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The Proposal Writing Guide:
How to Write a Winning Thesis Proposal

Excepts from an article about how to write a thesis proposal — written by Dr. Wendy Carter for FinishLine, the free monthly newsletter of TA-DA!™, which provides tips, tools, and techniques for completing a thesis or dissertation

 

When I was in graduate school I spent a lot of time going to workshops on how to write a thesis proposal. None helped me jumpstart the thesis proposal writing process. Usually after a workshop I felt more overwhelmed than I did before attending.

Looking at sample thesis proposals in my discipline gave me some ideas, but did not motivate me to get started. It wasn't until I found a wonderful book called The Proposal Cookbook: A Step by Step Guide to Dissertation and Thesis Proposal Writing by J. Bruce Francis, that I felt confident to begin writing my thesis proposal. This book is out of print, so I have summarized some of its suggestions for you here.

Before we start, here's a thesis writing tip

A thesis proposal is generally written in the present and future tense. A thesis on the other hand is always written in past tense.

The following tips assume that you already have a thesis topic selected.

 

 

13 Ingredients of a Winning Thesis Proposal

1. Introduction (1-2 pages)

  • If you are required to write an introduction, write it so it captures the reader’s interest in this overview. It does not have to be perfect.
  • You can write this section last. Your best overview of you project most likely will come after you have written the other sections of your proposal.

2. Problem Statement

  • First formulate a research question. Next restate the question in the form of a statement: note the adverse consequences of the problem.
  • The type of study determines the kinds of question you should formulate, such as Is there something wrong in society, theoretically unclear or in dispute, or historically worth studying? Is there a program, drug, project, or product that needs evaluation? What do you intend to create or produce and how will it be of value to you and society?

3. Background

  • Capture the reader’s interest and convince him/her of the significance of the problem.
  • Give at least three reasons why the problem you have chosen is important to you and society, and specify at least two concrete examples of the problem.

4. Purpose

  • Begin with “The purpose of this study is to…” change, interpret, understand, evaluate, or analyze the problem.
  • State your thesis goal completely. Remember, it should be some form of investigative activity.

5. Significance

  • Focus on the benefits of your study not the research problem.
  • Place yourself in the position of responding to someone who says “so what?” Provide a persuasive rationale for your argument by answering the following questions: Why is your study important? To whom is it important? What can happen to society, or theory, or a program if the study is done or not done?

6. Methodology

  • Describe in technical language your research perspective and your past, present, or possible future points of view.
  • List three research methodologies you could use, and describe why each might be appropriate and feasible. Select the most viable method.

7. Literature Review

  • Locate and briefly describe those studies and theories that support and oppose your approach to the problem. In other words, place the proposed study in context through a critical analysis of selected research reports.
  • Be sure to include alternative methodological approaches that have been used by others who studied your problem.

8. Hypotheses

  • State clearly and succinctly what you expect the results of your study to show.
  • Focus more on the substantive nature of what you expect to find and less on how you will test for those expectations.

9. Definition of Terms

  • Describe for the reader the exact meaning of all terms used in the problem, purpose and methodology sections. Include any terms that, if not defined, might confuse the reader.
  • State the clearest definition of each term using synonyms, analogies, descriptions, examples etc. Define any theoretical terms as they are defined by proponents of the theory you are using.

10. Assumptions

  • Describe untested and un-testable positions, basic values, world views, or beliefs that are assumed in your study.
  • Your examination should extend to your methodological assumptions, such as the attitude you have toward different analytic approaches and data-gathering methods. Make the reader aware of your own biases.

11. Scope & Limitations

  • Disclose any conceptual and methodological limitations
  • Use the following questions to identify the limitations of your study: What kind of design, sampling, measurement, and analysis would be used “in the best of all possible worlds”? How far from these ideals is your study likely to be?

12. Procedure

  • Describe in detail all the steps you will carry out to choose subjects, construct variables, develop hypotheses, gather and present data, such that another researcher could replicate your work.
  • Remember the presentation of data never speaks for itself, it must be interpreted.

13. Long-Range Consequences

  • Think ahead approximately three years after the completion of your thesis project. What are the long-term consequences of your having done the study or not done the study?
  • If you carry out the study successfully your results will: confirm your hypothesis; contradict your hypothesis; or possibly be inconclusive.

Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D.

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If you are looking for software to help you write your thesis proposal, check out our TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished™online program. This resource tool can help you throughout the thesis writing process. Not complicated new software to learn, but a thesis writing guide. Here's how TA-DA!™ has helped many many graduates students finish with less stress and confidence.

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