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Theses, Dissertations, and Project Reports (TDP): Proposal

Proposal Basics

Every student who has to submit a TDP in order to obtain their degree must first present a research proposal to the Office of Graduate Studies. The proposal should clearly describe the research project that will be conducted.

Although it is a preliminary document by nature, a proposal must present a well-developed idea. You must accurately express what the aim of your study is and how it will be carried out. The proposal also explains how the study constitutes a contribution to your field.

A well-thought-out proposal, where you establish a detailed plan of what you intend to achieve and how, will serve as a guide as you navigate all subsequent stages of the research process. Do your best to establish clearly-defined objectives. Also, look to anticipate any difficulties that you may come up against as you conduct the project. Make sure that all resources that are necessary to complete the proposed study are available to you. Taking all of these factors into consideration will help you form a clear and comprehensive picture of how your project will run.

The information in this section will help you write an effective proposal. We also encourage you to review the information published by the Office of Graduate Studies about proper preparation of TDP proposals, which is available at

Overleaf template for thesis and dissertation proposals

Here we provide a link to an Overleaf template created by the Graduate Writing Facilitators that you can use to create your thesis or dissertation proposal. Access the template by clicking here.

Purpose of the Proposal

When you write your proposal, shoot for the following:

  • Clearly define the topic, scope, and objectives of your study
  • Explain the process and methodology you will follow
  • Show that you are well versed and informed on your research topic
  • Justify the importance of your study to your field

Consult with your graduate committee as you draft your proposal. Make sure that the research project you are proposing can be completed within a reasonable amount of time and that it satisfies all the requirements of your degree.

Main Sections of a Proposal

There is certain information that must be found in every proposal. Here, we present the essential sections of a proposal and we describe the content of each one. If you have any questions regarding this, make sure to consult with your advisor.

When you turn in your proposal to the Office of Graduate Studies, the title page must include the signatures of all the members of your graduate committee. The signature of the director of your department must also be included.

Naturally, the full title of your proposal must also be included in the title page. As indicated in the document titled Guías para la preparación de propuestas, tesis, proyectos y disertaciones (Guides for the Preparation of Proposals, Theses, Projects and Dissertations), which is available on the webpage titled Propuesta Tesis/Proyecto (Thesis/Project Proposal) in the Office of Graduate Studies website, the title of your proposal must serve as "an accurate and concise description of the addressed research topic".

This section of the proposal is tied to one of the fundamental purposes of TDPs, which is that students make an original contribution to their field of study. In the justification, you must explain how your work adds to the body of knowledge in your discipline. 

In order to make a strong argument about the importance of your study, it is essential that you know as much as possible about your field. This is closely connected to the literature review stage. You must have an awareness of what has been researched and what has been written around your topic, and you must establish how your study adds to these previous efforts.

It is very important that you obtain your advisor's impressions with regards to your justification. This person will help you refine your research topic so that your work represents a true contribution. Your advisor will also help you articulate a convincing argument in favor of the significance of your study.

In the literature review section of your proposal, you must show that you are well-informed about the studies that have been published in your field. It is important that you are familiar with dominant perspectives and trends in your discipline. This will give you a strong sense of security in knowing that the study you are going to conduct truly represents an original contribution.

It is good to think about scholarly literature as an ongoing conversation. Your research project represents your entry into that conversation. In order for you to contribute to the discussion, it is important that you know what has been said and what specific topics are currently attracting the most attention. Reviewing the literature prepares you in this regard.

Below you will find resources that will help you conduct your literature review effectively.

In this section, you must clearly establish what it is that you want to achieve with your study. The way you do this will vary from one discipline to the next. If you are a natural sciences student, you will probably state a hypothesis, which you will then test in your study. In the social sciences, it is common for researchers to establish a set of research questions which will define the focus of the project.

In any case, the goal is to articulate the purpose of your study as clearly and precisely as possible. 

Before you begin your study, you must have a clear idea of how you will conduct it. This includes both the data collection process and the analysis process.

It is very helpful to know what are the most common practices in your discipline in terms of methodology. In some disciplines, quantitative approaches are the most usual, while in others, qualitative research methods are usually employed. Additionally, mixed methods are an emerging tendency in certain fields.

Your literature review can help you determine what methodology you should use. Find out what methods have been used by others who have conducted studies similar to yours. ¡You don't need to reinvent the wheel! However, if you adapt a method designed and used by someone else to your own study, remember to give proper attribution.

Consult your thoughts on methodology with your advisor. This person can give you valuable insight concerning this issue. They can tell you if the methodology you are considering is good for your research topic or if you should look at other options. Also, make sure that you have access to all the resources necessary to apply the methodology you are planning on using. Finally, be aware of any protocols you must comply with in order to carry out the data collection method you choose. This can include obtaining government permits and going through CPSHI review.

This section includes full references to all the sources you cited in your proposal. Your references must have a consistent format, and must be in accordance to the rules of any style manual or author guide you are using. Each reference entry must provide sufficient information about the source as to allow your readers to accurately identify and locate it.

If you need information about what style manual or author guide is used in your discipline, you can go to the "Citation" section of this guide and check the "Formats by Faculty" box. As always, double-check with your advisor. 

Submitting Your Proposal

You must submit your TDP proposal to the Office of Graduate Studies. The proposal must be signed by:

  • the members of your graduate committee
  • your department head

When you submit your proposal, you must also submit the document titled Formulario para Someter Propuesta de Disertación, Tesis o Proyecto (Dissertation, Thesis, or Project Proposal Submission Form). To find this form and additional information about developing and submitting your proposal, visit

Additional Documents

Other documents you may have to submit if they are applicable to your study are the following:

  • Evidence of clearance from CPSHI
  • Permits issued by federal entities such as United States Fish and Wildlife Service or United States Department of Agriculture
  • Permits issued by local government entities such as the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources or the Department of Education.

In the "Research Protocols" section of this guide, you can find information and links that are helpful if you need to obtain some of these documents.