Dissecting Your Thesis Proposal

Your thesis proposal could be the making or breaking of your postgraduate journey.
Jacie Tan
Writer, postgradasia.com

You’ve selected your research topic and discussed it with your supervisor. What next? It’s time to write your thesis proposal! Your thesis proposal is an outline of what you hope to carry out and gain from your future research. Therefore, a thesis proposal must be submitted and accepted by the university before you start any research at all. This often means that you need to get this done at the admissions stage itself.

 A key piece of advice when it comes to writing a thesis proposal is to adhere to the respective guidelines. This article can aim to give you a general guide to what is expected to be found in a proposal, but faculties and universities have their own requirements when it comes to thesis proposals. For example, the length of a proposal could range from 500–5,000 words depending on what is demanded and the nature of the course. The extent of content you should put into your proposal usually corresponds to its length.

Here are the general components to be found in a thesis proposal.

1. Title

Here are the basic pointers for coining a good research title: it should be concise, descriptive and an embodiment of the essence of your thesis. Start by thinking of keywords that describe your study and then create a title that contains those keywords. Unless you are a humanities or social sciences researcher, don’t try to go for an overly catchy and creative title; you should stick to straightforward and sensible ones.

2. Abstract

Sometimes, the university committee might require you to submit an abstract alongside your proposal. Typically, an abstract is a brief summary of your entire thesis and should not be any longer than 500 words. Your abstract is placed at the beginning of your proposal and it gives your readers a first impression of your work. Hence, it might also be easier to write the abstract after you have completed the other sections of your proposal as you have a better grasp of your work by then and know which key points to highlight.

3. Problem statement

The whole point of research is to solve a given problem or limitation. Thus, the problem statement is an important way to let the reader of your proposal know what your motivations are in conducting your research. Although it’s called a problem statement, you shouldn’t just stop at explaining the problem and its significance – go on to introduce the ways your research can contribute knowledge to addressing it.

4. Literature review

This section is for you to lay out and briefly analyse the key theories, models and scholarly works surrounding your research topic. It should also highlight any gaps in the literature concerning your area of interest; if your research proposes to address these, this would be a justification for carrying it out. The literature review should convey to the reader your understanding, knowledge and prior research of the area at hand.

5. Methodology

Your methodology describes the methods that you are planning to use in your research, your rationale for using them and how well it fits your purpose. You should also state the population you wish to examine and define the parameters of your research. Stating your methodology will allow the committee to assess your methods and decide if it is suitable or feasible. You should also address any potential limitations that you will face using this methodology.

6. Schedule and budget

You should submit a proposed timeline which shows how you would allocate the time for completing the research over the duration of your studies. While you do not need to schedule every day and hour, your timeline should be detail how long you expect the individual parts of your research to take – perhaps using weekly or monthly blocs. You may also be asked to provide a research budget, which would include research equipment, supplies, operating costs, etc. Be accurate and itemise as much as possible. 

7. Bibliography

All the sources you have indicated in your proposal should be compiled into your bibliography. Ascertain which citation format you should be using and adhere to it. As this is only the proposal stage, your bibliography does not need to be overly extensive; it should just contain the main texts that you will be using in your research.