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The proposal should situate the work in the literature, it should show why this is an (if not the most) important question to answer in the field, and convince your committee (the skeptical readers that they are) that your approach will in fact result in an answer to the question.
by Matthew Mc Granaghan This is a work in progress, intended to organize my thoughts on the process of formulating a proposal. Use these guidelines as a point of departure for discussions with your advisor.
If you have any thoughts on the contents, or on the notion of making this available to students, please share them with me. They may serve as a straw-man against which to build your understanding both of your project and of proposal writing.
Read everything that you can in your area of interest. Filling in the things that we do not know and that will help us know more: that is what research is all about. These days, sixty double spaced pages, with figures, tables and bibliography, would be a long paper.
Figure out what are the important and missing parts of our understanding. Your proposal will be shorter, perhaps five pages and certainly no more than fifteen pages.
Another problem is that the nature of argument for a position rather than the reasoned rejection of alternatives to it encourages shepherding a favored notion rather than converging more directly toward a truth. A good proposal helps one see and avoid these problems.
Literature review-based theses involve collection of information from the literature, distillation of it, and coming up with new insight on an issue.(For perspective, the NSF limits the length of proposal narratives to 15 pages, even when the request might be for multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars.) The merit of the proposal counts, not the weight.Shoot for five pithy pages that indicate to a relatively well-informed audience that you know the topic and how its logic hangs together, rather than fifteen or twenty pages that indicate that you have read a lot of things but not yet boiled it down to a set of prioritized linked questions. It includes a model outline, but advisor, committee and funding agency expectations vary and your proposal will be a variation on this basic theme. The same principles apply to dissertation proposals and to proposals to most funding agencies.Because they address well-bounded topics, they can be very tight, but they do require more planning on the front end.Theses which are largely based on synthesis of observations, rumination, speculation, and opinion formation are harder to write, and usually not as convincing, often because they address questions which are not well-bounded and essentially unanswerable.Getting a good idea hinges on familiarity with the topic.This assumes a longer preparatory period of reading, observation, discussion, and incubation. Then just write the important parts as the proposal. Our MA program statement used to say that a thesis is equivalent to a published paper in scope.A clean, well thought-out, proposal forms the backbone for the thesis itself.The structures are identical and through the miracle of word-processing, your proposal will probably become your thesis. Once you have a good idea, you can draft the proposal in an evening.