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The way to Write a (Thesis / Dissertation) Proposal

 The way to Write a (Thesis / Dissertation) Proposal
 1.  Know the area
 a.  Read, read, read, …
 b.  Average 10-15 papers per week
 c.  Current Journals: at least read/scan abstracts
 d.  Use reference management software! (e.g. ProCite and EndNote)
 e.  Use search engines (MedLine, Ergo Abstracts, Psych Info, Compendex, ACM
 Digital Library, etc.)
 f.  Go to the source literature (don’t expect textbooks and other secondary sources to
 be either accurate or complete)
 2.  Go outside your area
 a.  Good source of new/different ideas
 b.  Avoids embarrassing overlap (already done by others in another field)
 3.  Pay attention to methods, analyses, motivations, applications
 a.  We did this because …
 b.  This work can be applied to …
 4.  Tree-in; tree-out
 a.  Look at paper citations, and who cited particular papers (ISI Citation Index)
 b.  Note how others interpreted (or how cited) papers you’ve already read; they may
 have a different interpretation
 5.  Don’t get ‘paper-locked’
 a.  Easy to get overwhelmed and biased by what has already been done
 b.  Once familiar with an area, what has and hasn’t been done, start working on what
 you could do
 6.  Look at proposals and documents generated by your predecessors
 At this point, generate some initial ideas.  Be creative, flexible, novel.  Good idea to test them, if possible.
 The proposal itself:
 Be professional.  Dress appropriately (even if faculty don’t!).  
 Should you bring refreshments?  It’s certainly appreciated but definitely not needed or expected.
 Jumping ahead, what does a faculty member look for in a proposal?
 •  My opinions here, so don’t blame me!  
 •  Most, though, see it as a “contract”:  “If you do this work, do it well and write it up well, we won’t later claim that it’s not appropriate or sufficient”
 1.  It should be well-written
 a.  Organized, with a logical flow
 b.  Concise, but also complete
 c.  Good grammar
 d.  It’s usually a good idea to have a colleague read it before giving it to the advisor,especially if they have already submitted their first draft or successfully defended their proposal.  Often little errors or small changes will be identified and addressed.  They can also be some the best sources of information for “why” or “how”.

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