How to Write a Dissertation Proposal: Tips from 9 Experts

How to Write a Dissertation Proposal: Tips from 9 Experts

A dissertation proposal is a document outlining a doctoral student's planned research study on a specific topic in their area of expertise.  Dissertation proposals must be submitted to a student's institution, department, and dissertation committee before a student is allowed to execute the presented study.  The department will then review the report and determine if the student may go forth with the study.  A proposal is a blueprint of both an intensive research project and the final document; therefore, it must be well-prepared and thoroughly researched.  

A dissertation report should completely explain a student's planned study.  To that end, most dissertation proposals are required to include three sections: an introduction, a literature review, and a methodology section.  

The introduction chapter should cover four primary components, and perhaps others if the study needs further explanation.  The four primary components are:

  1. a presentation of the problem the report will address;
  2. an explanation of the purpose of the study;
  3. a list of the research questions the report will seek to answer;
  4. hypotheses regarding the study's answers to the research questions.

This section may also include a listing of terms relevant to the study and their definitions.  

The literature review is the second chapter of a report proposal.  The literature review is a comprehensive overview of the existing scholarly research on the topic.  It should outline the major thoughts and findings regarding the article's topic.  Each research study discussed should be clearly and thoroughly explained in its own paragraph or set of paragraphs, and should give a complete description of that study's findings.  The literature review should conclude by pointing to holes in the research that the proposed dissertation study will seek to fill.

The final chapter of a report proposal is the method or methodology section.  This chapter will explain how the study will be carried out.  It will include a detailed description of the researcher's approach to investigating the topic, and will explain the procedures that will be used throughout the course of the research.  If the thesis is reporting on the researcher's original study, this chapter should also include information about the participants of the study (if there are participants), the instruments that will be used for measurement, and the methods of data collection and analysis that will be implemented.

All dissertation proposals should be composed in the future tense because the study has not yet been executed.



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When a student must write a dissertation, he/she may benefit by first learning how to write a dissertation proposal.  Many learners fail to ask questions about how to write a dissertation proposal because they are already focused on writing the project itself.  Therefore, they skip one of the most important steps towards writing the best possible dissertation.

In order to learn how to write dissertation proposals, students should be sure that they know what a university dissertation is in the first place.  While there are varying definitions, the most common use of the term is to describe the final document that a learner will create in order to graduate from a PhD program.  Some students may have to create dissertations for high school or undergraduate programs, bit the requirements for those levels of dissertation work are much less formal and intense than a PhD reference project.

When it comes to learning how to write dissertation proposals, students need to understand the importance.  A dissertation is often a body of work that will jump start a student's professional career and may stick with a student for life.  Many academic articles are also published in national dissertations databases for all to see.  

In terms of how to write a dissertation proposal, learners should begin by making sure that they understand the topic that they plan to research.  Many resources for information on how to write a dissertation proposal also suggest that students understand the importance of the topic that they wish to cover.  For example, they should be able to explain why the topic is timely or vital to a particular industry.  

Once students have selected their topic, they need to draft an outline of the report.  Basically, the student is asking for permission from an institution to conduct research in a particular area.  Therefore, the student should not only state why the research is important, but should also state what resources the learner will use, such as a university lab.  When students want to learn how to write a dissertation proposal that will be accepted, they often benefit by considering their audience first and foremost.  

Students wishing to know how to write dissertation proposals often confuse dissertation proposals with grant proposals.  Some students may need to use grants to fund research for their documents.  However, a grant proposal is designed specifically to solicit funding from a third party.  A dissertation report should solicit permission to perform research and may not focus on funding.



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A dissertation proposal marks the beginning of the research process in which a doctoral student develops an understanding of an issue related to an established research project.  Led by a faculty member, the doctoral student proposes the investigation of a phenomenon in his or her field of study that will require tedious work over several months.  Dissertation proposals are usually presented in a structured written format and include many sections.  The process of writing the report is very timely and iterative because it is compromised of various stages that have to be repeated.  Because this is a difficult task, students often seek the help of peers, faculty, advisors, and other professionals to ameliorate the process.

