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How to Write a Good Dissertation Proposal: An Outlined Guide

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Written by
Dr. Simon Robbins
  • Icon Calendar 18 May 2024
  • Icon Page 1678 words
  • Icon Clock 8 min read

A dissertation is one of the higher-level academic writing works that begins with the preparation of a dissertation proposal. Basically, this guide on how to write a dissertation proposal starts with a definition of this type of work, which identifies three primary sections of the document: introduction, review of literature, and research method. Then, the manual continues to deconstruct the major sections of a dissertation proposal into the crucial subsections that are present in any dissertation. Besides, the guide mentions differences between the standard research proposal and the dissertation proposal, especially in the introduction and literature review sections.

General Guidelines on a Dissertation Proposal

A dissertation proposal is the first formal document that future doctors of philosophy write to begin the process of creating their dissertations or thesis papers. Basically, writing a dissertation proposal contains an accurate description of the specific topic that students plan to research. In this case, the content of a dissertation proposal allows the panel of professors to develop a deep understanding of the student’s research topic and offer necessary critiques to guide future doctors to complete the research process successfully. Moreover, a dissertation proposal has three main chapters: introduction, review of literature, and study methods. In turn, three chapters are identical to the structure of a research proposal or an executive summary, although there are some minor differences in some of the elements.

Writing an Introduction for a Dissertation Proposal

1. Background

This subsection is a collection of evidence that authors use as the basis for the identification of a problem when writing a dissertation proposal. Basically, students conduct a formal literature review, which focuses on a specific problem to convince the audience that the proposed problem is real and actionable. Mostly, the supporting literature cited in this section is very recent and takes the form of statistical findings or well-articulated arguments. In turn, the background of the problem is present in both the standard research proposal and the dissertation proposal. Also, it plays a similar role in academic texts, which is to respond to the question, “Why is it a problem?”

2. Statement of the problem

This element of the introduction chapter of a dissertation proposal explicitly outlines the problem that authors have logically developed in the background. Hence, a good problem statement has six primary characteristics:

  • Researchers can investigate the problem ethically.
  • It defines a manageable scope for a study.
  • Researchers possess the knowledge, resources, and time to explore the problem.
  • It is possible to investigate the problem by using data.
  • The problem has inherent practical or theoretical significance.
  • Researchers have a deep interest in the problem.

The problem statement is not necessarily one statement. However, students should ensure that the problem statement is concise and straightforward. Furthermore, the problem statement contains all variables that researchers plan to consider in the investigation. Therefore, the problem statement is a critical feature of research papers and dissertations that conform to the same guidelines.

How to write a dissertation proposal

3. Significance of Writing a Dissertation Proposal

In this subsection of writing a dissertation proposal, researchers explain the value of the findings of their study. Basically, authors elucidate the benefits of conducting the research and hint at the possible implications of the study in the area of interest. In consequence, the significance of the study is the final element of the extended justification of the research that students develop in the background and problem statement sections. Moreover, research and dissertation proposals contain a subsection that addresses the significance of the proposed study of a problem. In turn, there are no differences in authorship practices.

4. Purpose Statement and Research Questions

The purpose statement and research questions share a close relationship where researchers derive the latter from the former when writing a dissertation proposal. Firstly, a purpose statement informs the audience of the researcher’s overarching focus for the entire study. Particularly, it states the central goal of conducting the study explicitly. Usually, the purpose statement has a standard ‘signal phrase,’ “The purpose of this study is to . . .” Then, students design research questions from the purpose statement to breakdown the purpose statement into researchable chunks that lead to specific study methods. In turn, this subsection is present in both research and dissertation proposals with no notable distinctions.

5. Hypothesis or Proposition

A hypothesis or proposition is a tentative response to research questions that authors propose before conducting the research. Basically, each hypothesis or proposition corresponds to a specific research question. In this case, the tentative position concerning the results of the study relies heavily on the literature review, which researchers use as a basis for prediction when writing a dissertation proposal. Moreover, a hypothesis appears in a quantitative dissertation proposal, while a qualitative dissertation proposal contains a proposition. In turn, hypotheses or propositions are components of a research proposal that follow the same development system.

