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What is a Thesis Proposal?

By Jessica Saras
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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When working on a masters or doctoral degree, in most cases, a student must submit an extensive thesis or dissertation. Before this, however, he or she must also submit a thesis proposal, or detailed summary of the dissertation. Presented as both a written report and seminar, this proposal is carefully reviewed by a committee, who determine if the subject is appropriate and whether the topic is relevant to the field of study. If the committee does not see any value in the chosen topic, the thesis will not be approved. As a result, the proposal is one of the most important parts of a dissertation, as it determines whether the student can write it.

A successful thesis proposal outlines the thesis topic, defines all of the issues the paper will address, and explains why the topic warrants further research. To properly fulfill these criteria, it should identify a specific problem and provide a detailed solution for that problem. Although the proposal requires a very basic structure, the information included in the document is quite detailed. In fact, a large amount of the material presented in the thesis proposal will likely be used in the final thesis.

A thesis proposal should include a title page and brief summary, or abstract, of the proposal. The abstract introduces the audience to the thesis topic and offers a brief summary of how the student plans to address the subject. Although the abstract should usually be no more than 200 words, it is a very important element in the proposal, as it defines the key statement of the thesis.

Following the abstract, the student should next include a table of contents, introduction, and thesis statement. The introduction will explain the background of the thesis topic, review what the student knows about the subject, and detail any research that is relevant to the thesis. The primary objective of the introduction is to capture the interest of the audience, so it should be written in a clear and easy-to-understand style. As the name implies, the thesis statement should state the thesis; this can be done in the form of a research question, project statement, or hypothesis.

The next element in a thesis proposal should be the approach, or methods, section. In this area, the student should provide a brief description of the research methods and materials he or she will use to complete the thesis. This should be followed by a section presenting any preliminary research he or she has done, and explaining how that research applies to the topic.

After discussing the preliminary research, the proposal should then address the implications of the research. In this section, the student should describe what type of new information the thesis will provide and why this information is important. The student should next list all references that he or she plans to use in the thesis. This list should also include citations for any ideas or concepts that are not his or her own.

A student should plan to spend approximately one to three months working on a thesis proposal. Once he or she has completed all of the required elements, the student should carefully review all of the information prior to the presentation. The thesis proposal determines whether the thesis topic will be approved, and more importantly, helps the student write a better dissertation.

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Discussion Comments

By lightning88 — On Dec 25, 2010

Hi. I am starting to work on writing my undergraduate thesis proposal, and I was wondering if you could give me some advice.

I am a creative writing major who was thinking about trying to actually publish my thesis in the form of a book, and I am just really stuck about how to write a proposal for that.

I mean, what thesis proposal format would you even start with to propose that? I have looked through a lot of different thesis proposal examples, but none of them really seem to fit what I am trying to do.

Do you have any advice as to how I could present this topic, or even just what kind of proposal format I should go for? I am really lost here, so any help would be more than appreciated!

Thanks!

By TunaLine — On Dec 23, 2010

Very nicely written. I remember when I was writing my doctoral thesis proposal just feeling so overwhelmed by the whole thing, since it's just so involved.

I was lucky enough to be writing on a topic that I really cared about, and was very enthusiastic in researching, but even then, there were some times when I just really wasn't sure that I wanted to keep going with it.

I think that everybody feels that way with their thesis proposal at one time or another during the proposal writing process though, whether you're writing a PhD thesis proposal or an undergraduate one.

It's just part of the creative process. But I can tell you, to those of you currently in the depths of despair over whether you'll ever get through your thesis alive, trust me, you will. You can do it!

By EarlyForest — On Dec 21, 2010

Thanks so much for this article -- I found it very interesting. I am just now starting to think about my thesis proposal for next year, and I am really actually pretty intimidated after reading all this stuff about thesis proposal writing.

I mean, I thought that it would be pretty straightforward, i.e., you just write what you're thinking about doing and then that's it, but it seems a lot more complicated than that.

For example, I saw one sample thesis proposal that actually looked more like a business proposal than anything else. Granted, it was for a business class, but it just kind of made me worried about my own proposal. I'm an art major, so surely I won't have to do something like that, right?

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