Dissertation Research Proposal

28.04.20 Dissertation writing process Time to read: 6min

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Definition: Dissertation Research Proposal

A dissertation research proposal outlines your plan to write a dissertation based on a particular research question. It demonstrates the work you have done up to this point including academic research, discussions with your advisor and any other relevant activities. Your proposal outlines not only how you plan to tackle the question but why it is important that you do so and what effect your dissertation might have on your field.

Writing a dissertation research proposal is not easy and if you have been asked to prepare one, it is normal to feel overwhelmed. Do not worry, you are not alone and all of the questions you have can be answered. This guide will tackle all of the most common issues students face when writing their dissertation research proposal such as how long it needs to be, what it should contain and more.


The minimum length of a dissertation research proposal is 10 pages. However, if you’re planning to write a longer dissertation, you may need 15-20 pages for the dissertation research proposal. It depends on the dissertation topic, your institution and why you’re writing the dissertation.

A good dissertation research proposal covers your research question and outlines how you plan to tackle it. Good proposals include relevant reading up to this point and any discussions you have had with your supervisor. You should also include any limitations you expect to face and how you’re going to overcome them.

A dissertation research proposal follows the structure of a dissertation in the way that it is split into three sections; an introduction, the main body and a short conclusion. The main body is further split into your methodology, your aims and objectives, a literature review, your expected limitations, any relevant ethical considerations and the project timeframe.

Like dissertations, your dissertation proposal can come in one of two types. There are empirical dissertations and library-based dissertations. The former involves carrying out original research whilst the latter focuses on answering a research question using existing data.

Your dissertation proposal functions as a small-scale version of your final dissertation proposal. When done well, your dissertation proposal will inform the structure of your dissertation and its contents in a way that will make it much easier to write, while improving its quality. The dissertation proposal will give you an outline to work with when you begin writing.

Choosing a dissertation topic can be overwhelming so the best thing to do is look over your studies for the part you found the most interesting and enjoyable. Then, try and identify areas where you felt the material did not sufficiently answer all the questions you have on the subject, this is an excellent place to begin forming a topic.

The more research you do, the easier narrowing your focus is. In particular, you may find that the papers on an aspect of your topic are outdated, so perhaps you could conduct research or perform an experiment to see if those papers are still correct. It’s very important that your topic is not too broad, otherwise you’ll have trouble forming your research questions and writing your dissertation proposal.

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Dissertation Research Proposal Structure

Your dissertation research proposal will be divided as follows:

The area in which you state your research question and explain why this question has been chosen and why it is worth answering.

The first part of your proposal’s main body in which you explain how you are going to gather the data you need to answer your research question.

This part of the main section explains what you hope the outcome of your research and experimentation will be and how you plan on achieving these results.

The literature review goes over significant academic research you have already conducted and how it supports your research question and how it informs your experiment if you are conducting one.

This area of the main body acknowledges the areas of your research question which your research and experimentation will fail to address and how you plan to compensate for this and why these limitations will not have a significant impact on your results.

Every research question has some common ethical considerations which you must acknowledge here. However, it is particularly important that you highlight any ethical issues that are unique to your project as well as how you plan to deal with them.

The final part of the main section. You only have so long to write your dissertation so you must show how this time will be divided, demonstrating your understanding of the requirements of each of the tasks you must perform to answer your research question.

Your conclusion sums up the rest of your dissertation proposal. It acts as a reminder of the most important topics you touched on as well as the methods you have chosen to incorporate.

Step-by-Step Guide

  • 1

    Select a Topic

    One aspect of your studies will interest you more than the rest. Go back and look over all of the lecture information you have about this area and look for a subtopic that you want to expand upon.

  • 2

    Narrowing your Focus

    Start looking outside of your lecture materials for more information about your chosen topic. Begin by reading anything that seems relevant and look for an area that requires an update or does not have sufficient research.

  • 3

    Choosing Relevant Literature

    Once you have sufficiently narrowed your focus, look again at the reading you have done so far. Keep any academic journals, textbooks or high-authority sources and then find more related works of similar quality.

  • 4

    Begin Writing the First Draft

    Previously, we outlined all of the sections of your dissertation proposal. Write as much as possible about each of those sections remembering that order is not important right now, getting all your ideas down is.

  • 5

    Meetings and Refinement

    Arrange to meet your supervisor and show them the progress you have made. They will have advice on what your next step should be, follow this advice and then make another meeting. Repeat as often as possible until your deadline.

Why Write a Dissertation Research Proposal?

Your proposal does several jobs. Firstly, it creates a format in which you can outline the ideas and methods you will explore in more depth during your dissertation. This lets you form a detailed plan making the final paper much easier to write. Also, it is the best early chance you have to receive feedback not only on your topic but the methods you are using to explore it and the areas you have neglected.

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In a Nutshell

Your dissertation research proposal might seem like a complex, intimidating task but it can be broken down into several manageable sections. By tackling each part individually you will find that it quickly becomes a simple project that will surprise you with its depth, complexity and quality once complete.