Guide to Writing Research Proposal and Thesis

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Doctor of Philosophy (BA)
Master of Science (BA)



All students pursuing a postgraduate programme under Structure I shall submit a thesis for examination as a requirement for the award of the degree. This would entail the preparation of a research proposal which is later developed into a thesis. This document provides guidelines for writing the research proposal and the thesis.


Research proposal is a document written to inform others including your supervisor or graduate committee and your examiners of a proposed piece of research you intent to do. You should be aware that a research proposal which is poorly prepared can be rejected and you may not be able to proceed with your PhD program. So, the research proposal is obviously an important piece of document. Therefore it is imperative that you spend some time getting it right. A well-planned proposal will save you a lot of time in the long run. If the proposal is well-prepared, it could become a part of your final thesis. In other words, the proposal could eventually maps out different parts of your final thesis.

Before writing your proposal, it is a good idea to read several articles in peer-reviewed journals that cover your general topic area. This process should familiarize you with the type of content expected and with writing styles.

The format of the proposal varies from one institution to another. In Open University Malaysia (OUM), the research proposal could be turn into the first few chapters of the final thesis that will be written later. The three-chapter proposal with the relevant appendices should clearly illustrate all the theoretical and methodological aspects of the proposed study. You will notice that OUM requires its student to produce quite a detailed proposal. The rationale is that OUM wants to ensure that the student is able to proceed with his/her research work at a higher success rate. Furthermore, OUM would like to see that the proposal contain adequate information for a fair assessment by the examiners.

The chapters with headings and subheadings that are usually included in a proposal are shown in Figure 1. Whether you are writing a research proposal or thesis at the Master’s or PhD level, the chapters, headings and subheadings are generally the same. The major difference between the Master’s and PhD research proposal and thesis/dissertation is the scope and depth of research undertaken (Refer Appendix D). However, please note that the headings and subheadings in each chapter may vary slightly in different studies.

Contents of a proposal

Title and Abstract

Your first step should be to create a working title. This title will probably change as you prepare the proposal; it should become more refined until it is as specific as possible to the content that you will present.

The abstract should follow the bibliographic information, that is, the title and author. The abstract is a synopsis or summary of the main points of your proposal and should clearly identify the problem or issue that your thesis research is designed to address, the objectives of your study and the research methods you are going to use.

Chapter 1Introduction

In the Introduction you should describe your research project. The introduction should include the research problem or issue that you intend to study, the objectives of your study, research questions, the significant and scope of the study. It is especially critical that this chapter be well developed. Without a clearly defined purpose and strong theoretical grounding, the proposal and eventually the thesis is fundamentally flawed from the outset. You may find that some parts of this chapter can only be completed after you have written the other chapters. * In the first section, you should provide a description of the...
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