Thesis Proposals

A Brief Guide
The Learning Centre ‡ http://www.lc.unsw.edu.au

This guide is for students who are enrolled in a postgraduate research degree and who have been asked to submit a thesis proposal. Aims
The aim of the thesis proposal is to convince your school that: ‡ there is a need for the research; it is significant and important; ‡ you are contributing something original to the field; ‡ the topic is feasible in terms of availability of funding, equipment, supervisors, and data; ‡ The research can be completed in the expected time period. UNSW recommends completing a PhD in six Semesters (3 years) for full-time candidates. ‡ Ethical issues have been considered and approval for the research has been given by the UNSW Ethics Committee; ‡ the topic matches your interests and capabilities.

What is the difference between a Masters and a Doctorate thesis proposal?
Your post graduate coordinator and your supervisor are best placed to give detailed clarification of your school¶s expectations. While differences are likely to be in the length and complexity of the research, the main difference is that a Ph. D. must contain something new.

Who is my audience?
The proposal will be presented as a written report and is usually presented in a seminar as well. It can be presented to a Postgraduate Committee or to staff more directly involved in your candidature, such as your supervisor, co-supervisor and your school`s postgraduate coordinator.

Originality
Your work will make a worthwhile contribution to the field if it fulfils one or more of the following: ‡ it provides evidence to support or disprove a concept, theory, or model; ‡ it contributes new data/information, a new improved solution, analysis procedure or research methodology; ‡ it results in a new or improved concept, theory or model.

Your goal
The thesis proposal helps you focus your research aims, clarify its importance and the need, describe the methods, predict problems and outcomes, and plan alternatives and interventions.

Getting it done
Preparing your proposal will be an iterative process. You will discuss a number of drafts with your supervisors. You should be writing regularly to have your proposal completed by the due date. This can vary from the first 3-9 months of your candidature.

How should I structure the proposal?

The following sections are recommended for your thesis proposal report. Check with your supervisors for optional sections, variations and additional sections that may be required.
Routine Information This can be a full cover page or a quarter page header. ‡ Name ‡ Address, telephone and email details ‡ Degree for which you are a candidate ‡ Supervisor¶s and co-supervisor¶s names ‡ Thesis proposal title ‡ Date Statement of Topic Introduce the reader to the recognised general subject area and how your topic is related. Briefly point out why it is a significant topic and what contribution your work will make. Aims of the thesis/dissertation Set out specific objectives of the research. Review of the literature

This, together with the following section on the theoretical orientation, will be the main substance of the proposal and will lay the basis for your discussions of your methods and your total research program.
The literature review should explain the relation of your topic and research aims to significant literature and recent (and current) research in your field. The form of the literature review may vary according to the nature of the field: experimental, philosophical, theoretical, comparative, etc., but its purpose will be the same in all fields. The literature review should place your proposed research topic clearly in its relevant research context, and should demonstrate your awareness of significant similar or relevant research. You may need to make qualitative judgements concerning the literature. Be careful not to allow the evaluation of previous work to become a large open-ended task. You should consult with your supervisors on the types of questions you need to be asking and what boundaries you should place on your literature review. In one sense the literature review for the proposal is incomplete. You will continue to expand and update the literature as your research progresses and as you locate new publications. The final literature review will be included in your thesis. Ask Yourself . . .

Which pieces of research seem to have been most successful, the most promising and which less

so? What are the major lines of criticism that can be levelled at previous work? What major omissions, gaps or neglected emphases can be identified? Theoretical Orientation Your aim here is to state your basic ideas on the topic.
‡ First, state the various theoretical approaches taken in your topic. Which one do you propose to use in your research and why? Where, tentatively do you stand on the topic? ‡ If there are various theories on your topic or in your field, which one(s) will you use in your conceptual framework for your thesis? ‡ Which terms or trends do you wish to follow up from the literature review? ‡ Do you have any fresh suggestions of an explanatory, interpretative, or programmatic kind?

