What Should Your Thesis Proposal Do?

The most important part of a PhD application is writing your thesis proposal. This is where you set out your interests and the general outline of the work you want to do as a postgraduate student.

Of course, once you’re studying your PhD, you might find the scope or focus of your research shifts a little. So don’t worry too much about everything in your proposal being exactly what you’ll end up doing for the next few years.

The important thing is to demonstrate that you have the potential to produce a rigorous piece of academic writing at the end of your study period. To do this, it helps to consider what a thesis proposal is supposed to do.

The Objectives of a Thesis Proposal

The primary objectives of a thesis proposal are:

1.     Justifying the Significance of Your Research

Your research proposal should, first and foremost, set out the basics of your hypothesis and why it is worth investigating. This is especially important if your research has practical implications, such as industrial applications.

2.     Outlining Your Expected Contribution to the Field

This is more specifically about the academic significance of your work. Your research should address a particular gap in the existing knowledge of your subject area. You will need to explained how you intend to engage with past studies and address the knowledge gap you’ve identified.

3.     Addressing the Feasibility of Your Project

No matter how fascinating your theory, it won’t amount to much if you don’t know how to test it. Your research proposal should therefore give due consideration to the methodology you’ll use for your project, as well as the resources and time required for completion.

4.     Identifying Potential Ethical Issues

Your project may require ethical approval from your university before you set to work, especially if you’re working with human subjects. You should thus try to identify potential ethical issues, such as matters of confidentiality and consent, in your thesis proposal.

5.     Demonstrating Your Understanding of the Subject Area

Hopefully, if you’ve met the objectives above, you’ll have done this too. Nevertheless, never forget that the main thing your thesis proposal needs to do is demonstrate that you know enough to produce a good thesis.

More generally, you should also familiarise yourself with the standard procedure for submitting a thesis proposal at your chosen university.

This may include the exact format preferred by the department to which you’re applying, the people who will be reading your proposal, and the research interests of academic staff at the institution.

If you do all of these things, your thesis proposal will be far stronger for the additional work you put in.

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