Wainstein Award : 2021 Alden Prize Title : “Unformed Art: Bad Writing in the Modernist Novel”

University : University of Massachusetts at Amherst Faculty : Molecular and Cellular Biology Author : Nils Pilotte Award : 2021 Byron Prize for Best Ph.D. Dissertation Title : “Improved Molecular Diagnostics for Soil-Transmitted Molecular Diagnostics for Soil-Transmitted Helminths”

University:  Utrecht University Faculty:  Linguistics Author:  Hans Rutger Bosker Award: 2014 AVT/Anéla Dissertation Prize Title:  The processing and evaluation of fluency in native and non-native speech

University: California Institute of Technology Faculty: Physics Author: Michael P. Mendenhall Award: 2015 Dissertation Award in Nuclear Physics Title: Measurement of the neutron beta decay asymmetry using ultracold neutrons

University:  Stanford University Faculty: Management Science and Engineering Author:  Shayan O. Gharan Award:  Doctoral Dissertation Award 2013 Title:   New Rounding Techniques for the Design and Analysis of Approximation Algorithms

University: University of Minnesota Faculty: Chemical Engineering Author: Eric A. Vandre Award:  2014 Andreas Acrivos Dissertation Award in Fluid Dynamics Title: Onset of Dynamics Wetting Failure: The Mechanics of High-speed Fluid Displacement

University: Erasmus University Rotterdam Faculty: Marketing Author: Ezgi Akpinar Award: McKinsey Marketing Dissertation Award 2014 Title: Consumer Information Sharing: Understanding Psychological Drivers of Social Transmission

University: University of Washington Faculty: Computer Science & Engineering Author: Keith N. Snavely Award:  2009 Doctoral Dissertation Award Title: Scene Reconstruction and Visualization from Internet Photo Collections

University:  University of Ottawa Faculty:  Social Work Author:  Susannah Taylor Award: 2018 Joseph De Koninck Prize Title:  Effacing and Obscuring Autonomy: the Effects of Structural Violence on the Transition to Adulthood of Street Involved Youth

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Writing a Dissertation Proposal: Outline and Example

Table of contents

  • 1 What is a Dissertation Proposal?
  • 2.1.1 Rationale:
  • 2.1.2 Purpose:
  • 2.1.3 Research Question:
  • 2.1.4 Hypothesis:
  • 2.1.5 Aims and Objectives:
  • 2.2 Define Your Methodology
  • 2.3 Literature Review
  • 2.4 Anticipate Challenges and Limitations
  • 2.5 Consider Ethical Considerations
  • 2.6 Present Research Timeline
  • 2.7 Outline of Future Work
  • 2.8 Conclusion
  • 3 Advice for Writing a Dissertation Proposal
  • 4 Dissertation Proposal Example
  • 5 Mastering the Art of Thesis and Dissertation Proposals

Are you gearing up to embark on the exciting journey of crafting a research proposal for your upcoming dissertation or thesis? If so, you’re in the right place! Creating a research proposal is like taking the very first step in building the foundation of your entire academic project. It is your opportunity to pitch your research idea, outline your plan, and convince your academic committee that your dissertation or thesis is worth pursuing.

However, to many students, writing a Ph.D. proposal seems daunting. Do you fall into a similar category? Worry no more. We are here to guide you through how to write a proposal for a dissertation or thesis, making it as clear and straightforward as possible.

In this article, we will break down the essential steps to help you create a compelling research proposal that stands out. Whether you’re a graduate student embarking on your first thesis or a doctoral candidate looking to refine your research pitch, we’ve got you covered.

Here is a glimpse of what we will explore in this article:

  • After reading this article, you will understand how to write methodology in a research proposal.
  • You will gain a clear understanding of what a research proposal is all about.
  • The article provides an in-depth discussion of the key components of the dissertation proposal structure.
  • Allocating time, staying organized, setting a realistic scope, and citing sources accurately are crucial for creating a compelling dissertation or thesis proposal.
  • The article provides insights into an example of a dissertation proposal.

What is a Dissertation Proposal?

Think of a research proposal for a dissertation as a roadmap for your academic adventure. It is the plan that points you in the right direction for your dissertation or thesis. To write a stellar Master’s research proposal finding the right topic to compose the dissertation proposal outline is crucial. Without the right thesis or dissertation topic, your paper will lack the depth, enthusiasm, and quality needed for success.

When you write your dissertation or thesis proposal, it has certain parts like an introduction, goals, a review of what has already been written, how you will do your research, what it all means, any limits, and a list of your sources. However, it is worth remembering that none of it is set in stone and can change depending on your study, school, or degree.

Strong research proposals demonstrate good research abilities and require the instructor’s feedback. Students who put in the effort and time to make their proposals clear and to the point are on the right track to academic success.

The research proposals should be complete, persuasive, and properly structured. While the research proposal serves as a valuable guide, it is still advisable to seek any further guidance required from your instructor or others in your department. Doing so will ensure that your projects adhere to all the academic rules.

A research proposal is a big deal when aiming for a higher degree. Writing a proposal for a dissertation that is simple but thorough can be challenging. Still, when you stick to the plan and get valuable advice from experts, you can build a strong foundation for your research project. Therefore, your success is assured.

How to Write a Proposal for Dissertation or Thesis?

When it comes to crafting proposals, the way you structure them up is super important. You are not alone if you are curious about writing a dissertation proposal and what it involves. But here is the deal: no universal format fits everyone.

Picking the very first dissertation proposal writing template and structure you come across might not be the best idea. Instead, you should choose a format that fits your paper like a glove. You must ensure you cover all the necessary parts, like your report’s main points, goals, and how you plan to do your research. Also, before you write a dissertation research proposal, get all the details about its structure.

Here are the key components of a thesis or dissertation proposal:

Introduction

Introducing a dissertation or thesis proposal is critical in setting the stage for your research journey. Think of it as the opening act of a play; it needs to grab your audience’s attention and give them a clear sense of what to expect. This article will shed light on the vital components of a compelling introduction.