Methodology Describe your proposed methods in sufficient detail so that the reader is clear about the following:
‡ What kind of information will you be using? ‡ From what sources will the information be obtained? ‡ What resources will you require? ‡ What methodology will you be using? ‡ Why have you selected this approach? ‡ What ethical and safety issues have you identified and how do you propose to proceed?

Research program timetable: milestones This will usually be from the date you began your degree to when you expect to submit the completed thesis/dissertation.
For Psychology, a time-line up to the end of your second Semester is the minimum requirement. The time-line can be formatted as a table or a list. Include when you will start and finish important aspects of your research, such as: literature research, required training or attending courses, stages of experiments or investigations, beginning and completing chapters, reviews and seminars you will give, and completing the thesis.

Tentative thesis chapter outline You should check with your supervisor if this is a required section of the thesis proposal.
Present the chapter outline as a draft contents page with brief annotations of expected content or stages. Follow the standard sections relevant to your type of research. Look at past theses in your area and discuss your ideas with your supervisor.

References
List all publications cited in your proposal. Use the style recommended by the school or your supervisor. This may be a standard style the whole school follows or it may be the style of the leading journal in your field. Think it Through Perhaps the best way to approach this section is to set down your main

insights, hypotheses, hunches, or even hopes about your topic. In view of past theory and research, and your emerging issues, what are the areas that you expect to have findings? For empirical theses you may need to formulate explicit hypotheses.
Prepared by Pam Mort for The Learning Centre, The University of New South Wales © 2009 . This guide may be distributed for educational purposes and adapted with proper acknowledgement. Email: learningcentre@unsw.edu.au

Recommended Reading
Here are some of useful resources and texts that you can consult. Your school may also have a postgraduate handbook or specific guidelines on thesis proposals. Allen, G.R. (1976) The graduate student`s guide to theses and dissertations: A practical manual for writing and research. San Francisco, CA, Jossey-Bass. Cryer, P. (1996) The research student`s guide to success. Buckingham, Open University Press. Davis, G.B. & Parker, C.A. (1979) Writing the doctoral dissertation: A systematic approach. Woodbury, NY, Barrons Educational Series. Laws, K. (1995) Preparing a Thesis or Dissertation Proposal. University of Sydney. Phillips, E.M. & Pugh D.S. (1987) How to get a Ph. D.: A handbook for students and their supervisors. 2nd Ed. Buckingham, Open University Press. Postgraduate Board, Student Guild (1998) Practical aspects of producing a thesis at the University of New South Wales. 3rd Ed. Available from the Student Guild, First Floor East Wing, Quadrangle Building, The University of New South Wales. Karathwohl, D.R. (1988) How to prepare a research proposal. Guidelines for funding and dissertations in the social and behavioural sciences. 3rd Ed. New York, Syracuse University Press. Acknowledgments Thank you to the following academics, staff and students, for their contributions and advice: Professor David Trimm, Professor John Trinder, Dr. Jacquelyn Cranney, Professor Staffan Kjelleberg, Dr. Tony Partridge, Professor Clive Fletcher, Professor Chris Sorrell, Professor Jason Middleton, Dr. Khosrow Zarrabi, Professor Marilyn Fox, Professor Michael Wootton, Dominic Fitzsimmons, Gwyn Jones.

Thesis Proposals
A Brief Guide
The Learning Centre ‡ http://www.lc.unsw.edu.au

This guide is for students who are enrolled in a postgraduate research degree and who have been asked to submit a thesis proposal. Aims
The aim of the thesis proposal is to convince your school that: ‡ there is a need for the research; it is significant and important; ‡ you are contributing something original to the field; ‡ the topic is feasible in terms of availability of funding, equipment, supervisors, and data;

‡ The research can be completed in the expected time period. UNSW recommends completing a PhD in six Semesters (3 years) for full-time candidates. ‡ Ethical issues have been considered and approval for the research has been given by the UNSW Ethics Committee; ‡ the topic matches your interests and capabilities.

