Once you've overcome the first hurdle of identifying a good topic for your dissertation
the next step is to push yourself through the proposal process. Without an accepted proposal there simply is no dissertation for your to pursue.
When building your proposal it's helpful to think specifically of the foundations of your dissertation. This will allow you to see whether or not it has a leg to stand on. What problem are you attempting to solve? How is your problem connected to what is already present in the literature? Does it add anything new to the field of study? You'll be answering these questions as you compose your proposal while simultaneously providing a roadmap for your studies. The same thing that a good introduction does for a paper, so will your proposal do for your dissertation.
Where to begin?
Well a good starting point is to better understand what the dissertation proposal is, its purpose, and how best to construct it. And what better way to find out what something is except by examining what it is not.
What the dissertation proposal is not
Its good to remind yourself when heading down this difficult road, that even though the proposal is a large document in itself, its still not your actual dissertation
. It should not provide all the details and intricacies of your actual paper neither should it prove or argue a point. This confusion sometimes occurs as people are tempted to start their dissertation as they construct the proposal. This is not a good idea. By doing so you will likely delay your proposal even more and run into the problem of speaking confidently about conclusions that you came to, when the proposal is not the place for that. The place for that is the dissertation!
Next: focusing on what's really important.
The most important part of your proposal
Defining the problem that you intend to investigate can be see as the most important component of your proposal; simply because if it is faulty then so is your proposal. Its the main element for which you will be judged, and therefore should be conveyed in the best manner possible. And this is why most dissertation templates will often have a section dedicated to problem definition alone.
Below are a few examples of what you may want to include in this section of your proposal.
When defining your problem you should..
- Clearly and plainly state what the problem is
- Provide any specific questions related to it
- Give definitions of relevant terms or concepts
- List any limitations the problem may have
- Indicate the assumptions you've made
With this, the hope is that if your problem is in-line and precisely communicated then all the other components of the proposal will fall suit. Too often, an unclear problem or question is discovered later on down the line when the methodology needs to be explained or the research design must be laid out. So to avoid an abundance of revisions and last minute changes, dedicate a considerable amount of time to the formation and structure of your problem from the very beginning, and hopefully it will pay off in the end.
In addition to the section of the proposal dedicated to the problem, the other components should also be discussed to better understand the proposal as a whole.
Suggested proposal outline
There are many ways to approach a dissertation proposal
; and many of the variations are connected to the varying disciplines and preferences of colleges or graduate departments. The following outline is only a suggestion and seeks to address the basic components of the proposal.
Provide some brief background information on the problem to be investigated. Introduce the primary research question and summarize the other questions connected to it. Most importantly indicate the significance of the research question and dissertation, why does it matter?
II. Definiton of the problem
To recap what was stated earlier, this section should further define the problem by detailing associated questions, terms, context, background information as well as a justification for the research.
III. Literature review
This section can stand alone or be worked into the previous sections (depending on your preference or requirements). Basically here you will be reviewing relevant theories and and studies that have been done, and set the tone for your research.
The point is to show the review committee that your work is needed and fills a 'gap' or 'hole' that is present in the literature or in a particular field of study. Your review shouldn't just be a summary of sources but should (1) demonstrate your knowledge on the topic; know who the main thinkers are in the field (2) and prove that your work is needed.
IV. Conceptual framework
The conceptual framework is great to situate right before the methodology because it literally 'sets the reader up' for the information contained in it. As the title suggest you will be explaining how your problem fits into a particular structure, the theories that are connected to it, key constructs, the approach that you intend to take in order to tackle it and so on. This helps the reader gain a better idea of how you view the problem and therefore provide them with somewhat of a map or guide for your research.
This may actually be the easiest section to complete. It only entails describing your research plans - what you intend to do and what you need to do it.
Items to include in the methodology section are:
- the type of study you plan to carry out, including why you chose this approach (should have some reference to other research)
- the materials to be used and data sources
- if applicable the population or sample being used etc.
- procedures that you intend to follow
- how you intend to analyze and present the data
Other sections that you may include in your proposal either after the Methodology section or at the end of the document as appendices are a timeline of the project-when you expect to have each item completed, chapter headings for the actual dissertation, pilot data, or consent forms if applicable.