What is a Thesis Proposal?

This assignment will prepare you to write the sole piece of academic work in your final academic year, your thesis. A thesis proposal lays a groundwork of research and analysis around an independently identified topic. It prepares you to write a substantial piece of independent research. They do several things:

·Present a well-defined research question

·Show a substantial set of research sources, such as books, journal articles, films, images, and other materials.

·Show your methodology, or the way you intend to conduct your thesis research and writing

Choosing a thesis topic

A thesis should reflect a level of deep understanding in an area of study chosen by the student. This will be an independent research project, guided by a lecturer. Though the area of study is open, it should extend the learning you have done so far at IADT. It is often said that the thesis can ‘be about anything’. However, the subject area should fall within the range of things that you can reasonably investigate based on the skills and learning that you have accomplished.


What is in a thesis proposal?

Thesis proposals are not structured like standard essays. A proposal generally has several interlocking parts, each treating a a part of the project. At IADT thesis proposals must have the following:

  • Brief overview and thesis statement
  • Literature review
  • Objectives and Methodology
  • Works Cited

As the name indicates, they propose a body of research, organized around a clear central topic area. For this assignment, the proposal should be about 3000 words long, and organized according to the following indicators. NB: In order to do this, you will need to read.

Brief Overview and Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is a one or two sentence statement.  It sums up the fundamental argument or point of view which your dissertation will explore in detail.  Identifying the topic is not a thesis statement: a thesis statement takes a position based on analysis and critical thinking.  A thesis statement is exploratory. Something which states an obvious truth won’t work as a thesis; it needs to be worth discussing. If you can answer your thesis question/statement with a yes or no, it needs to be reconsidered.


Example: “I want to write about CG and effects in film.” That is a subject area, not a thesis statement.


“Have CG effects changed the way that films are made and understood?” This is a yes or no proposition, and the answer is a resounding yes. Writing about it from that perspective only allows you to describe how and when that happened. It offers little space for critical thinking and exploration.


“How have CG and effects altered the way that reality is represented in 21st century cinema? The films Mad Max: Fury Road and Skyfall offer opportunities for examining the role of digital enhancement in the representation of reality in cinema.”  That is a thesis statement – lots of room for critical thinking, academic research, analysis, and extending knowledge from an independent point of view.


The brief overview then outlines the territory you intend to explore by citing categories, examples and directions. Altogether your thesis statement and brief overview should make up a short introduction to the area in which you are interested in researching. Use this paragraph to introduce your area of enquiry.  It should function in the same way as an introductory paragraph to an essay. This section may propose a chapter structure if you wish, indicating the main ideas as they are organised under the umbrella of your thesis statement. Though this section will come first in your document, you might consider writing it last, after you have gathered all your resources. Be as specific as you can in laying out the territory that the thesis will cover.


Literature Review

This is the most important aspect of a thesis proposal. A literature review identifies the major source texts in your area and briefly summarises their arguments.  Your dissertation will be anchored in these texts and the arguments they forward.  You should have reference to at least four major texts in your literature review. Focus especially in relevant sections or chapters of the texts, or on a journal article that is germane to your thinking. The purpose of a literature review is to provide a critical background for your thesis statement, and to give academic weight to your writing. Use the identified texts to state your general area of interest and, more specifically, to support your thesis statement. Don’t rely unquestioningly on opinions stated in books or articles. Just because they’ve been published doesn’t mean that they are right, or that the perspective they take suits your needs. Try to include both primary and secondary texts if appropriate. The document ‘What is a Literature Review?’ offers more detailed guidance.


Objectives and Methodology

Once you have chosen your general area of interest and have identified your sources in the literature review, you must establish a methodology. Your literature review allows you to isolate and identify a specific area of interest.  It is important to start a dissertation with a clear definition of the issues involved and to identify the issues you will be discussing.  This should provide a coherent framework enabling you to decide what material is relevant and what should be excluded.  A well written dissertation analyses rather than describes: you should be selecting intelligently from the information you have gathered and not merely repeating or retelling what you have read.  Make sure you explain what you find particularly significant about your material and how you propose to develop your thesis statement. The reader needs a clear sense of the sequence of your ideas and the connections between them. These are your objectives, your reasons for exploring the topic.  

The conclusions you reach are often not as important as the way in which you reach them – methodologies are the tactics or approaches you use to gaining and applying knowledge. Bear in mind that you are not expected to prove anything but to demonstrate an ability to analyse and discuss a point of view which is informed and well argued.  Try and break down your general topic into two or three specific areas of enquiry; these areas may become the skeleton chapters of your thesis.  Think about how these chapters may link in to each other.  It is important to see how ideas relate to each other and how they are similar, but don’t ignore the way in which ideas, artists, works differ from each other also.  Acknowledging the complexity of an artist, an argument, a work makes for a more solid and mature exploration of ideas. Methodologies are also the ways you choose to get information – library research, archival research, visual research, site visits, interviews, questionnaires, quantitative analysis are some examples. Think about why you’re doing things the way you are, and determine if your time is being well used. For instance, if you will be interviewing or questioning people, what do you hope to achieve, and is that goal worth the extra time? Discuss those issues in this section. See the handout on Methodologies for more information.


Works Cited

This should be a list of the sources identified in your literature review and any other sources that you have earmarked for further enquiry.  You may include websites, journals, films, documentaries, collections, manuscripts and so on in this list. Use standard bibliographical formats for this – you are expected by now to be capable of constructing a clear and properly organized bibliography, so if you have ignored this in the past, now is the time to sort that out, as you will be marked down for incorrect citation formats. See the document called Citation Style Sheet.


A final word from the experienced (and occasionally regretful) researcher:

Keep track of your sources as you go. Have a notebook or desktop folder dedicated to sources and references.  Use this to write down the full references of any books, articles, dissertations, websites, etc. that you read or consult.  Logging references as you go is a major time (and sanity) saver. If you see a quote that makes you say ‘aha!’, record it immediately, along with its reference.

A final final word: Students sometimes treat this project lightly, because they are busy and it seems to be about the future. It is not; this is an immediate requirement that you must meet with success, the same as any other assignment. It will be marked stringently, so be serious about this from the start. It is real research, and real analysis, in proposal form.  


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