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How to write a dissertation prospectus (with outline and examples), published by nicholas tippins on april 30, 2020 april 30, 2020.

Last Updated on: 2nd February 2024, 05:41 am

Your dissertation prospectus is the first formal document you submit to your dissertation committee outlining your intended study. It is not a long document; usually around 10-20 pages. It should be submitted fairly soon after establishing candidacy.

It is wise to discuss your prospectus with your Chair and committee members before writing it. They will give you valuable pointers about your intended study, and you’ll save yourself the effort of rewriting it after you get their feedback.

In this article, I’ll provide an example outline of a dissertation prospectus, discuss the basics of how to write a dissertation prospectus, and also explore the similarities between writing a prospectus and asking someone on a date.

Dissertation Prospectus: Example Outline 

While every institution will have different requirements (and you should absolutely look at those before writing your dissertation prospectus), there are a few basics that are common to most of them. 

woman in a orange shirt working on her laptop next to the window

Title : This is more of a labor than you might have anticipated. Gone are the days of last-minute essay titles. The dissertation prospectus title is a hyper-specific description of what you plan to study. It should align with your problem and purpose statements. 

Focus, or Statement of Thesis : This is where you describe what you’ll study. No need to write a ton here–a few sentences or short paragraphs is usually sufficient.

Again, this must be very specific. It’s easiest to think of this section as a central question of your dissertation. Can you distill the focus of your dissertation into one question? If not, chances are your topic is too broad.

Since this section will become your Problem Statement and Purpose statement , it can be helpful to consider “what is the problem I’m trying to solve,” and “with that in mind, what is the purpose of this study?” 

Summary of Existing Literature: What other studies have been done on the subject? This is the very beginning of what will become your Literature Review . It’s important that you’re familiar with the landscape before you dive into studying a subject so that you can be sure that you’re building off of existing knowledge and adding a genuine contribution to the field.

Methodology: Discuss the methods you plan on using. You should know whether your study will be qualitative or quantitative, as well as any theoretical or conceptual frameworks you plan on using.

Outline: Some institutions ask that you provide a brief outline of each chapter. 

Timeline : Some institutions ask for a rough timeline. Make sure to account for time researching existing literature, collecting data, and writing.

how to write a prospectus for a dissertation

Bibliography: Here, you’ll list the sources that you reference in your prospectus. 

How to Write a Dissertation Prospectus

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Writing a Dissertation Prospectus Is Like Asking Someone on a Date

One of the most common challenges students have when they begin writing their dissertation prospectus is lack of specificity. The level of specificity required in academic writing is unique, and it often takes students a while to grasp just how specific they need to be.

One (sort of) helpful way to look at this is that it’s like asking someone out on a date. In both a dissertation proposal and a date proposal, you need to communicate the following information:

  • Who is involved?
  • What are we doing?
  • Where are we going?
  • When is this happening?

In a date scenario, usually that’s you and me. But maybe two of our mutual friends are coming along for a double date. Or an adult chaperone. Or maybe it’s you and one of my friends who I think would be perfect for you, even though you think he’s an asshole. Do you see how it’s important to know who we’re talking about? 

Knowing who is equally important in a dissertation. And we have to be super-specific here. Not just “branch managers,” but “branch managers at a medium-sized paper company in Pennsylvania.” 

man writing dissertation prospectus on his tablet computer in the kitchen

For one of the first dates I went on with my partner, I neglected to tell her that we were going hiking. She showed up in a sundress and pretty little sandals (which I also neglected to notice were not appropriate for hiking). I should also mention that “hiking” for me is more like bush-whacking; it involves following deer trails, climbing over fallen trees, scaling small cliffs, and jumping over streams. 

Despite her attire, we had a blast, and only once did she mention that she “maybe should have brought different shoes.” If I were to do it over again, though, I would tell her what we were doing so she could dress appropriately.

It’s also important to know what you’re studying. What phenomenon, event, etc. Are you studying employee engagement, 

If we’re going on a date, I have to know where to meet you. At a cute local diner or L’etoile? Knowing where we’re going only makes sense. If I plan on taking you to Venice, but you think we’re meeting at our favorite cafe, there might be a problem–no matter how nice Venice is. 

woman smiling and working on her laptop with her headphones on

See, knowing where we’re talking about is important. Guess what–the same is true for a dissertation.

Most dissertation studies (at least those with human subjects) involve a limited area. It’s important to know where a study took place in order for future researchers to account for the location when trying to replicate your data. It’s also important to know where in order to interpret the data in context.

For example, upper-level managers in banks in Nigeria have a different context than those in the United States. Women between the ages of 25 and 40 who earn the majority of their household income have a different context depending on whether they’re in Tokyo, rural India, or a medium-sized city in Brazil. Each of these countries has different cultures, laws, economies, and historical events that affect the data you collect.

This is something most people get right when asking someone on a date. It’s hard to meet up if you’re there at different times. However, not everyone gets this right in the dissertation prospectus.

You can explore about the causes or the effects of the financial crisis in Rome, but what you discover will differ depending on whether you mean the Roman Empire’s financial crisis of 33 A.D. , or the Italian financial crisis of 2018 . 

how to write a prospectus for a dissertation

How to Write a Dissertation Prospectus: Summary

Your prospectus is usually the first formal document you submit on your way to writing your dissertation . When done well, it can provide you a strong basis for writing your Chapter 1. I encourage you to reach out to your committee before writing it to discuss what your plans are, and again if anything is unclear. You’ll save valuable time by doing this proactively, and you’ll also learn the essential vocabulary of the academic.

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Nicholas Tippins

Nicholas has been a dissertation editor since 2015. He founded a dissertation editing firm that served clients around the world. Currently, he manages the editing team at Beyond PhD Coaching.

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What is a Prospectus?

A dissertation prospectus is a document that shows the researcher’s plan for the dissertation project. This document should provide enough information to verify the need for their study, the way it is situated amongst existing literature, and how the research will be facilitated. A committee will use this document to verify the viability of a study and to start the conversation regarding where the research could go or other potential avenues to explore.

Note: The prospectus is only the initial starting point, so the focus of the study may change as you continue to research and develop your ideas.

In the prospectus, you are primarily responsible for identifying:

  • What you are researching
  • Why it matters
  • What the foundation of the research is

Use Sources Develop Argument

The dissertation will follow the format of the prospectus template . It is primarily modeled after the professional version of APA 7th edition, but does require minor deviations.

The prospectus is generally a minimum of 15 pages, is double-spaced, and includes an extensive reference section. Remember that the prospectus is the initial plan. While a fair amount of information and evidence is necessary to show a firm foundation, it should not be exhaustive. Provide the information that is necessary in a concise and clear manner.

The prospectus will consist of the following sections/components:

The title of your dissertation should be relevant, clear, concise, and informative.

Focus: Can your readers determine the focus and topic of your research?

Approach: Does indicating your approach help the reader to determine the overall impact on your results?

Specificity: Were you specific enough about the factors or aspects studied?



Problem Background

What is the central problem that your research will address? The existence and extent of this problem should be verified with research.

Context: Explain the depth of the problem with enough information for readers to understand the reason it is an issue

Issue: State the problem clearly and precisely

Importance: Indicate who it influences or what would happen if this problem were not solved.

Objective: Situate your research here. What will you achieve with your research? What is your aim? ( tense: future simple – This study will…. )

Problem Statements

From the context of your problem background, identify specific problems that your research aims to address. These should be stated in a single sentence format (at most two) and be supported with a citation.

Note: The problem statements should link to the research questions

how to write a prospectus for a dissertation

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study will explain, in simple terms, what the point of the study is. You can think of this as identifying the research type, direction, purpose (reason for it), and what the overall goal is.

