Writing a dissertation or thesis is an important undertaking for a student. The completion of thedissertation will be preceded by the creation of dissertation proposal. The proposal is a document that outlines the topic of the project, as well as how the research to complete the paper will be undertaken and why the topic is worthy of investigation. The structure guidelines for the dissertation proposal may vary across different universities, but despite different presentation formats the contents remain similar. The process starts of the dissertation proposal will usually provide a proposed title, the research question or objective, background to the topic, a proposed methodology for the study, and recognise the limitations and constraints. The requirements for each element are outlined below.

The Research Aim and Objective

The research aim is the reason the research is being undertaken and is often presented as a question or a narrow and defining statement regarding the purpose of the project. The research objectives consist of sub-questions which will need to be addressed to answer the aim. No more than 3 – 4 objectives should be provided;it is indicative the research aim is too broad and should be narrowedif more objectives are needed.

Background or Literature Review

Following the identification of the research questions or topic, the next stage is to place the proposal in a meaningful context. The background or literature review section provides an outline of existing knowledge and indicates the theories and sources that will be used in the main project. The sources used in the background/literature review should be from reputable academic sources such as peer review journals course texts.
Good literature reviews should be presented in a logical order, starting with the broad or generalisable issues and moving towards the narrower issues. Including an analysis of the articles and cross-referencing the findings of different researchers is likely to support a higher grade. The literature presented should also demonstrate an existing gap in the research, or a need for further research, and can be used to provide the basis for justifying the research.


The next section provides details of how the research will be conducted. This will include details on whether there will be empirical or primary research undertaken where the researcher generates new data, for example, collecting opinions with the use of questionnaires or through intervals, or if the research will be non-empirical based only on secondary data. If the research includes primary research the methodology section should include details of what type of data will be collected; qualitative or quantitative, and the process which will be used to collect the information.

Limitations and Constraints

All research is likely to be limited in some way. This section provides the opportunity for the researcher to identify the limitations and constraints present in their research proposal, such as small sample sizes, or weaknesses in the chosen methodology. The researcher users this section to limit the scope and manage the expectation of the reader regarding the future project.

Potential Additional Requirements

Many universities have their own requirements which may also include some of the following;

  • A timetable setting out the planned schedule for the research,
  • An indicative or annotated bibliography, where further details are provided of the journals which may be used but were not presented in the proposal.
  • The expected outcomes of the research, detailing what the student expects to find and why