Guide to Writing Effective Proposals

Top Tips for Writing a Good Thesis Proposal

A lot of students spend a considerable amount of time attending workshops where they hope to learn the art of writing good thesis proposals. However, many of these fail to get the process kick-started. Often, the student feels more confused after attending these workshops than they did beforehand.  

Sometimes, taking a look at some samples of thesis proposals for various disciplines can give students a few ideas, but they often do not provide the incentive to start writing. There is a good book by J Bruce Francis called A Step by Step Guide to Dissertation and Thesis Proposal Writing that may motivate you to get started. The following are some of the main suggestions from this book, which is now out of print. 

Before getting started, here is a good proposal writing tip:

You should generally write a proposal using a combination of both the present tense and the future tense. By contrast, you should always write a thesis paper itself in the past tense. 

The tips provided below assume a topic has already been chosen.  

The Main Ingredients of a Good Thesis Proposal

The introductory section (approximately one to two pages)

  • If an introduction is required, it should be written in a way that immediately gets the attention of the reader. This section need not be perfect.
  • The introduction can be written last. You are likely to have a better overview of the entire project when the other parts are complete.

Write a statement concerning the problem

  • The first task is to put the research problem or question into words. Then the question needs to be restated in statement-form and highlight any adverse effects the problem may have.
  • The nature of the study will determine the types of questions it gives rise to. For example, is there a problem in society, e.g., something historical, something that is in dispute or something that is theoretically obscure, that needs to be studied? Is there anything that needs evaluating, e.g., a project, product, program or drug? What is it you hope to produce or create and how will this benefit yourself and society in general?     

Give some background information

  • Get your readers’ interested and convince them that this problem is important.
  • Provide three sound reasons at least as to why this particular problem is significant to yourself and to society. Give two good examples at least of the chosen problem.

State the purpose of your proposal

  • Start by saying, “The primary purpose of this project is to …” analyse, evaluate, interpret, or understand the given problem.
  • Say what the aim of your thesis is. Do not forget that it should be a type of investigative project. 
 

Emphasise the importance of your work

  • Try not to focus on the problem but rather on the benefits.
  • Consider that you are answering the “what does it matter?” question. Answer the following questions to justify your arguments, “Why is this project important?” “Who does it matter to?” “What will become of a program, theory, or society if this study does or does not take place?”

Write a literature review chapter

  • Find and describe in brief terms any literary works, theories or studies that support or refute your view of the given problem. Essentially, this means putting your proposed research project into context by critically analysing a range of existing research materials.
  • Make sure you mention any other methods or approaches that other students have used to study this particular problem.

Write a section on your methodology

  • Use technical terminology or language to describe your current, past and possibly future viewpoints on the research question. 
  • Name three different methodologies you could potentially use for your research, and say why and how each of these might be suitable and feasible. Choose the most appropriate methodology.  

Develop your research hypotheses

  • Say concisely and clearly what results you expect.
  • Concentrate more on the substance of your expected findings than your test methods.

Mention any assumptions you have made

  • List any positions that have not or cannot be tested as well as any global views, accepted beliefs and/or values assumed in your research work.
  • This list should cover any assumptions made about methodologies such as your attitude towards various methods for collecting data and analysing this data. Tell your readers about any biases you have.

Explain any terms you have used

  • You should define the precise meaning of any terms you used in your paper. Elaborate on any term that could confuse readers if left unexplained.
  • Use descriptive language, examples, analogies or synonyms to define in the clearest possible way what each term means i.e. explain terms as their creators would.

Describe any procedures used

  • Provide detailed descriptions of the steps required for every stage of your project i.e. in a way that allows other students to copy your processes.
  • Do not forget that data needs to be interpreted since it does not speak of its own accord.

Project limitations and scope

  • Describe any limitations to your project, e.g., both those of a methodological and conceptual nature.
  • To identify limitations, ask yourself what type of analysis, design, measurement, and sampling would be used in an ideal scenario and how removed from this ideal scenario is your work?

Long-term consequences

  • Do some forward thinking to around three or four years after your project is complete. What long-term effects have resulted from you undertaking or not undertaking this study.
  • If your study has been conducted successfully, the results should confirm or oppose your hypotheses or they might not produce anything conclusive.