We all know how depressing a bad start can be, and we all know how good it feels to get started on a project with a positive outlook. This guide is all about getting your dissertation off to a brilliant start with a thorough, persuasive dissertation proposal, based on information and tips from the expert academics of the Oxbridge writing team.
Why your dissertation proposal matters
The primary reason for starting your dissertation with a good proposal is that it gives you a solid foundation on which to build your final piece of work. However, for some students, dissertation proposals actually contribute to their final grade, equating to 5-10% of the overall mark. Hence, taking the time to craft a good proposal will not only help you write a better dissertation, it could also help you attain the maximum possible marks.
Your dissertation proposal will give you a solid structure for creating your dissertation. If you can write a clear plan now, you’ll find researching and writing the essay far easier, more logical, and infinitely less stressful!
That’s why we’re taking some time to share our top dissertation proposal writing tips – to get you off to a flying start. A bit of effort at this stage will make the not-so-insignificant task of writing your dissertation easier, and you’ll be thankful for it.
Do I need to write a proposal?
Requirements for dissertation proposals vary widely depending on which university you attend, which course you are on and what module you are taking. Many universities will require you to write a proposal, some will include your proposal in your marks and others will not require a proposal at all.
However, even if you do not technically need to write a proposal, going through the steps outlined below and writing a thorough plan will help you to create a dissertation, with a strong logical framework, evidence of smart research, and a compelling argument which will really impress your markers.
What should my proposal include?
There are many elements which should go into your dissertation proposal. We’ll explore each section in more detail later on, but the general framework should feature:
- A title
- An introduction
- Your aims & objectives
- Your methodology
- A literature review
- Your scope & constraints
- Your resources
- An outline of sections or chapters
- Your timetable
- Your references
Step 1: Writing your title
Settling on a title can be the trickiest part of starting your dissertation. The title you choose at this point will dictate how you spend your next few months, and can make or break your final dissertation.
As future employers may be interested in the title of your dissertation, if you have some idea about your future career choice, you might want to factor this into the topic you choose to ensure it interests and impresses in interviews.
Remember, your initial title isn’t set in stone and typically you’ll have lots of chances to discuss it with your tutor. However, it’s important to begin with a clear and focused idea to avoid a jumbled up dissertation which lacks coherence.
Title writing tips:
- Select an area which really interests you, this will help you maintain focus and interest throughout your dissertation.
- Take some time to look through previous dissertations in this area written by successful graduates. This will give you lots of inspiration, show you example titles with real potential, and help you find an inventive topic which hasn’t been covered before – originality can be a huge plus point.
- Make the most of your tutor’s feedback. Use their guidance as a sounding board for your ideas. Tutors will be able to advise you whether your idea has potential, or whether you’re covering the same old ground.
- Once you’ve found your title, stick to it. Have confidence in your choice. This will keep you focused and on track throughout your dissertation. Minor changes will inevitably happen, but having a clear goal is essential.
Step 2: Writing your introduction
This section of your dissertation proposal will give you and your tutor a clearer idea of your planned direction and expectations. It’s also your opportunity to explore your original idea and think more deeply about what you hope your dissertation will achieve.
Your introduction should include:
- An outline of the problem posed by your title – what are the key issues involved?
- An explanation of why you think this is worth investigating
- A description of how you will conduct your research and what you hope your research will reveal
- A summary of what you hope your dissertation will ultimately achieve
Introduction writing tips:
- This is a great opportunity to think through your dissertation. Make sure you raise any possible issues you think you might confront and discuss them with your tutor to tackle them before they arise in the writing process.
- Think carefully about the wider impact of your dissertation. A great topic will give you the opportunity to research and write about something which has implications beyond your degree. This is the very best type of dissertation, so be sure to highlight the potential for academic, societal or theoretical impact.
- If you struggle to complete this section, then you’re not ready to get started, and may want to rethink your title. Be sure to discuss this with your tutor to get their expert input.
Step 3: Presenting your aims & objectives
After a short introduction, your section on aims and objectives is an opportunity to closely scrutinise your goals and expectations – then consider how you will achieve them. There is a clear difference between aims and objectives which you should make clear in your dissertation proposal:
- Aims should be broad, summing up what you hope to achieve with your dissertation in a general sense
- Objectives should be more specific, honing in on the smaller steps towards your overall aims and how you will achieve them
Your objectives section should also start to outline how you will measure the success of your aims. Some universities suggest using the SMART acronym to help you do this systematically:
- Specific – Are your objectives specific enough to succeed?
- Measurable – How will you measure whether or not you achieve your goals?
- Achievable – Are your objectives possible given your current circumstances?
- Realistic – Do you have all the resources you need to make this happen?
- Time-constrained – Is there enough time for you to achieve your objectives?
Aims & objectives writing tips:
- There’s no set number of aims you should have. You may have one big, overarching aim, or several. As long as they are clearly expressed and your objectives explain how you will work towards them, you will be doing well.
