What is a Dissertation Proposal?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2019
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A dissertation proposal is the first step in writing one's dissertation, a document presenting one's research in support of his or her qualification for an academic degree. Like other research proposals, a dissertation proposal introduces and summarizes one's research goals and proposed methods of investigation. It is a blueprint for research to follow. It is not mandatory to stick to everything as one has presented it in the proposal when completing the dissertation, but the more thorough, clear, and well-researched the proposal, the more smoothly the research will go, and the easier it will be for an academic adviser to provide effective guidance.

The purpose of the dissertation proposal is to convince your committee that there is a research question worth pursuing, and that you are well qualified to tackle it. Every dissertation proposal must include an explicit research question, testable hypotheses, and a detailed plan for testing the hypotheses. The research question should be presented in such a manner as to convince readers that it is both likely to enrich the field in general, and feasible to pursue. As with any piece of writing, consider the audience when writing a dissertation proposal. You can assume that readers are in your general field of study, but should discuss your research clearly enough that the reader need not be a specialist in your particular area to understand it.


Preliminary research is required before writing a dissertation proposal. It is important to locate and read pertinent literature bearing on the proposed research question. The proposal should present an understanding of the state of the field on the issues at hand. Some proposals include a separate section called a literature review in which previous research is discussed, and others incorporate such information throughout the discussion of the research question and how it fits into a larger issue. In any case, the literature should be analyzed and related to one's research question rather than simply listed and summarized.

Writing a dissertation proposal is one of the most difficult parts of the dissertation process, but it is extremely helpful in the work to follow, especially if done well. Take time and care putting together the proposal. It is common to spend months writing it, and to have 15 to 20 drafts before it is finished. In the end, the dissertation proposal should present a well-structured, linear argument convincing the reader that a particular research question must be addressed, and that the proposal writer is the ideal person to address it.


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Post 6

@NathanG - Some essay services do offer some legitimate help, such as editing and so forth, without actually writing the paper, but I agree that you do need to be careful.

I would suggest that anyone who wants to go online for assistance get a sample dissertation proposal. You can find a few on the Internet.

The proposals are usually no more than fifteen pages. They have sections for an overview, research questions and terms, as well some insight into the proposal writer’s qualifications for writing the dissertation.

Post 5

Given the importance of both the dissertation proposal and the dissertation itself, I’d like to offer a word of caution to anyone needing essay help in either of these areas.

Don’t get the help from the Internet. Most so-called essay help services are doing nothing more than offering to write your paper, which I guarantee you is not something you want to do.

Professors are aware of the essay mills on the Internet and will usually pass your writing through some kind of plagiarism check. If you’re found out, that will kill your degree and certainly harm your career.

If you need real help, avail yourself of the writing services on campus, or make a point to meet with your professor if he offers to assist.

Post 4

@Mammmood - I never saw that movie, but I don’t doubt that political forces are sometimes at play in academia when determining what does and does not get published. This holds true for peer reviewed published articles after graduation, too, in my opinion.

If a scientist tries to pass of a radical thesis to a scholarly journal, I’m sure the editors will consider the reputation of their publication before deciding whether to publish the work, regardless of how good the science is.

I do believe that there are two concepts that the proposal writer must keep in mind for his dissertation topics. First, can the question they’re pursuing be adequately answered in his dissertation (as opposed to being open-ended) and is the solution to the question “novel”?

That’s the word the professors like to throw around; novelty means that the dissertation writer must have a new way of solving the problem. It can’t be a rehash of old ideas.

Post 3

@indemnifyme - Dissertation writing is the most important part of course completion for the graduate student, so I understand why the dissertation proposal would be an important first step. Choose the wrong topic question upon which to write your dissertation, and you could end up not getting your Master’s or PhD.

I remember watching the movie “Dark Matter.” This Chinese whiz kid came up with an idea for his dissertation, and passed it by his professor. To make a long story short, the professor shot it down.

The proposal question had to do with the astronomical concept of dark matter, and the student was basically undermining one of the professor’s theses on the subject, or something to that effect. In other words, there was some conflict of interest.

The student plowed ahead anyway, and didn’t get his degree. The moral of the story: getting approval from the higher ups is part of paying your dues when pursuing your graduate degree.

Post 2

@sunnySkys - Wow that does sound kind of nerve wracking. Like a job interview but worse!

I've never written a dissertation but the dissertation proposal sounds to me like it's basically an outline. I always found outlines to be a good tool when I wrote research papers, so I'm sure a dissertation proposal works the same way. It's probably one of those things people hate doing but in the end are glad they did.

Post 1

Writing a dissertation proposal is very time consuming, as the article says. A friend of mine recently got her masters and she said the hardest thing about her dissertation was the proposal!

She also had to present her proposal to a committee for review. She said it was extremely nerve wracking to give her oral presentation in front of several people. Her review committee asked her so many questions and seemed so unimpressed she was afraid her proposal wasn't going to be approved. However, in the end her proposal was accepted.

She told me that after all that actually writing the dissertation was kind of a breeze!

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