Begin the sentence with: “The purpose of this (qualitative/quantitative/mixed methods) study is to (insert action verb).

Action verbs for qualitative studies: explore, understand, describe, etc.

Action verbs for quantitative studies: examine, analyze, predict, etc.

Theoretical/Conceptual Framework

The framework will indicate the structure and basis of your proposed research. For more information on frameworks, see the framework page.

Research Questions

Indicate a research question(s) that derive from the problem statements previously mentioned.

Specific: Does each question focus on one issue/problem?

Clear: Does your reader understand what you are researching?

Legitimate: Is it a question (open-ended) and not a statement?

Answerable: Can you answer the question that you have asked with the resources and time you have available?

Nature of the Study

Explain your proposed method, research design, required data, data collection method, and data analysis methodology.

Note: This is a plan for a future study, so future simple is used.

Method: Qualitative, quantitative, mixed

Research design: Evaluation, action research, correlational, quasi-experimental, grounded theory, phenomenological, etc.

Data: What data is needed? (Primary/secondary?)

Data collection method: Survey, questionnaire, interview, observation, focus group, etc.

Data analysis methodology: exploratory analysis, descriptive analysis, regression analysis, etc.

Consider aspects like: location of study, time frame, participants, sampling, etc.

Significance of the Study

Indicate the potential impact of your study.

Contribution: How will your findings contribute to your field?

Gap: What will your research add to the gap you identified?

Benefit: Who will benefit most from this research?

The references typically span 3-5 pages. All references should be formatted using APA 7th edition. See the APA page for further information on properly formatting your references.

Samples of Prospectuses

When Do I Complete the Prospectus?

The prospectus will be completed in the second year of your doctoral program during the RES721 course.

Can I Start Working on it Before RES721?

For suggestions on what you can be working on now to prepare for your dissertation, please see here .

What if I need help?

For help on the prospectus, you can see the list of services the Doctoral Writing Center provides here .

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Prospectus writing.

Writing your prospectus is the first step towards completing your dissertation. It represents an opportunity to identify your project goals, create a roadmap for completing your graduate work, and to frame the significance of your work.  Your committee will provide you with feedback on the prospectus.

While different departments and disciplines will have their own requirements, in general, your prospectus will include an abstract, background and significance of research, a literature review, a description of the preliminary work you have completed, an explanation of your method or approaches, potential limitations or issues with the project, a timetable for completion, a conclusion, and a list of references.

The Graduate Writing Lab’s team of writing consultants can help you at any stage of your prospectus drafting, from brainstorming ideas, through early drafts, and polishing a final product. You can make an appointment with a consultant at:  https://poorvucenter.yale.edu/writing/graduate .

  • General Guidelines for Writing a Prospectus

The Graduate Writing Lab has collected sample prospectuses from various disciplines for your reference, which are available here as downloadable resources.

  • East Asian Languages and Literature  
  • Film Studies  
  • History of Art and African American Studies  

Social Sciences

  • African American Studies 
  • Political Science  
  • Cell Biology  
  • Computational Biology and Bioinformatics  
  • Neuroscience
  • Pharmacology  
  • Physiology  


how to write a prospectus for a dissertation

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Library resources.

Sample Lists of texts in J. Willard Marriott Library

Dissertation   proposal  guidebook :  how   to   prepare   a  research  proposal  and get it accepted ( LB2369 .G26)

Theses   and   dissertations  : a  guide   to   writing  in the social  and  physical sciences ( LB2369 .T44 1997)

Theses   and   dissertations  : a  guide   to  planning, research,  and   writing ( LB2369 .T458 2000)

Completing   dissertations   in   the   behavioral  sciences and education ( LB2369 .L65 1985)

Proposals   that   work  : a guide for planning dissertations and grant proposals ( Q180.55.P7 L63 2007)

Dissertation   solutions  : a concise guide to planning, implementing, and surviving the  dissertation  process ( LB2369 .A94 2012)

Avoiding thesis and  dissertation  pitfalls : 61 cases of problems and solutions ( LB2369 .T457 2001)

Prospectus Guide

Writing a Prospectus

There are many different kinds of prospectuses for different purposes. Ph.D. students are asked to submit dissertation prospectuses to their committees; most research grant applications require them; academic job candidates often include short prospectuses with their application materials; and book publishers request them as part of the process of considering a manuscript for publication. Editors of journals and essay volumes may also request a prospectus of a proposed article. These different kinds of prospectuses differ mostly in regard to the length and detail with which the project is described. Dissertation prospectuses can run anywhere from 5 to 30 pages, depending on the amount of detail requested of the student, while grant and job applications generally require brevity (1-2 single-spaced pages for a job application; 3-5 single-spaced pages for many grants). It is highly likely that before a major project is published, 3 or 4 different kinds of prospectuses will have been written for it. 

A dissertation prospectus is a Ph.D. students attempt to describe a dissertation project, including the central problem, puzzle or question to be addressed, the existing literature, and how the project might add to that literature. 

Below you will find general information. When in doubt you should always consult your department and faculty advisors. Academic writing is discipline specific, so one size definately doesn't fit all. 

A prospectus should answer the following questions: 

  • What is the subject of the study? How is the subject defined (is there any special use of terminology or context)? What are the main research questions the study aims to answer?
  • Why is the author addressing this topic? What have other scholars written about this subject, and how is this author's approach, information, or perspective different? What need or gap does this proposed study fill in the scholarly conversation? What new approach to a familiar topic does it propose to offer? What will be the study's original and special contributions to this subject?
  • What are the main sources that will be used to explore this subject? Why are these sources appropriate?
  • What is the proposed organization of the study?
  •  Does the author have any special needs in order to complete this study? In particular, does s/he need funding to travel to archives, gain access to collections, or acquire technical equipment? Does s/he have the special skills (languages, technical expertise) that this project might require?


  • Title: it should be informative and helpful in pinpointing the topic and emphasis of your study
  • The body of the prospectus: this section should concentrate on addressing questions 1-3 above. The goal of this section is both to describe the project and to "sell" the reader on its potential interest and scholarly significance.
  • A chapter breakdown: This can either be a formal section, in which each chapter is described in turn in about a paragraphâs worth of text, or it can be done more narratively, in which the whole project is outlined as a more seamless story. Either way, it should address question #4, above.
  • (for grant applications, if applicable) a brief paragraph at the end addressing question #5.
  • (for dissertation prospectuses) a bibliography is usually required.
  • (for book prospectuses) a table of contents is usually requested.

