With the help of your thesis director, you must
prepare a written thesis proposal—that is, an explanation of what you plan to
There are two good reasons why you
must write a thesis proposal: (1) because the university needs it to give you
approval to add the thesis to your schedule, and (2) because you need it to clarify
your own plans.
The “Request for
Independent Study” form that you must use to register for your thesis requires
that you attach a proposal. The form
If you are doing a thesis over more than one
semester, you need to fill out the independent study form each semester and
adjust the proposal appropriately for what you expect to accomplish during that
part of the work.
Even if the university regulations
did not require a proposal, prudent students would want one for their own
benefit. A good proposal guarantees that you have a plan that will work, because
you have to confront questions that you might otherwise skip over.
When you draw up your final plan,
keep it sharply focused. Above all else,
you want to avoid getting halfway through and realizing that your project is
too big to finish on time. You can always add another dimension later if you
find yourself running ahead of schedule (unlikely!), but it is much harder to
cut and pare when you’re in a panic mode because time is running out.
Part of the first semester work
involves narrowing the topic, you may not be able to attach a fully developed
thesis proposal to that semester’s independent study form. In fact, preparing a
full proposal may be one expected outcome of your first-semester’s work. But
even if your first-semester proposal is broader and more tentative, you still
want to be as concrete as possible in terms of what you expect to accomplish
and how your thesis director is going to evaluate your progress.
If your research involves human subjects, you may need to seek
approval from the university’s Institutional Review Board. This certifies that
your research follows ethical procedures in its dealings with individuals. Your
director will be able to tell you whether you need to seek such approval.