What is the difference between a Masters and a Doctorate thesis proposal?
Your post graduate coordinator and your supervisor are best placed to give detailed clarification of your school¶s expectations. While differences are likely to be in the length and complexity of the research, the main difference is that a Ph. D. must contain something new.

Who is my audience?
The proposal will be presented as a written report and is usually presented in a seminar as well. It can be presented to a Postgraduate Committee or to staff more directly involved in your candidature, such as your supervisor, co-supervisor and your school`s postgraduate coordinator.

Originality
Your work will make a worthwhile contribution to the field if it fulfils one or more of the following: ‡ it provides evidence to support or disprove a concept, theory, or model; ‡ it contributes new data/information, a new improved solution, analysis procedure or research methodology; ‡ it results in a new or improved concept, theory or model.

Your goal
The thesis proposal helps you focus your research aims, clarify its importance and the need, describe the methods, predict problems and outcomes, and plan alternatives and interventions.

Getting it done
Preparing your proposal will be an iterative process. You will discuss a number of drafts with your supervisors. You should be writing regularly to have your proposal completed by the due date. This can vary from the first 3-9 months of your candidature.

How should I structure the proposal? The following sections are recommended for your thesis proposal report. Check with your supervisors for optional sections, variations and additional sections that may be required.
Routine Information This can be a full cover page or a quarter page header. ‡ Name ‡ Address, telephone and email details ‡ Degree for which you are a candidate ‡ Supervisor¶s and co-supervisor¶s names ‡ Thesis proposal title ‡ Date Statement of Topic Introduce the reader to the recognised general subject area and how your topic is related. Briefly point out why it is a significant topic and what contribution your work will make.

Aims of the thesis/dissertation Set out specific objectives of the research. Review of the literature

This, together with the following section on the theoretical orientation, will be the main substance of the proposal and will lay the basis for your discussions of your methods and your total research program.
The literature review should explain the relation of your topic and research aims to significant literature and recent (and current) research in your field. The form of the literature review may vary according to the nature of the field: experimental, philosophical, theoretical, comparative, etc., but its purpose will be the same in all fields. The literature review should place your proposed research topic clearly in its relevant research context, and should demonstrate your awareness of significant similar or relevant research. You may need to make qualitative judgements concerning the literature. Be careful not to allow the evaluation of previous work to become a large open-ended task. You should consult with your supervisors on the types of questions you need to be asking and what boundaries you should place on your literature review. In one sense the literature review for the proposal is incomplete. You will continue to expand and update the literature as your research progresses and as you locate new publications. The final literature review will be included in your thesis. Ask Yourself . . .

Which pieces of research seem to have been most successful, the most promising and which less so? What are the major lines of criticism that can be levelled at previous work? What major omissions, gaps or neglected emphases can be identified? Theoretical Orientation Your aim here is to state your basic ideas on the topic.
‡ First, state the various theoretical approaches taken in your topic. Which one do you propose to use in your research and why? Where, tentatively do you stand on the topic? ‡ If there are various theories on your topic or in your field, which one(s) will you use in your conceptual framework for your

thesis? ‡ Which terms or trends do you wish to follow up from the literature review? ‡ Do you have any fresh suggestions of an explanatory, interpretative, or programmatic kind?

Methodology Describe your proposed methods in sufficient detail so that the reader is clear about the following:
‡ What kind of information will you be using? ‡ From what sources will the information be obtained? ‡ What resources will you require? ‡ What methodology will you be using? ‡ Why have you selected this approach? ‡ What ethical and safety issues have you identified and how do you propose to proceed?

Research program timetable: milestones This will usually be from the date you began your degree to when you expect to submit the completed thesis/dissertation.
For Psychology, a time-line up to the end of your second Semester is the minimum requirement. The time-line can be formatted as a table or a list. Include when you will start and finish important aspects of your research, such as: literature research, required training or attending courses, stages of experiments or investigations, beginning and completing chapters, reviews and seminars you will give, and completing the thesis.