Some further considerations:

Think about your audience. Most of the members of your dissertation committee will know a lot about your area of research. But this may not be true, for example, of committee members from outside the department. It is even less likely that readers of job or grant applications or book editors will be familiar with the particular area of scholarship in which you work. It is therefore important that your prospectus convey its subject matter in as clear a fashion as possible, and that it not make too many demands upon its readers in regard to knowing specialized terminology or about debates within a given field. Your prospectus should be meaningful and interesting to an intelligent general reader.  What readers look for in a good prospectus. In most cases, prospectuses are being reviewed because people are considering entrusting you with something: the freedom of advancing to candidacy; a job; grant money; a book contract. They need to know if their trust will be well placed, and that you are a good bet to follow through on your proposed work. Questions that often arise in this regard are as follows:

  • How interesting and important is this study? (will we have helped make an important contribution if we support this work?)
  • Is the study feasible? Can it be done in a reasonable time frame?
  • Can this author produce an excellent dissertation/book? (nobody wants to back a shoddy effort)

Your prospectus should address the first of these concerns head-on and show the reader exactly why your project is important, interesting, and, if possible, relevant to broad (human/social/political/cultural) concerns. The second two questions are a little tougher to address. Often, they emerge because the project appears to be too broad or ambitious in scope or not yet completely formulated. Or perhaps the readers have concerns about the author's scholarship. If you are concerned that your dissertation prospectus describes a project that appears too big to be successfully completed, you should discuss this with your dissertation director; this might be a signal that you need to reconsider your project's structure. As for the scholarship issue, you can best address this by making sure to show that you are completely in charge of the scholarly apparatus of your project: you know what you're talking about in regard to the scholarly debates, and you give sufficient (and the right) citations. (A negative example: if you say you're the first person to study a particular topic, you had better be right!)  Dissertations are works in progress. If you have read these suggestions in preparation for writing a dissertation prospectus, you may be feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps you worry that you don't know how to address all the issues raised in the five key questions outlined above. This is probably because your dissertation topic and/or organization has not been thoroughly worked out yet. Indeed, many students find it hard to be decisive about the shape, topic, and issues in a dissertation until they are well into the writing (which is why more advanced students tend to write better prospectuses than those just starting their research, and, not coincidentally, compete better for jobs and grants). If your dissertation is still in its early stages, you may have to bluff a little to produce a cogent prospectus, and even resign yourself to remaining a bit speculative in places about features of your project. But you should also see whatever difficulties you have in writing your prospectus as diagnostic of the work have yet to do in planning your dissertation: if you are having trouble articulating the topic, you probably need to think it through more thoroughly; if you are uncomfortable with your rationale for undertaking the project, perhaps you need to do more research on previous approaches; if you have trouble summarizing your chapters, perhaps you need to spend some time on either the organization of the dissertation or on the content of the individual chapters. This exercise is worth the effort: a dissertation prospectus will probably be the first draft of all the other prospectuses to follow.

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Dissertation Prospectus

A dissertation prospectus is a paradoxical piece of writing. It is not an abstract (which is to say, a summary of a completed dissertation) or an introductory chapter of a dissertation, but rather  an attempt to describe what is planned before it has actually been done. Since it is meant to be submitted soon after completion of the candidacy examination, it need not be a huge document. Indeed, it could be around fifteen double-spaced pages in length (roughly 3500-4000 words) with up to ten further pages of bibliography. As indicated, the prospectus should provide a preliminary description of the proposed dissertation. It should delineate what topic and area the dissertation will explore; discuss why this topic and area merit such exploration; and include a provisional chapter outline and as complete a bibliography as possible. The outline should be as precise as possible, even if it is very likely to be modified in the course of writing the dissertation.

Finding, defining, and communicating a topic that is at once significant and of realistic scope are tasks that require discussion and cooperation between the dissertation writer and faculty members. Therefore, the dissertation writer is encouraged to show drafts of the prospectus to his or her dissertation committee and other faculty members. After these initial consultations, the writer will submit the final version of the prospectus for formal approval by the committee. The committee will then meet collectively with the candidate to discuss the project and its implementation.

There is no single recipe for a good dissertation prospectus. But all writers should answer, to the best of their abilities at this early stage of research, certain fundamental questions:

·         What is the central problem that the dissertation will address? This problem can be theoretical, critical, or historical; but it should, in most cases, be presented as a question or related set of questions to which the dissertation will attempt to find answers. It is important that the problem and hypothetical answers be stated from the outset, so that your research will not risk becoming random, and your exposition will not lapse into mere description. The sense that an argument is being made should be constantly kept in mind.

·         To persuade your reader that you are not just reinventing the wheel or restating what has already been said, you should include a brief review of the present “state of the art” with respect to your topic. Has this topic been treated before?  How does your approach differ from earlier ones?  Has new evidence appeared (for example, a new primary source) since previous treatments?

Outlining a sequence of potential chapters will help you clarify the argument of your dissertation and check the balance of its parts in relation to one another. A chapter should be conceived as approximately 30-40 double-spaced pages. If the major sections of your dissertation seem likely to exceed this length, plan to subdivide them. A finished dissertation is generally 200-300 pages long. You will find that developing an outline helps your thinking to move forward substantially, so that the actual writing of the dissertation is more clearly focused.

Once you have drafted your prospectus under the guidance of your dissertation committee, you might want to have it read by someone who knows nothing about your topic, to see whether you have clearly set out your problem and defined a workable method.  Seeking out a general reader right at the start is a good reminder that although you may be writing on a specialized topic, your dissertation should be written in clear, intelligible prose. Make sure you define the theoretical categories you are introducing, and try to avoid technical jargon unless it is necessary to the intricacies of your argument.

Prospectuses and dissertations tend to either lose themselves in detail, or to be too general. To avoid this, try to do what you would in any paper you write: make sure that your main argument remains clearly above ground, and that each paragraph has a clear connection with the ones preceding and following it. The prospectus is not a mini-dissertation, and need not involve more time in writing and revising than another paper of comparable length. Yet enough care and stylistic grace should be exercised so that the prospectus clearly and concisely articulates the project, its arguments, methods, and special considerations in a manner that anyone in interdisciplinary studies can grasp.

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How to Write a Prospectus

Last Updated: February 5, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by wikiHow staff writer, Jennifer Mueller, JD . Jennifer Mueller is a wikiHow Content Creator. She specializes in reviewing, fact-checking, and evaluating wikiHow's content to ensure thoroughness and accuracy. Jennifer holds a JD from Indiana University Maurer School of Law in 2006. There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 132,938 times. Learn more...

A prospectus is, in effect, a research proposal. The purpose of this document – be it a single page or dozens of pages long – is to sell your idea to the appropriate professor or research committee. You may be writing a prospectus for an undergraduate research project, a grad school study, or a doctoral dissertation. A prospectus also is used to apply for grants or other funding from universities or nonprofit organizations. [1] X Trustworthy Source Investor.gov Website maintained by the Securities and Exchange Commision’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy providing free resources about investing. Go to source

Things You Should Know

  • State your topic of study and the questions you intend to answer; then, explain how and why your study will answer those questions.
  • Outline the chapters of your prospectus and each stage of research, and include an estimate of the project's costs and timeline.
  • Use standard formatting unless otherwise instructed, with a table of contents and bibliography.
  • Carefully proofread your prospectus before submitting it for evaluation.

Describing the Goals of the Study

Step 1 State the general topic of your study.

  • Your topic isn't as broad as an entire subject such as history or sociology. Rather, you're going to list a specific aspect of that subject, such as "The Causes of World War II" or "The Impact of Globalization in Latin America."
  • This topic generally would be far too broad to write a single paper (or even a single book) about and even begin to cover it in a more than superficial manner.
  • In a shorter prospectus, such as for an undergraduate research paper, you typically won't need to devote more than a sentence to your topic before moving on to your research questions.

Step 2 List the questions your study will seek to answer.

  • Before you start formulating your questions, you may want to look at other research projects in your discipline to get a good idea of the types of questions typically asked.
  • For example, a history question may involve extensive research and synthesis of that research to discover any patterns that may emerge.
  • In contrast, questions in the social sciences such as political science may be based more on data gathering and statistical analysis.
  • In a short prospectus, this may simply be a bullet-point list of specific questions you expect to address through your research.
  • A longer prospectus, such as a grant proposal or dissertation prospectus, typically devotes several pages to discussing the specific questions that your research will address.

Step 3 Discuss the importance of these answers.

