How to Write a Great Thesis/Dissertation Proposal

HomeHow to Write a Great Thesis/Dissertation Proposal

Writing a thesis/dissertation proposal is a critical step in any student’s career. It signifies that you are finally done with your coursework and ready to move on to the next step: writing your thesis/dissertation. Writing a thesis/dissertation is a lengthy and tedious process, and a this proposal is an essential preliminary step that will guide you through it.

So what are the keys to writing a great thesis/dissertation proposal? In this article, we will discuss the structure, content, and tips for writing a thesis/dissertation proposal that is sure to impress your advisor.

What is a thesis/dissertation proposal?

A thesis/dissertation proposal is like a roadmap. It presents the background and context of the thesis topic you will write about and provides an overview of previously published literature on the topic. It states your thesis statement, or hypothesis, and explains how you plan to prove it. Importantly, much of a thesis/dissertation proposal is dedicated to explaining why the topic you have chosen to study is significant and how it will fit into the broader literature.

Why do you need to write a thesis/dissertation proposal?

Choosing your topic is not enough to get started on your thesis/dissertation. You might have a great idea for a thesis/dissertation; however, once you really start reading the literature and formulating your methodology, you will realize that you lack the proper resources. Furthermore, you could also realize that your original research question doesn’t actually make sense once you know more about the topic. You may find that someone else has already written the paper you were intending to write. You might even find yourself more interested in another aspect of the same topic and decide to change your focus. In summary, writing a thesis/dissertation is a process of continually refining your ideas, and the thesis/dissertation proposal is the first step to refining your research question and hypothesis.

This proposal also gives you the opportunity to present your ideas to your supervisor and receive feedback on how realistic your proposed project is. We rely on our advisors to guide us through our thesis/dissertation because of their experience. Writing a thesis/dissertation proposal is the perfect start to a journey of ongoing dialogues with your advisor on your thesis/dissertation research.

What should I do before I start writing?

Before you start writing, you’ll need to take some preliminary steps.

  • You first need to choose a thesis topic to write about! You can get help to select a thesis topic from numerous articles, if you haven’t already.
  • Once you have chosen your thesis topic, you will need to conduct some preliminary research.

The goal of this preliminary research is to get an idea of what has already been written about your topic. You don’t need to do in-depth research for this. You just need to get a sense of the landscape and figure out if there are sufficient resources to make pursuing your thesis/dissertation feasible. As you perform preliminary research, keep a list of sources that you have read and plan to read.

As you gather sources and prepare to write, keep in mind the following questions that your thesis/dissertation proposal will need to address:

  • What research question are you going to pursue?
  • Why is it worth trying to answer or understand this research question?
  • Why is it important to address this issue?
  • How and where will you look for answers?
  • Why will you look there specifically via that method?
  • What do you hope to find out?

Once you have a list of sources and a fair idea of how to answer the above questions, it’s time to start writing your thesis/dissertation proposal.

How do I structure my thesis/dissertation proposal?

There is no specific, universal format for thesis/dissertation proposals and they can vary in length and word count, as well as required sections. You should always consult your university or institution’s guidelines before you start writing your thesis/dissertation proposal. However, generally, a thesis/dissertation proposal includes most or all of the following:

  1. Title
  2. Research Question
  3. Background and History
  4. Significance of the Research Question
  5. Literature Review
  6. Theoretical Framework/Methodology
  7. Research Schedule/Timeline
  8. Bibliography

Depending on your topic, you might also need to include a section on ethical considerations. Some universities also ask for a section detailing both the scope of your research and its limitations. The order of these sections, and those mentioned above, can also vary! However, the title will always come first and the bibliography last. As long as your proposal has a logical flow and follows the instructions given by your institution, you should be fine.

Getting started: Beginning your dissertation proposal

Let’s look into the details of the first part of your thesis/dissertation proposal. We’ll cover the other parts in the next sections, but for now, let’s talk about what exactly these components are and aren’t and look at a few examples.


What is your research about?

