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An Ultimate Guide on How to Write a Dissertation Proposal

August 31, 2021

When you’re a student preparing for an important research project, the first thing you’ll need to learn is how to write a dissertation proposal. A dissertation proposal is essential for getting your research approved and being able to start writing your dissertation. This guide will teach you all the steps in the process of writing your dissertation proposal, in a well-organized and efficient manner.

You’ll learn how long is a dissertation supposed to be, what is a proper dissertation proposal format and how to write each of the main elements of every dissertation proposal, including:

  • introduction
  • problem you’re researching
  • review of the existing literature 
  • questions and hypotheses  
  • methodology
  • purpose and significance of the study
  • references and bibliography

It will help you understand what is a dissertation proposal and figure out the details such as how long should a dissertation proposal be, how are you supposed to structure it, and in what order to list the sections. 

It’ll also help you prepare for the dissertation writing process better, and gather all information you need for this major student undertaking.

How to Write a Dissertation Proposal in 6 Steps

Your dissertation research proposal needs to be written according to certain standards and norms. It's a specific type of academic document that serves a specific purpose. 

That’s why you need to learn about the creation of a dissertation proposal outline, how to structure a dissertation, and how to organize your proposal-writing process. 

You also need to be certain that you're using proper language, maintaining an academic tone and voice, and staying competitive with other dissertation proposals that will be submitted. It's like writing a regular research paper but more complex and extensive. If you have a habit to pay for term papers, you’ll need the right kind of help to master this assignment. 

That's why we've prepared a guide that will teach you everything you need to know about writing a thesis proposal. Here are 6 ultimate steps for writing a dissertation proposal.

Coming up With an Idea

The first step in the process of writing your qualitative dissertation proposal outline is coming up with an idea for your research. 

It'll take you weeks or even months to complete this project which means you need to choose a topic that will keep you motivated and engaged the whole time. If you choose poorly, you'll find completing your research extremely hard.

So, start by choosing a field of interest that you truly love. It should be something broad, and then you'll narrow it down one step at a time. For instance, you can think about a future career you'd like to pursue or choose based on your current favorite subject.

Once you choose a broad field of interest, such as Child Psychology and Development, you'll need to work on narrowing it down.

So, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there a gap in this field I could research?
  • What do I find most interesting in this field?
  • If research has already been done, what unique angle could I explore?
  • What questions would I like to answer?
  • What discoveries would I like to make?

Ask as many questions as possible until you have the main idea of your dissertation and your dissertation proposal.

For instance, Child Psychology and Development can be further reduced to Prenatal Psychology, then to Prenatal Memory, until you finally decide to explore the connection between Prenatal Memory and teenagers’ eating habits.

As you’re working on developing your main idea, avoid making the following mistakes:

  • choosing a topic that’s already been researched extensively
  • choosing a topic that’s too broad and vague
  • choosing a topic that’s too narrow and leaves little room for original research

It'll be almost impossible to find something no one has ever researched about. But, you can ask fresh questions, take a different standpoint, and figure out how to still be unique in your research.

Presenting the Idea in the Introduction

The introduction of your dissertation proposal is the part of the paper that gives a reader background information about the research you’re about to conduct. You need to write a strong introduction to make sure you’ve got everyone’s attention from the first moment, and they understand what your dissertation is going to be dealing with.

But, the introduction also needs to be written according to certain norms and standards. Here are the steps that will help you write an informative and attention-grabbing dissertation proposal introduction:

  • Preliminary background information

The first part of the introduction is supposed to slowly introduce the topic to a reader and justify your research. Explain why you’ve decided to explore this topic and “because it’s interesting to you” is not an acceptable reason. 

Instead, try explaining the gap in the field that you've recognized, as well as the general context your topic fits in. If there are influential researchers who've inspired you, mention them. Also, mention the key notions, ideas, and terminology you’ll be using in your research.

  • Aim and objectives

The second part of the introduction needs to explain what is your main aim and what objectives are you trying to achieve.  In other words, you'll need to explain why your research is important and how it will contribute to the field of study that you've chosen.

So, identify the research questions you want to find answers to and state them clearly in your introduction. Let’s compare these two examples:

  • Do the diet habits of pregnant women matter?
  • Do the diet habits of pregnant women influence prenatal memory and shape a child’s eating habits before birth?

The first one is vague and raises no important questions. The second one is clear, precise, and gives a reader insight into why your dissertation is important.

Exploring Related Research in the Literature Review

Next, your dissertation proposal has to contain a literature review that will put your topic and research into an existing context. You need to show that you’re aware of the research that’s been done so far, and you’re basing your dissertation on the grounds set by previous academics, experts, and researchers.

The one mistake that so many students make is they go too far with the literature review. Remember, nobody wants you to analyze all the research that's been done so far. Instead, you need to find your focus.

For your literature review, you’re supposed to:

  • choose authors you find most influential, inspiring, or revolutionary in this field
  • find the research they’ve done on the same or similar topic as yours
  • explain their main standpoints and discoveries that you’ll use as guiding points
  • cite their most important statements
  • use their definitions of concepts and ideas you’ll need for your research

All of this places your dissertation proposal into a context and gives your reader an idea of how you fit the bigger picture. 

