How to Write a Proposal for Dissertation or Thesis

19 Jul 2023

how to write dissertation proposal

Congratulations on getting this far. Writing your dissertation proposal is a crucial stage as you near the end of your education journey. Similar to other written work you have worked on, writing your thesis will require devoting enough time for planning and structuring your content. You need to have a clear outline that defines every step from selecting a topic to coming up with the relevant support. The process will be daunting, but in the end, it will be worthwhile. More so there are various factors you should consider when you wonder how to write a dissertation proposal for undergraduate, Masters, or Ph.D. level.

The purpose of a thesis or dissertation is to produce an original piece of research on a specified topic. Although this is the most difficult piece of writing, it can be the most rewarding. You only need to know the basics as well as the fundamentals of writing a dissertation proposal paper which we will outline in this paper.

What is a Dissertation Proposal?

As the name suggests, a dissertation proposal is a proposal for the final dissertation project aimed at convincing the committee that you will be committed to solving a complex question or issue. This is written for a doctoral degree. It is shorter than the final dissertation since it acts as a Ph.D. thesis outline. Here you will identify the main question and develop a plan on how to gather relevant information and how and when to start writing the paper.

With a dissertation proposal outline, it is easier to follow up with your mentor since all the points are laid down and which makes it easier identifying any defects or gaps in the outline. There are various aspects of a dissertation prospectus that you should consider. These are inclined towards selecting the right topic, title and question. Your thesis proposal should answer the following questions.

  • What issue is your dissertation going to handle?
  • How does the issue affect your academic, research, and the targeted community?
  • Why is it important to solve the issue?
  • How will you obtain a solution?

What is a Thesis Proposal?

Unlike dissertation proposals that are written at the doctorate level, a thesis proposal is made when pursuing a master’s degree.  It is more like a research paper that is done at the undergraduate level only that it is more diverse. It tests your critical thinking ability and your capacity to identify a problem and plan effectively to find a solution.

This is a roadmap that helps you move from point A (uninformed idea) to B (thoroughly researched and thought through idea).

How to Write a Dissertation Proposal?

Before gaining your doctoral degree, you need to present your final dissertation paper. However, the success of your final paper is determined by the foundation laid by the Ph.D. proposal.  Below are some insights on how to write the best Ph.D. dissertation proposal.

How Long Should a Dissertation Proposal be?

The recommended dissertation proposal should not be less than 10 pages. The average length is between 15-20 pages

Dissertation Proposal Structure

A dissertation prospectus can be written in many ways. However, they generally contain several components which are

  1. Title page

The title page for your proposal is similar to the final dissertation and should include;

  • The title of the paper
  • Author’s name
  • Instructor/ mentor’s name
  • Institutional Name
  • Date of Submission
  1. Table of contents

This is a list of headings, subheadings, and their pages. You can use Microsoft Word’s table of contents which automatically updates whenever you amend your document.

  1. Introduction

By reading your introduction, your reader should understand the reason you undertook your research. Your wording should capture the reader’s attention and trigger an interest to want to go through your work. It should highlight the topic of the paper as well as the main idea.

  1. Chapter 1: Background and Context

This section should highlight the problem at hand and the importance of the research. You should include a brief history of the problem relating it with the current situation. Ensure you also capture important recent developments.

  1. Chapter 2: Problem Statement and Analysis

This is the section that gives a clear outline of the problem at hand, including but not limited to.

  • The people responsible for the problem
  • The existing efforts and strategies to solve the issue
  • What will happen if the problem is not solved

This chapter should also include the research designs to be used.

  1. Chapter 3: Objective and Final Outcome

You should clearly outline the expected results. This helps shed light on what you are working towards.

  1. Chapter 4: Conditions and Risk Analysis

This chapter should be dedicated to highlight and discuss the anticipated constraints with your project. Examples of these constraints include money, materials, location, expertise, time and participant availability. In the case of risk analysis, make sure you access any possible risk that may be associated with the research and come up with measures to avoid them.

