Not every dissertation proposal will have the same structure since the specific structure for a proposal varies according to guidelines stipulated from each university department. However, the basic compositions of a proposal (things like theme, audience, purpose, etc.) are one and the same. In addition, the general structure is always similar. To help guide you in writing a winning proposal, this article introduces to you several important concepts. These include the dissertation proposal’s most important aspects, its general purpose, its audience, and its structure.
The article is divided into two parts. This first part discusses the main ingredients of a proposal, the purpose, the audience, and the first few elements of the structure (title, abstract, introduction, problem statement, and purpose/research questions). The second part of this article discusses the remaining structural elements (literature review, methodology, significance, structural overview, workplan, and bibliography/references).
The Main Aspects of a Dissertation Proposal
In general, the main aspects that compose every dissertation proposal include:
Exactly what you intend to study – This includes the scope of your research along with the particular research question(s) you seek to answer.
How you intend to study your topic – This includes the particular research method(s) you plan to use for gathering data and answering your research question(s).
Why your topic should be studied – This is the significance of the study you plan to conduct research for.
When you will finish the work – Most university guidelines stipulate you submit a timeline for completing your work.
The Dissertation Proposal: Purpose and Audience
In addition to the basic elements that compose a dissertation proposal, it is imperative you keep in mind the purpose and audience before and while you write.
Regarding your proposal’s purpose, there are several things you must do. Firstly, your proposal should justify the idea of your research topic by giving a satisfactory rationale behind conducting the study. You must also justify and provide the rationale behind the methodology you’ve chosen. Next, your proposal must satisfactorily show how your planned dissertation would contribute to the existing field of research. Your proposal must also demonstrate that you show a good grasp of how to conduct research in your particular discipline (and to do so in an acceptable time-frame).
Lastly, you should always keep in mind your audience for the proposal. Your audience is rather narrow at this point and includes your dissertation committee, academic adviser, and any other person having an influence in the acceptance or rejection of your dissertation proposal.
Dissertation Proposal Structure
Although your university may provide you with a specific blueprint on how to structure your dissertation proposal, the following structural framework is generally used (your university’s guidelines will likely be very similar to the following guidelines). The first five elements (Title – Purpose/Research Questions) are discussed in this article and the final elements (Brief Literature Review – Bibliography/References) are discussed in part II of this article.
- Problem Statement
- Purpose + Research Questions
- Brief Literature Review
- Research Methodology
- Significance of Study
- Structural Overview of the Study
- Work Plan
A good title for your dissertation should do a couple of things. It should orient your audience to your general research topic and it should indicate the type of study you plan to conduct. Here are a couple of working examples:
- The Role of Guidance Counselors in University Student Career Decision-Making: An In-depth Case Study
- A Cross Case Study of the Applicability of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Three Third-World Countries
The most important factor of an abstract is brevity. At the same time, it should provide a good overview of all the important elements of your study. All this should be done using 100-350 words (refer to your university guidelines or dissertation adviser for specific word counts).
Make sure that your abstract summarizes the following elements of your dissertation proposal:
- Problem Statement
- Background Info
- Research Questions/Hypotheses
- Research Methodology
Keep in mind that your abstract should be the last thing written and inserted into your proposal.
There are several important things you should do in your introduction. First, you should establish the ‘general territory’ of your research topic from the standpoint of the real world or from the standpoint of past research. After that, you should sufficiently describe the general foundations of what your study will be based upon. This would simply be providing any necessary background information that your audience needs to know before they get into the meat of the proposal. Next, you should indicate the general scope of your study. This includes the sample selection and reasons behind the sample selection. To end your introduction, it would be wise to provide a brief overview of the sections that will follow it.
The Problem Statement
You should aim to do the following when describing your problem statement:
- Answer the question: What is the research gap that my study aims to fill? Or what is the problem that needs to be explored and eventually solved?
- You should state the problem clearly and succinctly early in this section.
- It is important that you limit the variables you aim to address when stating your problem or question. Usually, your study should not investigate more than four research variables but this may differ across universities and disciplines.
The Purpose and Research Question(s)
In this section, it is important to cover the following items to make sure you sufficiently explain the purpose of your dissertation as well as its research questions:
- Make a good case of explaining the goals and research objectives for your study.
- Clearly indicate the original contributions that your study aims to make for your particular discipline and research topic.
- Give a comprehensive account of the main points summarized in your introduction.
- Make sure to provide a good argument for the rationale behind your study. You can do this by making sure you answer the question, “why is it important for me to conduct this study?”
- Few doctoral students make the wise decision to make it clear what things their study will not Don’t make this mistake. Otherwise you risk making your study too general and may lose your way later on. Make sure you address the things your study will not do. This will help narrow your study down to what is relevant.
Please refer to Part II of this blog post to read the rest of the article
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