Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Writing a Dissertation Proposal

At some point over the next two weeks I have to finish writing my dissertation proposal, so that my committee has time to read it before I leave for London. Despite the fair amount of work I've already done in this area (and towards my actual dissertation research), I'm finding it quite difficult to summarize the whole thing as a 20 page document. This is compounded somewhat by the fact that our school does not provide any clear template or guidelines about what a proposal should include (apparently the proposal requirement is fairly new, and none of us are completely sure that it's actually required, though certain that it will be helpful in the long run). When in doubt, my tendency is usually to hit the books, and this time is no different. I've been reading through Glatthorn and Joyner's Writing the Winning Thesis or Dissertation for some general advice and parameters. While oriented towards more quantitative / science-esque research projects, they offer the following handy template for what they call "working proposals" (vs. "comprehensive proposals", which are 75 pages long!):
Introduction to the Study = 5 pages
- One or two paragraphs that get the reader "into" the proposal (e.g. "This proposal describes a proposed research study that will examine...")
- Background of the study (sets the context and what external factors might influence the study)
- The problem or thesis statement, hypothesis and research question(s)
- General purpose and/or significance of the study

Review of the literature = 5 pages
- Review the theoretical literature, by reviewing theories and developing a conceptual framework (derived from theory, i.e. identify key concepts and trace their relationships)
- Review the empirical literature (past research on the topic, key findings)
- Link the two
- Relate the review to your own study

Methodology = 15 pages
- Type of research
- Context and access
- Participants (and selection process)
- Data collection
- Data analysis
[****And here I would add chapter outline****]

Appendix: Proposed time line = 1 page

Total = 26 pages + Bibliography

They also remind us to write in the future tense. I'm thinking that I might separate out the "Theoretical/Conceptual Framework" component into its own section...I'll probably still compare the two, but my logic tells me that it should go after the review of past research, to situate my own study and describe how it will contribute/diverge/address past oversights, etc. I might also overlap this with the methodology section a bit, seeing as I'm combining a couple of different theoretical approaches, which in a sense determines my methodology as well.

Another extremely useful resource was one recommended to me by Anil: a whole page full of Sample Dissertation Proposals offered on the University of Texas website. This afternoon, I'm putting aside some time to read through some of these past proposals, see how previous doctoral candidates have put these documents together. According to Anil, the proposals come complete with comments that the authors made years afterwards, pointing out things that they didn't end up doing, or changes made during the research process, what they would do differently, etc. He's also checked on the authority of the authors themselves, and confirms that each proposal was written by a successful PhD (who graduated and is now gainfully employed). Awesome!

Writing a Dissertation - Updated in Nov. 2009:
Here's a graph I made about how to structure the thesis itself, which I put together a few months after my thesis proposal was accepted. It's a summary of key guidelines and advice given in a workshop on "meta-structure" that I took in spring/lent 2008 with Patrick Dunleavy, author of Authoring a PhD: How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Thesis or Dissertation and professor at the LSE. You can also find many of the handouts and presentations Dunleavy uses in his regular workshops, along with various other highly useful resources, on the LSE website. I hope this helps! It's been very useful for me, esp. in keeping an eye on the "big picture" stuff throughout the writing process.


Ann-Marie Pulo said...

Thank you sooo much for your help - i am trying to write the proposal :( but you have been such of great help! Thank you for making life easier :)

Dissertation Writing Help said...

Whenever i see the post like your's i feel that there are still helpful people who share information for the help of others, it must be helpful for other's. thanx and good job.

Sara M. Grimes said...

You're very welcome! Glad I could help :)

svetlana said...

Hi Sara, M svetlana singh. Research scholar of "Impact of advertisements on kids in influencing buying behaviour of family" Could u help me regarding how to write a dissertation in a proper format? some specimen?
Thanks and take care.

Sara M. Grimes said...

well, there are many examples of full dissertations online svetlana - the SFU library, for example, publishes all of the university's PhD dissertations and various others do to. A simple search should yield what you're looking for.

Good luck!