Guide to Thesis Proposal Writing

This writers’ guide is aimed at students who are undertaking postgraduate degrees, are involved in research, and who are required to complete a thesis or dissertation proposal.

The Aim of a Thesis Proposal

The primary objective of a thesis proposal is to persuade your school or college that:

  • A particular piece of research is needed and that it is important and significant;
  • Your work will make an original and important contribution to its field;
  • The work is feasible in respect of funding, availability of data, equipment, and supervision.
  • The topic of the work is within your capabilities and that you are interested in it.
  • The research work can be finished in an agreed timeframe. Some universities advise that PhDs should be completed in three years (six semesters) in the case of those who study full-time.
  • All issues of an ethical nature have been taken into account and that the research work has been approved by the appropriate ethics groups or committee.  

How Doctorate and Master’s Thesis Proposals Differ

A course supervisor or coordinator is in the best position to provide any clarification you need and a detailed outline of what your college expects. While it is most likely there will be differences in the length of the research and in its complexity, the primary difference is that there should be something new in a PhD-level thesis.   

Know Your Audience

A thesis proposal is usually submitted in the form of a written document or report and additionally in presentation-form at a seminar. It is common to present this document to staff who are closely involved in your studies (e.g. a course supervisor or coordinator) or to a Postgraduate Examination Committee.

The Writer’s Goal

A thesis proposal is usually designed to help a student:

  • focus their research objectives;
  • clarify why a particular piece of work is important and necessary;
  • set out the methodologies to be used;
  • foresee any possible problems and expected results;
  • plan for interventions and/or alternatives.    

Getting the Project Completed

The process of preparing a thesis proposal is an iterative one. There will be several drafts, which you will probably need to discuss with your coordinators or supervisors. You will need to stick to a regular writing schedule to get your proposal finished by its submission date. The timeframe may vary from anything from the first three to nine months of your studies.  

Why Originality is Essential

Your thesis should make a valuable contribution in its field if it meets the following criteria:

  • You provide strong evidence to support or discount a theory, model, or concept;
  • Your work contributes fresh information or data, suggests a better solution, offers a new well-analyzed process, or proposes an improved method of research;
  • Your work results in an improved or new theory, model, or concept.