Explaining why your proposed research is necessary is crucial to kicking things off. What gap in existing research knowledge does your study aim to fill? You must highlight the significance of the research problem you are addressing to show that your work is not just an academic exercise but contributes to the broader field.

Next, the introduction of your thesis or dissertation proposal must include a clear purpose for your research. It should clearly answer the question, “What are you trying to achieve?” Clearly state the main objective of your research paper, which gives context to your study.

Research Question:

The heart of your introduction is the research question. It is the central query that your dissertation or thesis seeks to answer. Make it concise, specific, and engaging, as it will guide your entire research.

Hypothesis:

If applicable, introduce your hypothesis. It is an educated guess about the expected outcome of your research based on existing knowledge. It helps set clear expectations for your study.

Aims and Objectives:

Conclude the introduction by outlining the aims and objectives of your research. Aims are broad, overarching goals, while objectives are specific, measurable steps that help you achieve those aims. Outlining the aims and objectives provides a roadmap for your research.

By addressing these elements in your introduction, you will give your readers a clear understanding of your research paper and demonstrate that you have thought critically about the importance and direction of your dissertation or thesis and the background of your research . It is like saying, “Welcome to my research journey; here’s why it matters, what I am trying to achieve, and how I plan to get there.” It will lay a solid foundation for the rest of your proposal.

Define Your Methodology

The research methodology section in your PhD dissertation proposal is a critical part. It is where you lay out how to gather and analyze your data. This part explains your approach, like the research methods and theories you will use, whether you are into numbers (quantitative), words (qualitative), or a mix of both. Also, it is about how you will get the data, what you will do with it, and the tools you will use.

No matter how clearly we describe them, this might confuse many students. It is where PapersOwl steps in to save the day. If you find defining your methodology in your thesis or dissertation proposal tricky, just say, “ Do my Dissertation ,”  and the professional writers will jump right in to help.

Moreover, it is crucial to give valid reasons for your methodology selections. It will ensure the validity and reliability of the study’s findings.

Literature Review

In your doctoral dissertation proposal, the literature review section should showcase the books and materials you have used for your research. Think of it as giving credit to the sources that helped you understand your topic better or served as references for previous academic studies.

If tackling a literature review for your thesis or dissertation feels overwhelming, there is an alternative: consider taking help from a dissertation writing service . The literature review is your chance to demonstrate how your work fits into the bigger picture. It is about listing your sources and showing why they matter. Here are some pointers to keep in mind while doing a literature review for your thesis or dissertation:

  • Do not shy away from discussing the stuff you disagree with. Everyone has got their take on things, and that’s what makes it interesting.
  • Make sure to use proper citations to back up your ideas. It will make your proposal look more credible and worth reading.
  • Compare and contrast different theories, arguments, and debates, and then throw in your two cents on how to find common ground.
  • Connect your research to the existing literature and explain how it will progress the subject area.

Anticipate Challenges and Limitations

When crafting a proposal for your dissertation, you must not forget to talk about the research limitations – it is a big deal. You must understand that many research topics can be pretty complicated, and by pointing out these limits, you’re saying, “Hey, I know the ins and outs of what I am dealing with.”

Give some real-life examples of these limitations that might come into play, like time constraints, tricky data collection, needing a bigger group to study, or people dropping out of your study. It is like telling your readers, “Here is the road I’m walking, and here are some potholes I might stumble upon.” By doing so, you are being upfront about the challenges you could face on your research journey.

Consider Ethical Considerations

When it comes to research proposals, ethics are a big deal. As a researcher, you must ensure your study is above board and follows ethical considerations. It means considering how you collect data, keeping your participants’ info private, and getting their consent to be part of your study. It is like doing your research the right way.

By addressing these considerations, you show your commitment and willingness to conduct ethical research. Staying honest and responsible throughout the process is a sure way to steer yourself toward creating an outstanding thesis or dissertation.

Present Research Timeline

In the prospectus, it is standard and smart to give your supervisor an idea of when you will hand in your work. You can break it down into steps, like when you finish each chapter. But here is the key – be realistic. Make sure you have enough time for research before diving into writing. This way, you will have a strong base of knowledge, and you will not need to speed through the writing the dissertation proposal part.

Outline of Future Work

When it comes to outlining your future work in your thesis or dissertation proposal, it is all about showing your dedication and commitment to the topic. It is where you paint a picture of what you plan to dive into after completing your thesis or dissertation. It is like saying, “I am not done yet, and here is what’s next.”

By outlining your future work, you demonstrate that you are in it for the long haul and are not just stopping at your current study. You show that you are passionate about your field and eager to contribute. It means saying, “It is just the beginning, and I have big plans.”

While a conclusion is not mandatory, it is kind of like the cherry on top. It is a great way to wrap things up by reviewing your main points and revisiting why you picked this topic, how you researched it, and what you expect to find.

When you offer your readers a quick recap, it’s like saying, “Hey, remember what this was all about?” It’s a neat way to connect the dots and ensure your research sticks in their minds. A solid conclusion is like leaving a strong impression, much like the final bow in a great performance.

Advice for Writing a Dissertation Proposal

If you are one of those students wondering how to write a dissertation proposal, do not worry; we have some handy advice to make the process smoother. Following this advice is super important for a bunch of reasons. And remember, there is always the option to check out the best essay writing service if you need some extra help.

When you have a well-written proposal, it is like having a golden ticket. It can help you get the green light from your advisor and committee. Plus, it helps you get your research goals, methods, and what you hope to find all sorted out. It not only saves you time but also makes your work top-notch.