  • The more advanced you are in your discipline, the more crucial this portion of your prospectus is going to be.
  • If you're writing a prospectus for a research project in an undergraduate course, your professor likely won't expect you to contribute something new or profound to the field. However, graduate research and dissertations typically attempt to make a unique contribution to the area.
  • You may need to do some preliminary research before you can write this portion of your prospectus, particularly if you believe you are the only person ever to do research seeking specifically to answer the questions you've listed.
  • Any statement you make regarding the importance of your research should be supported by research, and you should be able to defend those assertions to the people reviewing your prospectus.

Step 4 Make clear how your study will answer the questions you've raised.

  • You want your thesis statement to be as clear as possible. If you find it difficult to craft a clear answer to the questions you've presented, it may be that your questions aren't as clear as they could be.
  • Keep in mind that if your question is vague or muddled, you're going to have a hard time coming up with a clear, definitive thesis statement.

Step 5 Summarize your interests and qualifications.

  • At this level, you're not just selling your idea, you're also selling your own knowledge, passion, commitment, and skills as a researcher to find the answers you seek.
  • For grant applications, information about yourself as a person and your personal interest in the topic you plan to research also can be important. When deciding which projects to fund, having a personal commitment or dedication to a particular issue may give you an edge.
  • Depending on the type of research you plan to do, you also may have to outline your position and your access or ability to gather various types of information, such as archives or classified documents.

Explaining the Organization of the Study

Step 1 Outline the chapters of your paper or project.

  • Keep in mind that this is just a plan – nothing's set in stone. At this early stage, your paper likely will change as you get into your research or start gathering the data and crunching numbers to work on your project.
  • You can create specific paragraphs or an outline, or you can write this section in a single seamless narrative. For shorter papers, that's probably all this section will be – essentially a couple of paragraphs that tell the readers how you anticipate you'll organize the final report on the project.

Step 2 Break down the phases or stages of your research.

  • For example, if you're doing a statistical analysis, you must first gather the data, then compile statistics from that data, then analyze the statistics you create.
  • For scientific experiments, this is the place where you'll describe the steps in the experiment.
  • If you're doing a project in the humanities, the stages of your research may not be as clear-cut as they would be if you were doing a research project for a more scientific discipline.

Step 3 Estimate the time it will take you to complete your project.

  • For graduate research projects or dissertations, the timeframe may be more open-ended. In these situations, you should provide an estimate in your prospectus of when you believe your project will be completed.
  • Coming up with a timeline and ultimate deadline of when the research will be completed is particularly important if you're applying for a grant.
  • How long you think it will take to complete your research affects the feasibility of the project, which is ultimately how your prospectus will be evaluated. Be realistic in what you can do within the time constraints you have.
  • Keep in mind that while you may be able to get an extension if your research ends up taking longer than you anticipated in your prospectus, you also may be expected to justify the reasons you need more time or explain why the initial estimate in your prospectus was incorrect.

Step 4 Calculate the amount of money your project or study will cost.

  • This is especially important if you're applying for a grant, as the people who review your prospectus will want a detailed breakdown of what you intend to do with the money if you're awarded the grant.
  • Typically you'll need to include expenses such as fees for access to archives or for copying, any costs for data collecting, and rentals of lab or other equipment.
  • You also should include a list of any resources you plan to use for which you anticipate there being no cost, such as use of the university library or computers and employment of student volunteers.

Formatting Your Prospectus

Step 1 Review any assignment information.

  • The guidelines also typically will include details on which citation method you should use, and may include details on using a particular style guide that will govern word usage, grammar, and punctuation rules.
  • Your assignment information also may specifically state how long each section is supposed to be, and which sections must be included.

Step 2 Use standard formatting.

  • Type your prospectus in a standard, legible font such as Times New Roman or Helvetica.
  • Typically you'll have one-inch margins on all sides of the paper, and your text will be double-spaced. Include page numbers if your prospectus is more than one page.
  • Follow the guidelines from your professor or department in regard to creating a cover sheet or using special formatting or headers on the first page.
  • If footnotes or end notes are required, set these up in your word processing app before you start working on your prospectus.

Step 3 Provide a table of contents.

  • The table of contents essentially is a list of chapters for your final report, and gives the readers of your prospectus an idea of what the final report will look like and how long it will be.

Step 4 Include a bibliography.

  • Some professors or departments require an annotated bibliography, in which you not only cite the sources you plan to use but provide a detailed description of what the source is and how it fits into your research.
  • Check the guidelines from your professor or department to make sure you're using the correct citation method for your bibliography.

Step 5 Proofread your work carefully.

  • Reading your prospectus backwards is a good way to proofread and catch errors you might have missed otherwise.
  • In addition to editing for grammar and punctuation, you also should check your language carefully. Make sure everything is written in a formal, professional tone.
  • Keep your audience in mind as you edit. While you may be writing your prospectus for professors or a department committee that has full understanding of your project's topic, you shouldn't assume any particular level of understanding. Rather, your prospectus should be written so that it can be understood by a generally intelligent person without any special knowledge in your field.

Expert Q&A

  • Be realistic about what you can accomplish through your research. Writing a prospectus that seems narrow in scope, but feasible, is better than writing a prospectus that seems overly ambitious and impractical. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Don't worry if your final paper or study ends up deviating from your prospectus. This often happens when you get further into your research, and is to be expected. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

how to write a prospectus for a dissertation

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Write an Expression of Interest

  • ↑ https://www.investor.gov/introduction-investing/investing-basics/glossary/prospectus
  • ↑ https://www.wichita.edu/academics/fairmount_college_of_liberal_arts_and_sciences/english/deptenglish/WritingaResearchProspectus.php
  • ↑ https://english.washington.edu/sites/english/files/documents/ewp/academicresearchpapersequence_grollmus.pdf
  • ↑ https://www.slu.edu/arts-and-sciences/theological-studies/student-resources/pdfs/prospectus-template.pdf
  • ↑ https://writing.wisc.edu/handbook/assignments/planresearchpaper/
  • ↑ https://poorvucenter.yale.edu/writing/graduate/writing-through-graduate-school/prospectus-writing
  • ↑ https://www.investor.gov/introduction-investing/investing-basics/glossary/mutual-fund-fees-and-expenses
  • ↑ https://examples.yourdictionary.com/reference/examples/table-of-content-examples.html
  • ↑ https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/science-fair/writing-a-bibliography-examples-of-apa-mla-styles
  • ↑ https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/writingprocess/proofreading

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In the third year doctoral students prepare a dissertation prospectus and present it at the prospectus conference, which is held yearly during the third week in January.

The conference is a forum in which students share their ideas with faculty and colleagues, and receive suggestions as they begin to research and write their dissertation.

Following the conference, advisors may either approve the prospectus, or ask the student to revise it. It is suggested that students begin working on the prospectus immediately after passing the general exam , so that they are adequately prepared.

A typical prospectus includes the following:

Statement of thesis.

What is the problem you wish to study and what is its interest or significance in current historical thinking? State clearly and concisely how you presently conceive this problem and how you suppose it can be resolved.

Historiographical Context

What work has, and has not, been done in this field and on this problem? Discuss relevant scholarship critically. It is not necessary to criticize specific failings; but show what is understood to be the merits and limitations of relevant works. How do you propose to develop, challenge, or depart from existing positions or themes in historical literature?

Method and Theory

Outline an approach to the subject. If the conception has theoretical aspects, discuss them critically. Have scholars in other fields developed concepts of potential interest to the topic? Think about method and theory, even if there is a decision not to engage much with external perspectives and theory. The faculty neither encourages nor discourages such engagement, but cautions that original historical work should not simply illustrate other people's ideas.

