How to Write a Dissertation Proposal: Ultimate Guide

If students are getting ready to conduct research and write a dissertation, they should learn how to write a dissertation proposal first. Their proposal is supposed to present an idea, and explain why it's important and what discoveries or implications it brings. Proposals may differ but basic elements a proposal should include are:

  • introduction: presents paper’s topic and goals;
  • literature review: explains previously done research and findings;
  • methodology: describes how you plan to carry out research;
  • implications: discusses potential findings of the paper;
  • bibliography: lists sources used for references.

What is a Dissertation Proposal?

Before we dig any deeper into writing process, let’s first define what is a dissertation proposal. A dissertation proposal is a written document that undergraduate and postgraduate students write to get approval for writing their dissertation. It's supposed to show your professor, mentors, or dissertation committee that your idea is original and your research is worth conducting. If you write your dissertation properly, you’ll get it approved and be ready to start working on your actual dissertation.

Writing a Dissertation Proposal: 6 Simple Steps

If you want your dissertation proposal to be accepted, you must follow writing rules and requirements. That means following essential steps we’ve listed below. We’ll break down each step and help you understand what goals you need to achieve with each one.

Coming up with an idea

Naturally, the first step in this whole process of writing dissertation proposals is coming up with an original idea for your research. Unless your teacher gave you some limitations, you have the freedom to choose what you want your dissertation to be about. But make sure it’s an original idea, it’ll contribute to academic community, and implications will be valuable to others.
The best strategy is to start globally — think of your academic field of interest. Then, try to narrow it down until you find the topic you could cover. Do a lot of reading and research along the way, to ensure this topic hasn’t already been covered many times before. For instance, you start by choosing Business & Management as the field of study. You narrow it down to Marketing in Business, and then further to family-owned businesses. Finally, you end up with a dissertation idea titled “Do Loyalty Programs Benefit Small Family-Owned Businesses and How?”.

Introduction: Presenting Your Idea

The next section in the dissertation proposal format is the Introduction. It’s supposed to present your idea to those reading your text. Simply put, you need to elaborate on why this idea is unique and valuable. You should grab readers' attention and ensure they become interested in reading more about it. Finally, you have to write down the research questions you'll be answering as well as explain the aim and objectives of the paper.
Start with the hook — a sentence that dives right into the topic and tells the reader the core of our idea. It should be concise and hit the bull's eye — there's no room for long, descriptive introductions.  

  • Loyalty programs are known to improve sales and business communication for businesses with a large customer base. But, do they work for small family-owned businesses or not?

If you’re not sure how to write your hook, finding a dissertation proposal example could help greatly. So, look for as many you can find and try locating the hook in each introduction. Then, provide some more details and give background information for readers to truly understand your topic. This helps you build your case up and end the introduction with the question(s) you're raising. Make certain that question is clearly defined and lets the reader know what to expect in the rest of your paper.

Literature Review: Exploring Similar and Related Research

When writing a thesis proposal, you should place your idea in context. Present the existing research and findings done by other authors and share the current state of affairs. Thus, literature review section introduces authors you have explored and present some of their main ideas and conclusions. You should give your own comments on those ideas, compare them, and draw parallels.
You should use them to define important notions you'll be using in your research. Provide definitions and examples to ensure your reader clearly understands everything. This section may be particularly difficult for many students. So, they find professional writers at the best essay writing services. They can handle this section instead of you. Don't forget to use in-text citation and referencing to avoid being accused of plagiarism.

Methodology: Empirical and Theoretical Research

The next section in your dissertation proposal outline focuses on the research you plan on conducting. That means sharing details on your planned methodology — how you'll explore your ideas, what tools and methods you'll use, and how you'll check your facts and prove your point. You decide what type of research to conduct, empirical or theoretical. Empirical research is about collecting new data and analyzing it to draw conclusions from and discover fresh information. On the other hand, theoretical research is based on existing concepts but with your academic approach to it.
No matter the type of research you choose (or the combination of both), goal is the same — convince the reader that you’ve done your homework and are fully prepared to conduct the entire research and carry out the dissertation successfully. Let’s take a look at the two types of research you could focus on in your dissertation research proposal.

Empirical Research

The goal of your dissertation is to answer the questions you have raised and come to a new conclusion or discovery. If you decide to take the empirical approach to your research, you’ll need to utilize different tools and means of collecting and analyzing new data. Most commonly, those include questionnaires, interviews, surveys, experiments, case studies.
This means you’ll be writing either a quantitative or a qualitative dissertation proposal. You should tell the readers what methods and tools you plan on using to collect the data. You have to share how you plan on analyzing it and what sample you take. You should also address how you’ll make sure the research is unbiased and ethical.