By following this advice, you are showing you know your stuff and proving you are a pro-researcher. That can really open doors for you in your academic and career journey. So, let’s dive into these practical tips to make the whole process a bit quicker and smoother:

  • First things first, give yourself enough time for research. Rushing things can lead to all sorts of problems, especially time crunches.
  • Remember that the folks reviewing your proposal have stacks to go through. So, make sure your work is organized and crystal clear. It will help you get to the writing part faster.
  • A dissertation or thesis proposal is a work in progress, not a final product. Changes are expected, so don’t stress about it.
  • Be clear about your research questions and ideas, and make sure they are doable. Your proposals are judged on whether you can pull them off and how ambitious they are. Your ideas should also fit right into your field.
  • Show your passion for your research topic. Let your excitement shine through by sharing a personal story or explaining why this topic is important for your future studies and academic goals.
  • When it comes to your sources, give credit where it is due. Use your own words or quotes properly to avoid plagiarism. Remember to make a list of all the sources you used. Keep your writing clear, to the point, and well-organized.
  • Before you hit that submit button, give your work an excellent read to catch any errors.

Dissertation Proposal Example

Having access to great examples is a big help when working on a dissertation. You will come across many dissertation proposal samples, but not all examples are equal. That’s where the best dissertation proposal help comes in, offering high-quality examples that fit the bill and meet your needs.

Imagine you are working on a prospectus for something as fancy as the computational model of acquiring intellectual expertise. Sounds complicated, right? Here’s the scoop: keep your paper’s title straightforward so people know what it’s all about. And do not forget to mention your university to give it that official touch.

Now, the abstract might be short, but it is a big deal. It is like the sneak peek that helps readers understand what your project is all about. Once your abstract is good to go, it is time to organize your info into different sections. You will usually have an introduction, methodology, conclusion, and more. Give each part some attention to make sure your writing flows smoothly and makes sense.

Here’s a quick example of what the structure of a dissertation proposal might look like:

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Remember that this example works well for cognitive science studies, but things might be a bit different for other subjects.

Mastering the Art of Thesis and Dissertation Proposals

Embarking on crafting a proposal for your thesis or dissertation can feel daunting. However, remembering that it is a path well-trodden by countless scholars before you is worth remembering. In this guide, we will take you by the hand and walk you through the essential steps.

From understanding what a research proposal is to nailing down the key components and the pitfalls to avoid. By the end of this journey, you will be armed with the knowledge and confidence to tackle your proposal with finesse. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and dive into the thesis and dissertation proposals world. It’s a journey worth taking, and the destination? Your academic success.

How to choose dissertation proposal topics?

Choosing a topic can be daunting, but there are some helpful tips to consider. Look for a topic that aligns with your research interests and career goals, is feasible and manageable, has existing literature to build upon, and contributes to the field. Consult with your advisor for guidance and feedback.

How long should proposals be?

The length of proposals can vary depending on the guidelines provided by your study field or academic institution. Typically, proposals are between 15-25 pages long, but it’s important to check with your advisor or program requirements to ensure that you meet the necessary criteria.

What is the difference between proposals and prospectus?

Both of these are documents used in the process of planning and writing a great dissertation . However, proposals are shorter documents that show the basic research idea and approach. Prospectus is a more detail-oriented and extensive document that features literature reviews, methodology, and preliminary results.

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How to Write a Dissertation or Thesis Proposal: Structure, Steps & Examples

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A dissertation proposal offer a brief agenda of a research project that a student intends to conduct in order to obtain a doctoral degree. It requires students to meticulously plan and organize a future study. The purpose of the dissertation proposal is to demonstrate the feasibility and value of the proposed study. It is written to obtain approval from a committee before organizing research.

If you're wondering how to tackle your Ph.D. or Master's thesis proposal, this article lays out the basics of producing a successful one. Continue reading through this article to understand the key steps on how to write your thesis or dissertation proposal, its definition, and its importance. Before penning down your project, we will walk you through its structure and make you aware of what you should know. In addition, we will explain its format as well as provide thesis and dissertation proposals examples, writing tips, and a checklist to help you stay on track. Read on if you are eager to impress committee members with an incredible proposal! Or shop for dissertation proposal help at StudyCrumb to save nerves and time!

What Is a Dissertation Proposal?

A dissertation proposal is a document written to present the main objectives and questions that a researcher will cover in a research project, meaning that this proposal is the foundation of your study. It offers an overview of what you plan to do and how you approach researching a topic and provides a roadmap for composing your thesis.  Writing a dissertation proposal aims to explain how your dissertation will investigate a research problem, describe the methods used, as well as justify the research. Another objective of a dissertation or thesis proposal is to demonstrate that your research problem is significant, relevant, and worth exploring. In addition, its purpose is to show how the thesis will be structured and provide a timeline for completion.

Dissertation proposal

Importance of Thesis/ Dissertation Proposals

A strong thesis or dissertation proposal is critical to the success of your study. Writing and correctly presenting it can give you an edge when applying for a thesis project. Below is a list of why proposals for your dissertation are essential:

  • Allows researchers to explore and define a study topic of interest.
  • Helps you gain approval from supervisors, thesis committees, and boards.
  • Assists in clearly defining your research question and planning how to tackle the research.
  • Enables you to identify potential sources of information and plan how to use them effectively.
  • Serves as a template to guide you through the writing process.
  • Aids you in securing funding for your project.
  • Useful when planning for the thesis proposal defense.

How Long Should a Dissertation Proposal Be?

Dissertation proposal length varies depending on the level of study. Proposals for Ph.D. dissertations can range from 15-20 pages, sometimes even up to 30 pages. The number of pages depends on every discipline and topic, as well as other requirements stated in provided instructions. Master's thesis proposal is a bit shorter and generally ranges between 4-8 pages.  The reason for these differences is that a Ph.D. dissertation proposal requires more in-depth research and has a broader scope than a Master's one. The length also depends on the type of thesis you are writing. For example, scientific research thesis typically has methodological approaches, while humanities Ph.D. proposals use qualitative and quantitative methods, depending on the field of investigation.