Give an account of the sources for the subject. Stress primary sources, the difficulties they present, their location (print, manuscript, or any other form), and their accessibility. Identify the principal libraries and repositories as well as other locations and persons. Do not overlook unpublished doctoral or master's research.

Draft a tentative chapter outline and schedule of tasks and stages for the writing of the dissertation. Allow time for research, travel to collections, writing, and revision.


List the primary and secondary sources used to develop the prospectus.

About the Prospectus Conference

Presentations last for 30 minutes. For the first 15 minutes students present their prospectus, and the remaining 15 minutes are reserved for questions from the audience. By December 2nd, the graduate coordinator will ask for three pieces of information as a prelude to the conference:

1.   Provisional title of the presentation 2.   Requests for audio/visual equipment 3.   Names of faculty members who should be invited to the presentation.

By January 13 candidates will submit a 15-20 page written prospectus to the graduate coordinator that forms the basis of the presentation. The prospectus should include a select bibliography and the names of archives in which research will be conducted. For examples of last year's conference see the  Graduate Student Resources site.

About the Prospectus Approval

Before spring break in the G3 year, and after the G3 conference has occurred, the graduate student will initiate a meeting of their dissertation committee. The goal of this meeting is to generate additional feedback on the prospectus and set norms and milestones for the research and writing of the dissertation. If necessary, the chair of the dissertation committee may ask for revisions of the prospectus. The final version of the prospectus must be submitted to the Graduate Coordinator no later than June 30 (preferably much earlier) along with the approval form signed by the advisor.

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Writing a Research Prospectus

A prospectus is a formal proposal of a research project developed to convince a reader (a professor or research committee, or later in life, a project coordinator, funding agency, or the like) that the research can be carried out and will yield worthwhile results. It should provide:

  • a working title for your project,
  • a statement of your research question or issue,
  • an overview of scholarship related to this topic or to the this author,
  • a brief summary of your research methods and/or your theoretical approach.

A prospectus is normally accompanied by a bibliography, often annotated, which lists sources you have consulted or plan to consult for your research. In cases where the texts studied exist in multiple editions or in translation, the bibliography should normally state which edition, text, or translation you will be using and why. You also should include a Prospectus Cover Sheet (Word) , complete with the signature of your director and second reader.

Contents:  In most cases, a prospectus will begin with an overview of existing scholarship, summarizing basic arguments relevant to the project. It will then position the project with reference to this scholarship. For this reason, the prospectus will demonstrate that you have conducted enough preliminary research to be able to design a relevant project and carry it through relatively independently. Since at this stage much research remains to be done, a thesis statement usually does not follow this introduction. Instead, include a statement of hypothesis or of the central research questions. The prospectus should then offer an overview of the project organization. If the project is large enough for chapters, include a breakdown of them. If special skills or assistance such as foreign language competency, access to archives or special collections, technical skills, or access to technical equipment are needed to complete your project, the prospectus should address your preparation in these areas. Part of your goal is, in essence, to "sell" your research supervisors on both your project and yourself as a researcher. Cover the ground well, presenting yourself and your project as intellectually convincing.

Developing an initial prospectus will help faculty understand where you are in the research process and help you bring focus to your research throughout the experience. Because it lays out a framework for your project, the prospectus can provide you with direction during the inevitable moments when you feel overwhelmed or lost. And because you have already clearly demonstrated your ability to carry out your research project, the prospectus can serve to reinforce your confidence and help keep you on track for a timely completion.

Beyond its relevance to your current research project, a prospectus helps you sharpen several important skills. Because a good prospectus demands concise, informative writing, composing one will help hone your writing style. In asking you to persuasively describe a compelling project and establish your ability to carry it out, it draws on abilities applicable to a variety of situations in and out of the academy, such as scholarship and funding applications, proposals for research forums, conferences, or publications, job applications, and preparation for larger and more complex research projects such as those found in Ph.D. programs and a variety of professional settings. The skill is so important that some people—grant writers—make a profession out of writing prospectuses.

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  • Dissertation

What Is a Dissertation? | Guide, Examples, & Template

Structure of a Dissertation

A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to finish a PhD program.

Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you’ve ever completed. It requires solid research, writing, and analysis skills, and it can be intimidating to know where to begin.

Your department likely has guidelines related to how your dissertation should be structured. When in doubt, consult with your supervisor.

You can also download our full dissertation template in the format of your choice below. The template includes a ready-made table of contents with notes on what to include in each chapter, easily adaptable to your department’s requirements.

Download Word template Download Google Docs template

  • In the US, a dissertation generally refers to the collection of research you conducted to obtain a PhD.
  • In other countries (such as the UK), a dissertation often refers to the research you conduct to obtain your bachelor’s or master’s degree.

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Table of contents

Dissertation committee and prospectus process, how to write and structure a dissertation, acknowledgements or preface, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review, methodology, reference list, proofreading and editing, defending your dissertation, free checklist and lecture slides.

When you’ve finished your coursework, as well as any comprehensive exams or other requirements, you advance to “ABD” (All But Dissertation) status. This means you’ve completed everything except your dissertation.

Prior to starting to write, you must form your committee and write your prospectus or proposal . Your committee comprises your adviser and a few other faculty members. They can be from your own department, or, if your work is more interdisciplinary, from other departments. Your committee will guide you through the dissertation process, and ultimately decide whether you pass your dissertation defense and receive your PhD.

Your prospectus is a formal document presented to your committee, usually orally in a defense, outlining your research aims and objectives and showing why your topic is relevant . After passing your prospectus defense, you’re ready to start your research and writing.

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The structure of your dissertation depends on a variety of factors, such as your discipline, topic, and approach. Dissertations in the humanities are often structured more like a long essay , building an overall argument to support a central thesis , with chapters organized around different themes or case studies.

However, hard science and social science dissertations typically include a review of existing works, a methodology section, an analysis of your original research, and a presentation of your results , presented in different chapters.

Dissertation examples

We’ve compiled a list of dissertation examples to help you get started.

  • Example dissertation #1: Heat, Wildfire and Energy Demand: An Examination of Residential Buildings and Community Equity (a dissertation by C. A. Antonopoulos about the impact of extreme heat and wildfire on residential buildings and occupant exposure risks).
  • Example dissertation #2: Exploring Income Volatility and Financial Health Among Middle-Income Households (a dissertation by M. Addo about income volatility and declining economic security among middle-income households).
  • Example dissertation #3: The Use of Mindfulness Meditation to Increase the Efficacy of Mirror Visual Feedback for Reducing Phantom Limb Pain in Amputees (a dissertation by N. S. Mills about the effect of mindfulness-based interventions on the relationship between mirror visual feedback and the pain level in amputees with phantom limb pain).

The very first page of your document contains your dissertation title, your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date. Sometimes it also includes your student number, your supervisor’s name, and the university’s logo.

Read more about title pages

The acknowledgements section is usually optional and gives space for you to thank everyone who helped you in writing your dissertation. This might include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who supported you. In some cases, your acknowledgements are part of a preface.

Read more about acknowledgements Read more about prefaces

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The abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually about 150 to 300 words long. Though this may seem very short, it’s one of the most important parts of your dissertation, because it introduces your work to your audience.

Your abstract should:

  • State your main topic and the aims of your research
  • Describe your methods
  • Summarize your main results
  • State your conclusions

Read more about abstracts

The table of contents lists all of your chapters, along with corresponding subheadings and page numbers. This gives your reader an overview of your structure and helps them easily navigate your document.

Remember to include all main parts of your dissertation in your table of contents, even the appendices. It’s easy to generate a table automatically in Word if you used heading styles. Generally speaking, you only include level 2 and level 3 headings, not every subheading you included in your finished work.