Review of Literature

The literature review’s primary role is the creation of a link between existing literature, problem statements, and research questions. Basically, students write the literature review to contextualize their research in the discourse on a particular topic. Typically, authors aim to map the history of the problem, identify the central theories concerning the problem, and familiarise themselves with seminal articles that define the area of inquiry. Moreover, a literature review section should contain evidence of the evaluation and synthesis of the existing literature, which demonstrates that students understand the progression of the discourse. In turn, there is no fixed arrangement for the literature review. However, authors should ascertain that it flows in a logical presentation format that flows smoothly. Notably, the literature review for writing a dissertation proposal has a broader scope when compared to the literature review for organizing a standard research paper.

The secondary role of the literature review is to establish a theoretical foundation for the research methods that students intend to employ in answering research questions. In this case, the literature review allows a researcher to identify suitable study strategies, procedures, and data collections instruments. Specifically, researchers locate recent studies to understand the strengths and weaknesses of existing instruments and derive theoretical guidance for the development of new valid study tools. Essentially, the review of literature justifies the selection of specific research instruments and procedures despite the existence of comparable tools and techniques. In writing a dissertation proposal, authors must answer the question, “Why instrument A, but not instrument B, yet a researcher can use either technique?” In contrast, writers of a regular research proposal answer the question, “Can a researcher use instrument A?”

Research Method for Writing a Dissertation Proposal

  • The third chapter of writing a research proposal and dissertation proposal are entirely identical in structure and purpose.

1. Research Design

Scholars describe the overall research approach that they plan to use to answer research questions. Firstly, authors explain whether the study is qualitative, quantitative, or hybrid. Secondly, researchers mention the specifics of the research design by stating the reference period (retrospective or prospective), the nature of the investigation (experimental or case study), and the number of contacts (correctional or longitudinal). In turn, the description of the study design may vary extensively for each dissertation. However, it revolves around the same accepted study approaches.

2. Participants and Sampling

Scholars reveal the characteristics of participants of the study and the sampling technique. Depending on the nature of the research, authors prioritize the most relevant participant characteristics that the audience must know to interpret results correctly. Nonetheless, there are common participant characteristics, for example, age and number. Moreover, researchers discuss the sampling techniques to ensure that the audience has a clear understanding of the generalizability of their findings and the differences between the sample and population. It is because each sampling technique has different effects on the outcome of the study.

3. Instruments and Research Procedures

In this subsection of writing a dissertation proposal, researchers expound on tools and processes that they utilize in the study. For example, students identify study instruments and provide an overview of their mechanism of operation. Also, authors outline the procedure that they would follow in administering the various tests. In this case, students should present the research procedure in a systematic manner that represents the actual steps of the study. Furthermore, scholars should discuss the reliability (split-half, interrater, equivalent forms, or test-retest) and validity (construct, content, criterion, or predictive) of individual tests.

4. Plans for Data Analysis

When writing a dissertation proposal, students create a roadmap for the data analysis process, which gives the audience a clear picture of the data manipulation that leads to the results. In quantitative research, the data analysis plan highlights the individual inferential and descriptive statistical tests for the study. Conversely, the data analysis plan of a qualitative study explains the process of extracting information and a scheme for inferencing. In this case, researchers need to develop a comprehensive data analysis plan because issues concerning invalidity or unreliability of tests may cripple one’s study. Moreover, scholars should take adequate time to ensure that the data collection process delivers the necessary data to satisfy the data demands of the data analysis plans.

Tips on How to Write a Good Dissertation or Thesis Proposal

  • Researchers should put in adequate time to write a dissertation proposal because the successful completion of the dissertation hinges on it.
  • The background, problem statement, and significance form the foundation of writing a dissertation proposal.
  • The organization of a research proposal does not imply that authors write individual chapters in that order.
  • The quality of a dissertation proposal depends on the level of detail in all sections.
  • The literature review is the source of the content for all the sections of a dissertation proposal because it offers a link to the existing literature and defines a theoretical framework for the new study.
  • The structure of a dissertation proposal may undergo slight modifications depending on the nature of the research design.
  • A dissertation proposal is a meticulously detailed when compared to a standard research proposal.
  • Students must maintain the logical flow of the standard dissertation proposal structure with no exceptions.

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