Tentative thesis chapter outline You should check with your supervisor if this is a required section of the thesis proposal.
Present the chapter outline as a draft contents page with brief annotations of expected content or stages. Follow the standard sections relevant to your type of research. Look at past theses in your area and discuss your ideas with your supervisor.

References
List all publications cited in your proposal. Use the style recommended by the school or your supervisor. This may be a standard style the whole school follows or it may be the style of the leading journal in your field. Think it Through Perhaps the best way to approach this section is to set down your main insights, hypotheses, hunches, or even hopes about your topic. In view of past theory and research, and your emerging issues, what are the areas that you expect to have findings? For empirical theses you may need to formulate explicit hypotheses.
Prepared by Pam Mort for The Learning Centre, The University of New South Wales © 2009 . This guide may be distributed for educational purposes and adapted with proper acknowledgement. Email: learningcentre@unsw.edu.au

Recommended Reading
Here are some of useful resources and texts that you can consult. Your school may also have a postgraduate handbook or specific guidelines on thesis proposals. Allen, G.R. (1976) The graduate student`s guide to theses and dissertations: A practical manual for writing and research.

San Francisco, CA, Jossey-Bass. Cryer, P. (1996) The research student`s guide to success. Buckingham, Open University Press. Davis, G.B. & Parker, C.A. (1979) Writing the doctoral dissertation: A systematic approach. Woodbury, NY, Barrons Educational Series. Laws, K. (1995) Preparing a Thesis or Dissertation Proposal. University of Sydney. Phillips, E.M. & Pugh D.S. (1987) How to get a Ph. D.: A handbook for students and their supervisors. 2nd Ed. Buckingham, Open University Press. Postgraduate Board, Student Guild (1998) Practical aspects of producing a thesis at the University of New South Wales. 3rd Ed. Available from the Student Guild, First Floor East Wing, Quadrangle Building, The University of New South Wales. Karathwohl, D.R. (1988) How to prepare a research proposal. Guidelines for funding and dissertations in the social and behavioural sciences. 3rd Ed. New York, Syracuse University Press. Acknowledgments Thank you to the following academics, staff and students, for their contributions and advice: Professor David Trimm, Professor John Trinder, Dr. Jacquelyn Cranney, Professor Staffan Kjelleberg, Dr. Tony Partridge, Professor Clive Fletcher, Professor Chris Sorrell, Professor Jason Middleton, Dr. Khosrow Zarrabi, Professor Marilyn Fox, Professor Michael Wootton, Dominic Fitzsimmons, Gwyn Jones.

How to write a thesis proposal
I. Framework II. Structure of a thesis proposal III. Order in which to write the proposal IV. Tips V. Resources

I. Framework
Senior research projects in Environmental Sciences have the following elements in common: 1. An environmental issue is identified. 2. Other people's work on the topic is collected and evaluated. 3. Data necessary to solving the problem are either collected by the student, or obtained independently. 4. Data are analyzed using techniques appropriate to the data set. 5. Results of the analysis are reported and are interpreted in light of the initial environmental issue. The final outcome of this process is a senior thesis that you will complete in the spring semester. The goal of the fall semester is that you identify a research topic, find a research mentor, formulate a hypothesis, understand the background of your project, develop or adapt appropriate methods, and summarize the state of your project as a thesis proposal. The goal is to progress as far as possible with the elements listed above during the fall semester. The more you can accomplish during the fall, the further you can drive the project in the end, and the more relaxed the spring semester is going to be for you (and us). The purpose of writing a thesis proposal is to demonstrate that 1. the thesis topic addresses a significant environmental problem; 2. an organized plan is in place for collecting or obtaining data to help solve the problem; 3. methods of data analysis have been identified and are appropriate to the data set. If you can outline these points clearly in a proposal, then you will be able to focus on a research topic and finish it rapidly. A secondary purpose of the proposal is to train you in the art of proposal writing. Any future career in Environmental Sciences, whether it be in industry or academia will require these skills in some form. We are well aware that the best laid out research plans may go awry, and that the best completed theses sometimes bear only little resemblance to the thesis planned during the proposal. Therefore, when evaluating a thesis proposal, we are not trying to assure ourselves that you have clearly described a sure-fire research project with 0% risk of failure. (If there was no risk of failure, it wouldn't be research.)