- Use strong, confident language to express your aims and objectives. This is not the time to be vague. Avoid using words like “perhaps”, “consider” and “possibly”. Instead use dynamic, active verbs which clearly describe your goals and your approach. Verbs like “develop”, “construct” and “measure” are all helpful.
Step 4: Writing your methodology
Your methodology is an absolutely fundamental part of your dissertation proposal. In this section, you will explain exactly how you will meet the objectives in order to achieve the aims of the work. It’s a great place to set down a plan you can follow as you get stuck into your actual essay. You’ll need to cover:
- The methods you will use as you research and develop your dissertation
- The conceptual frameworks and philosophies that underpin the essay
- How you will access information and find sources
- How you will collect data (if your dissertation is data-based)
- How you will analyse your data (see above)
Methodology writing tips:
- Carefully explain how you will find your sources. It may be as simple as using the university library, but your approach should be systematically laid out to give readers confidence that your research will not be at random.
- Don’t be afraid of sounding silly, take things back to basics and explain your method step-by-step.
- Don’t include things like questionnaires and transcripts here – these belong in the appendix of your dissertation.
- Be sure to discuss your approach with your tutor, particularly if you’re taking a more original approach to your dissertation. They may be able to offer advice and best practice for your methodology – or spot flaws in your plan
Step 5: Writing a literature review
It’s incredibly important to have a clear idea of the research and literature which already exists in your field of study. Failing to recognise leaders in your field could leave your dissertation looking patchy and amateur.
Your literature review (also known as a literature survey) is your opportunity to thoroughly research and document the most important sources in your area of study. This won’t just help you write a seamless dissertation which will impress the experts, it will also give you a fantastic starting point for your research.
Methodology writing tips:
- Make sure your literature review clearly shows how your dissertation fills a gap in the existing literature and offers a significant contribution to the field
- Ensure you reference resources included in your literature review carefully in step 10 of this guide. This is good academic practice and will help your research later on
Step 6: Writing about your scope & constraints
It can be difficult to write about your scope without covering the same topics you tackled when writing about your goals and objectives. The key here is to set the limits of what you will do within the boundaries of what you hope to achieve. Your scope needs to be broad enough to achieve your goals, but narrow enough to be possible in your given time frame.
Time frame is one of your biggest constraints and this must be acknowledged. Other constraints can include availability of data, access to literature, cost of your project, etc.
Scope & constraints writing tips:
- Make sure you don’t give yourself too wide a scope. Your dissertation needs to be achievable otherwise you will fail to reach your goals
- Equally, don’t limit yourself too much. This can be perceived as lazy or unambitious. Be realistic above all, but make sure you push yourself where possible
Step 7: Compiling your resources
Like your literature review, this section will help you to identify the resources you will need to complete your dissertation. Again, this will be a helpful thing to have once you start researching and writing in earnest.
From something as simple as your university’s IT facilities (noting any particular applications you will use), to more unusual resources like rare transcripts of interviews with historical figures held at specific libraries, make sure you include everything you’ll need to complete your dissertation here. This is a great bit of forward planning you’ll benefit from later, and it illustrates your ability to plan ahead and apply that in a tangible sense to your work.
Step 8: Outlining your sections & chapters
This section is pivotal to writing your dissertation – and it will give your tutor a good idea of the overall structure (and where you may want to make changes!). Include a brief summary of introductory sections and concluding sections, but go into more detail about the bulk of your dissertation, including sub-headings which give yourself and the reader a clear road-map of how your dissertation will progress.
You may want to include 1 to 2 paragraphs of 200 to 300 words that summarise the following sections of your planned dissertation:
- Literature survey
- Results (if your dissertation is data driven)
- Discussion (include 1-2 paragraphs for each major point)
Step 9: Creating your timetable
A rigid timetable will prevent you from getting behind, or scurrying to catch up with your dissertation deadline. Make sure you include realistic time-frames for your research and writing, and incorporate key academic dates and any departmental deadlines you may be working towards. If you will need to take time out to retrieve resources, make sure you include this in your schedule. Allow a bit of leeway for each stage too, as problems and unforeseen changes will inevitably pop up, so having the time to adjust to these is crucial.
Step 10: Including references
There’s nothing too unusual to get to grips with here. Simply include full references for all of your resources. Make sure you use your university’s style guide to complete them and, tah dah! – your systematic, thorough and just-plain impressive dissertation proposal is complete! Now it’s time to take it to your tutor – and get to the library! Good luck!
Support from Oxbridge
If you’re struggling to create a thorough dissertation proposal because you feel you’re not getting the support you need, then get in touch with us. Our expert writers and academic consultants can provide guidance and offer suggestions, as well as write up a full proposal to get you on your way to dissertation success. Check out our services for 100% guaranteed original writing for the grade you want.