Complete Guide to Writing Your PhD Thesis Proposal

A PhD Thesis proposal is a brief but comprehensive summary of the research which is yet to be done. It sets out the central issue for the research, with a detailed description of the raised issue and how will it be solved. It helps you to identify the direction of the research consisting of all the key elements of the process. The proposal has to be well-structured in chronological order of the title, abstract, introduction, literature review, hypothesis, methodology, timeline, resources required (if any), result, and references. Here’s a brief introduction of all these key elements :

  1. The title has to be concise and should direct the reader to know about the research. It is like a mini-introduction, giving a glimpse to the reader to know what the full picture would be. It has to be precise and crisp handling over a definite idea of the PhD thesis proposal to the reader. You may choose the title even after completing the whole proposal evoking the reviewer’s interest with the right choice of words. For example, ‘A qualitative study on the knowledge and experience of staff nurses in care for dying patients in the hospital.’
  2. The abstract is a summary of the whole proposal. It builds the first impression of the reviewer while reviewing it. It has to provide the objective summarizing the need for this research with the summary of the hypothesis you are going to propose later. It shouldn’t be a prolonged description, rather be compiled in a maximum of 2 sheets. If it fails to capture the attention of the committee or the chair, its fate would suffer.
  3. The introduction of your thesis proposal is something that sticks with the reviewer until the end. It has to be captivating enough for the reviewer to stay with him throughout the proposal. It is the detailed version of the abstract summarizing the proposal and outlining the literary history of the research topic. The candidate should begin the introduction with a relevant phrase/quote or state an apt example on the topic to grab the reader’s attention. The only function of this paragraph is to build the reader’s interest with a proper relevance of the historical background. The next part of the introduction should state the topic and the sociological strata keeping the focus on the audience. The conclusion of the introduction should show the significance and the need for the research and how this research will impact society.
  4. The literature review is the recent background of the research problem or topic. Therefore, it develops a broad idea of the field, exhibiting the previous and the recent history of the topic focusing on the research question. Its purpose is to narrow down the details for the reader to read the succinct information as well as for the researcher to work on the topic. It should reflect the knowledge of the candidate and should be critically analyzed.
  5. A hypothesis is an assumption based on the research studies, leading to a probable solution or the conclusion of the research problem which you would validate through your research. Make it as specific as it could be without being unrealistic for the reviewer to think of a solution like this.
  6. The methodology of the research could either be qualitative or quantitative depending on the nature of the research problem. Your research could either include both of these methods too resulting in mixed-method research. The methodology outlines the strategy for conducting the investigation giving a clear vision to the committee as to how the candidate would work on the research and how would he yield a clear answer to his research question(s) or the statement of the problem. You should also support the chosen methodology with apt evidence and arguments to assure the committee that the research would be effective with this method.
  7. The candidate should also include the tentative timeline for the completion of a research project in the proposal. The timeline helps the researcher to stay focused on the aim and to finish the research in that span of time. However, the research method should match with the stated timeline or else it would be of no use if it doesn’t give a result by the end of your programme. In order to estimate an accurate timeline, the candidate must map out the whole process of the investigation keeping the goal and objective in his mind.
  8. You must inform you about the resources required to conduct the entire research. The mentioning of required resources would help the candidate with the availability of the resource. For this, you need to figure out the resources before starting the research. List down the required material, equipment and tools for profound research.
  9. The result discusses the possible outcome of the research and its potential impact on a particular stratum or section of the society or community.
  10. A list of references is a must to include in the proposal as it keeps the scope of plagiarism away. In the list, you should cite (either in APA, MLA, or CMS in any other style) all the references and sources used or referred to come up with the research topic, problem statement or the chosen research methodology. 

