How to Write a Dissertation Proposal

You’ve done the first part of your taught masters (or you’re starting your research masters) and it’s time to write your dissertation proposal. There are hundreds of articles out there with advice on how to write a dissertation proposal, but here we’ve collected a bunch of top tips for you all in one place.

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But just what is a dissertation proposal, and what does it require? Basically, a dissertation proposal needs to discuss what you intend to write about, what you’ll be looking at, the theories behind this, how you’ll research it, and what outcomes you expect. Bear in mind, you can always use this proposal as an initial plan to check back against later!

With that in mind, let’s look at how to write a dissertation proposal.

#1 Write an informal list of ideas

Get down what you’re thinking on paper. At this stage, it doesn’t have to be too precise – you just want to start figuring out what interests you. There’s a few ways you can do this, depending on subject. You can start narrowing down topics , so let’s say you’re a theology student, and you’d like to do something in the area of Biblical Study. Do you want to focus on a particular gospel, maybe particular language choices, or perhaps a particular scholar?

You could also narrow down what sort of research you’d like to do – if you’re doing Chemistry, do you want something with hands-on experiments, or perhaps something more computational.

As you can see, this step is about figuring out a general area and then focussing on a unique dissertation topic .

#2 Talk to your supervisor

Take your list of ideas, questions, or research goals to your supervisor , and ask for help. With them, you should be able to work out what’s feasible, who can help and where to start. They can give you advice on how focused to make your dissertation, and what books to start looking at. Even better, they can help you take your initial idea into a fully fledged plan.

#3 Do some background reading

Take that list of books you should now have, and start reading around. Double check that this really does interest you, and that you understand it. If not, return to step one. If yes, continue onwards! You don’t need to read a lot (that’s for after you start working on it after all!) but read enough that you can cite scholars and arguments that you’ll either be using to support your work/planning to argue against. Write notes, so you can remember who and what you like.

#4 Start the proposal!

Sounds easier than it is, so we’re going to break this section up of how to write a dissertation proposal into some smaller chunks.

Title
Make it catchy, short and to the point. No-one wants to read a title that’s practically a paragraph, so try and be succinct. This is great practice for all those times you’ll be asked to explain what you’re doing. And don’t worry too much – whilst this has to sell your proposal, you’re not stuck with it. Dissertations evolve, so if, down the line, your research changes track a bit, your title can too.

Objectives
Don’t make this too broad or have too many. You want around three or less overarching goals. Talk about what you aim to achieve, and briefly discuss why and how (though there’s space for this later!). Make sure it’s clear as to why you think these objectives are valuable too.

Literature and Background
This is where your reading comes in handy. Talk about the general context your work will be fitting into, and what literature is relevant. Make sure it’s clear you’re not just quoting people, but that you really understand what you’ve read and how it applies to your objectives. Make sure you talk about any work already done in your area – you don’t want to get caught out by something obvious!

Methodology
This is where you talk about how you plan to achieve your objectives, ie what methods you’re going to use. Will you be doing experiments or studies, or working from texts? Is there a particular school of thought you’ll be using, and why? This section is likely to be longer for those of you relying on experimental evidence, as you’ll need to talk about that in depth.

Outcomes
Don’t make a complete prediction, instead, talk about what you hope to achieve and what sort of audience it may be intended for (or future uses, if that is more relevant). Don’t spend too long on this – but do make sure it’s clear as to what you hope to achieve and why that’s important.

Bibliography
Not all proposals will require a bibliography , but do check. This is your chance to show the spread of research already done. Make sure you fulfil the requirements, and don’t list too many or too few!

#5 Go back to your supervisor

Before you hand in your proposal, ask your postgraduate supervisor to look over it with you. It may still develop at this point, and they may be able to give you more tips on background reading, or help you make sure it’s not too close to anything done before!

And that’s how to write a dissertation proposal! So what are you waiting for - get started!

IMAGE CREDITS: © J0sefino | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

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