Dissertation Proposal Structure

The structure of a dissertation or thesis proposal varies depending on the discipline and how you plan to approach researching that subject. Variation may also result from different research methodologies used. However, you should generally include several standard components when writing a dissertation proposal. These are as follows:

  • Introduction Provides an overview of the proposed study and how it fits within your field of investigation.
  • Aims and objectives Justify what you hope to achieve and how you plan to do it.
  • Literature review Discusses how other researchers have approached the topic under investigation and how your thesis will contribute to the discipline under scrutiny.
  • Study Design and Research Methodology Describes how you strategize to conduct your research, what methods you will use, and how the data will be collected and analyzed. Also, include any ethical considerations.
  • Implications Evaluate how your dissertation will contribute to the broader field and how it can be helpful for future studies.
  • Limitations Examine how your research may not be able to answer some questions and how to address those shortcomings. In other words, how to minimize the effect of identified drawbacks.
  • Budget Budget is optional and required only if funding is needed. Here, you need to offer an estimate of how much the investigation will cost and your financing plans.
  • References Give a complete list of all sources used throughout the paper.

Following these steps on how to write a proposal for a thesis or dissertation aids you in structuring your proposal, which will help you present a clear and concise outline of how you intend to conduct your research. As a result, it allows you to secure approval and gain support for your project.

Thesis/ Dissertation Proposal Template Outline

A template for a dissertation proposal outline can help create your work. Students can efficiently structure their thesis proposal using this template and ensure it meets the required guidelines. Templates are incredibly useful in streamlining your writing process so that you can concentrate on the proposal's content without stressing over format. In addition, templates should include the main components of a dissertation proposal, with each part delineated and explained clearly. Additionally, formatting should be consistent.  The following is an example of a dissertation proposal outline:

  • Background/ context of the investigation
  • Problem statement
  • Purpose of the study
  • Research questions
  • Significance of the research
  • Overview of existing literature
  • Gap in literature
  • Design of the study
  • Data collection and analysis
  • Contribution to the field
  • Limitations of the research
  • Budget (if applicable)

Things to Know Before Writing a Dissertation Proposal

Before writing your dissertation proposal, one must understand the purpose of crafting one. A student must cover these questions in a proposal: what, why, where, who, and how. In other words, it needs to answer questions such as:

  • What is the research topic ?
  • Why is it important to study this topic?
  • Where will the investigation take place?
  • Who are the participants involved?
  • How will the project be conducted and analyzed?

Answering these inquiries will help you comprehensively write a dissertation or thesis proposal that outlines your paper's purpose, aims, and objectives. Before composing, it is crucial also to consider any ethical concerns or issues that may arise with your work. For example, you should be aware of potential risks as well as ensure that you have the necessary procedures to protect your participants.

How to Write a Dissertation Proposal?

When writing thesis and dissertation proposal, it is crucial to cover the critical elements of how one should approach writing such a document. A thesis proposal is a roadmap for how the researcher plans to conduct their research. A clear structure can only make organizing one's thoughts and ideas easy. Without a clear guideline, your advisor or supervisor might reject your proposal, or you may fail to acquire funding or support. To ensure you compose a satisfying proposal, follow the below step-by-step illustration of how to write a proposal for a dissertation and thesis.

How to Write a Dissertation or Thesis Proposal in 7 Steps

1. Decide on a Title

Deciding on a title for your dissertation proposal is essential in creating a clear, concise, and attractive document. Your dissertation topic should reflect the main focus of your research. Excellent titles should be easy to understand because it is the first thing people see.  An outstanding title also helps grab potential readers' attention and encourages them to read the paper. In addition, students should craft their titles for dissertation and Ph.D. thesis proposals in a way that succinctly portrays the theme of the study.  To decide on a good topic, consult information available online and in academic journals so that title is reflective of the current investigation.  The following is an example of a title for a thesis proposal: 

Impact of Technology on the Education System in America.

2. Write a Dissertation Proposal Introduction

A thesis proposal introduction is an important section of a document that sets the tone for the entire paper, and you should write this part clearly and concisely. Start a dissertation proposal for your research with an introduction that distills the pertinent central question, providing contextualized background information as well as any broader implications. This section is a condensed version of a complete dissertation introduction , which you will need to compose upon topic approval.  Affirming the problem statement in your introduction will give more direction to your study objectives, and people will be able to understand the purpose of why you are conducting this exploration. As you craft your introduction, ensure to outline the structure of your paper. Include which sections cover methodology, literature review, research limitations, as well as any other subsections that are relevant. These are critical parts of a dissertation proposal, and outlining them will help keep readers orientated throughout your document and allow them to comprehend the discussion better. Example of dissertation proposal introduction

This dissertation proposal sets out to investigate how technology has changed the education system in America and its impact on student learning outcomes. The research objectives of this study are to examine the development of technology in the American education environment, analyze its impact on learners' studying outcomes as well as evaluate how teachers have adapted their teaching techniques to incorporate technology. This thesis also explores the challenges technology has posed for teachers in America's school system and how to address them. By exploring these issues, this research seeks to provide a comprehensive understanding of the role of technology in American education and its subsequent implications. Finally, this thesis will discuss the technological consequences for educational institutions and policymakers.

3. State Your Aims, Objectives, and Purpose 

When writing a thesis proposal, your paper's aims, objectives, and purpose are the cornerstones of a successful document. Your aims, objectives, and purpose should be concise and clear.  When writing your aims , include the primary goal of your undergraduate or doctoral project as well as what you expect to achieve. Objectives should address the what, why, and how of your study while also explaining all outcomes you anticipate accomplishing. Finally, your purpose should be closely related to your aims and objectives and provide a succinct description of objectives you are trying to undertake.  The reason is that aims and objectives are the starting points in crafting a dissertation proposal, as they provide a focus for your investigation. The purpose will help develop the reader's understanding of your work. Examples of dissertation proposals aims and objectives

This thesis proposal aims to study technology implementation in American education and its impact on student learning outcomes. The objectives are to investigate the development and utilization of technology in America's schooling environment, analyze its impact on student studying outcomes, evaluate how teachers have adapted their teaching techniques to incorporate technology as well as explore the challenges it has posed for school instructors. Additionally, the objectives are to examine how these challenges can be addressed, evaluate the implications of technology for educational institutions and policymakers, and provide recommendations for future research on the use and application of technology in American education.

