Writing a Dissertation Proposal

The dissertation proposal is an important first step towards writing your final dissertation on a taught or research master's course, or a PhD level course. Your proposal needs to be unique and it sets the stage for your research and should help you make a clear plan for your final project.  Read more about planning your dissertation here.

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Dissertation proposals are like the table of contents for your research, 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, 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.

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 clear and succinct understanding of what you aim to do and hope to accomplish by doing it. Aiming for 1,000 words or more, your 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, the sort of analysis you will carry out.

Writing a Dissertation Proposal

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 may have.  

What should I include in a dissertation proposal?

Your dissertation proposal should have several key aspects, regardless of the structure: the introduction, the methodology , aims and objectives, the literature review, and the constraints of your research.

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

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.

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, and 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.

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 give you more background on your topic, or contain research carried out previously that you refer to in your own studies. It’s also a good place to demonstrate how your research connects to previous academic studies, and how your methods may differ from or be building 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.

Constraints 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.

Dissertation proposal example

The structure of your dissertation proposal will depend on your specific course requirements. Some courses may specify that the aims and objectives of your research be a separate section in your proposal, or that you do not need to include a methodology or literature review section.

Once you know what sections you need or do not need to include, then it may help focus your writing to break the proposal up into the 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 the following headings, either broken up into sections or chapters depending on the required word count:

  • Introduction
  • Aims and Objectives
  • Methodology
  • Literature Review
  • Research Constraints

 

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