Dissertation Proposal

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Before you formulate a proposal, you should decide on what approach you're going to take to your chosen topic. For example, will you choose....

..to carry out a case study? This is an opportunity for one aspect to be studied in depth, within a limited time span. Your evidence needs to be collected systematically, and you will study the relationship between variables. The study is methodically planned, and will mainly be concerned with the interaction of factors and events. This approach commonly focuses on observation and interview - and often extends the results of a survey.


...to perform a survey? With this approach, information is gathered and analysed. Patterns are then extracted and comparisons made. An example would be the Census. The information is gathered from a representative selection of the population (choose carefully) to represent a sample of the population as a whole. The circumstances in which the questions are asked should be the same for every participant. The wording of the questions also needs to be carefully considered. This approach is good for the what? where? when? how? type of questions. It does not always give the reasons for why something is the way it is.


...to use the experimental style? This normally involves taking two or more groups who are exposed to different treatments. There is normally a ‘control’ group, who do not receive any treatment. A follow-up is then made, after the exposure to the treatments. Providing other factors are matched, the change can then be attributed to the treatment (this is known as a causal relationship). Caution must be taken when drawing up causal relationships - they should remain tentative.

These are just some examples of the approach you might take.

“A good dissertation topic concentrates on a certain problem and keeps research organised. Wandering around or trying to squeeze out more means that your dissertation topic is either too wide, or too narrow."

Once you've decided on how you're going to approach the topic, you need to come up with a proposal. First draw up a list of first thoughts and questions about the topic you want to look at, considering any current issues, problems you have seen and current opinion on how change should take place. Decide exactly what it is that you are trying to find out. Ask yourself: What is this research for? What is its value? What will it add to current theory or practice? Try to be as precise as possible regarding what it is you are trying to find out.

Your dissertation proposal

  • Introduction to the proposed area of study
  • Aims of the research project - what do you hope to achieve overall? Is there a hypothesis that needs to be answered?
  • The main objectives of the research project - what do you hope to find out?
  • List your methodology / methods - state why have you chosen these methods and why not other methods.
  • Scope and limitations of the study - is there anything that is beyond the scope of investigation? Why? (e.g. cost/time constraints)
  • Resources - what sources do you expect you will use? Where will you find your information?
  • Timetable - proposed timetable for completion of each section.
  • Proposed chapter headings
  • References - any references used (for example, when writing the introduction)

Some sample dissertation proposals are available here: Dissertation Proposals (opens in new window)

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