How to write a thesis proposal

How to write a thesis proposal

For grad students, the most important proposal in the world is the thesis proposal. The thesis proposal is an outline of the research work you plan to do in your thesis or dissertation.

It’s a roadmap — on which your academic and professional career depends. As with any other type of proposal, the more careful the planning, the better the results you’ll get from your thesis proposal.

Once you have decided on a topic — which is admittedly the hardest part of the whole process, though not our focus here – the fun of putting together the thesis proposal itself begins. After that hurdle is overcome, writing the proposal is challenging, but rest ease academic Panda pals, once again, we’ve got your back.

But before we start, let’s clarify a few issues though that are partially covered above.

What is a thesis proposal?

As we said, a thesis proposal is a summary that details an outline of your work. It identifies a problem that you’re researching, clearly states all the questions that will be researched as well as describes the resources and materials you need.

What makes a good thesis?

First and foremost, a good thesis is the final result of your thesis proposal and should show the committee that further writing will continue with the research outlined in your proposal. A good thesis will prove that your work is important and relevant. The thesis should also show that you are confident that you have the right approach and tools to solve the proposed problem.

This how-to will tell you how to write a thesis proposal in 5 simple steps

We’ll go the extra mile by providing you with an easy-to-swipe, free thesis proposal template that you allow you to simply fill in the blanks.

Here are the points we’ll cover in this how-to:

  1. Outlining
  2. Knowing the structure
  3. Planning the writing
  4. Writing the thesis proposal
  5. Proofing your proposal

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Outlining

Your thesis proposal starts with outlining the materials you’ve gathered. This is very important because the thesis proposal is as much for your benefit as it is your instructor. If you can carefully outline the parts of the thesis, you can follow the outline in conducting the research to develop the actual project.

What your instructor is likely looking for is evidence in your proposal that you understand the process of research. Making it clear that your research will incorporate reviewing and integrating relevant literature is big part of the proposal.

To do this most effectively, you need to know the structure of a thesis proposal.

Step 2: Knowing the structure

You need to know the common structure of a thesis proposal. The typical parts are as follows:

  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction
  3. Existing literature/significant prior research
  4. Thesis or project statement
  5. Approach
  6. Potential outcomes
  7. Limitations
  8. Contributions to knowledge
  9. Proposed dissertation chapters

Step 3: Planning your writing

The best way to put together an organized thesis proposal is to organize how you will write it before you get started. Many thesis proposals have been rejected simply because the students didn’t plan their writing and instead tried to hack it all together. If you attempt that, it will show, and the thesis proposal is likely to be rejected.

Don’t let that happen to you. Plan the flow of your writing — and stick to the plan!

The usual flow of writing a thesis proposal is as follows:

  1. Outline
  2. Prepare visuals (any charts or tables)
  3. Describe methodology
  4. Explanation of data
  5. Conclusions drawn from you data
  6. Introduction
  7. Abstract
  8. References
  9. Wait a minute! Looks backwards, huh?

Note that the writing of the thesis proposal does not follow the actual structure of the thesis proposal. Simply put, how can you write an abstract if you do not know what the research actually says?

You have to write out of sequence to be able to create an accurate introduction and abstract.

Step 4: Writing the thesis proposal

Once you’ve planned your writing, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get it done! Thesis proposals are writing in formal style, which is what sets them apart from many other types of proposals.

Although the proposal will be in formal style, it is still important to keep it simple — work towards concision while maintaining academic objectivity, leveraging readability.

You will thus want to avoid the first and second grammatical person, and maintain the objective in all aspects of the thesis proposal except the thesis statement itself, which can usually contain a first person reference to you. Before writing that type of thesis statement though, you should consult with your instructor.

Step 5: Proofing your proposal

A thesis proposal is no place for typos or poor readability. If you show your proposal to a fellow student or friend and they have a hard time understanding what you are trying to say, even though they are in your field, you will want to revise.

The best practices for thoroughly proofing a thesis proposal are as follows:

  • Read the proposal to yourself (aloud!) — you’ll spot problems with grammar and sentence structure more easily this way
  • Do not proof it immediately after writing it – give your brain a rest so you can view it objectively
  • Ask at least three friends/colleagues with an understanding of the material to proof it for you
  • Use more than one spellchecker
  • Remember, your future depends on the successful acceptance of your thesis proposal. Make sure you eliminate all grammatical errors to give it the best shot.

5 helpful tips to write a better thesis

If you know how to write a business plan or even how to write PhD dissertation proposal — then you are very lucky. But in most cases, many need help.

These 5 tips hope to relieve the pain that is thesis writing.

1. Know the requirements

Review all the requirements for your thesis with your supervisor before you get started. If he or she defines the length of the final paper, you’ll need to also work out the other requirements of the thesis. Things like font, spaces, eccetera are likely important too.

2. Constantly check your work

Much of your thesis work will entail editing. As soon as you start your thesis, you’ll realize that the more work you do, the more difficult it is to go back and review it. Remember that rewriting will take up a huge chunk of time, and that’s okay as this naturally happens with these kinds of projects. Professional writers can easily attest to this. Also, be mindful of developing your own style of writing.

3. Don’t leave questions unanswered

The original purpose of your thesis was to find solutions to a certain problem, wasn’t it?

But even within your research, you will discover that there will always more questions to be answered. Do not ignore them. Draw additional attention to those questions in your conclusion — it may provide you with a base for separate work.

4. Keep a list of references from the start

A lot of people make the same mistake – not all citations appear in the references section. Before you submit your thesis, tripple check each and every one of your citations and references. To make this a lot easier on yourself, start a reference record as soon as you start drafting your thesis.

5. Don’t be afraid of useful apps

You need to plan, organize, and structure all of your tasks with clearly defined due dates. This is where a project planning tool can help a ton. In general, they can offer a Gantt chart approach or a Kanban board. All you have to do is decide which method is best for you and your work. Rest assured, most of the tools will keep all your tasks and deadlines on time and readily available. Hopefully, they will improve your work on your thesis with little distraction.

There is one last advantage of using specialized apps during your thesis writing, they will prepare you to use professional tools like the Salesforce AppExchange. Without apps like Salesforce many small businesses, would be lost and in total chaos. These tools work to streamline and simplify many business processes.

Are you ready to write a thesis proposal?

Is it “that time” for you? Is it time to apply yourself to make your first substantial contribution to research in your field? The first part of the deal is a rock solid thesis proposal and we think you’ll be off to a good start with the tips from this how-to.

Have you already written a thesis proposal before? Please share your experiences with us in the comment space below.

Originally published  May 9, 2014, updated July 16, 2018

Alex Lamachenka

Alex Lamachenka Sr DemandGen Manager at PandaDoc

Alex is the Sr. Demand Generation Manager at PandaDoc who handles content and crowd marketing. His background covers sales, project management, and design. In his free time, you can find him traveling, hiking or tasting local foods.

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