The Thesis Proposal

An honors thesis proposal is a document written by a student in consultation with his/her honors thesis advisor. It identifies the problem or question that the student will address in the thesis and explains how the student will go about investigating it. The proposal is a blue print that guides the thesis project. It often constitutes a rough version of the first chapter of the thesis itself. Most proposals contain the following parts.

What Should a Thesis Proposal Contain?


  • Statement of the problem: This section identifies the specific problem or question that the student will investigate and briefly explains why it is of sociological interest. This section often includes a preliminary review of the sociological literature that explains why the student's research problem or question is important and how it relates to other sociological work that has been done.
  • Hypothesis: The proposal should identify one or more specific hypotheses that the student will test empirically. The hypothesis is often derived from literature that has already been published. The proposal also often identifies key dependent and independent variables and explains how they will be operationalized.
  • Data: The proposal should identify the data that the student will use in the thesis and where it will come from. Data may come from a variety of sources and take a variety of forms, such as archival documents (e.g., government documents, newspapers, memoirs, etc.) or surveys (e.g., U.S. Census, General Social Survey, etc.). If the student plans to collect his/her own data, such as through a survey, experiment, participant observation, interviews, etc., he/she should explain how the data will be collected. Issues of sampling, case study selection, etc. should be discussed.
  • Analysis: The student should explain how the data will be analyzed once it is located and/or collected. It is especially important to outline a research design that explains the sorts of empirical comparisons that will be involved and how this will shed light on the student's hypothesis. If quantitative data will be analyzed, what statistical techniques will likely be involved?
  • Human subjects approval: If the student plans to conduct interviews, administer a survey, or observe human subjects he/she must obtain approval for the study from Dartmouth's Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects (phone: 646-3053/1598) before data are collected. This is mandatory Dartmouth College policy.
  • Timetable: The student should establish a timetable for each step of the thesis process. Dates should be set by which the literature review, development of data collection tools, data collection, analysis, production of draft chapters and other critical parts of the thesis project will be completed.
  • Thesis outline: An outline of the thesis should be provided indicating its overall organization, i.e., a preliminary "Table of Contents."