4. Provide a Literature Review

Literature review of a dissertation or Ph.D. thesis proposal is one of the most critical aspects of a project because it serves as the foundation for your research. This part should include an overview and analysis of existing literature related to your topic and conclude how it relates to the current study question.  When composing a literature review for your Ph.D. dissertation proposals, you should search for scholarly articles, books, government reports, websites, and other relevant sources to inform your writing. Additionally, you should use a systematic approach in organizing literature and creating your reviews, such as a thematic, theoretical, or methodological approach. Refer to our guide to find a literature review outline example of each of these approaches.  Finally, it is crucial to critically analyze available literature and how it connects to your research topic. This could involve examining how existing research has shaped your study question, how it has advanced the field of investigation, and how experts might use it in practice or policy making. Consulting with professionals in your area may be a great way to get additional insights on how to write a thesis and dissertation proposal literature review.

5. Discuss Your Methodology

Writing a proposal for your dissertation or thesis involves developing a methodology section, which outlines a set of techniques and strategies you plan to apply when conducting your study. Dissertation methodology should include: 

  • Description of your data collection and analysis methods
  • Discussion of the research design
  • Sampling techniques that are planned to be used
  • Explanation of the variables or factors studied
  • Outline of how you intend to analyze the data.

Methodology should also provide a rationale for why you have chosen your methods and any ethical considerations that might come with them. Writing a research proposal for a dissertation study will involve discussing how you propose to address any potential limitations of your investigation and how they may affect the validity of its results. Finally, it is essential to outline a timeline for the completion of your project. When describing research methods, it is crucial to be as detailed and specific as possible. You should also demonstrate that you have a well-developed understanding of research methods you strategize to use and the potential implications of their application.  When crafting your dissertations proposals, use understandable language as well as avoid technical wording or jargon. Also, you should include a brief description of how the dissemination of results from your study will be so that policymakers or other stakeholders can use them in a meaningful way. Example: Dissertation proposal methodology

For my dissertation, I plan to undertake a qualitative case study of technology's role in American education. Specifically, I will look at implementing technology-based learning environments in three urban school districts. I will use a combination of surveys and interviews with teachers, administrators, parents, and students to gather data. The surveys will focus on attitudes towards technology in the classroom, resource access, and comfort with using technology for studying. The interviews will dig deeper into these topics and allow me to gain more insight into the implementation of technology-based education. Additionally, I plan to observe classrooms and document how technology facilitates knowledge gain. Data will be analyzed using a combination of thematic and content analysis. All findings will be documented in writing and shared publicly through a final report, website, presentations, and other appropriate outlets. All participants will remain anonymous, and the collection of data will be in a secure manner.

6. Mention Implications and Possible Limitations

Considering any potential limitations and implications of the study is an integral part of writing a dissertation or thesis research proposal. When discussing your research's repercussions and possible shortcomings, it is essential to consider how you will handle unforeseen outcomes, errors, or biases that may arise during your investigation.  Writers should identify and mention how they'll address the limitations as they prepare a dissertation proposal. This section should include a discussion of how to use results of your study to inform policy decisions or other initiatives.  Being honest and realistic in the descriptions of any potential drawbacks that could impact the validity of your results is an advisable way for you to do a thesis or dissertation proposal. Consider any possible ethical considerations that could arise during your research and how to deal with them. Sample of dissertation proposal implications

The implications of this study are twofold. First, it will provide valuable insight into how technology can be utilized most effectively in urban classrooms to improve the quality of education. The results will provide policymakers and other stakeholders with the information necessary to guide decisions regarding technology use in urban schools. Second, this investigation will provide teachers and other educators with a better understanding of the challenges they may face when implementing technology. This will allow educators to better prepare for and respond to these challenges, resulting in more effective implementation of technology-based learning environments. The research will add to the ongoing conversation about the use of technology in education and will contribute to a better understanding of how to use it effectively.

7. List Your References

The last step illustrating how to write a thesis proposal is providing a list of references consulted throughout the writing process. Bibliographies should include scholarly articles, books, and journals, among others, that have informed the research question, literature review, methodology, and other sources mentioned in any part of the proposal.  It is crucial to ensure that sources you list are accurate, up-to-date, and appropriate for your dissertation topic proposal.  In this section, students should format their references according to the specific style guidelines required by your university. Remember to meet the required total number of citations for your dissertation research proposal as guided. Keep in mind that not all sources are credible for thesis research proposal.  You should also provide a copy of any ethics approval forms or permissions granted by your institution to conduct your research.

Dissertation Proposal Format

The dissertation and thesis proposal format will depend on the discipline and field of study. Generally, thesis proposals should follow the exact structure of any scholarly paper on the same subject. Typical dissertation proposal formats include:

  • American Psychological Association (APA)
  • Modern Language Association (MLA)
  • Chicago Manual of Style

The format for writing dissertation proposals may vary according to the style used because each has certain conventions that must be adhered to accordingly. It is important to note that formatting should be consistent throughout your document.  Before beginning the writing process, it is imperative to be familiar with all guidelines and requirements of an academic thesis proposal format. View the following guides on the most common styles to make sure you format your proposal properly:

  • How to format an APA paper ?
  • How to write in MLA format ?
  • What is Chicago style format ?

Lastly, back up your work with evidence as well as sources demonstrating potential for success.

