Thesis Proposal Outline

Outlining A Thesis Proposal

A thesis proposal outline is not much different from any other type of work, but if you’ve never wrote a formal thesis proposal before, you might find yourself confused about what information should be included and in what order. Luckily, there’s a generalized structure that can be adapted to meet the needs of almost any discipline.

A thesis proposal generally consists of eight parts:

  • Thesis Summary
  • Statement of problem
  • Justification of research
  • Context and previous research
  • Methodology
  • Limits of research
  • Potential outcomes
  • Dissertation Plan


The summary is exactly what it sounds like, a one to two page summary of your proposal that can potentially be read by busy professors that don’t want to bother reading the rest. It should be thorough enough that a person that has only read the summary knows exactly what your research is, how you plan to accomplish it, and why it is important, but it should not be filled with extraneous detail that is better left to the other sections.

Statement of Problem

The statement of problem should be familiar if you did the topic analysis exercise that we discussed last time, this section will be anywhere from one to three pages that describe the specific problem that your research is addressing.

Justification of Research

The next section, justification of research, will be anywhere from one to two pages that explain the importance of your research and why people might care about it. This section is a huge part of the proposal that should be considered very carefully. Do not use vague answers or subjective arguments, but actual evidence that demonstrates either a lack of research into this area or a stated need for the research to be done by an authority in the field.

Context and Previous Research

After that, you need to present the context and previous research. This section should demonstrate a thorough understanding of any research that has come before yours and how your research will relate to it. The length of this section is entirely dependent on the amount of previous research you need to describe, however since the majority of this work should have been accomplished while doing your literature review, it is one of the easiest sections to create.


The next section will be two to eight pages on the methodology of your research. In this section, you’ll present a detailed plan for how you intend to approach and accomplish your research goals. This section should be a detailed, practical guide that considers the available resources, funding, and any possible obstacles that might occur. It should also contain a realistic timeline for your project.

Limits of Research

The next section will simply be one or two pages concerning the limits of research. It will describe the intended focus of your thesis and boundaries of your research. In other words, this section describes what you’re not researching and explains why. This section should also explain any assumptions that might be necessary.

Potential Outcomes

Then there’s the section on potential outcomes. This section is one to three pages describing both the positive and negative possibilities for your research. It should also describe how these possibilities might benefit further work in your field and demonstrate that you are prepared for the worst case scenario.

Dissertation Plan

The final section in your thesis proposal should be your dissertation plan. This section should briefly outline the plan for your formal dissertation and give a general description of some of the proposed chapters for your dissertation. This section demonstrates that you’re thinking about how to convert your research into a written form.

Of course, this is just a general outline for a thesis proposal. Your department might have additional guidelines and requirements that should be considered. Always check with them before making your outline and adapt this plan as needed.

Hopefully, this helps out in organizing the structure of your thesis proposal. After that, you only have to worry about the easiest part—actually writing a thesis proposal. Next time, we’ll switch gears and talk about something a little different: the difference between the formal and informal voice. Until then, stay safe and keep writing!

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