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How to Write a Winning PhD Dissertation Proposal

The primary purpose of your dissertation proposal is to persuade the committee members that:

  • Your dissertation topic is worth exploring.
  • You are a person who can deliver a valuable piece of research on it.

The first goal is achieved by your background review. You should familiarize yourself with the most important research studies in your chosen field and identify a gap or controversy. This is the area of your future research. In the literature review section of your dissertation proposal, you should provide a summary of your findings, and stress the importance of bridging a gap in the present-day scientific knowledge with your work.

The second goal is achieved by the description of your research methods and expected results. In these sections, you should demonstrate a clear understanding of what you are going to do, for what purpose, and how. Your methods should be relevant to your research question. For example, if you are going to investigate the effects of bullying in high school on the behavior of victims, it is reasonable to use interviews and surveys. There are no universal rules on how to write a successful dissertation proposal. It depends too much on the peculiarities of your research field and the traditions of your university. The requirements for the dissertation proposal structure, for example, may vary considerably.

The most important thing to bear in mind is that your proposal should achieve the two primary goals stated above. Another method is a quick checklist. Make sure that your proposal provides clear, specific, and direct answers to the following questions:

  • What problem are you going to deal with?
  • Why is it a problem?
  • Why is it important?
  • What are you going to do to solve it?
  • Why are you going to do this?

If you answer all these questions so that even a person who has no knowledge of your research subject can understand it, then your proposal stands a strong chance. However, accurate presentation is important for success as well. Here are tips on the style and formatting of your proposal:

  • Use present and future tense when describing what you are going to do and what you want to achieve. Use past tense when speaking about previous research findings in this field.
  • Write in the third person. Refer to yourself as “the researcher.”
  • Use academic language.
  • Be as specific and precise as possible. Avoid words and phrases that may be interpreted in more than one way.
  • Follow the formatting guidelines of your university and the required citation style strictly.

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