The objectives of the dissertation proposal are twofold:
To convince your supervisor that your research topic can be completed successfully. To demonstrate that your dissertation has been thoroughly ‘thought through’ and you are therefore in a position to begin work in detail.
To provide an outline working document to guide both yourself and your supervisor while the dissertation is being undertaken. Reference to a good dissertation proposal will help you to keep to a time schedule and to stick to the main path at times when it might be easy to get side-tracked.
There are a number of items that should be included in your dissertation proposal. The main ones are as follows:
Title: It is very important that this accurately reflects the content of your dissertation as far as possible. The title will be the reader’s first indication of the intention of your dissertation and the contents will be judged on how well they relate to it. It should not be too long, but should focus the reader’s mind on the main problem or issue addressed by your dissertation.
The main issue or problem: The reasons for undertaking the dissertation should be briefly stated, and the focus narrowed to the specific issues and problems which should be carefully and clearly defined.
Aim and objectives: The general aim and more specific objectives should be briefly stated. It is important to give careful thought to this, because the outcome of the dissertation will be judged against its objectives, and the proposal should reflect this.
Preliminary literature and data search: This should include a discussion of the key references and data sources you have found that bear directly on your research topic. These should be used to outline possible stages of investigation, methodologies, models to be tested, type of data to be considered, as well as methods of collection and analysis. Include a list of References at the end of the proposal.
Provisional time schedule: The important ‘milestones’ should be set up, as well as items which require a significant time span, such as identifying, obtaining and reviewing literature, acquiring skills (if applicable), collecting and manipulating data. A disciplined approach to the schedule is necessary, as many dissertations could be prolonged almost indefinitely, and a rigid time limit is recommended.
Basic structure of the dissertation: This might include possible chapter headings. However, it is unlikely that final decisions can be made in your dissertation proposal. Nevertheless, it is important to give an indication of the likely overall structure of your dissertation and to ascertain that it follows logically from the objectives. A possible structure could be as follows:
◊ Introduction (background to the dissertation; main issues to be investigated; brief summary of method to be used; brief summary of subsequent chapters)
◊ Literature review (academic body of knowledge to be addressed)
◊ Methodology to be adopted (with a rationale for its use)
◊ Presentation of the data (name and nature of the data sources; description of the samples used; table of descriptive statistics; etc.)
◊ Empirical analysis of the data
◊ Discussion of the outcomes from the empirical analysis (including a critical evaluation of the limitations of the study; possible policy implications, if applicable)
◊ Conclusions (including a brief summary of the whole dissertation)
Your dissertation proposal should detail your progress under each of the main headings given above. It should be no longer than 1,000 words and must be word processed, spell-checked and proof read. This will provide the basis for your first meeting with your Dissertation Supervision, so ensure that you cover all points carefully.
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