Academic disciplines and graduate programs have their own set of requirements for dissertation research proposals, but all proposals will include a number of elements. A strong proposal will start with a novel and important research question, any necessary background information on the topic, a literature review that situates the dissertation project within the discipline, a discussion of research design and methodology, a description of the empirical evidence to be collected, and a strong conclusion. After you’ve decided on a topic, make sure you have all of the information you’ll need and include each of these essential elements in your dissertation research proposal.
Your dissertation research proposal should start with a unique and important research question, which can be derived from academic literature or real-world events. Dissertation research is expected to make a novel and significant contribution to the field, so the starting point is a theoretical paradox or disagreement, a prediction in the literature that does not hold up in the real world, or a situation in which competing theories predict different outcomes. Your dissertation research proposal should start with a discussion of the research question that explains why your topic is important and how your findings will contribute significantly. You should also state what you anticipate as the answer to your question; this is your thesis statement.
You’ll probably need to provide some background information on your dissertation topic before getting into the details of your research proposal. In your field, almost any topic will have a long and complicated history, so only include the background information that is directly relevant and necessary to comprehend your project. Do not get bogged down in background discussion if the faculty members reading your dissertation research proposal are already familiar with the topic.
The literature review is the next section, which is often the longest part of the dissertation research proposal. The literature review places your project in the context of previous research on the subject. It also demonstrates the importance of the research you intend to conduct.
Make sure to discuss any holes or gaps in what is known about your topic when reviewing the relevant literature. Look for alternative explanations and hypotheses that you’ll need to account for or control for, as well as areas of agreement and disagreement among the scholars you’re reviewing. A bad literature review can resemble a laundry list of journal articles, with author A saying this and author B saying that. The best literature reviews are organized around themes and make it clear that the proposed research is both necessary and valuable.
You will describe your own research design and methodology after providing background information and existing research on your topic. Depending on your academic discipline and faculty preferences, the expectations for this stage of your dissertation research proposal may differ. Many dissertation proposals will use an inductive or deductive approach, as well as qualitative or quantitative research methods.
Because they begin with large-scale observations and proceed to specific conclusions based on those observations, inductive approaches are useful for generating hypotheses and building theory. Deductive research begins with the formulation of specific testable and falsifiable hypotheses, followed a thorough examination of the empirical evidence. Case studies, data mining, and other qualitative methodologies are commonly used in inductive research, while statistical, quantitative methods are commonly used in deductive research. Discuss the theory you plan to use, the dependent and independent variables, and alternative hypotheses that would refute your argument, as well as how you will account for them.
You’ll need to gather and analyze empirical evidence whether you take an inductive or deductive approach and whether you use qualitative or quantitative methodology. Discuss the data you’ll use, where it’ll come from, and any ethical or logistical issues you might encounter in your research.
The conclusion is the last section of your dissertation research proposal. In this section, you’ll restate your research question as well as your own hypotheses. If you are correct, you should state what the implications will be for theory and future research, as well as what the implications will be if you are incorrect. You should also state what the next steps in your research should be. Finally, you should make a case for why your dissertation is important in the conclusion.