Read more about tables of contents

While not usually mandatory, it’s nice to include a list of figures and tables to help guide your reader if you have used a lot of these in your dissertation. It’s easy to generate one of these in Word using the Insert Caption feature.

Read more about lists of figures and tables

Similarly, if you have used a lot of abbreviations (especially industry-specific ones) in your dissertation, you can include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations so that the reader can easily look up their meanings.

Read more about lists of abbreviations

In addition to the list of abbreviations, if you find yourself using a lot of highly specialized terms that you worry will not be familiar to your reader, consider including a glossary. Here, alphabetize the terms and include a brief description or definition.

Read more about glossaries

The introduction serves to set up your dissertation’s topic, purpose, and relevance. It tells the reader what to expect in the rest of your dissertation. The introduction should:

  • Establish your research topic , giving the background information needed to contextualize your work
  • Narrow down the focus and define the scope of your research
  • Discuss the state of existing research on the topic, showing your work’s relevance to a broader problem or debate
  • Clearly state your research questions and objectives
  • Outline the flow of the rest of your work

Everything in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant. By the end, the reader should understand the what, why, and how of your research.

Read more about introductions

A formative part of your research is your literature review . This helps you gain a thorough understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic.

Literature reviews encompass:

  • Finding relevant sources (e.g., books and journal articles)
  • Assessing the credibility of your sources
  • Critically analyzing and evaluating each source
  • Drawing connections between them (e.g., themes, patterns, conflicts, or gaps) to strengthen your overall point

A literature review is not merely a summary of existing sources. Your literature review should have a coherent structure and argument that leads to a clear justification for your own research. It may aim to:

  • Address a gap in the literature or build on existing knowledge
  • Take a new theoretical or methodological approach to your topic
  • Propose a solution to an unresolved problem or advance one side of a theoretical debate

Read more about literature reviews

Theoretical framework

Your literature review can often form the basis for your theoretical framework. Here, you define and analyze the key theories, concepts, and models that frame your research.

Read more about theoretical frameworks

Your methodology chapter describes how you conducted your research, allowing your reader to critically assess its credibility. Your methodology section should accurately report what you did, as well as convince your reader that this was the best way to answer your research question.

A methodology section should generally include:

  • The overall research approach ( quantitative vs. qualitative ) and research methods (e.g., a longitudinal study )
  • Your data collection methods (e.g., interviews or a controlled experiment )
  • Details of where, when, and with whom the research took place
  • Any tools and materials you used (e.g., computer programs, lab equipment)
  • Your data analysis methods (e.g., statistical analysis , discourse analysis )
  • An evaluation or justification of your methods

Read more about methodology sections

Your results section should highlight what your methodology discovered. You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses , or themes, but avoid including any subjective or speculative interpretation here.

Your results section should:

  • Concisely state each relevant result together with relevant descriptive statistics (e.g., mean , standard deviation ) and inferential statistics (e.g., test statistics , p values )
  • Briefly state how the result relates to the question or whether the hypothesis was supported
  • Report all results that are relevant to your research questions , including any that did not meet your expectations.

Additional data (including raw numbers, full questionnaires, or interview transcripts) can be included as an appendix. You can include tables and figures, but only if they help the reader better understand your results. Read more about results sections

Your discussion section is your opportunity to explore the meaning and implications of your results in relation to your research question. Here, interpret your results in detail, discussing whether they met your expectations and how well they fit with the framework that you built in earlier chapters. Refer back to relevant source material to show how your results fit within existing research in your field.

Some guiding questions include:

  • What do your results mean?
  • Why do your results matter?
  • What limitations do the results have?

If any of the results were unexpected, offer explanations for why this might be. It’s a good idea to consider alternative interpretations of your data.

Read more about discussion sections

Your dissertation’s conclusion should concisely answer your main research question, leaving your reader with a clear understanding of your central argument and emphasizing what your research has contributed to the field.

In some disciplines, the conclusion is just a short section preceding the discussion section, but in other contexts, it is the final chapter of your work. Here, you wrap up your dissertation with a final reflection on what you found, with recommendations for future research and concluding remarks.

It’s important to leave the reader with a clear impression of why your research matters. What have you added to what was already known? Why is your research necessary for the future of your field?

Read more about conclusions

It is crucial to include a reference list or list of works cited with the full details of all the sources that you used, in order to avoid plagiarism. Be sure to choose one citation style and follow it consistently throughout your dissertation. Each style has strict and specific formatting requirements.

Common styles include MLA , Chicago , and APA , but which style you use is often set by your department or your field.

Create APA citations Create MLA citations

Your dissertation should contain only essential information that directly contributes to answering your research question. Documents such as interview transcripts or survey questions can be added as appendices, rather than adding them to the main body.

Read more about appendices

Making sure that all of your sections are in the right place is only the first step to a well-written dissertation. Don’t forget to leave plenty of time for editing and proofreading, as grammar mistakes and sloppy spelling errors can really negatively impact your work.

Dissertations can take up to five years to write, so you will definitely want to make sure that everything is perfect before submitting. You may want to consider using a professional dissertation editing service , AI proofreader or grammar checker to make sure your final project is perfect prior to submitting.

After your written dissertation is approved, your committee will schedule a defense. Similarly to defending your prospectus, dissertation defenses are oral presentations of your work. You’ll present your dissertation, and your committee will ask you questions. Many departments allow family members, friends, and other people who are interested to join as well.

After your defense, your committee will meet, and then inform you whether you have passed. Keep in mind that defenses are usually just a formality; most committees will have resolved any serious issues with your work with you far prior to your defense, giving you ample time to fix any problems.

As you write your dissertation, you can use this simple checklist to make sure you’ve included all the essentials.

Checklist: Dissertation

My title page includes all information required by my university.

I have included acknowledgements thanking those who helped me.

My abstract provides a concise summary of the dissertation, giving the reader a clear idea of my key results or arguments.

I have created a table of contents to help the reader navigate my dissertation. It includes all chapter titles, but excludes the title page, acknowledgements, and abstract.

My introduction leads into my topic in an engaging way and shows the relevance of my research.

My introduction clearly defines the focus of my research, stating my research questions and research objectives .

My introduction includes an overview of the dissertation’s structure (reading guide).

I have conducted a literature review in which I (1) critically engage with sources, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of existing research, (2) discuss patterns, themes, and debates in the literature, and (3) address a gap or show how my research contributes to existing research.

I have clearly outlined the theoretical framework of my research, explaining the theories and models that support my approach.

I have thoroughly described my methodology , explaining how I collected data and analyzed data.

I have concisely and objectively reported all relevant results .

I have (1) evaluated and interpreted the meaning of the results and (2) acknowledged any important limitations of the results in my discussion .

I have clearly stated the answer to my main research question in the conclusion .

I have clearly explained the implications of my conclusion, emphasizing what new insight my research has contributed.

I have provided relevant recommendations for further research or practice.

If relevant, I have included appendices with supplemental information.

I have included an in-text citation every time I use words, ideas, or information from a source.

I have listed every source in a reference list at the end of my dissertation.

I have consistently followed the rules of my chosen citation style .

I have followed all formatting guidelines provided by my university.


The end is in sight—your dissertation is nearly ready to submit! Make sure it's perfectly polished with the help of a Scribbr editor.

If you’re an educator, feel free to download and adapt these slides to teach your students about structuring a dissertation.

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Guidelines for Writing a Thesis Prospectus

Per rob 9/25/2023, i think all the relevant information is in the handbook, and students should be encouraged to look there. can we just delete the page, what is a thesis prospectus.

