How to Write a Thesis Proposal

Mapping your way to a great thesis or dissertation

Before you write your thesis, you’ll probably have to write a thesis proposal. What’s a thesis proposal? Think of it as a roadmap for your thesis. The thesis proposal lays out how you’re going to get from A to Z, with Z being the completed version of your thesis or dissertation.

What’s more, you’re going to have to submit this roadmap to your professors, advisors, and/or committee; it will be evaluated in order to make sure you know where you’re going, and that you have the correct route marked out, as well as a list of all the supplies you’ll need along the way. The thesis proposal will allow your advisors to determine whether you are about to embark on a rational journey— to make sure they won’t have to send out a search party if you end up lost in the dunes of an intellectual desert. So your map had better make sense! The thesis proposal will require research, preparation, and a clear vision of your final destination.

The thesis proposal is usually structured around a number of common sections, each of which will help you lay out the plans for your project. We’ll take a look at each of these sections in turn.

The Title Page

The title page contains basic identifying information (author’s name, mentor’s name, institution, department, date, etc.), as well as a descriptive title for the thesis that helps describe the topic of the proposed project:

  • A Brief History of Halloween and the King of Gourds: A Study of Pumpkins, Horror Symbolism, and Why Rats Like the Color Orange

The Abstract

The abstract provides a brief summary (typically, less than 200 words) of your proposed thesis. It should provide a general introduction to the topic (a brief history of pumpkins and Jack o’ Lanterns), the key statement of the paper (Halloween would cease to exist without the pumpkin), how you will address the issue (an exploration of pumpkins in history and literature), as well as the implications of your work, if completed successfully (a reinvigoration of Pumpkinology).

The Table of Contents

The table of contents should list all the headings and subheadings in your thesis proposal, providing page numbers for each, to ensure swift navigation through the document.


The introduction sets the context of your thesis, and must capture your reader’s interest. This is where you explain the background of your topic and any relevant research, starting from a broad perspective, and then narrowing down to your thesis statement, citing sources along the way.

  • Spooky faces were first carved into pumpkins by rats (who were living in these scooped-out gourds), though inferior imitations were later produced by humans. After rats brought the Black Death, plague fears were connected with pumpkins, which were used to ward off spirits of the newly deceased in a subconscious attempt to control fears of illness, death, and the apocalypse. Jack o’ Lanterns soon became common Halloween talismans throughout the world.

The Key Questions

These are the main questions that your thesis is trying to answer. The questions should provide a focus and direction for the proposed study, guiding you toward your intended results.

  • What is the symbolism of the pumpkin? Why are pumpkins scary? Why do rats live in pumpkins? Why are pumpkins orange?

The Literature Review

This is a brief, but precise, explanation of the sources you intend to use in your research, outlining their significance and indicating your current knowledge base, as well as your future goals in terms of the research, if relevant.

  • The Pumpkin King (Skellington et al., 2006) explores the monarchy’s longstanding relationship with pumpkins, and provides a vital link between rat plagues, horror symbolism, and the politicization of the pumpkin.


A description of the methods you will be using in the paper to answer your key questions. This could include theoretical approaches, analytical frameworks, philosophies, formulas, equations, or experiments.

  • Textual criticism, within a Marxist, Feminist, and Deconstructionist framework, will be used to analyze the mytho-perception of pumpkins throughout human history, as evidenced in various works of world literature, with a Freudian approach adopted for an analysis of rat/pumpkin symbiosis.


This is where you explain the expected results of your research, its possible contributions to the field, and the methods that will be used to ensure validity and accuracy. This is usually followed by a thesis proposal summary, which restates and specifies the goals of the study.

  • Pumpkins are a vital Jungian symbol of the subconscious mind’s desire to transform and control feelings of fear and horror, and of the human need to know the unknowable. Knowledge in the field of Pumpkinology will be greatly deepened through this study, and humans’ fellowship with rats will be supported and expanded, heralding a new age of plague-free companionship.


This is a reference list of all works used in the writing of the thesis proposal, following the particular style guide requested.

  • Skellington, J., Burton, T., King, S. and Hawthorne, N. 2011. Nightmares and Dreamscapes: Pumpkins, Rats, and Symbols that Go Bump in the Night. The Journal of Gourds and Rodentia, 47(2), p. 666.

And there you have it—a quick roadmap for writing a thesis proposal! You have a major challenge ahead of you, but with a little planning and hard work, it can be done. Still uncertain of the process? Send your thesis proposal or dissertation to the editors at for review.

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