How to Write a PhD Proposal

How to Write a PhD Proposal

What is a PhD Dissertation?

A PhD dissertation is an academic work, which contributes to the body of knowledge, and more particularly, to the specific field in which an analysis is carried out. The process of writing a dissertation seems to be quite different in different fields; physics, for instance, requires much more time for writing than psychology or political sciences. Hence, in order to write a good PhD proposal, you also need to consider the time framework of the work as well as the topic.

Below there are 5 essential tips on how to write a PhD proposal.

1. Stay in touch with your supervisor

While writing your Bachelor or Master thesis, you were guided by a supervisor.  It is recommended to continue your communication with him/her even if you want to consider an academic career with another institution. Your supervisor will tell you which topic needs to be analyzed in more detail and where you can apply. If you decide to continue your career at the same university or institution, it will be easier for you to prepare a proposal. 

2. Examine the topic prior to application

You should now turn to the topic/s suggested by your former supervisor (or another professor). You must read a lot on the topic. Start searching for relevant information by browsing through more general books (i.e., written by the most renowned researchers in the field), and write notes on the information presented there. Pay particular attention to questions which seem insoluble or those that haven’t been examined by now. In Science it is easier to find such a topic since it advances very fast today. In Humanities, on the other hand, you can turn to contemporary phenomena which have recently emerged. At any rate, you need to find the topic which will allow you to make a contribution to your field of knowledge.

3. Develop an outline of the PhD dissertation 

Now you should turn to books which are not so general. You need to have at least 20-25 titles in your PhD proposal’s bibliography. This depends on the requirements of the particular graduate school, but of course it is better to write at a higher level. Get yourself familiar with internet databases (such as ERIC, Science Direct, EBSCO, etc.) and search for key words. Then pick up the most recent articles or book reviews, and take notes from them. You can then start writing an outline by having this information at hand. You must formulate your thesis, topic, field and scope of research, as well as theoretical framework; which renowned researchers you will be referring to and why. The outline will express your personal view on how to write your PhD dissertation. For sure it will be changed and modified plenty of times at a later stage.

4. Describe your experiments and observations

This is required when you are writing in the field of natural sciences (psychology and sociology may also be partially included here). Prepare a separate sheet of paper with a description of the experiment/s: time framework, main goal/s, methodology, where it will take place, expected results, etc.

Be careful: if you are planning an experiment, you cannot have a thesis, but only a hypothesis! The thesis should be formulated after the experiments have been carried out. In this case, the proposal should only contain the hypothesis, but not the thesis.

5. Write your PhD proposal

Now you are ready to write the PhD proposal. You should merge these outlines, but not mechanically. Here is a sample structure of the proposal:

  • Topic (one sentence)

  • Context: describe the problem. Why is it so interesting? What makes it difficult to be examined? (one or two paragraphs)

  • Thesis/hypothesis (three or four sentences).

  • Theoretical framework; which theories or ideas you will be referring to? Which renowned researchers you will rely on? (three or four paragraphs).

  • Description of the experiment (in science) (two paragraphs).

  • Structure and length of the dissertation (for example, three chapters divided into four subchapters each). Describe each subchapter in one sentence.

  • Bibliography. Refer to the titles that you have read by now as well as those you will refer to during your work.

PhD Proposal Structure: Topic; Context: describe the problem; Thesis/hypothesis; Theoretical framework; Description of the experiment (in science); Structure and length of the dissertation; Bibliography.
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You will attach your academic CV as well as a Personal Statement. The Committee will find there all other details about your academic achievements and motivation, so here you don’t need to write about the latter. Remember that writing a PhD proposal is a matter of good preparation and planning.

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