Guidelines for a master's thesis proposal

The proposal for a thesis or dissertation is essentially an outline of the research. The clearer the plan, the more likely it is that it will be approved by your advisor or dissertation committee, with a high probability that the final paper will also be accepted. A well - done, acceptable proposal, therefore, is a kind of personal contract between you the candidate, and your committee.

The challenge lies in deciding exactly what topic you want to propose. It is true that some fortunate students may be offered a specific topic or problem to pursue by a mentor whose preferences agree with the student's own. But more often, your job is to come up with a specific topic or research question that shows promise for extended study. Do not worry if a topic does not suggest itself to you immediately. Be ready and willing to try out a number of possibilities to see how they develop. How do you "try out" a topic? - by doing a topic analysis.

What I expect?

The thesis I expect students to do must make an important and original contribution to knowledge, and this in the form of 2 papers (this end-point will be far in the future, so don’t worry too much about it now; rest assured that writing 2 papers is in your interest because it will prepare you for an academic career and paper-writing.

Below are some guidelines that students should look before I will consider supervising their thesis. I expect students who wish to have me as a supervisor to have completed the MSc courses. Students who do not have this background will be require to take the requisite courses to “get up to speed,” especially regarding quantitative analysis methods; they must also be able to think theoretically. Of course, you don’t need to be an expert theorist and statistician; however, you need to have a level that ensures you have MSc-level knowledge.

Students who would like me to supervise their thesis must first submit a proposal following the below guidelines. For the master’s thesis, the proposal must be two pages long, maximum. Please use the guidelines below to draft the proposal.

Please ensure that the substantive area in which you wish to research is closely linked to my areas of expertise (so check-out my research record first). For certain types of master's thesis I might consider supervising integrative theoretical projects.

The thesis proposal should at least contain the sections below (please use my headings). What interests me is to know whether you have done sufficient work, and have the necessary background and knowledge to work with me; of course, I also want to ensure that the study is feasible.

I do not judge master’s thesis at the same level as a doctoral thesis. A master’s thesis that replicates or tests alternative aspects of a theory is fine for me.

Sections of a proposal

  1. Title: The title should clearly and succinctly convey the essence of the study.
  2. Research problem, Research questions, Hypotheses or Significance: Here, the research problem that you seek to address should be made clear. What is the puzzle that you are trying to solve? Why is it a puzzle? Try to write the research problem in question format. The research problem should be very pointed and focused, but not to the extent that it becomes trivial. You must identify why the problem is important (the questions that usually come to mind when reading problem statements are: "so what, who cares, what difference will it make to society?") In other words, the study should clearly be important and make some unique / significant contribution to theory and practice. What are the hypotheses that will be tested (i.e., a statement, in null or substantive form, indicated a relation or difference between the variables)?
  3. Background to the study: The literature reviewed should provide a strong enough theoretical and empirical foundation to support section 2 above (i.e., the research problems / questions should be distilled and naturally follow from the literature, which will also guide the hypotheses that need to be tested and predict the outcome of the study) and to set the tone of the study. The literature reviewed should provide the basis for the gap that you intend to fill with your study.
  4. Method and design: The design of the study (i.e., survey method/cross-sectional design, experimental design, field study, longitudinal study, etc.), is essential in terms of what type of data will be gathered, how it will be gathered, and the data-gathering instrument will be used. The intended sample must be clearly identified and justified. The data-analysis method must be clearly stated and justified, and support the hypotheses that are to be tested.
  5. Anticipated findings and implications: This section must logically follow from the literature review and the hypotheses. Provided you have strong theory, you must be able to predict the outcomes of the study. Implications for theory and practice must be clearly made.
  6. References: References / citations (and the style of the proposal) should follow the guidelines of the APA (American Psychological Association) publication manual.

Note: Please have your work copy-edited before sending it to me. I expect all student work to be clear and precise.