Theoretical Research

If you decide to take the theoretical approach you won't be collecting any new data. Rather, you'll be working with existing theoretical concepts and using them to conduct research of your own. So, this section breaks down those existing concepts. It explains why you’ve chosen them and how they’ve shaped your dissertation. This is a good place for inserting references and explaining which authors’ works you’re using for your research.

Outlining Implications

Whether you’re writing a quantitative or qualitative dissertation proposal outline, the implications section is another vital element. This section explains what potential implications you expect your dissertation to bring, including findings and academic significance. So, write about your academic intentions. Are you planning to challenge research that's been previously conducted? Do you want to develop a new formula or methodology other academics can use? Or maybe you want to contribute to the general information base in your field of study? Whatever it is, ensure you describe it in detail in your dissertation proposal. 
You should also include a conclusion. If you feel like you need help writing one, this best conclusion generator may generate it for you. The conclusion simply repeats what you have already mentioned, what are your objectives, and what contribution you hope to make.

Reference List or a Bibliography

As we’ve already mentioned, to learn how to write a dissertation proposal, you should comprehend how to create a reference list or a bibliography. This is a list of all the authors and works you’ve cited or mentioned in your proposal. But, there are rules and requirements on how to create this list.
First, you choose the citation style you’ll apply and stick to it throughout the entire thesis proposal. There are several styles most students choose — APA, MLA, Chicago, Harvard, or Vancouver. After you choose the style, learn how to create a reference in-text and in the reference list. This will imply you'll learn how to list the author(s), where to place the title of the work, the year of publishing, or any other relevant information. Here’s a dissertation research proposal example of the same bibliography entries, written according to two different referencing styles:

  • Vancouver: Peery JC, Peery IW. Effects of exposure to classical music on the musical preferences of preschool children. Journal of Research in Music Education. 1986 Apr;34(1):24-33.
  • APA: Peery, J. C., & Peery, I. W. (1986). Effects of exposure to classical music on the musical preferences of preschool children. Journal of Research in Music Education, 34(1), 24-33.

Dissertation Proposal Length

You’re probably wondering how long should a dissertation proposal be. The length will vary, based on the type of research you’re proposing and the complexity of the problems you’re trying to address.
However, the average length of a dissertation proposal is between 15 and 20 pages. The elements that we didn’t mention, but should be a part of your dissertation include a title page and table of contents. And, if you have written your entire proposal and it’s less than 15 pages long don’t worry. Length is not the most important element of your proposal. The hypothesis, objectives, and research you’ve proposed are far more important.

Dissertation Proposal Editing

Once you finish writing your proposal, ensure you let it rest for a day or two. This will help you step away from it a little bit and forget the details you’ve written down. Then, read it again and try looking at it like it’s the first time or it’s been written by someone else. This will help you analyze it objectively and find weak spots or even mistakes. Make sure you proofread for spelling, grammar, or vocabulary mistakes as well. Rewrite the parts that need fixing and adjust all the details to make your dissertation proposal coherent.
You may also find editing help online. There are top dissertation editing services that check accuracy and overall quality of your proposal before you submit it. After they take a look and make some changes, you can submit the proposal without any worries.

Why Knowing Writing Rules Important

Many students see the process of writing a dissertation proposal as a mere requirement that they have to do in order to follow the protocol. What they fail to see is that learning how to write a PhD proposal is extremely beneficial for them and the quality of the research they conduct. This is why it’s important to talk about the benefits of writing a dissertation proposal.

  • Firstly, this process helps you organize your thoughts and ideas. When you first start thinking about your thesis, your mind can be quite a mess. Without the process of writing your proposal, you probably wouldn’t sit down to get it all in order. This way, you are preparing to write your thesis before you even sit down and start doing it.
  • Next, this process saves you time. You’re doing all the research, preparation, and even outlining of the dissertation during the proposal writing process. Some elements, such as the dissertation proposal abstract will remain the same for the actual thesis. So, all of the hard work you do in this stage is the time you’ll save in the next stage.
  • Finally, this process gives you the confidence to write your dissertation successfully. After you finish gathering the resources, outlining, doing the literature review, and writing the proposal — you'll feel ready to defend your idea and work hard on your thesis.

Final Thoughts on Writing Successful Proposal

Writing a dissertation proposal is a complex task. You need to know what information you should include, in which sections, and how to organize it all. You also must pay attention to the most important information that will convince the readers your idea is solid and your research will contribute to general knowledge on your topic. Hopefully, this article taught you how to write a thesis proposal. Use it to start writing your dissertation proposal today.

Posted by Chris M., May 30, 2022

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