Try to be concise. You don’t want your readers to read a paper with a title that is already a paragraph long. At the same time, nobody wants to read a paper with a vague title.

Why Veganism Is Bad For Cats” is an informative title that is to the point.

Carnivorous Leanings, Ethical Consumption: Can Feeding My Cat Help Save The Planet?” is a bit clunkier. 

Carnivores and Vegans” is very vague, and your reader won’t have any idea what this paper is going to discuss in relation to dietary choices.

Research Question

What do you plan to research?

In many papers, this is where you put your hypothesis, or thesis statement. Try to hook your reader! Academic writing doesn’t have to be dry.

Cats are a common house pet and traditionally eat meat, but some wonder if they could eat vegetables” doesn’t tell your readers why you are thinking about feeding your cat a carrot.

Meat eaten by our cats and dogs adds 50,000 tons of CO2 to the already rapidly warming planet every day. Could we reduce the climate footprint of pet ownership by feeding cats a vegan diet” can easily catch the attention of your readers as it has linked your research to a bigger issue of climate change.

Background and History

What is the background of your issue?

How have we arrived at the situation that exists today?

Imagine the reader doesn’t know anything about your topic and you are trying to tell a compelling, concise narrative.

The introduction section to your thesis/dissertation should clearly spell out what you hope to research and why you think it is a pressing issue that needs to be investigated or addressed. 

Digging deeper: Linking your research with prior work

Now that you have discussed what the research question is and shared some background information on the issue, it’s time to clearly link your research to prior work in the field. What exactly should these sections discuss? Let’s take a look.

Significance of the research question

Why is researching this issue important?

Why should anyone care about it?

What gap are you addressing or need are you fulfilling within your field?

You don’t need to revolutionize your field for your research to be important! Whether you are building on the work of others or looking at a familiar issue from a new angle, your research can be valuable.

Literature Review

What have other people written that is relevant to your work?

In the thesis/dissertation proposal stage, this doesn’t need to be a comprehensive review. You simply need to show that you have a reasonable understanding of the major research that has been done in relation to your chosen thesis topic, and where your own research fits within it.

Ideally, you can clearly highlight this in your thesis/dissertation proposal.

While much research has been done on the impact of human diets and how they drive demand for factory farming, little has been examined with regard to the impact that pet ownership has in driving global meat consumption.

Theoretical Framework/Methodology

How do you plan to go about your research?

Will you perform experiments?

Will you conduct interviews?

Whatever you plan to do, give as detailed an overview as possible here. If you’re performing a study with ethical considerations, such as feeding your cat no meat for a week, this will be the place in your proposal where you explain how you will do this experiment ethically.

Creating a thesis/dissertation roadmap

Now that you’ve written a substantive portion of your thesis/dissertation proposal, it is time to look at the last two components of your proposal: the research schedule and the bibliography. What do these components consist of?               

Research Schedule/Timeline

Many institutions require that you provide an expected timeline when you submit your thesis/dissertation proposal. Your advisors want to know that you have a plan for how to get your project done. This is just as important as the rest of your work! Part of your thesis/dissertation proposal is showing your institution or advisor that you are capable of planning and executing a project within a limited amount of time with the resources you have on hand.


Unlike a normal research paper, the bibliography section in a thesis/dissertation proposal is not only a list of what you have read, but also a list of what you plan to read. Be realistic about your timeline. You probably can’t read 200 books in six months. Most bibliographies include 20 to 30 sources, but of course, you should check your institutional requirements to make sure you have a sufficient number.

Your bibliography isn’t something you should casually throw together. A thesis/dissertation is a huge project, and tracking and citing sources is something that you should do from the beginning. Using a good citation manager starting with your thesis/dissertation proposal will help you immensely in the later stages of your writing. It is also a great idea to find out which citation style you should use. You can use citation generators and other tools when you work on thesis editing later to make sure that your paper follows the right citation format. However, this process will be much quicker if you track your citation style and references from the first stage.

Check out our site for more tips on writing a great thesis/dissertation and information on thesis/dissertation editing and proofreading services.



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