Dissertation Proposal: A Journey Map


Experienced researchers will tell you that just about everything you state in your dissertation proposal will be tweaked or omitted once you conduct your research. Then why is the proposal so important? Famed philosopher Seneca once said, “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” The proposal helps you finalize a destination with a rough plan on how to get there. You may change your mind later, but until you starting making preparations for the journey, you’ll never get there.

Here are the important sections of your proposal:

1. Problem Outline: A proposal must begin with an outline of the dissertation topic, often described as the “research problem”. In this section you pitch your topic; you describe its finer details, its scope, and its importance and perhaps even suggest its possible applications. Don’t make too many strong claims though; keep the tone objective and informative.

2. Literature Review: This section summarizes the contents of studies related to your dissertation proposal’s topic. For instance, consider a finance dissertation on the financial instruments that led to the current economic crisis. Your literature review will include material devoted to many aspects such as:

– The nature of the developed financial markets and the interlinkages between them
– The nature of the financial instruments, particularly Collateralized Debt Obligations
– How these instruments came to exist
– Various financial institutions embroiled in the crisis
– The importance of certain financial instruments on the balance sheet of different financial institutions
– Portfolio structures of investments banks before, during and after the crisis

There will be wealth of information available on each of these subjects and your task will be to read it, evaluate it and outline its relevance or applicability to your topic. For tips on how to develop such an analysis, you could check out the posts on writing a critical essay and an evaluation essay.
3. Methodology: This dissertation proposal section describes how you plan to study the problem. Suppose your sociology dissertation deals with the attitude of restaurants towards employing people from a certain ethnic group. Now, employers won’t openly admit to racism in a questionnaire. You might have more luck discerning attitudes with an interview where you ask indirect questions. Another way would be to study the percentage of people who get selected from that ethnic group per the number of applicants from that ethnic group and then compare that with other ethnic groups, controlling for other factors like experience and qualifications. Or you could conduct a case study of two closely located restaurants where one has a high percentage of employees from that ethnic group. There are many approaches to studying the problem, but you must play devil’s advocate and narrow them down, clearly explaining how you did so.

4. List of references

5. Appendix: Any additional illustrative documents such as a draft of the questionnaire

6. Dissertation Abstract: Write this last but mention it first in the dissertation proposal

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