By the 10th week of their 6th term in the Department, students will submit to the Director of Graduate Studies a proposal for a thesis and suggestions as to whom they would most prefer as advisors. The Director of Graduate Studies will then appoint a committee, of at least two faculty members, but normally three faculty members, who will meet with the candidate about the proposal. This meeting is the oral thesis prospectus examination. This meeting must take place by the end of the third year in order for the student to maintain Good Standing. Once it takes place, the student remains in Good Standing even though the advisors may require him/her to revise the thesis proposal and meet to discuss it further. The student must pass the examination by the end of the 7th term in the Department.

The prospectus should be between 5 and a strict maximum of 15 pages long (double spaced). It should not be a philosophy paper, but rather a thesis plan that (a) clearly articulates an interesting philosophical problem in a way that (b) displays the student's knowledge of the problem's place in the space of philosophical ideas, and in particular, of the leading attempts to resolve the problem and (c) gives as clear an indication as the student can give at this early stage of how he or she intends to organize the thesis, and of what he or she expects her contribution to be, that is, of what he or she can add to the existing literature. (Students writing a thesis consisting of three linked papers should apply these guidelines to each of their topics.) Although the prospectus defense takes the form of an oral examination, its principal purpose is to reach an agreement with prospective future members of the student's thesis committee as to the shape and substance of the project.

Advice about how to proceed

Early in the third year, you should choose a professor and ask if he or she will be your prospectus advisor. It's a good idea to have a professor that you're working with throughout the whole process, even if you're not sure of your topic. So just make your best educated guess of who would be good to have. You can switch prospectus advisors if you end up choosing a topic for which someone else would be a better advisor. Meet with your prospectus advisor regularly to report on your thoughts and to get feedback on drafts of your prospectus, as well as any other writing you're doing in choosing a topic and formulating an idea for your thesis. It's a good idea to often write up five-page pieces on your latest thoughts. Once you have a prospectus advisor, report to the DGS who it is. Anyone currently in the third year or above who does not have a prospectus advisor should get someone within the next month!

Once you've picked a thesis topic (if not before), you should ask two more people to be the other members of your prospectus committee. These three people will examine you during your prospectus defense.

A word on choosing your thesis topic. Remember that the aim is to pick a thesis topic that genuinely interests you, on which you think you will do good work, and in an area that you think you will continue to want to work in after graduate school. Your thesis need not be the *best* topic for you. This is not the last piece of serious philosophical work you will do, nor is it the best work you'll do. You will be better served by getting to work quickly on a thesis topic that is a *good* topic for you than by spending an extra year trying to figure out what the *best* topic would be. ("Satisfice" in picking your topic; don't aim to maximize.)

A prospectus is a fifteen-page paper that lays out the topic and plan for your dissertation work. The prospectus and the prospectus defense should convince your prospectus committee that you are ready to write a dissertation.

There are different ways a successful prospectus can be written. One kind of prospectus lays out a question that your thesis will address and discusses the positions that have been taken on the question, and makes some points about those positions. You needn't have come to a conclusion about the issue yourself; you are showing that you are ready to work seriously on the question. Another kind of prospectus proceeds by stating the central claim you plan to argue for in your thesis, and roughly what your argument for this claim will be. It should be clear how your claim and your argument relate to what others have said. In writing this kind of prospectus, you aren't committing to do exactly what you say you'll do—but by making a specific plan you're giving yourself a good way to get started doing focused work. Your central claim, and your argument, can change (indeed, they likely will radically change) as your work proceeds.

Advisors will inevitably differ on exactly what they want from a prospectus, and what they think yours needs to be like given your topic and your philosophical habits. Work closely with your advisor and take her advice seriously. And get the other two members of your prospectus committee involved sooner rather than later.

(This document was written by Liz Harman and endorsed by Michael Strevens.)

Florida State University

FSU | Department of History

Department of History

Guidelines for a prospectus.

The prospectus should be typed, double-spaced, preferably about 10 pages in length or more, exclusive of preliminary outline and bibliography.

I.  The PROSPECTUS is a formal statement about your chosen topic of research . It should contain an explanation of the larger historical concerns which make your topic worth doing. You will also be able to present questions that you will be asking of your sources. Lastly, it asks you to present some tentative conclusions and perhaps a thesis. It should contain the following components.

  • A. A  discussion of the general topic . Describe your subject briefly, place it in an historical context, and state its significance to the larger historical issue(s).
  • B.   A definition of the "problem" that you are confronting, including a few questions that you will ask in an attempt to solve the problem.  You should present tentative conclusions and even a thesis statement. The purpose here is to see how you are conceptualizing your problem and how you might get at some answers. Keep in mind that any conclusions and/or a thesis which you propose are tentative at this point. All will probably be revised as you proceed with your research.
  • C.  Historiography.  Your prospectus should include a survey of the historiography of the topic and themes which you plan to cover. It should be a significant part of the prospectus. You should discuss how and why your research will contribute to the existing literature. Does it fill a gap? Does it add a new perspective? If so, what?
  • D.  A discussion of your sources . Describe the primary sources that you will use for each part of your work.

II.   A PRELIMINARY OUTLINE  should be included with the prospectus . Follow traditional outline form. The outline should not be TOO detailed but it should offer general topics and subtopics. It should enable you to approach your topic and present your material in an effective, organized way. Remember that it is tentative; you will revise it as you proceed.

III.  The last part of this prospectus is a more detailed WORKING ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY composed of two parts:  sources which you have in your possession, and sources which you have not yet obtained but intend to use.

  • A.   For sources in your possession:  Divide the bibliography into primary and secondary sources. Use complete bibliographical information for each entry and follow standard form. Remember to alphabetize by author's last name or the appropriate title word. For each entry, or groups of entries, briefly annotate the sources.
  • B.   For sources which you have not yet obtained but intend to use : Do exactly the same as for Part A except you do not have to annotate the entries. Give some indication about the availability and likely access of the sources you plan to consult, especially archival sources.

IV.   A tentative time table.  This should include the number of weeks or months you expect each stage of your labors to cover. Most everything takes longer than you expect!

V.  A one-paragraph Summary.

VI.   A cover page with:

  • A. proposed title;
  • B. signature of major professor;
  • C. signatures of all committee members including outside representative.

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Writing a PhD Prospectus: Your Step-by-Step Guide

dissertation prospectus

A dissertation or thesis prospectus is one of the most important documents because you cannot start working on the dissertation without it. And, your guess is right – it is not an abstract, which is a summary of the final dissertation or the introduction to the thesis. Rather, it is the first official document done and presented to the thesis supervisory committed upon confirmation of PhD candidacy. Although not so long, as we are going to demonstrate in this post, most PhD students find it very challenging to write. This means they get stuck even before commencing writing the main dissertation.

If you are one of the PhD students stuck trying to craft a prospectus, which will greatly define the journey of preparing the dissertation, there is no need to get stressed anymore because we are here to help. This post is a comprehensive guide, highlighting the main steps with examples to help you craft that PhD prospectus like a pro. Keep reading as we answer every question about dissertation prospectus, including, “What is the purpose of a prospectus?” and “How long should a prospectus be?”

What is a Dissertation Prospectus?

Before demonstrating how to write a thesis prospectus, it is important to go back to the beginning and establish what it is. So, what is a research prospectus?

A thesis prospectus is an attempt to demonstrate what you are planning to study in your dissertation before embarking on the task. Because you are required to submit the prospectus after the confirmation of your candidacy, it should not be a very long document. In most cases, it is around 10-25 double-spaced pages.