Instead, what we're interested in seeing is if you have a clear handle on the process and structure of research as it's practiced by our discipline. If you can present a clear and reasonable thesis idea, if you can clearly relate it to other relevant literature, if you can justify its significance, if you can describe a method for investigating it, and if you can decompose it into a sequence of steps that lead toward a reasonable conclusion, then the thesis proposal is a success regardless of whether you modify or even scrap the actual idea down the line and start off in a different direction. What a successful thesis proposal demonstrates is that, regardless of the eventual idea you pursue, you know the steps involved in turning it into a thesis.

II. Structure of a thesis proposal
Your thesis proposal should have the following elements in this order.
y y y y y y y y y y

Title page Abstract Table of contents Introduction Thesis statement Approach/methods Preliminary results and discussion Work plan including time table Implications of research List of references

The structure is very similar to that of a thesis or a scientific paper. You will be able to use a large fraction of the material of the thesis proposal in your final senior thesis. Of course, the state of the individual projects at the end of the fall will vary, and therefore also the format of the elements discussed below. Title page
y y

contains short, descriptive title of the proposed thesis project (should be fairly selfexplanatory) and author, institution, department, resreach mentor, mentor's institution, and date of delivery

Abstract
y y y y y y

the abstract is a brief summary of your thesis proposal its length should not exceed ~200 words present a brief introduction to the issue make the key statement of your thesis give a summary of how you want to address the issue include a possible implication of your work, if successfully completed

Table of contents

y y

list all headings and subheadings with page numbers indent subheadings

Introduction
y y y y y

this section sets the context for your proposed project and must capture the reader's interest explain the background of your study starting from a broad picture narrowing in on your research question review what is known about your research topic as far as it is relevant to your thesis cite relevant references the introduction should be at a level that makes it easy to understand for readers with a general science background, for example your classmates

Thesis statement
y y y

in a couple of sentences, state your thesis this statement can take the form of a hypothesis, research question, project statement, or goal statement the thesis statement should capture the essence of your intended project and also help to put boundaries around it

Approach/methods
y

y y y y

this section contains an overall description of your approach, materials, and procedures o what methods will be used? o how will data be collected and analyzed? o what materials will be used? include calculations, technique, procedure, equipment, and calibration graphs detail limitations, assumptions, and range of validity citations should be limited to data sources and more complete descriptions of procedures do not include results and discussion of results here

Preliminary results and discussion
y y

present any results you already have obtained discuss how they fit in the framework of your thesis

Work plan including time table
y y y y

describe in detail what you plan to do until completion of your senior thesis project list the stages of your project in a table format indicate deadlines you have set for completing each stage of the project, including any work you have already completed discuss any particular challenges that need to be overcome

Implications of Research
y y

what new knowledge will the proposed project produce that we do not already know? why is it worth knowing, what are the major implications?

