How to Write a Thesis Proposal: Guidelines and Recommendations

  • I. Framework of a Thesis Proposal
  • II. Thesis Proposal Structure
  • III. Rules of Writing a Proposal
  • IV. Hints for a Writer

I. Framework of a Thesis Proposal

There are certain common elements in senior research projects related to environmental sciences, and you should take them in account if you want to know how to write a thesis proposal:

  • Identification of an environmental issue
  • Evaluation of the collected works of other people on the specified topic
  • Independent collection of the data required to resolve the problem
  • Analysis of the data with the use of appropriate techniques
  • Reporting the analysis results with further interpretation in terms of an environmental issue.

The process is finalized with getting a senior thesis completed during the spring semester. What is the main aim of the fall semester? It is the identification of the research topic, formulating a hypothesis, getting a research mentor, gaining an insight into the project background, adapting the available methods or developing new ones, as well as summarizing the whole project in the form of a written thesis proposal. The student's main purpose is to get the maximum progress and address every element on the list for the fall semester. It is clear that it is reasonable to accomplish as much as possible during fall as it facilitates further work on the project.

You can claim that you know how to write a thesis proposal is you understand the goal of working on it. You demonstrate that:

  • The topic of the thesis suits an important environmental issue;
  • There is an arranged plan aimed at data collection needed for the problem solutions;
  • Identification of the data analysis methods proved that they are suitable for the selected data set.

Having provided an outline of all the needed aspects in a proposal, you can concentrate on the topic of your research and finalize it. Your proposal has a secondary purpose of training you in writing effective proposals as you should realize that your future career will require for well-developed skills of this kind.

We know that even if you have the greatest plan for your research proposal, something may go wrong and the final result can differ greatly from what you have expected. Thus, evaluation of a proposal does not guarantee that the risk of failure is equal to 0 %. You do understand that any research is related to risk.

So, we are not looking for any guarantees; instead, we want to check whether you can cope with the structure and process of research in a specific discipline or field. It is perfect if your thesis idea is reasonable and clear, but it should also have a clear relation to the sources and literature. Moreover, you are supposed to provide justification of the significance of the chosen idea and describe the selected investigation method. Besides, you are free to have a sequence of certain steps towards the required conclusion and this way guarantee your success with an effective thesis proposal notwithstanding the fact which option you have chosen: following the initial idea or modifying it for a new one with a changed direction. The main aspect of a great thesis proposal is to be well aware of the steps necessary for pursuing the idea and turning it into a well-developed thesis.

II. Thesis Proposal Structure

A good thesis proposal follows such a sequence of elements:
Title page
Abstract
Table of contents
Introduction
Thesis Statement
Methods and approach
Preliminary results and Further Discussion
Time table and work plan
Research implications
References

The presented structure resembles that of a scientific paper or a thesis. Please note that your final thesis can contain a large section of thesis proposal material. It is understandable that there will be certain differences in your final individual projects, but the format of the elements will remain.

Efficient Title Page

  • It has a short title of the thesis project done in descriptive and self-explanatory style.

It contains the name of the author, department, institution, name of the research mentor, institution of the mentor, and delivery date.

Abstract

  • It is a concise thesis proposal summary.
  • It does not exceed 200 words in length.
  • It contains brief introduction to the presented problem.
  • It introduces the key thesis statement.
  • It summarizes your approach to the addressed problem.
  • It has your work implication included.

Table of Contents

  • It has all the headings with subheadings and relevant page numbers listed.
  • It has subheadings indented.

Introduction

  • It defines the project context and captures readers' attention.
  • It provides the explanation of the study background with a broad picture narrowed to the question of the research.
  • It overviews the available details of the research topic in terms of your thesis.
  • It has all the relevant references cited.
  • It is written both professionally and at the level which ensures easy comprehension so that the readers cold gain an insight into the content even having general background in science.

Thesis Statement

  • Thesis is stated in several sentences.
  • It may be presented in the form of a goal statement, a hypothesis, a project statement, or a research question.
  • It should present the main idea of the future project and sets the relevant boundaries.

Methods and Approach

  • It includes general description of the materials, approach, and required procedures.
  • It covers the methods to be used.
  • It answers the question how the collected data is going to be analyzed.
  • It explains which materials are needed.
  • It comprises details regarding the procedure, techniques, and equipment with included calibration graphs and calculations.
  • It gives details regarding the validity range, assumptions, and limitations.
  • It has strict limitation of the citations to the data sources and thorough procedure descriptions.
  • It should not cover the results and their analysis.

Preliminary Results and Further Discussion

  • It tells about all obtained results.
  • It includes the discussion of how the results suit the thesis framework.

Work Plan with Time Table Included:

  • It provides detailed descriptions of the plans and intentions until the senior thesis project is completed.
  • It provides a complete list of the project stages in the format of a table.
  • It specifies the deadlines for every project stage, including the completed work.
  • It provides discussion of all challenges to be faced.