The first section of a dissertation proposal is the introduction.  In this part, the student presents the main research question that he or she will seek to answer.  By providing a summary of larger issues, the student enables the reader to comprehend the gist of the research project.  

The second section is the problem statement.  In this part of the report, the student identifies the major issue in-depth and gives the specific questions that will be addressed.  From this section, the reader should be able to discern the context and the background of the study.  

The third section of the report proposal is the literature review, which offers a conceptual framework for the study.  It addresses the scope of the study and pinpoints major findings on the research topic.  The student must be sure to include only evidence that supports the major premise of the study.  Thus, dissertation proposals should always define key constructs that illuminate the premise, and students should read and summarize only the most relevant sources.

The fourth section is the methodology.  In this part of the report, the student diligently describes what he or she plans to do and why.  The student must also explain the methods he or she intends to use in order to achieve substantial results.  Further, this section should relate methods to research questions.

Lastly, a bibliography section concludes the proposal.  In this section, the student lists all reference materials and properly formats them using the preferred academic style of his or her educational institution.

Dissertation proposals are very crucial to the success of the final document—the dissertation.  Yet, unlike the final document, the proposal can be changed often until it is approved by the student's committee of academic advisors.  This gives the student plenty of time to plan, write, and defend the dissertation successfully.



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Viewpoint of Author #4
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A dissertation proposal example is a model work distributed by a university or an educational resource organization to demonstrate to writers the proper way to write such a report.  Dissertation proposal examples may be annotated or un-annotated, depending on the entity that issues them.  Dissertation proposal examples distributed by universities will often by un-annotated, while those distributed by educational resource organizations will often by annotated.  There is much to learn from both types of examples.

A dissertation proposal example is different from a dissertation example.  A dissertation is a long, completed document that is ready for publication.  A dissertation proposal is a document draft that is pending approval and revision.  Students should be aware that though dissertation proposals have many of the same elements as the first chapters of an academic composition, a dissertation proposal is written differently from a final document and often includes different information.  The writing style of dissertation proposals and dissertations will also be different; therefore, learners should only use dissertation proposal examples rather than final dissertation examples.  

A dissertation proposal example that is annotated will feature marginal notes that point to essential or important elements of the report.  These will include elements of formatting, structure, content, and style.  Students should keep in mind that many of these components should follow the strict and specific guidelines of their institutions, as most institutions prefer that all reference report proposals be written and presented in the same fashion.  Therefore, some of the components of a proposal example issued by an institution other than a student's own university may not be in keeping with the way the student's dissertation proposal must be.  However, learners can still gain valuable information from viewing the structural and content aspects of such a report.

The dissertation proposal examples typically issued by universities are not annotated.  This will require learners to determine the ways in which the writer adhered to the institution's guidelines.  Students should ideally use the guidance of several different such examples so that they can determine the ways in which the guidelines are followed and also the ways in which they are flexible.  This will allow the student to assess how he or she can best write his or her own dissertation proposal while still remaining within the criteria issued by the university.



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Viewpoint of Author #5
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A sample dissertation proposal is a model document intended to demonstrate to students the way in which to write a dissertation proposal.  Sample dissertation proposals are therefore typically available from a student's department and freely distributed with the intent of being templates.  Sample dissertation proposals may also be distributed by educational resource institutions and writing handbooks.

A dissertation proposal is a plan for a dissertation project.  The proposal must go through an approval process before the student is allowed to fully embark on the project itself.  Therefore, learners should be aware that though dissertation proposals have many of the same elements of the first few chapters or sections of an academic composition, a dissertation proposal is written differently from a final document and often includes different information.  Therefore, learners should be sure not to use a sample dissertation proposal that is simply the first few chapters of a completed reference project.  Such samples are not true sample dissertation proposals and may mislead the writer about the information he should include.