List of references
y y y y

y

y

y

y y

cite all ideas, concepts, text, data that are not your own if you make a statement, back it up with your own data or a reference all references cited in the text must be listed cite single-author references by the surname of the author (followed by date of the publication in parenthesis) o ... according to Hays (1994) o ... population growth is one of the greatest environmental concerns facing future generations (Hays, 1994). cite double-author references by the surnames of both authors (followed by date of the publication in parenthesis) o e.g. Simpson and Hays (1994) cite more than double-author references by the surname of the first author followed by et al. and then the date of the publication o e.g. Pfirman, Simpson and Hays would be: o Pfirman et al. (1994) cite newspaper articles using the newspaper name and date, e.g. o ....this problem was also recently discussed in the press (New York Times, 1/15/00) do not use footnotes list all references cited in the text in alphabetical order using the following format for different types of material: o Hunt, S. (1966) Carbohydrate and amino acid composition of the egg capsules of the whelk. Nature, 210, 436-437. o National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (1997) Commonly asked questions about ozone. http://www.noaa.gov/public-affairs/grounders/ozo1.html, 9/27/97. o Pfirman, S.L., M. Stute, H.J. Simpson, and J. Hays (1996) Undergraduate research at Barnard and Columbia, Journal of Research, 11, 213-214. o Pechenik, J.A. (1987) A short guide to writing about biology. Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 194pp. o Pitelka, D.R., and F.M. Child (1964) Review of ciliary structure and function. In: Biochemistry and Physiology of Protozoa, Vol. 3 (S.H. Hutner, editor), Academic Press, New York, 131-198. o Sambrotto, R. (1997) lecture notes, Environmental Data Analysis, Barnard College, Oct 2, 1997. o Stute, M., J.F. Clark, P. Schlosser, W.S. Broecker, and G. Bonani (1995) A high altitude continental paleotemperature record derived from noble gases dissolved in groundwater from the San Juan Basin, New Mexico. Quat. Res., 43, 209-220. o New York Times (1/15/00) PCBs in the Hudson still an issue, A2.

y

it is acceptable to put the initials of the individual authors behind their last names, e.g. Pfirman, S.L., Stute, M., Simpson, H.J., and Hays, J (1996) Undergraduate research at ......

III. Order in which to write the proposal
. Proceed in the following order: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. Make an outline of your thesis proposal before you start writing Prepare figures and tables Figure captions Methods Discussion of your data Inferences from your data Introduction Abstract Bibliography

This order may seem backwards. However, it is difficult to write an abstract until you know your most important results. Sometimes, it is possible to write the introduction first. Most often the introduction should be written next to last.

IV. Tips
Figures
y y

y

y

"Pictures say more than a thousand words!" Figures serve to illustrate important aspects of the background material, sample data, and analysis techniques. A well chosen and well labeled figure can reduce text length, and improve proposal clarity. Proposals often contain figures from other articles. These can be appropriate, but you should consider modifying them if the modifications will improve your point. The whole process of making a drawing is important for two reasons. First, it clarifies your thinking. If you don¶t understand the process, you can¶t draw it. Second, good drawings are very valuable. Other scientists will understand your paper better if you can make a drawing of your ideas. A co-author of mine has advised me: make figures that other people will want to steal. They will cite your paper because they want to use your figure in their paper. Make cartoons using a scientific drawing program. Depending upon the subject of your paper, a cartoon might incorporate the following: o a picture of the scientific equipment that you are using and an explanation of how it works; o a drawing of a cycle showing steps, feedback loops, and bifurcations: this can include chemical or mathematical equations; o a flow chart showing the steps in a process and the possible causes and consequences.

y y

Incorporate graphs in the text or on separated sheets inserted in the thesis proposal Modern computer technology such as scanners and drafting programs are available in the department to help you create or modify pictures.

Grammar/spelling
y

y

y y y

Poor grammar and spelling distract from the content of the proposal. The reader focuses on the grammar and spelling problems and misses keys points made in the text. Modern word processing programs have grammar and spell checkers. Use them. Read your proposal aloud - then have a friend read it aloud. If your sentences seem too long, make two or three sentences instead of one. Try to write the same way that you speak when you are explaining a concept. Most people speak more clearly than they write. You should have read your proposal over at least 5 times before handing it in Simple wording is generally better If you get comments from others that seem completely irrelevant to you, your paper is not written clearly enough never use a complex word if a simpler word will do

V. Resources/Acknowlegements
y The senior seminar website has a very detailed document on "How to write a thesis" which you might want to look at. Most of the tips given there are relevant for your thesis proposal as well. y Recommended books on scientific writing y Some of the material on this page was adapted from: y http://www.geo.utep.edu/Grad_Info/prop_guide.html y http://www.hartwick.edu/anthropology/proposal.htm y http://csdl.ics.hawaii.edu/FAQ/FAQ/thesis-proposal.html y http://www.butler.edu/honors/PropsTheses.html

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