How to write a dissertation proposal?

Dissertation proposal is an important overview of what you are going to do for your research based dissertation. It should include your research rationale, aims and objectives and your time scale for the project. A great dissertation proposal should include the following elements:

Project Summary

In this very first part, you should provide a description of your research in a way that could be used for a general – i.e. non-expert – readership. In this section you should try and explain, in clear terms, what questions are being investigated, and how they are being examined.

Here is an example:

This project investigates the ethnic identity of villains in cartoon books. It will compare samples of books from 1964, 1984 and 2004, in order to discover whether there have been significant shifts in the range of identities portrayed. Our hypothesis is that in the wake of the events of 9/11 there may well have been an increase in the proportion of villains of apparent Middle Eastern origin. The findings of content analysis and text analysis will be tested out on focus groups in order to examine the extent to which diverse groups make the same readings of representations of villains.

Research project description

In here you should describe the scheme of research which you propose, using the following sub-headings: research question(s) or problem; aims & objectives; research context.

This section requires a fuller project description.

Research Questions: start by explaining the research question(s) or problems that the research addresses. You should aim to establish the relevance and significance of examining this question; in other words that it is a question to which it is worth knowing the answer. Drawing on your knowledge of existing work on the media will help here. Try looking at recent issues of media journals such as Media Culture and Society, Screen, Convergence, or the European Journal of Communication for ideas.

Aims and Objectives: outline what it is that you want to achieve in this research, and how you propose to achieve it. Save the detail on method for the next section, but feel free to mention methods.

Research context: you ought to be aware of some existing work on the topic you are investigating. This doesn’t require a full literature review, but credit will be given for reference to some existing research. The overviews in some recent collections or general introductions to media can be helpful sources. See for example, Marris and Thornham, Stokes and Reading, Curran and Seaton.

Research methods

In this section, you should describe the methodologies that you will use. You should identify the methods by description (e.g. text analysis, content analysis, interviews, survey; etc) and then go on to outline in detail how you will carry out the research.

Start by identifying the type of method/s you propose to employ. You can just propose one single method; in which case more detail will be expected on how you apply it.

The type of detail required varies with the method. In all cases you should identify clearly and in detail the material you will use, or the types of people that will be targeted for survey or interview. Some detail should be included on how you will obtain respondents for surveys or questionnaires or focus groups, or what sort of people you propose to interview. If you propose to do archive research, you should specify in detail the sort of material you hope to find.

Two Examples:

The text analysis will examine copies of the magazines FHM, Loaded, OK and Hello. Six sample issues of each will be used, from the months January, March, May, July, September and October. The analysis will examine the pictures used in the main story in each magazine. It will assess the framing and composition; the lighting style and camera angle; the people portrayed, the setting and props; and any accompanying headline or caption material. The covers will undergo the same analytic process.

Interviews will be conducted to explore habits of media consumption. The questionnaire will ask questions about newspapers and magazines purchased, and/or read; television programmes watched, specifying degree of regularity; books bought or borrowed from library or friends; and films recently seen. Respondents will be sought in order to produce suggestive rather than definitive information comparing university and non-university connected people in two age bands – under 30 and over 30. The figures obtained from this survey will be compared with available figures from secondary sources such as BARB, the General Household Survey and Social Trends.

Completing this section effectively requires that you consider in detail the process of your research – how it will be conducted in detail. It will help you to work out issues of resources and timetable (see below) before trying to complete this section.

Resources and logistics

Just outline the resources that will be needed. Resources can include the newspapers, magazines, videos, DVDs, off-air recordings, or any other media material. You must think through how it will be obtained or how access can be sought. Any cost implications should be included in the budget (e.g. twelve copies of Hello magazine, or 26 editions of The Times etc). Resources can also include people if there are surveys or questionnaires, or focus groups, or individual or group interviews, then you should outline how they will be organised.


Draw up a realistic timetable for this research. This should take account of three phases:

Preparation: any research requires an initial period of background reading, preliminary investigation, the planning of procedures, and testing of methods.

Detailed research: Try and estimate the amount of time each task will take. Remember that some activities need a lead in time. For example there is a gap between organising to interview people and being able to do the interview. We recognise that without experience of research a degree of guesswork is involved here – credit will be given by carefully thought out guesstimates.

