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Dissertation Proposal Writing Difficulties: What You Should Be Ready For

As if writing a dissertation or thesis weren't challenging enough, students in doctorate programs must first persuade a committee of learned scholars and professors that they are capable of tackling their chosen subject. If they fail to do so, students will not be allowed to move on, since the dissertation is the document that supports their candidature for a degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).
Because the dissertation is intimidating-it can take years and hundreds of pages to complete-some candidates fail to give this first step the attention and respect it deserves. They often go in underprepared and are unable to convince their doctoral committee that they have what it takes to start writing a major thesis. What they may not consider until it is too late is that the proposal stage is actually an integral part of the eventual writing process.

Why it's important

In addition to getting the greenlight to start writing, the proposal phrase can also help you clarify your opinions, thoughts, believes, and arguments on your subject, as well as the approach you will take. Candidates should be prepared to answer tough questions about their topics and defend their arguments with specific examples.

Thesis Proposal Paper

The purpose of a thesis is to identify a problem in your chosen field and put forth a practical solution on how to solve it, thereby adding to the body of knowledge in that subject. To attain approval from your doctoral committee, you must submit a thoughtful and persuasive proposal paper. The length of this document varies from school to school, but it is typically between 12 and 20 pages. While students generally receive guidance when it comes to selecting their topic and the methods they will use to solve the problem, they are expected to compose their proposal paper on their own.

General Guidelines

Colleges and universities are quite strict when it comes to every stage of the dissertation process, including the proposal paper. They often have their own format guidelines that should ensure success, i.e., approval, if you provide all the information they ask for. It is, however, important not give them more than they want or need. Many students make the mistake of overwriting their proposals and end up with a turgid mess of a paper that fails to impress anyone. So, stick to the key points!


If you ignore the specific formatting guidelines that your school has prescribed, your paper may be returned unread. That's right! The committee may reject it if your proposal paper is too long, does not have numbered pages, or is not double-spaced. There are many other formatting rules that must be followed to the letter, but the aforementioned infractions are easily the most common. Never make the mistake of simply assuming that your school follows general formatting rules for thesis proposals. If you can't find any specific information on the internet, ask one of your instructors to provide them for you.


Once again, this is a general discussion of the dissertation writing process. Your school may have its own specific set of standards, so always double check before you put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. With that said, the following content sections can be found in most thesis proposal papers.

1. Title of the Study

For obvious reasons, you can't start writing anything until it has a working title. This title can be revised and rephrased during the writing process, so don't worry too much if it's not perfect at the outset. A doctoral committee very rarely rejects a dissertation based entirely on the fact that it has a prosaic or uninspired title. More often than not, they will simply recommend that you rework it during the writing process.

2. Abstract

This section is typically quite brief, often only about a page and should summarize the major sections of the proposal, including the Introduction, Statement of the Problem, Background of the Study, Hypotheses, and the Procedures and Methods sections. Keep it short and sweet and don't go into too much detail.

3. Introduction

This is the section where you inform your readers of the problem that is under investigation and give them a general overview of the issues, history, and the circumstances that produced it.

4. Statement of the Problem

This should be easiest section to write in the entire paper, but some candidates over think it. Really, all you have to convey in these two or three short sentences is why you're writing your paper. Use precise language and avoid unsupported opinions.

5. Background of the Study

While it is okay to have an atypical, even iconoclastic opinion on an issue, a thesis paper always exists within a larger, established body of knowledge. In this section, you must provide a general background that supports your theoretical study based on your subject or chosen field.

6. Research Questions

These inquiries are a logical extension of the Statement of the Problem section. They should be presented clearly and concisely and frame the basis of your investigation into the problem and how to solve it. These questions should be simple and easy for even the layperson to understand. Avoid the temptation of overcomplicating them by including allusions to little-known researchers or academics in the field. Doctoral committees want you to answer the big questions first before you move on to a few more specific, even obscure ones.

7. Procedures and Methods

Now that you have answered the "why," you must turn you must focus to the "how." How exactly will you obtain and examine data and information during your study? What controls will be utilized to ensure accuracy and consistency and what sampling technique will you employ? Don't forget to explain the technique that will be used to analyze all data that is related to hypotheses or research questions.

8. Limitations

Modesty is required to complete this next section. You must address any possible weaknesses or shortcomings of your study, from the assumptions it makes to how research will be analyzed and interpreted. For some supremely confident doctoral candidates, this is the most difficult section to write. Our advice? Put your ego aside and accept the fact that all studies have flaws, but those weaknesses do not necessary negate them.

9. References

Just like any research paper, you must cite all of the sources you used in your proposal paper. Failure to do so could result in immediate rejection. So, always take the extra ten minutes to properly cite your sources.

Martha Buckly


Martha is a good freelance writer and loves sharing posts on different topics including tips and guidelines for articles and academic writing. Her professional experience helps to create interesting and useful material. writer

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