How to Write a Dissertation Prospectus (with outline and examples) - Beyond PhD Coaching (2024)

Last Updated on: 30th August 2022, 04:27 am

Your dissertation prospectus is the first formal document you submit to your dissertation committee outlining your intended study. It is not a long document; usually around 10-20 pages. It should be submitted fairly soon after establishing candidacy.

It is wise to discuss your prospectus with your Chair and committee members before writing it. They will give you valuable pointers about your intended study, and you’ll save yourself the effort of rewriting it after you get their feedback.

Book a Free Consultation

In this article, I’ll provide an example outline of a dissertation prospectus, discuss the basics of how to write a dissertation prospectus, and also explore the similarities between writing a prospectus and asking someone on a date.

Dissertation Prospectus: Example Outline

While every institution will have different requirements (and you should absolutely look at those before writing your dissertation prospectus), there are a few basics that are common to most of them.

How to Write a Dissertation Prospectus (with outline and examples) - Beyond PhD Coaching (1)

Title: This is more of a labor than you might have anticipated. Gone are the days of last-minute essay titles. The dissertation prospectus title is a hyper-specific description of what you plan to study. It should align with your problem and purpose statements.

Focus, or Statement of Thesis: This is where you describe what you’ll study. No need to write a ton here–a few sentences or short paragraphs is usually sufficient.

Again, this must be very specific. It’s easiest to think of this section as a central question of your dissertation. Can you distill the focus of your dissertation into one question? If not, chances are your topic is too broad.

Since this section will become your Problem Statement and Purpose statement, it can be helpful to consider “what is the problem I’m trying to solve,” and “with that in mind, what is the purpose of this study?”

Summary of Existing Literature: What other studies have been done on the subject? This is the very beginning of what will become your Literature Review. It’s important that you’re familiar with the landscape before you dive into studying a subject so that you can be sure that you’re building off of existing knowledge and adding a genuine contribution to the field.

Methodology: Discuss the methods you plan on using. You should know whether your study will be qualitative or quantitative, as well as any theoretical or conceptual frameworks you plan on using.

Outline: Some institutions ask that you provide a brief outline of each chapter.

Timeline: Some institutions ask for a rough timeline. Make sure to account for time researching existing literature, collecting data, and writing.

Bibliography: Here, you’ll list the sources that you reference in your prospectus.

Book a Free Consultation

How to Write a Dissertation Prospectus

How to Write a Dissertation Prospectus (with outline and examples) - Beyond PhD Coaching (2)

Writing a Dissertation Prospectus Is Like Asking Someone on a Date

One of the most common challenges students have when they begin writing their dissertation prospectus is lack of specificity. The level of specificity required in academic writing is unique, and it often takes students a while to grasp just how specific they need to be.

One (sort of) helpful way to look at this is that it’s like asking someone out on a date. In both a dissertation proposal and a date proposal, you need to communicate the following information:

  • Who is involved?
  • What are we doing?
  • Where are we going?
  • When is this happening?


In a date scenario, usually that’s you and me. But maybe two of our mutual friends are coming along for a double date. Or an adult chaperone. Or maybe it’s you and one of my friends who I think would be perfect for you, even though you think he’s an asshole. Do you see how it’s important to know who we’re talking about?

Knowing who is equally important in a dissertation. And we have to be super-specific here. Not just “branch managers,” but “branch managers at a medium-sized paper company in Pennsylvania.”


How to Write a Dissertation Prospectus (with outline and examples) - Beyond PhD Coaching (3)

For one of the first dates I went on with my partner, I neglected to tell her that we were going hiking. She showed up in a sundress and pretty little sandals (which I also neglected to notice were not appropriate for hiking). I should also mention that “hiking” for me is more like bush-whacking; it involves following deer trails, climbing over fallen trees, scaling small cliffs, and jumping over streams.

Despite her attire, we had a blast, and only once did she mention that she “maybe should have brought different shoes.” If I were to do it over again, though, I would tell her what we were doing so she could dress appropriately.

It’s also important to know what you’re studying. What phenomenon, event, etc. Are you studying employee engagement,

Hack Your Dissertation

5-Day Mini Course: How to Finish Faster With Less Stress

Interested in more helpful tips about improving your dissertation experience? Join our 5-day mini course by email!


If we’re going on a date, I have to know where to meet you. At a cute local diner or L’etoile? Knowing where we’re going only makes sense. If I plan on taking you to Venice, but you think we’re meeting at our favorite cafe, there might be a problem–no matter how nice Venice is.

