How to write a research proposal outline
Jun 5, 2018
If you're not stubborn, you'll give up on experiments too soon. And if you're not flexible, you'll pound your head against the wall and you won't see a different solution to a problem you're trying to solve. Jeff Bezos
A thesis proposal is a short document that explains what the thesis you want to write will be about, what type of research you would do to write it, and what sort of problem you are attempting to solve by writing it. You can take a thesis writing course on Udemy to learn how to write a great thesis, but before you even get to that point you must learn how to write a great thesis proposal.
Though it is short compared to other academic papers you may write, it can still be quite lengthy. If it is not well written or well researched, or you don’t clearly make your point, it may be rejected. You would then need to submit a new thesis proposal. Research and writing the project cannot start until the proposal has been approved.
Because the thesis proposal is so important, you should know what to include and see examples so that you can ensure your proposal is accepted the first time. Remember that even if you are not writing for a literary or English course, having better writing skills can help you write the best thesis proposal possible.
Thesis Proposal Structure
The thesis proposal has a strict structure that must be followed. You will want to be sure your writing tone is businesslike and technical in nature when it comes to your thesis proposal, so consider a basic paragraph and essay writing course as well. The various sections of the thesis proposal may include:
- Title Page
- Table of Contents (not required if only two pages long)
- Thesis Statement
- Methods or approach
- Preliminary discussion and results
- Work plan with timetable
- Implication of research
- List of references
It is important to understand that the thesis proposal is actually a very short thesis. Most of the work you do on the proposal will be used in the final thesis.
Thesis Proposal Structure Example
Every thesis proposal will vary slightly. In many cases, the structure of the thesis proposal will depend on the subject matter of the thesis and your area of study. However, all thesis proposals focus on two key areas – the background of the subject of the thesis, and the methodology that you, as the author of the thesis, will use to research and discuss the subject.
The title page is the first page of your thesis and lays out what the thesis is about, which school you are representing, who your mentors are and your course of study. This page has a specific layout and may be signed by the mentors themselves. One example is:
The next page will be the abstract. This part is very brief – no more than 200 words. Provide the key statement to the thesis, a brief introduction, summarize how you want to address this issue, and include possible implications of the work. The word “abstract” must be at the top of the page in all-capital letters. You are providing the reader with a short summary on what was studied, how it was measured and the findings of the study.
Table of Contents or Outline
Either an outline or a table of contents will work for almost all theses. However, your instructor may have a specific choice, so consider asking his or her input. Outlines are generally easier than a table of contents, but for either choice, you will want to write the rest of the proposal before providing the outline or table of contents, so you know exactly what to include. Below is an example of what that outline should look like.
The above in italicized will be based on what you needed to include for your specific thesis. They can change through the work plan and list of references should generally be included. For example, if you must include many pictures to explain your theory, you may choose to place them all at the end of the thesis proposal, instead of placing them with the work. This will make for a cleaner proposal.
The introduction should try and capture the reader’s interest by including statistics or other useful information that makes the reader go “wow”. Explain the study by focusing first on the broad picture. Continue narrowing this down until you get to the research question. Cite references when needed. Do not talk over people; keep in mind the type of audience this proposal will be for; if you must use technical terms that may not be known to the instructor or students, provide those terms in the “glossary of terms” section and refer people there.
You are not required to type “introduction” for your intro, but many people like to do this. If you want to use this approach, you must keep this approach for all the points in the proposal.
This can be included in the introduction, or it can have its own section. State the thesis and clarify the hypothesis (or theory) that you are going to attempt to prove with the thesis. This is going to be the focus of your work and give the reader a chance to understand the scope of your overall thesis paper.
Approach and Methods
Describe everything you did to reach your conclusion or hypothesis. This can include the approach you took the materials you used and the procedures you followed. You should also include calculations, equipment, graphs and other information, as well as any limitations you had. Cite references when required.
Results and Discussion—Preliminary
Here, you will present the results that you have come up and draw up conclusions relating to the research that you have done. This is a true reporting of what you found while testing your hypothesis (if it is a technical thesis paper), including both positive and negative findings. Sometimes the results and discussion will be two separate sections.
The discussion relies on your own observations and interpretations of the results. When discussing the results, there needs to be a clear division between what was found and how you interpret those findings. This section in your proposal may be sparse if you have not yet performed the study or experiment, or have not completed your research, but it is still a good idea to detail some of your preliminary findings here.
Work Plan with Time Table
Discuss what you will do until your thesis project is complete, without using “I” or “me”. Use the table to list the stages of the project, include any deadlines you have provided for yourself, and discuss any challenges you may face.
Implications of Research
Could there be any new knowledge that comes up? If so, try to think of what this knowledge will be and include it here. Are there any other implications or problems others may find when doing their own research?
You will have many source for your thesis proposal; your thesis proposal is incomplete and will be rejected without a list of references and citations throughout the work. Anything that is not your own must be cited, which includes text, data, and ideas. When citing an idea or data, back it up with your own data.
Footnotes are not allowed in a thesis proposal. You must use a superscript number one, two, etc. by the ideas or data that are not yours and then correspond them with the same numbers in the list of reference.
You have a lot riding on your thesis proposal so you may want to consider courses on academic and technical writing from Udemy. Udemy offers many different courses on writing, like Quality Essay and Paragraph writing.