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How to write a dissertation proposal

When considering writing a dissertation proposal, there are many factors that can make or break your attempt. It is therefore vital that you are well researched and fully informed as to the structure, content and objectives. The final dissertation is extensive and complex with a minimum of 50 pages up to around 500. All pages must be of quality content, ultimately in the hope of publication and certainly as an essential tool to help a student obtain an academic degree.

The aim here is to provide you with a guide as to how to produce the perfect dissertation proposal which will ensure that there is a comprehensive, easily understood argument provided in response to the proposition and objectives of the set research questions. Below are 10 tips which will help you achieve your goals

The Dissertation Proposal

What is a dissertation proposal - it is your starting point where you will be able to clearly define your objectives with regard to your chosen topic. It is in fact your 'master plan' from which your final dissertation will emerge. Covering research methodologies and literature reviews, it will clearly show your intended approach and method of analysis. Do not under any circumstances feel that this is something that can be taken lightly, as the dissertation proposal is the key factor that will provide you with the outline that you will follow throughout your writing. This will save you a lot of time and ensure continuity. Also, once submitted to your tutor, you will be able to receive some valuable feedback, which will allow you to follow the correct path.

Ask For Advice

Your tutor will be able to provide you with guidance with regard to the style and tone of your research proposal. State exactly what you intend to do and write your proposal with confidence, while remaining constant with a well balanced viewpoint - as this will prove that you are confident about the way that you intend to carry out your study. Remain flexible and open-minded, while displaying that you are willing to adapt your ideas and methods as your research progresses.

Grammar and Spelling

Decide which tense you will use to write your dissertation proposal – future tense is preferred normally such as 'I will be using questions from...' and be sure to stringently follow the rules of correct grammar and spelling.

The Research Topic

Without meaning to state the obvious, you must decide what your research topic will be. Be creative – try to find a subject that has not been frequently covered before. Find a topic that interests you, better still if it is something you are passionate about. Follow your instinct because this will lead you to a suitable and possibly unique research subject. There have always been many recommendations from a variety of different tutor's, whether they be from the field of education or academia, but as great as their advice may be, use it only for guidance because only you know exactly what will excite you and keep you focused during the many hours that it will take you to write your dissertation.

Research Goal

When researching your dissertation proposal, choose a subject where you wish to acquire extra knowledge that will assist you in getting your degree. Your proposal will provide you with a golden opportunity to increase your own knowledge of what could well become your specialist field. Your dissertation is not only an academic opportunity but can lead to a definite professional advantage.

Once you have chosen your topic, you will then be in a position to clearly outline the purpose and reasons behind your academic exploration, objectives and aims. You will also need to clearly show how you intend to contribute to the available knowledge and information regarding your chosen discipline. How you intend to use and progress within this information is also vital. Do not make the mistake of allowing your research to lack depth.

Your Literature Review

A very important part of your dissertation proposal is the Literature Review. As this will provide a great deal of content for your dissertation, you need to focus very specifically on the exact academic literature already in existence. Never forget that you are going to criticise conceptual beliefs, theories and understandings that already exist in order to be able to build on this preconceived knowledge. In this light you must fully appreciate that both your dissertation proposal and subsequent dissertation will rely heavily on the literature that you have used. For example: academic textbooks and journals that are within your area of interest and scholarly articles which provide thorough reviews of your chosen subject.

Your Research Methodology

This is an extremely important section of both your dissertation proposal and the dissertation itself, as you may well need to quote a source. Now that you have identified your area of interest and know exactly which direction you wish to take, your Research Methodology will be the section where you can explain how, as a researcher, you were able to explore the topic and achieve valid research findings. You will need to be very accurate at this point as this will clearly define your intentions and provide you with a very straight and understandable guide as to how you will proceed. How to use research to your advantage depends on your approach, whether it be primary or secondary. You will be able to use qualitative interviews and questionnaires and also either cross-sectional or continuous time horizons. Regardless of the fact that this will be the third chapter of the proposal, the importance of the planning when writing your Research Methodology should not be under-estimated.

Final Findings and Analysis

As with all the sections of your dissertation or the proposal, this is also of great importance. The Findings and Analysis section as this part will describe exactly what you have managed to achieve during your research. This is one of the major reasons why your dissertation proposal should provide as much detail as possible as to your ultimate findings and goals, showing how you intend to utilise them to answer and find solutions to the research aims and questions that arrive in your dissertation. Use this section within your proposal to make things clear in your own mind and also that of your tutor's, as to what your expectations are and as to how you intend to analyse your research findings. Always remember that the importance of the proposal is that it gives you the opportunity to try out different concepts and ideas before producing the final dissertation, ensuring that you ultimately produce a substantial academic paper.

The Discussions and Conclusions

This will be the final chapter of your dissertation proposal and is where you have the opportunity to compound your research findings and the academic literature that you have used in relation to your chosen subject, as to how they all relate within your research objectives. Ensure that you outline specifically any flaws or weaknesses as this is what creates discussion and interest.

You may have discovered a weakness in your research because of the difficulty in finding enough information during your primary search. This is quite normal and will only add to your credibility, as nobody is perfect. Be aware the tutors will not judge you for admitting to a weakness within your dissertation proposal – rather they will appreciate your honesty and maturity in recognising the importance and implications that can happen during actual research.

The Submission

Once your dissertation proposal is complete and has been approved by your tutor, you will then be able to prepare your dissertation using the following guidelines. It should be properly bound and written on A4 paper You may write on both sides providing that the texture of the paper is opaque enough that there will be no show-through. The margins on the binding edge should be no less than 40mm. There is a special order of presentation as follows:

  • The full title together with any subtitles.
  • The total number of volumes and numbers given to each particular volume – assuming there is more than one.
  • The author’s full name as it appears in the University’s student records.
  • The qualification for which the dissertation is submitted (e.g., PhD).
  • The name of the department to which you are registered (e.g., Biology, History).
  • The month and year of the submission.

Good luck to all. Here's to future success.