Thesis / Dissertation Proposal Examples

When writing your paper, reviewing thesis or dissertation proposal samples is crucial. These samples can provide an understanding of the structure, style, and expected content. They can also provide insight into the research methods and analysis techniques used throughout the thesis or dissertation process.  We encourage you to check sample dissertation proposals found online or in public libraries. Many YouTube videos produced to offer clarity and reference are also available. Additionally, thesis proposals may be available through individual academic institutions.  Below are samples for you to refer to: Thesis proposal example

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Dissertation proposal example 1

Dissertation proposal sample 2

Dissertation Proposal Writing Tips

Writing a proposal for a dissertation requires you to stay focused and organized, as well as produce excellent work in a timely and efficient manner. To ensure the successful completion of your dissertation proposal, here are some valuable tips to keep in mind:

  • Research thoroughly It is vital to take the time to research and reference all relevant material while writing your paper.
  • Develop a timeline Developing a timeline and plan for completing each task is crucial because it helps keep you on track and ensure you meet all milestones promptly and effectively.
  • Be organized Keeping your project well organized will make it easier to read and understand.
  • Proofread Before submitting your paper, it is important to proofread and edit for any mistakes to ensure it is high quality and free from any errors.
  • Check for free samples Consulting from any professional sample dissertation proposal by other students and experts is crucial before composing yours.
  • References Lastly, ensure the credibility and accuracy of your document by referencing all sources used. Provide a bibliography list on the last page or pages of your paper.

Listed above dissertation and thesis proposal writing tips will help you to deliver an outstanding project that is well-planned, accurate as well as high quality.

Dissertation Proposal Checklist

A checklist is necessary to ensure you write a good proposal for a dissertation. This list should include all main topics that are critical to your paper. Here are some essential points to consider when writing a thesis proposal:

  • checkbox I formulated an exact statement of purpose.
  • checkbox I have presented a clear introduction and background information.
  • checkbox I made my research on objectives and questions.
  • checkbox I can say that my literature review includes enough information related to my topic.
  • checkbox My research methodology includes all the necessary methods I used in my research.
  • checkbox I have made all data analysis techniques.
  • checkbox I made all calculations for the budget and timeline.
  • checkbox My dissertation proposal contains an outline of the expected results.
  • checkbox I am sure that I chose the right format for references and bibliography.
  • checkbox I have checked the writing style and conventions.
  • checkbox My dissertation proposal contains an acknowledgment section.
  • checkbox I spent enough time proofreading and editing.

Considering the above items, you can ensure that you include all necessary elements in your research proposal . This will help you write an excellent thesis and get your work funded or accepted by your advisor.

Bottom Line on How to Write a Proposal For a Dissertation or Thesis

This article discussed in depth how to write a dissertation proposal. It has provided you with definition of a dissertation proposal, outlined its importance, length and structure, and how to write it. This blog also discussed the outline of a thesis proposal and listed things you should know before starting to write your own. We provided a step-by-step illustration of how to write and format your work. In addition, we provided thesis and dissertation proposal examples, tips, as well as a checklist of items to consider when crafting your project.  Following the guidelines provided in this article should help you write an excellent work that meets your advisor's expectations. Once your topic is approved, make sure to check how to write a dissertation .

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If you still struggle with crafting your proposal, our  dissertation writing services  are your best option. Our academic writers hold PhD degree and deliver top-quality studies within given deadlines.

FAQ About Thesis/ Dissertation Proposals

1. what is a thesis proposal.

A thesis proposal is a document that outlines the topic, defines issues that the paper will address, and explains why the subject is significant. The proposal aims to demonstrate that thesis topic addresses a critical educational problem, outlines a detailed plan for the research, and provides a practical approach for gathering and analyzing data.

2. How long should a thesis proposal be?

Crafting a thesis proposal requires time and dedication, but the length of your project can vary dramatically. While typically 15-20 pages (or up to 30) are needed for most proposals, Master's students may find they only need between 4-8 pages long due to the narrow scope of their research topic. The exact number of pages will mainly depend on which discipline you study as well as the focused nature of your investigation.

3. What is the difference between a dissertation and a proposal?

A dissertation is the main body of work that you produce for your degree, usually based on evidence gathered from research and experiments. On the other hand, a proposal outlines the research you plan to undertake and offers an overview of the topics covered in your thesis.

4. Should I include schedule in a dissertation proposal?

Yes, if you are applying for a grant or funding for the thesis project. In that case, including a schedule in your dissertation proposal outlining the timeline for research, data collection and analysis, and writing is necessary. This will help demonstrate how you plan to complete your project within the required timeframe.

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Writing a dissertation proposal.

Dissertation Proposal

What is a dissertation proposal?

Dissertation proposals are like the table of contents for your research project , and will help you explain what it is you intend to examine, and roughly, how you intend to go about collecting and analysing your data. You won’t be required to have everything planned out exactly, as your topic may change slightly in the course of your research, but for the most part, writing your proposal should help you better identify the direction for your dissertation.

When you’ve chosen a topic for your dissertation , you’ll need to make sure that it is both appropriate to your field of study and narrow enough to be completed by the end of your course. Your dissertation proposal will help you define and determine both of these things and will also allow your department and instructors to make sure that you are being advised by the best person to help you complete your research.

A dissertation proposal should include:

  • An introduction to your dissertation topic
  • Aims and objectives of your dissertation
  • A literature review of the current research undertaken in your field
  • Proposed methodology to be used
  • Implications of your research
  • Limitations of your research
  • Bibliography 

Although this content all needs to be included in your dissertation proposal, it isn’t set in stone so it can be changed later if necessary, depending on your topic of study, university or degree. Think of your dissertation proposal as more of a guide to writing your dissertation rather than something to be strictly adhered to – this will be discussed later. 

Why is a dissertation proposal important?

A dissertation proposal is very important because it helps shape the actual dissertation, which is arguably the most important piece of writing a postgraduate student will undertake. By having a well-structured dissertation proposal, you will have a strong foundation for your dissertation and a good template to follow. The dissertation itself is key to postgraduate success as it will contribute to your overall grade . Writing your dissertation will also help you to develop research and communication skills, which could become invaluable in your employment success and future career. By making sure you’re fully briefed on the current research available in your chosen dissertation topic, as well as keeping details of your bibliography up to date, you will be in a great position to write an excellent dissertation.

Next, we’ll be outlining things you can do to help you produce the best postgraduate dissertation proposal possible.

How to begin your dissertation proposal

Writing a dissertation proposal

1. Narrow the topic down  

It’s important that when you sit down to draft your proposal, you’ve carefully thought out your topic and are able to narrow it down enough to present a clear and succinct understanding of what you aim to do and hope to accomplish in your dissertation.

