As you write your dissertation, your proposal will be a guide, something to refer back to when things are getting out of hand. It’s your declaration of intent, and if it is well-crafted, it should really lighten your load later on.
A research proposal should contain:
- A (working) title
- An introduction to your project
- Research aims
- Research question or hypothesis
- Literature review
- Sections/chapter outline
- Dissertation timetable
Getting these things locked down before you start your research will help you keep your focus and provide you with a kind of anchor to keep you from drifting too far from your goals. One of the hardest parts of writing a dissertation can be maintaining the focus of your project, so a proposal is there to bring you back when you need it.
Some universities or academic departments will not require a proposal of you, but it is worth writing for your own benefit. Here are some useful tips:
Treat it like a full project on its own
Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the time and work that goes into a proposal. Your proposal should be thoroughly researched and well thought out; otherwise it won’t be much use to you (or it could get rejected, leaving you at square one). If you allow yourself enough time with the proposal, it should cut down on your time later. You might want to hire an editor at this early stage, so they’re on board from the beginning and can help you hone your projected aims.
Find your focus
A proposal can be useful in helping you weed out less productive leads. At the beginning of the dissertation process, it is tempting to follow up every idea you have regarding your topic, but it’s fundamental that you find a few elements to focus on or the project will become unmanageable very quickly.
Don’t skimp on the literature review
Make sure you have conducted a thorough literature review as you will need to know where your research will fit into the existing body of work in your field. This will also help you find an angle into your project and provide a firm foundation going ahead.
Don’t get too caught up
While it is important to spend time on your proposal, you don’t want to get preoccupied and end up throwing your actual dissertation off schedule. Make sure it is well-plotted and that you come out of it with a focused hypothesis or research question. You should have a clear direction to head in, but there’s no need to start developing your argument in the proposal. Leave that for the dissertation itself.
Robin Field holds a BA in English and Linguistics from the University of Cape Town where she is currently working toward her Master’s degree in Linguistics with a focus on gender and game studies.