  1. Chapter 5: Approach

This is the section where you should give an outline of the steps you will take to attain the desired outcomes and objectives. This should also include a general planning calendar of when each stage will be accomplished and the amount of time for each.

  1. Reference List

This should include all the sources of information used in the doctoral dissertation proposal.

Dissertation Proposal Format

The general dissertation proposal format includes;

  1. Title
  2. Statement of the problem
  3. Background and history
  4. Justification of the problem
  5. Literature review
  6. Methodology/ Theoretical framework
  7. Research schedule
  8. Bibliography

Dissertation Proposal Abstract

This is a crucial part of your paper since your mentor/committee will use the information in this section to judge the nature and the significance of the topic. Thus, make sure the information in this part is sufficient and adequate to pass your idea and convince the reader that the research is worth undertaking. It should be approximately 250 words.

Apart from highlighting the main points, this section should also include additional undergraduate co-authors and a list of faculty mentors.

Dissertation Proposal Outline

The minimum requirements of a dissertation proposal outline should include

  • An overview of the paper
  • The body
  • Present research
  • Conclusion

Dissertation Proposal Outline Examples

A recommended outline should have all the aspect discussed above. Better still, you can use an example of how to write a research proposal  samples available online but only make use of these sample for inspiration.

How to Write a Thesis Proposal

As earlier stated, a thesis proposal outline is a roadmap that guides you from point A to B. This roadmap will be submitted to your mentor, advisors, or committee and for them to approve.

How long should a Thesis Proposal be?

A thesis proposal should be shorter than the actual thesis and should be approximately 10-20 pages.

Thesis proposal format

The topic proposal outline of a thesis is typically structured around common sections that play a crucial role in planning your project. These include

  1. Title pageThis features identity information; the authors’ name, the tutor/mentor’s name, the institution and department, and date. It also has a descriptive title for the thesis.
  2. AbstractIt features a summary of the research proposal in approximately 200 words. It gives an overview of the introduction to the topic, the main elements or issues in the paper, how you will address the issues, and the implications of your work if successfully completed.
  3. Table of ContentsThis is a list of all the titles and subtitles of your paper with page numbers for each. It is designed to make navigation easier through the proposal.
  4. IntroductionThis sets the context of your work and must capture the readers’ attention. You need to provide a reason the research was necessary and the background of the topic.  It should start with a broad perspective, narrowing the concept to the thesis statement.
  5. Primary QuestionsThese are the key questions that form the basis of your research and answer the thesis statement.  These questions should be relevant and should shed light on the direction of the research while providing a direction towards the intended solution.
  6. Literature ReviewThis is a brief but precise overview of the sources you plan to use for research. It explains their significance, and highlights your current knowledge base on the topic as well as your future goals for the research and whether they relate to the problem at hand.
  7. MethodologyOutlines the methods you used to develop academic writing paper and helped you come up with solutions for the main questions. This could feature, but is not limited to, analytical frameworks, theoretical approaches, formulas, equations, philosophies, and experiments.
  8. ConclusionThis is where you discuss the expected results of your research. You should also outline the expected contributions of the research and the methods used to ensure that the proposed results are obtained. This should be followed by a thesis proposal summary which emphasizes the goals of the study.
  9. BibliographyThis is a list of references used while writing a thesis proposal.

Thesis Proposal Outline


  • Introduction to Problem
  • Relevance of solving the Problem
  • Knowledge gap


  • Related research
  • Current understanding
  • Research questions


  • Materials and instruments
  • Samples
  • Procedures and interventions
  • Analysis of statistics
  • Projected results
  • Alternative plans

Thesis Proposal Outline Examples

There are various thesis proposal outlines that you can access online. But not all of these samples follow the standard structure and requirements. It is always advisable to get examples of papers similar to your case study, but this should only be sources of inspiration and ideas and nothing else. This, plus the information outlined above is all you need to come up with an outstanding paper.