How do I decide on a dissertation topic?

A simple way to begin choosing a topic for your dissertation is to go back through your assignments and lectures. Was there a topic that stood out to you? Was there an idea that wasn’t fully explored? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then you have a great starting point! If not, then consider one of your more personal interests. Use Google Scholar to explore studies and journals on your topic to find any areas that could go into more detail or explore a more niche topic within your personal interest. 

Keep track of all publications

It’s important to keep track of all the publications that you use while you research. You can use this in your literature review.

You need to keep track of:

  • The title of the study/research paper/book/journal
  • Who wrote/took part in the study/research paper
  • Chapter title
  • Page number(s)

The more research you do, the more you should be able to narrow down your topic and find an interesting area to focus on. You’ll also be able to write about everything you find in your literature review which will make your proposal stronger.

While doing your research, consider the following:

  • When was your source published? Is the information outdated? Has new information come to light since?
  • Can you determine if any of the methodologies could have been carried out more efficiently? Are there any errors or gaps?
  • Are there any ethical concerns that should be considered in future studies on the same topic?
  • Could anything external (for example new events happening) have influenced the research?

Read more about picking a topic for your dissertation . 

How long should the dissertation proposal be?

Aiming for 1,000 words or more, your dissertation proposal will give an outline of the topic of your dissertation, some of the questions you hope to answer with your research, what sort of studies and type of data you aim to employ in your research, and the sort of analysis you will carry out.

Different courses may have different requirements for things like length and the specific information to include, as well as what structure is preferred, so be sure to check what special requirements your course has.  

2. What should I include in a dissertation proposal?

Writing a dissertation proposal

  • Introduction

The introduction will state your central research question and give background on the subject, as well as relating it contextually to any broader issues surrounding it. Read more about picking a topic for your dissertation .

The dissertation proposal introduction should outline exactly what you intend to investigate in your final research project.

Make sure you outline the structure of the dissertation proposal in your introduction, i.e. part one covers methodology, part two covers a literature review, part three covers research limitations, and so forth.

Dissertation methodology

The dissertation methodology will break down what sources you aim to use for your research and what sort of data you will collect from it, either quantitative or qualitative. You may also want to include how you will analyse the data you gather and what, if any, bias there may be in your chosen methods.

Depending on the level of detail that your specific course requires, you may also want to explain why your chosen approaches to gathering data are more appropriate to your research than others.

Consider and explain how you will conduct empirical research. For example, will you use interviews? Surveys? Observation? Lab experiments?

In your dissertation methodology, outline the variables that you will measure in your research and how you will select your data or participant sample to ensure valid results.

Finally, are there any specific tools that you will use for your methodology? If so, make sure you provide this information in the methodology section of your dissertation proposal.

  • Aims and objectives

Your dissertation proposal should also include the aims and objectives of your research. Be sure to state what your research hopes to achieve, as well as what outcomes you predict. You may also need to clearly state what your main research objectives are, in other words, how you plan to obtain those achievements and outcomes.

Your aim should not be too broad but should equally not be too specific.

An example of a dissertation aim could be: ‘To examine the key content features and social contexts that construct successful viral marketing content distribution on Twitter’.

In comparison, an example of a dissertation aim that is perhaps too broad would be: ‘‘To investigate how things go viral on Twitter’.

The aim of your dissertation proposal should relate directly to your research question.

  • Literature review

The literature review will list the books and materials that you used to do your research. This is where you can list materials that gave you more background on your topic, or contain research carried out previously that you referred to in your own studies. 

The literature review is also a good place to demonstrate how your research connects to previous academic studies and how your methods may differ from or build upon those used by other researchers. While it’s important to give enough information about the materials to show that you have read and understood them, don’t forget to include your analysis of their value to your work.

Where there are shortfalls in other pieces of academic work, identify these and address how you will overcome these shortcomings in your own research.

Constraints and limitations of your research

Lastly, you will also need to include the constraints of your research. Many topics will have broad links to numerous larger and more complex issues, so by clearly stating the constraints of your research, you are displaying your understanding and acknowledgment of these larger issues, and the role they play by focusing your research on just one section or part of the subject.

In this section it is important to Include examples of possible limitations, for example, issues with sample size, participant drop out, lack of existing research on the topic, time constraints, and other factors that may affect your study.

  • Ethical considerations

Confidentiality and ethical concerns are an important part of any research.

Ethics are key, as your dissertation will need to undergo ethical approval if you are working with participants. This means that it’s important to allow for and explain ethical considerations in your dissertation proposal.

Keep confidentiality in mind and keep your participants informed, so they are aware of how the data provided is being used and are assured that all personal information is being kept confidential.

Consider how involved your patients will be with your research, this will help you think about what ethical considerations to take and discuss them fully in your dissertation proposal. For example, face-to-face participant interview methods could require more ethical measures and confidentiality considerations than methods that do not require participants, such as corpus data (a collection of existing written texts) analysis. 

3. Dissertation proposal example

Writing a dissertation proposal

Once you know what sections you need or do not need to include, it may help focus your writing to break the proposal up into separate headings, and tackle each piece individually. You may also want to consider including a title. Writing a title for your proposal will help you make sure that your topic is narrow enough, as well as help keep your writing focused and on topic.

One example of a dissertation proposal structure is using the following headings, either broken up into sections or chapters depending on the required word count:

  • Methodology
  • Research constraints

In any dissertation proposal example, you’ll want to make it clear why you’re doing the research and what positives could come from your contribution. 

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writing thesis and dissertation proposals

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COMMENTS

  1. How to Write a Dissertation or Thesis Proposal

    Revised on July 18, 2023. When starting your thesis or dissertation process, one of the first requirements is a research proposal or a prospectus. It describes what or who you want to examine, delving into why, when, where, and how you will do so, stemming from your research question and a relevant topic.

