How to Write a Proposal for a Finance Dissertation

At about 15 to 30 pages, a finance dissertation proposal is your first step in the path toward the completion of your doctoral dissertation and a critical one in developing your research "platform." A finance-oriented dissertation might be a multi-chapter treatment of a single topic in economics or related fields, or it could be a presentation of self-contained essays. Either type will benefit from a scrupulously planned proposal. As you write and plan your dissertation proposal, be sure to cover the main elements and work with faculty members to hone it further.

Plan, Formulate

Narrow down and specify a topic. Aim for precision. You are looking to carve out a manageable topic or set of focused questions from a range of broad issues.

Determine which issues must be included in your research and which ones you will not cover. This may not be evident right away, but from initially outlining a proposal and then expanding on your outline, you will learn the specific parameters of your project.

Assess how much time you will need until completion. You will also need to develop a budget for the proposed research and share this with the committee chair.


Summarize the problem. Briefly state in one or two paragraphs what your finance dissertation will do and how it will accomplish it. In clear but general terms ascertain the problem or questions you will be tackling and the conceptual framework for it. Point out why this will be an interesting and worthwhile topic.

Review the existing literature. Concisely discuss any recent and key work related to your topic and address how your work will advance or build on these previous studies. Justify the importance of the research you intend to conduct in light of the present status of similar research in the field.

Outline your plan of research. Give a broad overview of what the reader can expect in terms of theoretical frameworks, empirical implementation of the framework (if pertinent) as well as any conclusions you hope to draw. Make explicit what outcomes you will or will not be able to deliver in the final dissertation. Also state any limitations and assumptions that could affect these outcomes.

Establish your theoretical framework. State any specific hypotheses or research questions you will address in your dissertation. Define variables and constructs. If you are developing or working with a model, describe how you will evaluate this model.

Explain your methodology. Be explicit here. Explain why your chosen methodology is appropriate for each research question or hypothesis. Pinpoint data collection and data analysis procedures. If you use a questionnaire, provide a sample of major question types. If your research involves conducting an experiment, describe your subjects, apparatus, procedures and instruments for data collection. Include a technical appendix in which you list any estimation techniques and how you will obtain your data in addition to any computer programs you will need to use in this study. In the area of finance, programs such as LaTeX, Stata and MATLAB may be especially relevant. Find out which tools are available in your department and show how they will be used in your analysis.

State the project's feasibility and originality. Show how the proposed research is both performable within a reasonable amount of time and original to warrant acceptance for a Ph.D. degree. Elaborate as to how you are improving on the current literature.

Outline chapter headings. Detail major headings and subheadings for each chapter with a brief description thereof.

Cite references used in the body of the proposal.

Discuss With Advisers

Get approval from your adviser. This could involve obtaining two signatures from faculty members who find the proposal acceptable.

Make the suggested changes to the dissertation proposal and recirculate it to the faculty committee overseeing your project.

File the finance dissertation proposal plus any attached memos with the graduate coordinator. Any substantive amendments to the original proposal must be submitted in writing to the supervising committee.

About the Author

Timothea Xi has been writing business and finance articles since 2013. She has worked as an alternative investment adviser in Miami, specializing in managed futures. Xi has also worked as a stockbroker in New York City.

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