When using sample dissertation proposals as models, learners should ideally use the guidance of several different samples.  This is because all reference report proposals will be different, depending on the needs of each writer's dissertation project.  Therefore, it is a good idea to see how several different writers structured their documents and compare those dissertations to the specific guidelines on writing dissertation proposals issued by the student's department and institution.  The student can therefore determine the ways in which the guidelines should be followed and also the ways in which they are flexible.  Assessing multiple sample proposals in this way will help the student determine how she can shape the guidelines to meet the needs of her own document.  

When examining a sample dissertation proposal, learners should pay close attention to the structure of the proposal.  The structure is often one of the more specific elements of a proposal, and one that departments are often very explicit about.  Therefore, learners should see how the example report proposals accommodate the needs of particular report proposals while remaining adherent to the structural guidelines dictated by the institution.  The student should also note the citation and writing style the report samples use, as these are also often fixed elements.  Furthermore, they should observe that all reference report proposals are written in future tense because the study has yet to be undertaken.



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Viewpoint of Author #6
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Since it is likely that students will only write one report proposal in the course of their academic careers, most students will seek guidance on how to compose and format their proposals.  One of the best sources of such guidance is a dissertation proposal sample.  Dissertation proposal samples are completed dissertation proposals that have been deemed successful enough to serve as model texts.

Dissertation proposal writing samples will typically be provided by a student's university or department.  These documents will be dissertation proposals presented by former doctoral pupils.  It is best that students use these samples rather than other proposal models because dissertation proposal samples will likely vary between institutions.  This is because most institutions set forth specific guidelines on how they wish their students to compose and format dissertations and dissertation proposals.  The reason institutions provide dissertation proposal samples is so students can see in final form how the institution wishes the report to be executed.  That being said, it is likely to find some variation between dissertation proposal samples because not every report topic will require all of the sections or headings possible in a proposal.  Therefore, learners should be advised that though a dissertation proposal sample is intended to serve as a model, it is not intended to serve as a model that should be exactly replicated.  A student should use a dissertation proposal sample as a guideline, but modify it according to the needs of his particular proposal.  

The aspects of a proposal sample that will be consistent from one sample to the next are the style and formatting of the pages of front matter and the references section.  Most institutions and departments will require exact adherence to their preferred presentation style for a title page, abstract, table of contents, and list of secondary sources.  Therefore, any report proposal sample distributed by an institution or department can be assumed to follow these guidelines correctly.  In addition, all reference report proposal samples distributed by institutions and departments will likely have similar spacing, margin, and font styles.  These, too, should be followed exactly.

The chapters of a proposal sample are what will be different from one sample to the next.  Many report proposals will include a series of various headings and subheadings.  However, the number of headings and the heading titles will vary from proposal to proposal.  Students using a dissertation proposal sample should pay particular attention to general headings and sections that are applicable to all proposals—such as the introduction section, the statement of the study's purpose, the research methodology, etc., but keep in mind that some of the less general headings will differ in their own documents.



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Before a doctoral student undertakes his or her assignment—an original, usually book-length research document in the student's area of study—the student must submit a dissertation proposal to his or her institution, department, and dissertation committee.  The department will then review the report and determine if the student may go forth with the study.  Because a proposal is a template of the project itself, it must be well-researched and well-planned.

When writing dissertation proposals, learners should keep in mind that the style of dissertation proposal writing is different than dissertation writing itself in that a dissertation proposal will refer to the proposed study in future tense.  This differs from dissertations, which are typically written in the past tense because the research and study have already taken place.  

Effective dissertation proposal writing requires that the author fully explain his or her study by including three primary sections: an introduction of the topic, a literature review, and a methodology section.  

The introduction often includes four primary components: (1) a presentation of the problem the report will address, (2) the research questions the report will seek to answer, (3) hypotheses regarding the study's answers to those research questions, and (4) an overview of the limitations of the study.  This section is often known as the "purpose" section because it describes why the proposed study is relevant.  This is important, so be sure to address it when writing dissertation proposals.  This section may also include a listing of terms relevant to the study and their definitions.  

