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PhD research proposal guidelines

Writing a thesis is a personal journey, and in English there is significant leeway in how you approach your work. We have put together a set of guidelines for putting together a proposal. It may be that, in consultation with your supervisor, you decide that aspects of this outline do not best facilitate a description of your project. However, we strongly recommend that you do use this document as a starting point. As a Research Committee, this is the information we will be looking for and on the basis of which we will assess your proposal.

Your proposal should include, possibly in this order:

1. Thesis statement or research question

2. Rational and literature review

Include a rationale for choosing your topic: why is it important, and what contribution to the field could you make?

Link this to a brief literature review – what sources will be most important to you, and how will your work be different?

3. Theoretical approach

Spend about a page sketching out your theoretical approach. Pay special attention to this if the theoretical approach is part of your research question.

4. Chapter outline

An outline of chapters, with a paragraph on each one – the main ideas, and how you'll go about discussing them. Try to give the sense of an overall and developing argument for the whole thesis. Be as specific as possible about your primary texts. Why have you chosen these particular texts, and what work do they do in terms of the overall conceptual design of your own project?

5. A time schedule

Specify expected completion dates of each chapter. Remember that for December graduation, final thesis submission is around September. For June graduation, final submission is around April. Factor these deadlines in to your planning. You should hand in your final draft to your supervisor at least 6 weeks before it is due at Faculty, to enable you to make any changes. Also, check the final word count requirement for the dissertation, and specify how many words you'll spend on each chapter.

6. Bibliography

You can divide this into two parts at this stage: the first part books that you have read and that you know you’ll be using; the second part books/articles that you know about and would like to consult, but haven’t read yet.

Bibliographies are crucial indicators of the quality of your work. They give your examiners an idea of where you are coming from theoretically and methodologically, and of how up-to-date the research is. Many examiners turn to the bibliography first, upon receiving a thesis to examine. Journal articles are usually a few years ahead of books that come out. So when a student has hardly any articles in the bibliography, the thesis looks out of date from the start. Make use of the electronic databases in the library to do regular searches for the latest work in your area.