How to Write a Dissertation Prospectus (with outline and examples) - Beyond PhD Coaching (4)

See, knowing where we’re talking about is important. Guess what–the same is true for a dissertation.

Most dissertation studies (at least those with human subjects) involve a limited area. It’s important to know where a study took place in order for future researchers to account for the location when trying to replicate your data. It’s also important to know where in order to interpret the data in context.

For example, upper-level managers in banks in Nigeria have a different context than those in the United States. Women between the ages of 25 and 40 who earn the majority of their household income have a different context depending on whether they’re in Tokyo, rural India, or a medium-sized city in Brazil. Each of these countries has different cultures, laws, economies, and historical events that affect the data you collect.


This is something most people get right when asking someone on a date. It’s hard to meet up if you’re there at different times. However, not everyone gets this right in the dissertation prospectus.

You can explore about the causes or the effects of the financial crisis in Rome, but what you discover will differ depending on whether you mean the Roman Empire’s financial crisis of 33 A.D., or the Italian financial crisis of 2018.

How to Write a Dissertation Prospectus: Summary

Your prospectus is usually the first formal document you submit on your way to writing your dissertation. When done well, it can provide you a strong basis for writing your Chapter 1. I encourage you to reach out to your committee before writing it to discuss what your plans are, and again if anything is unclear. You’ll save valuable time by doing this proactively, and you’ll also learn the essential vocabulary of the academic.

As an expert in the field of academic research and dissertation writing, I bring a wealth of knowledge and practical experience to the discussion of dissertation prospectuses. I have a deep understanding of the nuances involved in crafting a compelling prospectus and have provided guidance to numerous students in this crucial phase of their academic journey.

Firstly, the article you provided offers valuable insights into the essential components of a dissertation prospectus. The information is accurate, aligning with the best practices in academia. Now, let's delve into the concepts discussed in the article:

  1. Dissertation Prospectus Overview:

    • The prospectus is the initial formal document submitted to the dissertation committee, outlining the intended study.
    • Typically 10-20 pages long, it should be submitted soon after establishing candidacy.
  2. Key Components of a Dissertation Prospectus: a. Title:

    • The title is a hyper-specific description of the intended study, aligning with problem and purpose statements. b. Focus or Statement of Thesis:
    • Describes what will be studied, akin to a central question of the dissertation. c. Summary of Existing Literature:
    • An overview of previous studies on the subject, serving as the foundation for the Literature Review. d. Methodology:
    • Discussion of planned research methods, specifying qualitative or quantitative approaches and theoretical frameworks. e. Outline:
    • Some institutions may require a brief chapter-wise outline. f. Timeline:
    • Some institutions ask for a rough schedule, considering literature review, data collection, and writing. g. Bibliography:
    • A list of sources referenced in the prospectus.
  3. Example Dissertation Prospectus Outline:

    • The article suggests a structured outline that includes the title, focus, summary of existing literature, methodology, outline, timeline, and bibliography.
  4. Writing the Dissertation Prospectus:

    • The article draws an interesting analogy between writing a prospectus and asking someone on a date.
    • The level of specificity required in academic writing, particularly in describing the who, what, where, and when, is emphasized.
  5. Analogies to Asking Someone on a Date: a. Who:

    • In a dissertation, it's crucial to specify not just the participants but their detailed characteristics. b. What:
    • Clearly defining what is being studied to avoid ambiguity. c. Where:
    • Knowing the location of the study is essential for contextual interpretation. d. When:
    • The importance of specifying the time frame for the study.
  6. Importance of Specificity:

    • Lack of specificity is highlighted as a common challenge in writing dissertation prospectuses.
    • The need for detailed information to avoid misunderstandings or misinterpretations is stressed.

In summary, the article provides a comprehensive guide to crafting an effective dissertation prospectus, covering key components and emphasizing the importance of specificity. The analogy to asking someone on a date adds a relatable perspective to the process, making it more accessible for students.

How to Write a Dissertation Prospectus (with outline and examples) - Beyond PhD Coaching (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Nicola Considine CPA

Last Updated:

Views: 5443

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (69 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Nicola Considine CPA

Birthday: 1993-02-26

Address: 3809 Clinton Inlet, East Aleisha, UT 46318-2392

Phone: +2681424145499

Job: Government Technician

Hobby: Calligraphy, Lego building, Worldbuilding, Shooting, Bird watching, Shopping, Cooking

Introduction: My name is Nicola Considine CPA, I am a determined, witty, powerful, brainy, open, smiling, proud person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.