Data analysis: Sifting through, and assessing findings takes time. If you have quantitative data this sometimes requires entry, compilation and calculation. Qualitative data also takes time to process and analyse. Interviews may have been recorded and require transcription – one hour of recorded material may take three or four hours to transcribe.

Writing: Writing takes time. One thousand words per day is a fairly good rate, so just writing 12,000 words is going to take a couple of weeks, even without subbing and rewriting.


You can propose a large or small-scale project. You can suggest a project that can be carried out by one person working alone in 12 weeks with minimal expense. (Note that this model fits the requirements and constraints of Project B and could constitute good planning for it. This could cost as little as £4000.

At the other extreme you can plan a large-scale project involving multiple methods and requiring a research team. This gives you more scope but requires a more elaborate budget. However the maximum budget you should consider is £100,000. You will find this does not go as far as you might suppose.

You can pitch your project anywhere between these extremes. No extra credit will be given for a more expensive project, but we do look for a consistency between budget, resources, and scope.

The budget should be presented in the form of a table according to the following main headings:

  • Staff costs
  • Material costs
  • Travel
  • Accommodation
  • Subsistence
  • Institutional resources
  • Stationery
  • Contingencies

Each heading may require a breakdown giving more detail.

Notes on the budget categories

Staff costs: for a single person, as a research assistant your annual salary is £14,000; so include a sum equivalent to the number of weeks work involved. For larger projects, there needs to be a Project Director (annual salary of say £25,000) and one or more research assistants (annual salary £14,000). Special services, such as transcription of tapes can cost £15 per hour.

Material costs: try and estimate the expense of acquiring any material you will need as part of the project, with the exception of stationery (see below). If you want to include a large scale survey, commissioned from an agency, for the purposes of this exercise, this will cost £5000 for a ten question survey for which you will get 500 responses from a representative sample of the national population.

Travel: use only if the project will require travel, either of you or your team to somewhere else, or the expense of bringing someone to your workplace. Calculate as second-class rail fare, or car at 38p per mile.

Accommodation: use only if overnight stays are necessary and at £60 per night per person.

Subsistence: for overnight stays, all involved will be entitled to £16 subsistence expenses

Institutional resources: where external funds are awarded, most universities require a top slice from the funding to cover the infrastructural costs. For the purpose of this exercise, calculate this as 40% of salary costs, in other word, if your staff costs are £10,000, then in this section you need to add an additional £4,000.

Stationery: this covers general office expenses and is a fairly arbitrary sum, but for this exercise make it around 2% of the total budget

Contingencies: events rarely go as planned and any budget should make an allowance for this. In this case add 3% of the total for contingencies.

Here is an example of a budget:



Staff costs   9000
Project director at 12/wks at annual salary 25000 5769.23
Res assistant at annual salary of 14000 3230.76
Material costs   31
Ten blank videos at £2 each 20
20 copies of The Times at 0.55 11
Travel   169.2
8 journeys to Newspaper Library, each 15.40 123.2
one journey to a different city 46
Accommodation and subsistence   92
overnight stay in the city 60
one night, two people 32
Subtotal   9292.2
Institutional resources 3600
Stationery 185.844
Contingencies 278.766
TOTAL BUDGET   13356.81


It is recommended that you try out your budget on a spreadsheet, which will enable you to examine the time and cost implications of the decisions you have made about methodology. You can adjust the scope of the research, the time needed, and the costs until your model works properly.


Specify the audiences to whom the outcomes of your research will be of interest, and how you will present those outcomes to them.

Ask yourself two questions:

  • Which groups of people will be most likely to be interested in the findings of this research?
  • What means will you use to communicate the findings to them?

Note that research audiences, or end users can be academic, governmental, professional, commercial, general, or political activist in character.

A typical research output might be a report, or a paper in a scholarly journal. However, research can also be disseminated by conference presentation, by contributing to a seminar or public discussion, by publishing a book or chapter in a book. Awareness of research might also be spread by newspaper interview, speaking on radio or television, by being involved in the making of a film or television programme, or writing a pamphlet.

Credit will be given for evidence of an understanding of an identifiable audience and how best to reach them.

2016-11-10T15:00:30+00:00 Academic Skills|