Thesis or Project Proposal

After much soul-searching and deliberation, you have finally decided upon a topic for your thesis or special project. Now what? The next piece of writing you need to prepare is your proposal. A proposal outlines in detail the nature and intent of your thesis or project, and includes a statement of the types of sources you intend to use to complete your research.

Remember, your GAC chair and the MALS Director must approve your proposal before you can proceed with your project or thesis. Therefore it is important that you explain your topic, working thesis, potential sources, and research objectives very clearly in your proposal.

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format of a proposal

Common Questions about the Proposal

  • What should I write in my proposal?

A proposal is much like a prospectus for any research project; the difference is that this proposal should be more detailed and developed, and the final document will have your GAC chair's approval. A proposal for a project should include the project design plus a support paper prospectus. A proposal should outline the nature and intent of the project or thesis and discuss the sources (type and exent),methodologies, and theoretical paradigms you plan to use to achieve the goal of your project.

While your proposal must conform to the guidelines required by your GAC, the following handout by Kendra Gaines at University of Arizona offers some good general advice of what a proposal is all about:

"Writing a Master's Thesis or Dissertion Proposal"
(From the link, choose this title from the menu of handouts available)

  • Can I revise my proposal if my objectives change?

Yes. Research is a dynamic, at times unpredictable, endeavour. It is quite common for your research to uncover new possibilities for your argument, or for you to encounter obstacles that merit changing course within your research process. Keep in mind, though, that any and all changes to your research and/or your proposal must be approved by your GAC chair.

  • What if I want to change my topic altogether?

It is generally not a good idea to change topics outright once your proposal has been approved. In fact, the proposal writing process should be the time for you to seriously think through the strength of your topic, your level of interest in researching your topic, the interdisciplinarity of your research, and the availability of sources for your research. This is not to say that your research won't change course somewhat, but unless there is a compelling reason (and your committee chair agrees) to start from scratch, it is best to work through the rough patches. Everyone has thoughts of "Gee, if only I could switch my topic to (insert new topic here) this project would be so much easier to do!" The thing is (and this goes for seminar papers too), if you had originally chosen to do your project on (insert same new topic here), you would at some point wish you had picked the topic you have now! There will always be moments where the grass is greener on the other side.

  • Will the proposal be graded?

Well, yes and no. You won't be graded on it as you would be a course assignment, but the strength of your proposal certainly will affect the quality of your project or thesis and the chances of its being approved.

  • Do I need to cite specific sources in the proposal? How many do I need?

It is a good idea to cite some prior research in your topic area to demonstrate how your thesis or project will fit into the scholarly conversation in your field. A good proposal is built on adequate knowledge of your topic to be confident that your research can answer the "So what?" question.

Next: Research Prospectus

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