How to Write an English Thesis Proposal

To complete a graduate degree in English, you have to write a thesis, which is called a dissertation at the Ph.D. level. With advice from your faculty adviser, determine the subject matter for your paper and submit a research proposal that must be approved before you can begin your work. The proposal should thoroughly outline your plan for completing the paper, including a statement of the problem (also called a thesis), your research methods, purpose, hypotheses and other background information about your topic. The proposal also serves as a rough outline for completing your paper.

Capture reader interest with your introduction, which should be a brief summary -- usually one to two pages -- of your topic as a whole. For that reason, you may find writing this section easier once you have finished the rest of the proposal. However, you may choose to write it first, because it is the primary section, and then fill in the balance of the proposal to expand on the topic's ideas. Briefly describe your thesis, purpose, methods, what is known about the topic and how you will add to its body of knowledge.

Write your thesis statement. At this point in your academic career, you will have written more essay thesis statements than you can count. It is no different for this graduate dissertation: Formulate the question that will govern your research, and then turn it into a strong statement that your paper intends to prove.

Supply background on your topic along with the purpose and relevance of your thesis; for example, what you hope to contribute to the criticism of a specific genre or period of writing, or what you are adding to the study of English. Your introduction briefly outlines the relevance to future academics or to society. Now it is time to give more details: Briefly discuss research that has already been done on the topic (a literature review), and explain what you hope to prove or uncover. Provide concrete examples of the issues you will be exploring, and explain why the research you will conduct is important.

Outline your methodology -- that is, describe how you will collect and analyze information, the assumptions you bring to the project, materials you will use and any other materials or sources (such as specialized libraries or collections) relating to your methodology. For an English thesis, this could include literature, published works, an author's unpublished works or historical documents. Be sure to use authoritative sources and avoid questionable ones such as Internet Wikis.

Discuss preliminary research on your topic while developing your proposal; explain how it fits into your plans for the thesis. You can use this section to discuss hypotheses relating to what you expect to find as you conduct more thorough research.

Outline your thesis schedule, which may be one of the most important parts of your proposal. Provide a timetable for completing your thesis, including each stage of research and writing.

List your references and resources, formatting them using your institution's guideline requirements for graduate papers. For an English thesis proposal, you will most likely be using MLA (Modern Language Association) style, which uses the title Works Cited for bibliographical reference lists. This section will greatly expand in your final thesis; here, you list references used in your preliminary research. Your adviser is there to help you through this proposal process. If you have questions along the way, meet with him to ensure you are headed in the right direction.

About the Author

Jennifer Reynolds is a professional writer covering crafting, electronics and entertainment topics. She graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing from York University.

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