By Carrie Winstanley
Having to write a dissertation proposal depends upon the university or institution that you’re attending. Even if a dissertation proposal isn’t a requirement, however, it’s a very useful exercise (and is certainly going to impress your supervisor, especially if it’s not part of your assessment).
On some courses the research proposal is assessed and forms part of your final dissertation submission. If this is the case, it’s vital that you follow the correct format and submit your work on time. Mostly, a dissertation proposal has a 500 or 1,000 word limit, but you must check what your course specifically requires.
What is a dissertation proposal?
A dissertation proposal is basically a description of the following:
What your dissertation is about
Probable questions that you’re going to be examining
Some reference to the theoretical background
Research methods you’re going to be using (empirical or non-empirical)
Potential outcomes of the study
Time spent putting your dissertation proposal together is an investment. You reap rewards because the proposal stops you wasting time and also forms the basis of your dissertation outline.
Writing a dissertation proposal, even if it’s not a requirement, is still worth doing. You can submit the proposal to your supervisor (with her agreement) and get some valuable feedback.
Ask your supervisor for guidance about the tone and style of your research proposal. You need to be flexible and open-minded, showing a willingness to adapt your methods and ideas as your research dictates. Say in your proposal what you intend to do, confidently and adopting a balanced view, suggesting that you’ve carefully considered the best way of carrying out your study. Be firm but not arrogant; be flexible but not feeble!
Make sure that you follow the rules of grammar in your proposal. Be consistent about the tense of your proposal. Most proposals are written using the future tense: ‘I will be using questionnaires . . . and so on’. Check with your supervisor for confirmation.
What does a dissertation proposal include?
The essential parts of a research proposal are generally standard:
Dissertation title (so far): Aim at making the title short and to the point.
Overall objectives: If you have more than three objectives, your area of research is probably far too broad and needs to be narrowed. (Some university courses may ask you to include a rationale at this stage.)
Literature, context, background: You can use any of these words as the title of this section, just make sure that you mention key schools of thought or areas of study that are going to provide information about your dissertation. (Some proposals require you to list specific references at this point, others ask for the bibliography at the end.)
Details of the research: Here, you can expand the ideas spelt out in your research question. This section is about outlining clearly your area of research.
Methodologies: Your work may be empirical (with some sort of study and collection of data such as questionnaires) or non-empirical (no such data, all your research comes from already published writing and projects). If your study is non-empirical, this section is likely to be short; longer if you need to collect or look at the empirical data.
If you’re allowed to use bullet points in your research proposal, you need do no more than list your intended activities (for example, carrying out interviews, consulting archives or evaluating data).
Potential outcomes: Avoid second-guessing the result of your dissertation. If you knew the outcomes, it would be pretty pointless doing the dissertation! Here, you’re summarising the type of outcomes you hope to generate and suggesting a target audience.
Timeline: If you’re asked to outline how you plan to manage your research, think about including a Gantt chart or some kind of concept map. Whatever you do, make your timeline realistic.
Bibliography: Check if you’re required to provide a list of references, and if so, find out roughly how many references you’re expected to list.
Dissertation Proposal Planner Form
Designing your research project: A successful research project requires a lot of careful planning. Often research projects fail simply because they lack focus and the details have not been thought through carefully enough.
This Dissertation Proposal Planner will help you to define and plan your proposal by asking you seven questions about what you want to study and how you plan to go about it. The process that it takes you through is one that you can use in the future development of your final dissertation.
What you will get: At the end of this section you will have a form which will include a detailed definition of your project and a draft timetable for completion of the proposal forms. This email should be an excellent basis for subsequent discussion with a supervisor after your proposal has been submitted and reviewed.
This form should take between 20 and 30 minutes to complete.
A. YOUR DETAILS
Your E-Mail Address:
Your dissertation proposal form is due on:
The maximum length for your dissertation is:
B. DISSERTATION TOPIC
First consider the general area of your dissertation.
A dissertation offers you the opportunity to explore an area that you are interested in. You are welcome to think broadly about what interests you within the subject area. Your dissertation is often the place in which you can explore an area in greater depth.
1. What is your chosen topic?
[This should align with your Post-It sized description of your broad topic area from e-tivity 1.]
2. What is it that interests you about this area?
[Does this build on a personal interest? Have you already done some thinking about this subject in this course or elsewhere? This is an opportunity to draw on elements of your personal reflective journal.]
C. REFINING YOUR TOPIC
Providing more focus for your dissertation.
The area you have identified is a good starting point for your research. However, a viable research project usually requires more focus. Are there any aspects of your topic that you are particularly interested in.
3. What aspect of your topic are you most interested in?
4. What further aspects are you interested in? And what questions are you facing in addressing these issues?
D. DISSERTATION SOURCES
What information do you think you are going to look at to help you find out about your area of study?
5. Where are your primary sources coming from?
[What are the main sources of information you think you are going to use to investigate your subject? Typically your primary source material should be something that tells you about your subject directly. Examples might include official publications or survey data. Try to explain in this section how you will be able to access this material. You may need help from your institution's library.]
6. Where are your secondary sources coming from?
[In addition to your primary sources what other sources are you going to use to find out about your subject? Secondary sources are usually materials that have already been published. They typically include books and articles. You may need help from your institution's library.]
E. PROJECT PLAN
Setting out a practical plan to get the work done.
Developing a research plan is an important part of undertaking a dissertation. How well you organise your research will be a critical factor in the success of your research
7. How long do you think the preparation of the formal Dissertation Proposal form will take? Give a rough estimate in hours.