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of writing dissertation proposals is effectively completing the second section—the literature review.  This requires the researcher to present a survey of research relevant to the proposed reference project.  Each study discussed should be clearly and thoroughly explained in its own paragraph or set of paragraphs, and should give a complete description of the findings of each study.  The literature review should conclude by pointing to holes in the research that the proposed dissertation study will seek to fill.

The third major component of dissertation proposal writing is a detailed explanation of the methodology the proposed study will follow—the procedure or plan of the researcher's study.  This should include information about the participants of the study, the instruments that will be used, and the methods of data collection and analysis that will be implemented.



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Viewpoint of Author #8
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When writing a dissertation proposal, students must be certain to follow the correct format and requirements so that their work gets accepted.  When it comes time for students to write reports, there are certain steps and procedures that they must follow.  After all, a university report is a very formal, academic document that learners write in order to graduate from a PhD program with a PhD—the highest academic degree.

There are many things that students should know about writing a dissertation proposal.  First, they need to understand the importance and the role.  A dissertation is the final document that a learner will write in order to graduate with a Ph.D.  Many students spend years working on their documents.  Dissertations may also be very costly, as they often involve travel and experimentation.  

Once a student understands the importance of the report, the student should endeavor to learn as much as they can about writing a dissertation proposal that will prove to an academic institution that they are qualified to perform the report research.  Therefore, writing dissertation proposals may be a time consuming process, as the process involves research and a good deal of effort.  

The first step that students should take when writing dissertation proposals is to learn as much as possible about the topic that they wish to study during the course of the report research.  Students may want to focus on why the research is important, timely, or potentially ground-breaking.  

Students should also include information about research expenses and methods when writing dissertation proposals, especially if the expense will fall upon a university, such as the use of a university lab.  

There are several sections that should be included in every report proposal.  These sections may include an introduction, background information about the topic, purpose of the research, methodologies, planned steps, and goals.  If the student requires financing, experiments, or interviews with industry experts, the student should also mention that when writing a dissertation proposal.  

Writing dissertation proposals is very similar to writing grant proposals.  Both documents help learners to gain permission or funding to perform research.  However, a research proposal does not always require funding.  In fact, many dissertation proposals are formalities so that universities can be aware of what students are studying.  Grant proposals, on the other hand, are always intended to solicit funding for research or a similar project.  Therefore, grant proposals are financially oriented.



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Students may have to engage in dissertation research grant writing in order to secure research funding.  If a student needs to write a grant, then the student should understand some basics of dissertation research grant writing in order to improve his or her chances.  Dissertation research grant writing, after all, is a particular type of writing that is unlike all other types of writing.

A grant is funding for a particular cause.  When learners write grants, they are generally asking for money to fund specific items required for their research, such as travel, equipment, or even the student's time.  Most grants are provided to students by non-profit organizations that are devoted to providing grants for research.  Some grants are small and may be less than $100.  Other grants may be several thousands of dollars.  

Whenever a pupil writes a grant, the student should be aware that the grant may not be awarded.  There are also cases where a student may ask for a particular sum of money, but only be granted a portion of that money.  Dissertation research grant writing not only involves writing the grant, but also knowing what to ask and from whom.  

In the grant request, learners should include information about why the grant is important, why the research is important, what the money will be used for, how the learner will measure his or her success through the research, and answer any other likely questions in advance.  Many funding organizations will have specific items that should be addressed with each grant request.  

Dissertation research grant writing is different than proposal writing, though the two are similar.  Grants writing is a type of writing in which students specifically ask for funding for a particular project.  In order to get funding, the learner will often have to provide detailed background information about the project.  Proposal writing also requires students to include detailed background information.  However, unlike grant writing, proposal writing does not require a learner to ask for money.  Instead, proposal writing asks for permission to proceed with the research itself.

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