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Stage 6: Writing a Dissertation Proposal

A dissertation proposal persuades your committee that your dissertation will pursue an interesting and worthwhile question; furthermore, the proposal demonstrates that you are a scholar clearly capable of:

  • explaining the significance of your question
  • setting out a plan for gathering data and assembling information
  • pursuing substantive examination of materials gathered
  • locating materials germane to your focus
  • investigating promising hypotheses, and
  • presenting a sound analysis of ideas to an academic audience

The proposal also helps you clarify your thoughts, arguments, and approach to your topic. The proposal is not a time to prove or claim you have read every article, book and monograph related to your proposed dissertation focus. Consider these questions when first drafting a proposal:

  • What problem are you going to tackle?
  • Why is it a problem?
  • Why is it important to solve it?
  • Where are you going to look for answers?
  • Why are you going to look there?

Be sure to make clear and explicit the ways in which your conclusions or hypotheses follow from the assumptions, ideas and research you have outlined in the proposal – and locate your own work within the field of study.

Step 1: Determine your department’s timelines and content requirements.

Step 2: Determine which of the following resources can most usefully serve as guides while you draft your proposal.

  • "Some Thoughts on Dissertation Proposal Writing" focuses on social science and humanities proposals, suggests ways of embedding traditional literature review materials as integral elements of the proposal, and encourages sharing the proposal writing process with peer readers as well as the dissertation chair.
  • Michael Watts' essay "The Holy Grail: In Pursuit of the Dissertation Proposal" provides a smart foundation for approaching and understanding independent research.
  • "Dissertation Proposal Workshop: Timeline" sets out an approach for writing the dissertation proposal that is linked to grant/funding applications with sections on Prewriting, Early Administration, Focused Writing and Administration, Editing & Submission.
  • "Dissertation Proposal and Proposal Meeting" focuses on developing education & social science proposals structured on the model of "the dissertation proposal consists of the first three chapters of the dissertation: Introduction, Literature Review; and Methodology."

Step 3: Return to your Research Questions (Stage 2)

  • Determine that you have, indeed, developed a good central question and that you have thought through your basic ideas for pursuing this question and any auxiliary questions
  • Go to S. Joseph Levine, Michigan State University, and see "Preparing the Proposal" (points 8-16).

Step 4: As you develop the proposal, determine how you will work with your primary advisor, your dissertation chair, and your dissertation committee.

  • Return to "Questions to ask to help select an advisor" (from Stage 5) to renew your understanding of when and how and from whom you will solicit feedback
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