A good dissertation proposal allows you to notice any problems with dissertation ideas at an early stage. Prevention is better than cure. When the committee checks your thesis proposal, it is essentially early diagnostics of potential troubles with your dissertation project. Check this quick guide if you want to make this diagnostics smooth and prevent disasters in thesis writing.
Dissertation proposal: core elements
By contrast to widely spread stereotypes, a dissertation proposal is not a ‘rehearsal’ before the ‘real work’. In fact, your thesis proposal is the first step in your research process and it can become the perfect start to a perfect project. Basically, there are 6 core elements that make good dissertation proposals:
- A viable research problem and a hypothesis;
- review of the relevant literature;
- theoretical framework;
- significance of the study (how this research can contribute to existing knowledge);
Dissertation proposal: main steps
Certainly, you should not expect your dissertation proposals to be written in a one-night study session. Do not be confused by the relatively small size of a thesis proposal. Every sentence in a proposal is preceded by a thorough research and thinking process. Also, do not expect its sections (problem statement, literature review, methodology etc.) to be written one by one. Instead, check these logical steps to guide your research process:
- Step 1. Formulate orienting questions. At this stage, you can choose a relatively broad topic and explore a particular study area to make certain that you will be able to find the necessary materials and identify a gap in existing literature.
- Step 2. Literature review and revision of orienting questions. Collect and read literature related to your field. Start from classic theories, proceed to areas which are of particular interest to you and find a unique and workable topic. Here are your goals for this section:
- demonstrate your readers your mastery of the chosen field of knowledge;
- create links between your narrow topic and broader themes in this field;
- explain how your topic will contribute to existing knowledge.
You may want to use the following constructions: X argues that…, researchers who investigated the subject are…, debate centers on the issue of… Note that you should not include in your literature review everything you have read. It is not a review of what you have read, but it is a review of literature closely related to the chosen problem.
- Step 3. Formulate a research problem. After reviewing the literature, you will be able to formulate a hypothesis worth testing or a viable research problem. Mind the difference between a research question that is presented in the form of an interrogative sentence ending with a question mark (?) and a hypothesis that is presented in the form of a declarative sentence and assumes that there is a relationship between certain variables. Each of them can be used in a dissertation proposal.
- Step 4. Methodology. Make a plan for data collection, analysis and interpretation. Think what methods and instruments can be used.
- Step 5. Limitations. Attempt to objectively critique your research plan to find limitations in its design (remember that nothing is perfect and you will surely find weaknesses of your research design if you try to critically evaluate it).
Dissertation proposal: sample outline
After taking the five steps discussed above, you will have enough information for your dissertation proposal. Check this sample dissertation proposal outline to organize your materials:
- Introduction (prepare your readers for the problem you are going to discuss).
- Problem statement (in the form of a viable research question or a hypothesis).
- Purpose (complete the sentence: “The purpose of this study is…”).
- Theoretical framework (what theories inspired you).
- Literature review.
- Significance of the study (how your research will contribute to the field).
- Reference list.
- Appendices (tables, graphs, pictures, and lists of interview questions, if any).
- A timetable for completing particular sections of your project (goals + preliminary deadlines + dates by which the task is completed).
You are welcome to use this guide for action when writing a dissertation proposal. Consider these tips as preliminary steps to have your proposals for dissertations accepted by the committee from the first attempt and catch any problems with your dissertation early.