The proposal for the dissertation is your timetable or construction plan. This plan might save you months or even years of research and increase your chance of completing the project. A PhD can be completed in 200 (work) days, in ten milestones and 60 sprints.

The proposal is your first achievement when it comes to the dissertation.

Of course, it is fun when the goal of a project is clear. Answer these five important questions and your goal will be clear:

  • Where do I start?
  • Where am I going?
  • How do I proceed?
  • What do I need for it?
  • What is the outcome?

These five questions are very simple but difficult to answer. So we'd better get started right away.

One more tip: Use our proposal template and our proposal check. They will help you avoid many mistakes!

Where do I start? Context, state of research, definition of the problem

You need a context for your project, boundaries in the big subject area. Start with a statement and a fact that everyone can agree with. Here is an example: (effects of chocolate consumption on the motivation of students) A first sentence may be:

Most people love chocolate. This is shown by the consumption of XXXX population groups... OR: The effects of chocolate have been researched in many ways such as happiness, stress resistance, cholesterol...

Then you develop the contents further. The problem is the knowledge gap, the practical question, which the dissertation aims. For example: What are the effects of chocolate consumption on the motivation of students? The problem is that we don't know anything about that yet. IMPORTANT: In order to formulate this problem at all, you must have already dealt with the state of research so take your time.

In general, you have to take this situation very seriously and take your time on it. As with any journey, the starting point is extremely important.

Where am I going? Research question and objective in the proposal

The goal of the thesis is of course to gain knowledge. After all, it's a scientific paper. This is then the answer to the research question. BUT: On one hand, you have to develop the research question neatly from the state of research AND you have to formulate this research question in a way that it can be answered by collecting and analyzing data. This is the so-called operationalization. The aim is to formulate the answer.

Example with chocolate topic:

Simple version: What are the effects of chocolate consumption on students’ motivation?

Operationalized version of the research question: What effects do the regular breakfast consumption of 25 grams of milk chocolate have on the learning motivators Alpha, Beta and Kappa of students during the examination phase of the second state examination?

The same goes for the target! You have to be specific: The aim of the work is to gain insight into the effects of a regular breakfast consumption of 25 grams of chocolate milk on the learning motivators Alpha, Beta and Kappa of students during the exam phase of the second state examination.

How do I proceed? Model and methodology in the proposal

A model is an image of a section of reality. It contains the relevant objects (variables) and their relationships to each other. It all sounds easier than it is. In practice, this can get pretty damn complex! Let's make it easier on ourselves by going back to chocolate...

Here is a model for the chocolate research question:  What effects does regular breakfast consumption of 25 grams of chocolate milk have on the learning motivators Alpha, Beta and Kappa of students during the examination phase of the second state examination?

Quite simply: all nouns such as student teachers, chocolate milk, learning motivators Alpha, Beta and Kappa etc. This is obviously a process model...  Please sketch it on paper.

The methodology then includes all tools and activities that lead to the answers. There's plenty of choices. For our chocolate topic, we obviously need to record consumption, measure certain body values, assess motivation (really hard) and then see how these motivators can be influenced...

What do I need to do that? Sources and data sample

Books contain old and methodical knowledge, while articles or papers contain new knowledge. You need both to build your model, find arguments and choose the right methods.

What’s the outcome? Expected findings

How am I supposed to know that when I start work? You already know how!  But on a structural level. Let's look at an example on a new topic: Drivers and barriers of digitalization in the construction industry. The expected findings are detailed statements about the drivers and barriers to digitization in the construction industry. Protest! That sounds like the topic!! No! This is the issue. Here we see an important principle in research: the topic, research question, goal and thus the expected results must be congruent. They must contain exactly the same terms. Otherwise, the topic is not precise. So it is exactly the other way around: the topic sounds like the desired result!! That's the way it's supposed to be, isn't it?

Here are a few more important tips for the proposal.

How do I create the proposal for the dissertation?

Clever! Use a proven template. Don't work with a blank page because you are guaranteed to come up with a contemplation essay. It takes longer at the beginning and the work will take several months longer.

How long should the proposal be?

The proposal for a dissertation comprises at least ten pages of text plus a draft outline, preliminary sources and work plan.

How long does it take to create the proposal?

I'm afraid it’s not a quick process. You need about 40 days, so 2-3 months. BUT: this only happens so fast if you have a good template for the proposal. Otherwise, you can spend months or years on the proposal.

How do I check the quality of my proposal?

Actually, you could leave that to the supervisor. But again that could give the wrong impression. So it’s better to take care of it yourself and use a template for your proposal so your work is organized correctly. You should work with the Dissertation Guide by Aristolo from the beginning. Have a look at how we can help you prepare the quality check using our automatic proposal check.

How do I work with the proposal during the dissertation?

The proposal becomes your writing file. The proposal is the introduction to your dissertation and the rest then becomes the chapters and the directories. This alone will save you several months of time.

We wish you success with your dissertation!

Silvio and the Aristolo Team

PS: Check out the interactive PhD Guide for writing a PhD in 200 days.