As we have highlighted, the purpose of a prospectus is to give a preliminary description of the dissertation ahead. Therefore, you should delineate the thesis topic and the area that it will focus on. So, what is your dissertation topic, and why is the area worth studying. You should also include a provisional prospectus outline and a comprehensive bibliography. The bibliography is likely to get modified along the way as you embark on writing the thesis.

Prospectus vs Proposal: What is the Difference?

When looking at the definition of a dissertation prospectus, it is not uncommon for students to confuse it with other preparatory documents, especially the proposal. A dissertation proposal is a document that provides an outline of the thesis and defines the main issues that you will address. You identify a problem and highlight a solution to it. In most cases, the outline of the proposal includes the introduction, a literature review, methodology, and a references list page.

On the other hand, a thesis prospectus is a document that highlights the roadmap for the proposed study. The document is intended to get the student thinking about the study project early enough and further provide the dissertation committee with a concise description of what you want to do. Using the prospectus, the supervisory committee will be able to check the soundness of the conceptualization of the targeted study.

In short, a thesis proposal provides an outline of the thesis that you are going to prepare and demonstrating its importance, while the prospectus focuses on the whole idea. Why is the topic worth studying? As we mentioned earlier, the prospectus is the first document that you submit to the supervisory committee after the confirmation of your candidacy. So, you should do it professionally to get your dissertation approved.

How to Write a Dissertation Prospectus: A Step-By-Step Guide

A prospectus is a preliminary statement capturing and communicating what you anticipate to do in your dissertation. Therefore, it should be as clear and concise as possible. Also, appreciate that there is no specific recipe for writing a prospectus. However, some universities have their preferred structures, and it is important to stick to your department’s recommendation.

Like any other type of paper, the first step in preparing a good prospectus should be creating an outline, which tells you what to put where. So, here is an example of one of the best outlines:

  • Provide the Title of the Study

This is the first and perhaps the most important component in a prospectus, and indeed, the entire dissertation. Unlike in the past, when some PhD students used to look for their dissertation titles at the last minute, things are different today because you need to do that early enough. So, think carefully about the title and ensure that it articulately aligns with your problem and statement of thesis. It is true that you are just getting started, but what you do must be clear, and this has to start with the title. Here are some great examples of titles in different subjects:

Governing the renewable energy transition. The rediscovery of a language and renaissance of a culture. Brexit: The impacts that could finally break down European Union. Same-sex relationships and violence: A case study of Russia. Race, class, and changing “civicness” in Bonn, Germany: A contemporary analysis.
  • Develop the Statement of Thesis

In this part, you provide a clear description of what you want to do. No need to write a lot on this section – one or several paragraphs should be enough. The best way to handle this section is to think of it as the primary question for the dissertation. Let us put it differently: can you wrap the focus of the entire dissertation in just one question? If the answer is “no,” the chances are that the dissertation is very broad.

The statement of the thesis part of the prospectus will ultimately become your purpose statement in the dissertation. Therefore, it will be a good idea to ask yourself one major question, “What is the problem that I am looking forward to solve?” Then review the answer and narrow it down to the purpose of your work.

  • Give a Summary of the Existing Literature

Once done with the statement of thesis, jump to the next step, which should be creating a summary of the existing literature for the study. This section will be the starting point for the dissertation’s literature review. Therefore, you need to dig deep into the subject of study to ensure it is as clear as possible. The goal is to ensure you fully understand the topic of study and related work to avoid repeating what has already been done.

The supervisory committee will be looking forward to understanding how your work will build on the current knowledge and its contribution in the respective field. Below is an example of a summary of the existing literature:

“ According to Barrington (2015), older workers are more likely to remain unemployed in the long term compared to employees of other ages. Therefore, age discrimination may be a major cause for the huge difference in the unemployment rates between different age groups. Barrington’s argument is supported by Barnett (2016), who suggests that ageist thinking is present in most workplaces all over United States. Older ladies are further disadvantaged because of additional discrimination based on gender…”
  • Explain the Methods that You Will Use

Although most students hold the view that it might be too early to think of the methodology when preparing a prospectus, there is no way out. So, you have to determine whether your study will be quantitative or qualitative. Then, explain why the selected method and theory are the right pick for the work. Go ahead and bring out any conceptual frameworks that will be used in the study.

  • Prepare an Outline for Every Chapter

In most cases, this is not required. However, there are some universities that require you to break down each chapter into smaller parts. So, if you are required to, go ahead and carry additional research to determine the subtopics of every section. As we highlighted at the start of this guide, the outline you provide does not mean that you cannot change it. As you gather more information when working on the dissertation, do not hesitate to modify the subheadings and add others. Also, new developments in the area of study can necessitate the addition of more subtopics within your outline.

  • Provide the Timeline for Your Study

Like the outline for each chapter, not all universities require you to provide a timeline before the prospectus approval is given. Even when not part of the requirement, it will be good to think of an appropriate time to start and finish the study. Indeed, most colleges have a specific timeline for thesis writing. So, try to ensure that everything falls within the provided timeline.

  • Prepare the Prospectus Bibliography

Below is an example of a prospectus bibliography:

Bibliography Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2011. Print. Kotrla, Kimberly. “Domestic minor sex trafficking in the United States.” Social Work 55.2 (2010): 181-187. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Mar 2012. Waite, Linda J., Frances Kobrin Goldscheider, and Christina Witsberger. “Nonfamily living and the erosion of traditional family orientations among young adults.” American Sociological Review 51.4 (1986): 541-554. Print.

Note how the references are arranged in chronological order. They also have to be in line with the recommended formatting style, such as APA or MLA.

Special Tips for Crafting a Great PhD Prospectus

  • Comprehensively Research Your Topic

To present a strong case for your topic, you need to have the right information. Therefore, start by studying it well for more knowledge on the area. Particularly, you should pay attention to what other researchers have done, their findings, and link to current affairs.

  • Read Other Dissertation Prospectus Examples

One way of honing your skills when it comes to writing a thesis prospectus is reading what other PhD students, especially the revered ones, did. The goal is not to copy what they did but to improve on what they have.

  • Work with the Latest Resources

While there are some studies where using old resources would be okay, such as when studying ancient civilizations in history studies, you should aim to use the most recent literature. This would provide you with a better grasp of what has been done in your discipline and existing gaps in your discipline. Indeed, you might find the latest studies the perfect starting point, especially if researchers identified areas that require further studies. Try to identify and use peer-reviewed journals and books for your prospectus.

  • Make Sure to Proofread Your Work Well

Like other forms of academic writing, your work should be properly proofread to ensure it is free from errors. Particularly, ensure that the ideas presented on the prospectus are flowing well from the start to the end. Furthermore, you should ensure that the message is clear and the words selected are correctly placed. This will also be a good moment to confirm that all the instructions were followed.

Time to Get Thesis Writing Help

Now that we have provided the writing guide and tips for preparing a good prospectus, are you ready to write down one? Many university students find preparing PhD prospectus a hard nut to crack because of poor understanding of the subject matter. For others, it is the lack of enough resources, competing assignments, and tight deadlines. So, what challenge is standing on your way to preparing a prospectus that will be approved by the supervisory committee?

The good news is that you can easily get prospectus approval with our online professional help. We have a team of professional academic writers who are ready to assist you in crafting the best grades. Well, the writing experts have all the qualifications and experience to help you not just with the prospectus but with your exams and term papers. They will also come in handy when preparing the dissertation. Remember that even if your assignment has a tight deadline, our writers are very fast and can beat it. Our services are also cheap.

When it comes to writing your dissertation, be it the prospectus, a chapter of it, or the entire thesis, you should work with the best. You can never go wrong with our professional writers!

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