The dissertation proposal reflects the students' research interests in the form of a comprehensive statement. It is the first step towards writing a final dissertation for undergraduate, graduate or Doctorate level course. A well-developed dissertation proposal is unique, provides a clear guideline to the final project and sets the foundation for research. It is a skilful demonstration of why the particular research problem is chosen, what makes the topic interesting and how it contributes to current literature and/or plays its role in resolving the real world problems.
The most important part of any dissertation proposal is explaining and justifying its potential contribution to existing literature. At the proposal planning stage, the researcher must consider the previous research shortcomings to clarify the research purpose. A detailed research proposal communicates what researcher intends to examine, why there is a need to conduct research, what previous literature says about the problem, how proposed objectives will be accomplished (by collecting primary and/or secondary data) and why chosen methodological choices are the best for the proposed research.
The proposed plan may not be exactly followed at the dissertation writing stage, but proposal sets the direction for the whole research. Setting the appropriate research scope determines the quality of the dissertation proposal. The scope must be wide enough to make a substantial contribution and narrow enough to be realistic and achievable within the set deadline. The dissertation proposals allow the instructors or departments to ensure that students are on the right track and have set the right direction for their final dissertation.
Generally, the dissertation proposals answer these why, what, where, when, who, and how questions:
The ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions are mostly incorporated in the problem discussion and research rationale sections, while, research design/methodology incorporates all other questions in detail.
On average, the dissertation proposal is 10-15 pages in length and has following sections and sub-sections:
The first chapter explains the research problem, justifies its importance and practical/theoretical contribution. It also outlines research objectives/questions and provides an overview of how the dissertation will be structured. The second chapter constructs the theoretical basis and presents a theoretical/conceptual framework. The third chapter justifies the methodological choices and explains the overall research design and route to conduct primary/secondary research. The fourth chapter explains how findings will be analysed and interpreted. Finally, a timeline mostly in the form of Gantt chart is presented with a brief conclusion statement.
Writing an effective dissertation proposal requires continuous communication with the supervisor that my result into frequent alterations, adjustments and revisions in different areas. You need to take the criticism positively to develop a high quality work. A well-designed proposal makes the initial phases of dissertation writing less challenging. The section given below provides a ‘how to' guideline that offers help to get through various proposal development stages successfully.
Writing the dissertation proposal can be an exhaustive activity. However, the researcher can make the process easier by considering the following tips:
It is important to review the finalised proposal after a couple of days to take a fresh look and identify overlooked improvement seeking areas.
Writing the dissertation proposal can be a tiring activity, and it is important to keep the mind fresh. Do not overburden yourself. Follow the schedule but take some break when you are tired or bored as getting bored or tired can affect your ability to produce a high quality work. Switch to something different when you cannot concentrate anymore, possibly by doing some physical exercise, going for a walk, meeting friends or reading an interesting book. Do what reduce your stress and keeps you motivated.
The introduction is the most important part of the dissertation proposal as it convinces the reader about the necessity and value of the proposed research. This section discusses what the problem is and why research is important.
Some common elements added in the dissertation proposal introduction section are discussed below:
The introduction section can either be divided into different subsections (like problem discussion, rationale, aim and objectives, questions and dissertation structure), or can be presented with fewer headings or even as a single piece of information. It depends upon the length of introduction and dissertation proposal.
The literature review in the dissertation proposal provides an opportunity to show your understanding of the research problem and familiarity with the existing body of knowledge. The researcher can highlight the literature gaps and discuss how proposed research will contribute to overcome those gaps.
Here is the list of some essential elements that must be added in the dissertation proposal:
The researcher should develop a connection between previous work and proposed research to highlight the theoretical significance. Literature review is a good place to show how the proposed methods differ from or are built upon the previous work.
At the chapter end, the researcher can add the pictorial presentation of the conceptual/theoretical framework along with research hypotheses (if the proposed study is quantitative).
The methodology in dissertation proposal acts as the roadmap to whole research. Following common elements are present in almost every dissertation research proposal:
Usually, the findings and analysis chapter is included in the dissertation proposals to provide an overview of possible findings and selected analysis techniques. It also includes the presentation of preliminary research findings if the researcher decides to conduct the pilot study and add its results in the proposal.
Following common elements are added in the findings and analysis part of the dissertation writing:
Present the preliminary research findings from a pilot study in the form of graphs and tables with necessary interpretation.
Adding a conclusion to the dissertation proposal helps you summarise the key points and comment on the theoretical and practical significance of the selected topic. A well-developed proposal conclusion-
Do not add any new content in the conclusion as it will create confusion and affect overall research quality. Similarly, avoid simply restating the already discussed content. Instead, the focus should be on discussing the study's value and uniqueness. Acknowledging the challenges that you may encounter during the research process with a brief contingency plan may add value to the research proposal and show that your knowledge of the research process.
Lastly, the conclusion section conveys the instructor about your opinions and views framed from the whole proposal development process. Add important details to make the conclusion meaningful but avoid writing lengthy conclusions.
Finally, a dissertation proposal timeline preferably in the form of Gantt chart is presented. It involves breaking down the whole research plan into different activities to set the milestones and allocating estimated time to each activity. The activities are sequenced in a way to reflect the whole research process from start to end. You can use MS Excel, MS Project or simply MS Word to develop the Gantt chart.
Here is an example of a dissertation proposal Gantt chart:
The sequence of activities may alter depending on the underlying circumstances. However, the above shared Gantt chart provides a general guideline to how academic research is conducted to complete the dissertation for an undergraduate or graduate level course.
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