Research Implications

  • It answers the question about the new knowledge produced in the framework of the project.
  • It addresses the question what the key implications are and why this knowledge is worth acquiring.

Reference List

  • The research has all borrowed concepts, data, ideas, and parts of text cited.
  • Any statement should be backed up with either a valid reference of your own obtained data.
  • All citations should correspond to the list of references.
  • All the references of a single author are referenced by his or her last name followed with the publication date in parenthesis.

e.g., according to Jones (1998)

  • ...It is mostly complicated for the students to use APA style, in particular if it is the first time they use it (Jones, 1998).
  • All the references of two authors are referenced by last names of both authors followed with the publication date in parenthesis.

e.g., Wegener and Petty (1994)

  • All the references of more than two authors are referenced by the last name of the first author with et al. and publication date.

e.g., Kernis, Cornell, Sun, Berry, Harlow, and Bach would be:

  • …Kernis et al. (1993)
  • All the articles from newspapers should contain the name of the newspaper and date, e.g., ... There has been a recent discussion of the issue in the press (New York Times, 1/15/00)
  • Footnotes are not needed.
  • The references should be cited in the alphabetical order. You should also mind appropriate formats for different kinds of sources:
  • Beitner, R. (2018). Regulation of carbohydrate metabolism (1985): Volume I. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
  • Chin, M., Khandelwal, P., & Quinlan, A. (2017). Ion-moderated partitioning for carbohydrate analysis. American Laboratory, 48(8), 14-17.
  • Cole, M., Hopker, J. G., Wiles, J. D., & Coleman, D. A. (2018). The effects of acute carbohydrate and caffeine feeding strategies on cycling efficiency. Journal of Sports Sciences, 36(7), 817-823. doi:10.1080/02640414.2017.1343956
  • Hall, M. B., & Mertens, D. R. (2017). A 100-year review: Carbohydrates - Characterization, digestion, and utilization. Journal of Dairy Science, 100(12), 10078-10093. doi:10.3168/jds.2017-13311.
  • Parker, J. N., & Parker, P. M. (2003). Carbohydrates: a medical dictionary, bibliography and annotated research guide to Internet references. San Diego, CA: ICON Health Publications.
  • The initials of the authors can be placed behind the last names, e.g., Parker, J. N., Hopker, J. G., Chin, M.

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III. Rules of Writing a Proposal

The sequence of working stages should be the following:

  1. Writing a thesis proposal outline first
  2. Preparing tables and figures
  3. Working on the figure captions
  4. Selecting methods
  5. Discussing data
  6. Data inferences
  7. Writing an introduction
  8. Adding an abstract
  9. Developing bibliography

You can also work on the research proposal in the backward order. It may be complicated to work on the abstract without being aware of the most essential results. In some cases, introduction should be the first part to develop; however, typically, it is written almost the last.

IV. Hints for a Writer

Figures

  • What can be more effective than a picture illustrating the idea? All essential points of the sample data, background materials, and techniques of analysis can be illustrated with figures.
  • A thesis proposal template can look much better with well-labeled figures that improve the clarity and reduce the required amount of text. It is a common approach to add figures from different articles to the proposals; however, do not forget to amend and modify them as this can ensure considerable improvements.
  • If you want to make everyone believe that you know how to write a thesis proposal, you are recommended to add effective drawings. First of all, this ensures clarification of your thinking. Secondly, it is valuable to add quality drawings as it improves the understanding of your readers. Note that your figures should inspire other people and make them want to use them in their work. As a result, your paper will be cited at least because of the effective figured you have used.
  • It is useful to add cartoons designed with the use of a scientific drawing program. A chosen kind of cartoons depends on the needed subject, and it contains the following aspects:
    1. An image of the scientific equipment used with detailed explanation of its operation;
    2. An image of the cycle with the presented stages, bifurcations, and feedback loops, as well as the math equations and chemical formulas, if needed;
    3. A flow chart which represents the working stages, possible results, causes and effects.
  • Include the graphs in the individual sheets or the text of your thesis proposal.
  • The department should use up-to-date computer technology, in particular drafting programs or scanners for creating and editing the images.

Spelling / Grammar

  • It can be distracting for your readers to encounter spelling and grammar mistakes in your proposal. In that case, the readers forget about the content and focus on the issues with the language. Therefore, it is useful to apply up-to-date processing programs to check the papers for all types of spelling and grammar issues in the text.
  • We recommend you to try reading your proposal aloud. The next step should be another reading aloud of the same paper but by a different person. If you hear that the sentences are excessively long, divide them into several shorter ones. Recollect how you typically explain the concepts orally and do the same in writing. Mind that a lot of people explain their ideas more clearly when they speak, not write.
  • Check the paper about five times before submitting it.
  • It is typically better to use simple words and structures than to make the proposal too sophisticated.
  • Irrelevant comments of other people on your paper imply that there is insufficient clarity of content which makes the readers puzzled.

Thesis Proposal Example

Download an Example 1 (PDF)Download an Example 2 (PDF)

Frequently Asked Questions

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