Writing a Thesis Proposal

What Does Writing a Winning Proposal Involve?

While they are in college, some students spend a considerable amount of time attending workshops hoping to learn the best techniques for writing thesis and dissertation proposals. However, this diligence does not always help when it comes to writing a proposal paper for real. Often, a lot of these students feel more confused and overwhelmed after attending workshops than they did beforehand.

If you look at a few samples of thesis proposals for your discipline, it is likely you will get some good ideas, but these might not sufficiently motivate you to begin. There is, however, an excellent book entitled “The Proposal Cookbook” by J. Bruce Francis, which you should find a great help. This is a type of guide that provides step-by-step instructions on writing thesis proposals. It is very possible this will give you the confidence to start your assignment. While this book is no longer available in print version, the following is a summary of some of the advice it offers.  

Before getting started, here is a good tip for writing a thesis:

It is usual practice to write a proposal for a thesis in the present and the future tense. In contrast though, you should write your actual thesis paper itself in the past tense. 

The tips provided below assume you have already selected a topic.

How to Write a Successful Thesis Proposal: Thirteen Essential Ingredients

The Introductory Section (one to two pages)

  • If an introduction is needed, it should be written in the style of an overview with the aim of attracting the interest of the reader. It need not be 100% perfect.
  • The introductory section can be written last. It is very likely you will have developed a better understanding of your project when the other sections are complete.

Statement of the Problem

  • The first task is to formulate the research problem or question you will be addressing. Then you should frame this in statement form and note any negative consequences the problem has or may have.
  • The types of questions you should develop are normally determined by the nature of the study, e.g., “Does society have any problems worth studying, whether these are of a historical or theoretical nature?” “Are there any projects, products or drugs worth evaluating?” “What is it you intend to produce or create and in what way will this be beneficial to society and yourself?”

Overview or Background Information

  • Aim to get the interest of your readers and convince them of how significant this particular problem is.
  • Provide three good reasons (at least) why your chosen problem is meaningful to you and to society as a whole, and include a minimum of two solid examples of the given problem.

State the Purpose of Your Project

  • For example, you could start by saying “The primary purpose of this research is …” Then analyze, evaluate, interpret or describe your understanding of the outlined problem.
  • Describe the goal of your thesis in detail. Bear in mind this should be some type of investigative work.

Describe the Significance of Your Work

  • Stay focused on how beneficial your study will be rather than on the research question or problem.
  • Try and anticipate the “what does it matter?” question. Make sure your rationale is persuasive. Answer these questions: What makes your study particularly important? Who does it matter to? What are the consequences for society, or a particular program or theory, if your study does or does not go ahead? 

Describe Your Intended Methodology

  • Use technical terminology to describe your perspective on the research question as well as your previous, current and perhaps future viewpoints on the subject.
  • Name three methodologies you have considered using, and describe the feasibility and/or suitability of each one. Say which one is the most viable option.

Review of Literature

  • Find and describe in brief terms any literature or previous studies that support or contradict your planned approach to addressing the problem. This means critically analyzing your proposed research and placing it in the context of other research on the subject.
  • Make sure you mention any alternative methods that others have used to research the same problem.

Develop Your Hypotheses

  • Say clearly and concisely what results you expect your study to produce.
  • Give more attention to the substantive elements of your expected findings with less emphasis on what tests you will do to realize your expectations.

Define Significant Terms

  • Explain the precise meaning of every term you will use in the purpose, problem and methodologies sections. In particular, define any terms that might cause confusion if they are not explained.
  • Provide the clearest possible definitions for each term with the use of examples, descriptions, analogies, synonyms, and so on. Explain any theoretical terminology as it is defined by its creator(s) and/or other experts.

What if Any Assumptions Will You Make

  • Explain any beliefs, values, or widely held views you are assuming in your study, including those that are not tested or are not possible to test.
  • Make sure your explanations extend to any assumptions concerning methodologies, such as your view of various analytical and data-collecting methods. If you have any biases, let your readers know about these.

Project Limitations and Scope

  • Mention any limitations in methodologies and concepts.
  • Ask these questions to identify limitations: What type of analysis, design, measurement, or sampling should be used to obtained ‘the best of all worlds’ results? How likely is your particular study to meet these standards?

Procedural Matters

  • Provide a detailed description of all the steps you will follow to select subjects, develop hypotheses, build variables, collect data, and present this in a way that would enable your work to be reproduced by other researchers.
  • Do not forget that data must be interpreted because it does not speak for itself through mere presentation.

Long-Term Impacts/Consequences

  • Forward think to, say, three or four years after your research project is completed. What are the future consequences likely to be as a result of you having undertaken or not undertaken this study?
  • If you successfully complete your study, the results will do one of the following: i) prove your hypothesis correct, ii) prove your hypothesis wrong, or iii) prove your hypothesis inconclusive.

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