A dissertation proposal is the first step in writing one's dissertation, a document presenting one's research in support of his or her qualification for an academic degree. Like other research proposals, a dissertation proposal introduces and summarizes one's research goals and proposed methods of investigation. It is a blueprint for research to follow. It is not mandatory to stick to everything as one has presented it in the proposal when completing the dissertation, but the more thorough, clear, and well-researched the proposal, the more smoothly the research will go, and the easier it will be for an academic adviser to provide effective guidance.
The purpose of the dissertation proposal is to convince your committee that there is a research question worth pursuing, and that you are well qualified to tackle it. Every dissertation proposal must include an explicit research question, testable hypotheses, and a detailed plan for testing the hypotheses. The research question should be presented in such a manner as to convince readers that it is both likely to enrich the field in general, and feasible to pursue. As with any piece of writing, consider the audience when writing a dissertation proposal. You can assume that readers are in your general field of study, but should discuss your research clearly enough that the reader need not be a specialist in your particular area to understand it.
Preliminary research is required before writing a dissertation proposal. It is important to locate and read pertinent literature bearing on the proposed research question. The proposal should present an understanding of the state of the field on the issues at hand. Some proposals include a separate section called a literature review in which previous research is discussed, and others incorporate such information throughout the discussion of the research question and how it fits into a larger issue. In any case, the literature should be analyzed and related to one's research question rather than simply listed and summarized.
Writing a dissertation proposal is one of the most difficult parts of the dissertation process, but it is extremely helpful in the work to follow, especially if done well. Take time and care putting together the proposal. It is common to spend months writing it, and to have 15 to 20 drafts before it is finished. In the end, the dissertation proposal should present a well-structured, linear argument convincing the reader that a particular research question must be addressed, and that the proposal writer is the ideal person to address it.