How to Prepare a Thesis or Dissertation Proposal Presentation?

After all the research and writing, the other crucial step is the presentation. You might have a convincing masterpiece paper but your presentation may not convince your audience or panel that the research is worth undertaking. Presentation is important in persuading the audience of your research which helps you gather valuable feedback, feasibility, and suitability.

With all the handwork, the last mistake you want to commit is to bore your audience. Come up with a visual thesis proposal that will impress and move the audience. You might consider using element of video animation to tell a captivating story and persuade your supervisor. Here are 5 tips that will help with your presentation.

      • Introduce Yourself and Your Thesis Proposal

Let your audience know what your thesis entails and why you chose the title.

      • Have the Right Information

Have your main points highlighted. You need to be subjective. This means to present areas you fully understand and can answer any question raised. Be sure to explain entertainingly. Enhance creativity by show personality, and some humor.

      • Explain With Video Animations and Visuals

Humans are visual creatures which give you an opportunity to use color psychology to help evoke emotions. Use insightful video animations to help explain your point further. Some colors you should use include blue (suggests certainty and trust), Green (harmony and balance) and Red (passion and drive)

      • Balance Content and Flow

Your content should have a consistent blend of text, visuals and video animation to help support each key concept. Every new concept should be in a separate slide with everything that your tutor needs to know. Another major aspect you should consider is the audio. Sound sets the scene and creates an atmosphere. You should make sure there is a perfect blend of all these factors.

      • Have a Back-Up Plan Ready

Not having a backup plan is a recipe for disaster. Make sure your laptop battery is fully charged and have an extra battery to be on the safer side. It is also advisable to carry a copy of the presentation.

Tips for Successful Dissertation Proposal Defense

This is a crucial step and the preparation to defend your research proposal can be overwhelming. We have summarized some of the tips that will help you through your thesis. Take time to research and create a presentation keeping in mind the factors we have outlined above about your presentation. While preparing for your defense make sure you thoroughly prepare yourself. Whenever you feel overwhelmed by the work, you can seek Ph.D. proposal writing service to ensure all areas are covered before presenting the work.  Prior to the proposal defense, all committee members must have read your proposal. After obtaining approval from the committee chair, make sure all the members of the committee receive your paper at least two weeks in advance. Here are a few tips to help with your defense

      1. Determine Expectations

Every institution has its specific guidelines for proposal defense. In most cases, the presentation takes 30-40 minutes. Ensure that your presentation will convince the panel that your topic is important enough to receive funding. It should be reassuring that there are higher chances of completing it successfully. Make sure you can present the work and answer any question without having to refer to your notes. The committee should see that you have an in-depth understanding of the topic.

      1. Prepare Questions

There will be various questions, and a major part of the process will be providing answers to these queries. Some members of the committee might need clarification of your quantitative dissertation while others will try to find holes in your proposal. Thus, you need to rehearse on what you expect them to ask and make sure you have adequate and convincing answers.

      1. Know Relevant Literature

You are not expected to present research results. However, you should be familiar with statistics from relevant literature. You should get an idea of similar studies that have been done and how they can affect your results. The committee will be expecting evidence that your dissertation will be of high quality.

Most students start writing a thesis proposal with great enthusiasm, but this intimidating project has thrown some to despair. The planning, research, and writing is one of the longest and most challenging adventures you will accomplish in your education career. However, with commitment, this can turn to be the best educational adventure. The primary purpose of developing a proposal is to convince your committee that your work will have a beneficial contribution to your field. Although the requirements of writing a dissertation proposal vary from one Masters/Ph.D. program to another, the tips discussed above will be essential to solving your worry on how to write a dissertation or thesis proposal.

While developing your paper, pay attention to what your research will achieve, why it is important and what value it will add to your field of study.  Don’t forget to include a bibliography of all the sources used in the paper. Make sure you choose a topic that you are passionate about and your thesis statement should be based on strong arguments and credible sources but should at the same time contribute to the community or the area you are working in.

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