However, you don’t need to blindly agree with or appreciate all the authors that have done similar research before you. You can also point out to:

  • weak spots in their research or methodology
  • gaps that were left behind
  • questions they didn’t manage to answer

This will further justify your choice of a dissertation topic and give you the improvement you’re looking for.

Writing the literature review is sometimes the hardest part for students who don’t quite know how to write a thesis proposal since it requires:

  • identifying reputable sources of information
  • doing extensive reading
  • summarizing other people’s ideas
  • citing them properly

Make sure you first learn how to cite a dissertation in APA, or any other referencing style, and in what way to do a literature review that’s objective. We suggest you take a look at a dissertation proposal example and read other people’s literature reviews to get the gist of it.

Describing Your Methodology: Theoretical and Empirical Research

For the next section of your dissertation proposal, you’ll be explaining how you plan on reaching your objectives and answering the questions you’ve raised. You’ll need to be very specific in explaining how you plan on collecting and analyzing the data for your research. 

Typically, there are two ways for you to do so:

  • theoretical research 
  • empirical research

And, the winning combination is usually the two of these together. So, describing your methodology means explaining both types of research you’ll do, and providing details of your plan on how to make it successful. Here’s what each one implies:

  • Theoretical research

When you're doing theoretical research, you're not collecting any new data, but you're working with the existing research tools and methods you've selected. You need to explain what theories, methods, and procedures will you be using to research and discuss your dissertation topic. You may need help from a custom research paper writing service if this task is too complex for you at first. 

It gives your research a strong foundation and shows what credible theoretical tools you'll use and how you'll reach your conclusions. 

So, you could say:

“John Bowlby’s attachment theory was first introduced for the post-partum period, but it is believed that attachment starts long before birth, during pregnancy.”

This may come as a challenge for some students since they don't know how to choose the right theoretical frame. In case you need help with dissertation writing, you can always get it from your mentor, fellow student, or available online resources and tools. 

  • Empirical research

When you're doing empirical research, you're collecting and analyzing new data which is supposed to lead to fresh and meaningful discoveries. You can choose between a number of quantitative and qualitative research methods for your dissertation:

  • surveys
  • questionnaires
  • interviews
  • observation

You’ll also need to explain how you plan on analyzing the data you collect and presenting the results of your analysis:

  • What tools will you be using? 
  • What variables will you measure? 
  • Why? 
  • How will you present the results?
  • Will there be a visual presentation with charts, tables, or images?

Answer all of these questions in your methodology section and provide a detailed description of how you plan on proving your hypotheses or answering your key questions.

Outlining the Potential Implications of Your Research

If you look at any given dissertation research proposal example, you'll find the section that outlines the potential implications of your research. This section is supposed to further explain to a reader how your research will contribute to the field of study you've chosen and what you plan on achieving.

There can be several implications of your research, and you need to explain each one. Here are some examples of what you may want to achieve:

  • test an existing theory
  • develop a new theory
  • provide new information and data that can serve others for further research

Why is it important to know how to write a Ph.D. proposal implications? Because they show the readers what the true value and purpose of your research is. So, make sure you state it clearly and help readers understand how significant your research can be. This will help you get approval for your dissertation research.

Writing a Dissertation Proposal Reference List or Bibliography

Finally, there’s one last technical aspect of writing a dissertation proposal that you have to include in your, and that is the reference list or the bibliography. Here’s what it is.

A reference list is a list of all the resources you’ve cited in your dissertation proposal. That includes:

  • articles
  • other dissertations
  • case studies
  • academic papers
  • books and publications
  • videos

So, if you’ve used a direct quotation from a resource, you have to include it in your reference list. 

A bibliography, on the other hand, is an even wider list, that includes even those sources you’ve used but haven’t directly cited. 

In both cases, you need to choose a style of referencing, or your university will recommend which one to use. The most commonly used ones are:

  • APA
  • Harvard
  • Chicago 
  • MLA

For each one, you need to follow strict rules about the form and the way you list information including author's names, the title of the work, page number, place, and date of publication, etc. There are online citation generators that can help you deal with this task easily, without having to manually type it all out. 

Still, some students find this task difficult and time-consuming. You can always get help online by searching a phrase such as “write my dissertation for me” and finding the right writing services to help you. 

Your reference list and the bibliography is the final part of your dissertation proposal. Now that you know what it’s going to look like, and what structure it’s going to follow, you can go ahead and write your dissertation proposal abstract. Even though it goes to the top of your dissertation proposal, we suggest you write it last, only once you have a clear idea of what your dissertation proposal is going to look like.

Final Thoughts

There isn’t a student who’s born with the knowledge of how to write dissertations. It takes time and practice to learn how to write a thesis proposal and successfully present your research idea. But, with the right guidance and dedication, you can do it properly even on your first try. Hopefully, our ultimate guide on how to write a dissertation proposal will help you with this process, one step at a time.