  2. How to Write a Research Proposal

    One trick to get started is to think of your proposal's structure as a shorter version of your thesis or dissertation, only without the results, conclusion and discussion sections. Download our research proposal template

  3. What Is a Dissertation?

    Knowledge Base What Is a Dissertation? | Guide, Examples, & Template A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to finish a PhD program. Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you've ever completed.

  4. How To Write A Research Proposal (With Examples)

    You should be able to answer the following 4 questions before starting your dissertation or thesis research proposal: WHAT is my main research question? (the topic) WHO cares and why is this important? (the justification) WHAT data would I need to answer this question, and how will I analyse it? (the research design)

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    The dissertation proposal is a comprehensive statement on the extent and nature of the student's dissertation research interests. Students submit a draft of the proposal to their dissertation advisor between the end of the seventh and middle of the ninth quarters.

  6. How to Write a Dissertation Proposal

    Step 1: Coming up with an idea Step 2: Presenting your idea in the introduction Step 3: Exploring related research in the literature review Step 4: Describing your methodology Step 5: Outlining the potential implications of your research Step 6: Creating a reference list or bibliography Step 1: Coming up with an idea

  7. What Is a Thesis?

    A thesis is a type of research paper based on your original research. It is usually submitted as the final step of a master's program or a capstone to a bachelor's degree. Writing a thesis can be a daunting experience. Other than a dissertation, it is one of the longest pieces of writing students typically complete.

  8. How to Write a Research Proposal

    Research proposals, like all other kinds of academic writing, are written in a formal, objective tone. Keep in mind that being concise is a key component of academic writing; formal does not mean flowery. Adhere to the structure outlined above. Your reader knows how a research proposal is supposed to read and expects it to fit this template.

  9. Guides: Writing a Dissertation or Thesis Proposal: Introduction

    The proposal, sometimes called the prospectus, is composed mainly of the Introduction, Research Questions, Literature Review, Research Significance and Methodology. It may also include a dissertation/thesis outline and a timeline for your proposed research. You will be able to reuse the proposal when you actually write the entire dissertation ...

  10. Proposing, Writing, and Filing Your Thesis or Dissertation

    Writing Thesis and Dissertation Proposals: A detailed document for proposal writers in all disciplines, developed by Penn State's Graduate Writing Center. Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or Dissertation: A short, free e-book on thinking about the project, writing the proposal, completing the project, and defending it, by S. Joseph Levine ...

  11. PDF How to Write a Graduate Proposal

    Writing Thesis/Dissertation Proposals • Your proposal includes: What you are going to study Research questions How you set up your study Methodology Why this topic Significance Tips to get started • Find the gaps in the research Literature Review • Decide the type of research you are doing

  12. PDF WRITING PROPOSALS AND THESES IN EDUCATION

    PhD, MEd and coursework thesis students must write a proposal early in their candidature. We write research proposals to convince others that we have a research project that is worthwhile and that we have the skills and the strategies necessary to complete the project. The purpose of the proposal is to help you to focus and define

  13. Dissertations 1: Getting Started: Writing A Proposal

    Before you start your dissertation, you may be asked to write a proposal for it. The purpose of a dissertation proposal is to provide a snapshot of what your study involves. Usually, after submission of the proposal you will be assigned a supervisor who has some expertise in your field of study. You should receive feedback on the viability of ...

  14. Student's Proposal, Dissertation, or Thesis

    Chapter 2 discusses the guidelines for writing a proposal, dissertation, or thesis and how to construct a good problem statement. Additionally, the chapter provides more than ten practical considerations for conducting a comprehensive and in-depth literature review. Good practices are also discussed, as well as common errors that students make.

  15. Prize-Winning Thesis and Dissertation Examples

    Prize-Winning Thesis and Dissertation Examples. Published on September 9, 2022 by Tegan George.Revised on July 18, 2023. It can be difficult to know where to start when writing your thesis or dissertation.One way to come up with some ideas or maybe even combat writer's block is to check out previous work done by other students on a similar thesis or dissertation topic to yours.

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    The thesis proposal should include: a background theory a working hypothesis a methodology which should be organized under chapter headings a body of work for analysis a bibliography If your thesis will be presented in an alternate format (such as performance), be sure to include this in your proposal. Some graduate programs require students to ...

  17. PDF Writing Thesis and Dissertation Proposals

    Dissertation/Thesis proposals are designed to: Justify and plan (or contract for) a research project. Show how your project contributes to existing research. Demonstrate to your advisor and committee that you understand how to conduct discipline-specific research within an acceptable time-frame. Audience:

  18. How to write a thesis proposal in 5 simple steps

    A thesis proposal covers what topics you plan to research and write about as part of your master's thesis. Your proposal should properly define the scope of your research, as well as the questions you intend to explore and the methodology used to answer those questions.

  19. How to Write Research Proposal for Dissertation and Thesis

    We are here to guide you through how to write a proposal for a dissertation or thesis, making it as clear and straightforward as possible. In this article, we will break down the essential steps to help you create a compelling research proposal that stands out.

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    When writing thesis and dissertation proposal, it is crucial to cover the critical elements of how one should approach writing such a document. A thesis proposal is a roadmap for how the researcher plans to conduct their research. A clear structure can only make organizing one's thoughts and ideas easy. Without a clear guideline, your advisor ...

  21. How to Write a Dissertation Proposal

    A dissertation proposal should include: An introduction to your dissertation topic. Aims and objectives of your dissertation. A literature review of the current research undertaken in your field. Proposed methodology to be used. Implications of your research. Limitations of your research.

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    3. Methodology. The second step in writing a dissertation proposal is to describe the methodology you will use in collecting and analyzing data. This section should include a detailed description of the research design, data collection methods, and analytical procedures you will use.

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  24. PDF Dissertation Proposal Sample

    Writing Thesis and Dissertation Proposals The Graduate Writing Center of the Center for Excellence in Writing Overview: This workshop will introduce basic principles of writing proposals across a range of disciplines. It will present practical strategies, and it will include examples of successful proposals. Goals 1. To introduce strategies for ...