Writing the Dissertation Proposal – Prepare for Some Frustration

How to Write the Dissertation Proposal

Getting a handle on how to write a dissertation proposal is a “heavy lift.” You may have completed lots of coursework, and you may have already read a lot of prior dissertations in your research field. None of them, however, will contain a dissertation proposal. And yet, here you are, ready to craft one for your dissertation.

How to Write a Dissertation Proposal

No one really teaches you how to do this. Your department has guidelines which, of course, you will need to follow in detail – no proposal will be approved that does not comply with every specification of those guidelines. And the specifications for a psychology dissertation proposal may be far different from one in computer science.

Beyond that, you are sort of on your own. There are a couple of things that you can do to help yourself:

  1. Find recent graduates from your department and ask to see their proposals. Having models to emulate can really help.
  2. Discuss your proposal with your advisor – sometimes s/he will provide some substantive help.

In the end, however, you will have to sit down and do your own dissertation proposal writing. If you are struggling with how to write dissertation proposal, you may benefit from at least a brief explanation of the parts that are common, whether that is a psychology proposal or one in architecture.

  1. State Your Research Question in a Scholarly Manner

And once you state it, let your reader know whether answering this question will support earlier research, add something new to our field, or perhaps call into question prior research. You have to have a purpose for your research.

  1. Justify Your Question and Summarize Your Early Research

You have to prove that your research question is important – important to your field. Spend some time thinking about what contribution you will be making.

Part of this “proof” will involve the findings of the research literature you have studied up to this point. Summarize that research within the context of your question.

  1. Describe Your Research Design

How are you going to attack your question? Provide brief detail of your design, including your study population, how you will implement this design, and the results you hope to get.

  1. Propose a Timeline

This is not completely rigid, but you do have to provide the committee with your plan for writing a dissertation proposal within the general parameters of the same types of works. Normally, a dissertation will take 12-18 months. Show your benchmarks for completion of each part of your work.

The Frustration

how to write a dissertation proposal

Dissertation proposal writing doesn’t seem so bad at first. When you submit that proposal, however, you may experience some frustration. Most are not approved the first time they are presented. Why? Because a committee is made up of several scholars, each of whom has his/her own agenda. So, you may get suggestions for changes and some criticism of certain parts. Take these into consideration and do try to incorporate those suggestions – at this point, it is a bit political.

How to Write a Great Proposal

Ultimately, every Ph.D. candidate gets his/her proposal approved. It’s a question of how many re-writes must occur. Make sure you have every detail of the guidelines included; run it by your advisor; and when you get stuck, get some professional help.