Common errors in writing PhD problem statement for research proposal

Here are some common errors PhD scholars make in submitting draft of their problem statement for starting their PhD program – 

  • Failing to get the point. Avoid tedious length in introducing the study. The reader wants to know what your study is about.
  • Making the reader believe that we already know the answer . If we know it , then we don’t need to study it.
  • Covering extraneous issues ,whether interesting or not . These are “rabbit runs” – interesting but irrelevant to the topic . Resist the temptation to share with the reader the volume of interesting but irrelevant information you accumulated .
  • Being inconsistent. The problem should be clearly and logically related to the purpose statement and research questions .
  • Stating what we should do rather than what we want to know. Such phrases as “ we must …,” “we should…,” and “it is imperative that …..” belong in a position paper . In short, stay off a soap box .
  • Writing in “ dissertations” rather than in English. This causes your writing to be stilted, awkward, and artificial . Just say what you mean in natural phrases 
  • Using unnecessary technical language and Jargon. This keeps the reader from understanding the main Idea of what you are trying to say.
  • Using extensive quotations and references.These get in the way of the logical flow of ideas.
  • Using abstruse arguments. Refrain from making points that are unclear or difficult to understand. Write in a clear, simple , and straightforward manner.
  • Engaging in personal reflections or editorializing.
  • Making unsupported claims or statements. The problem must be written in the context of theory and relevant literature.
  • Using disjointed recitation of the studies cited. You create the line of logic and use literature citations to substantiate your points.   

The opening sentences of your research proposal should be approached thoughtfully and carefully, for this is the place to lose or win your audience.Therefore, introduce your topic in a way that engages readers – that captures their interest and makes them want to continue reading . Creswell(2008) called these opening lines the “narrative hook”, a term he claimed is “drawn from english composition , meaning words that serve to draw , engage ,or hook the reader into the study”. A convincing narrative hook , according to creswell (2005) , could include the following :

  1. Statistical data ( e.g., “ more than 50 percent of adult population experiences depression today.”)
  2. A provocative question (e.g., “ why are school policies that ban smoking in high schools not being enforced?”)
  3. A clear need for research (e.g., “school suspension is drawing increased attention among scholars in teacher education .”) 

There are possibilities for introducing your study ; the main thing to remember is to begin in an engaging manner that will interest your audience so they keep on reading.  

Master The Art of Writing a Persuasive PhD Proposal

PhD research proposals are submitted to a research committee or the chair with an attempt to persuade them into believing that accepting it will benefit the institution as well as academia. However, the question is how to introduce persuasive techniques into your PhD proposal writing so as to make it eloquent and approval-ready.

When it comes to the approval of a research proposal, the first thing that your research board will perceive is how cogently you have made arguments to convince them. Making persuasive arguments to a proposal is undoubtedly critical, but your tone, confidence, knowledge and above all, evidence or proofs will make your job easy.

Here are some useful tips to follow while writing your proposal:

  1. Use a Confident Tone

As long as your voice is clear, there are fewer chances of doubts that a research board may have while evaluating your proposal. It should be self-evident enough to convince your committee that you have a worthwhile research project.

For instance, if your proposal topic is Govt initiatives and policies for solar power generation, you will cover all factors that would have a significant impact on policies such as total power consumption in states, resources, funds etc.

  1. Make Your Proposal Appealing to Research Committee

Having said earlier, the implicit notion in the proposal is that accepting it will be an advantage to your university or institution. Therefore, your proposal should clearly demonstrate how it is going to benefit the society, institution and other scholars. However, these benefits can be either short-term or long-term or both.

  1. Prove Why Your Proposal is Worth ‘Funding’

If you prove that the cost incurred in funding your proposal will give benefit, there are wider chances of selection of your proposal. PhD proposal writing is at times, solely dependent on the funding approvals of committees.

  1. Argue Down that Your Proposal is ‘Better’

You have to prove that your proposal is better than others in the field. For this purpose, you have to show that what other researches missed out, and how your proposed research will fill in those research gaps. Which aspects were failed to be chosen that could benefit your university, college and society, if considered.

Summing up

A cogent proposal works like an advertisement that blows away the audience by overcoming doubts in minds. If you follow aforementioned tips, you will be able to write a compelling proposal.