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What Vocabulary To Use When Writing A Dissertation Proposal


The dissertation proposal is one of the single most important and pivotal documents you will every write in your entire academic life. It should be an incredibly precise and perfect work of academic prose, and display a finely tuned command of research methods and analysis, as well as an expert use of language. Even if you are not a native English speaker, you will be held to a rigorously high, exacting standard when your dissertation is evaluated.

If you are a dissertating graduate student, you probably already know a great deal about the general format and content that is expected in a PhD dissertation. However, you may not be aware of the equally specific and important language expectations. Here are a few pointers that should strongly inform and guide your own prose as you compose your dissertation or thesis proposal. These guidelines can also be applied to journal articles and high level undergraduate research papers.

  1. You should never use first or second person pronouns in the entirety of your proposal. Do not speak about yourself in any way whatsoever, and do not directly address the reader.

  2. Refer to your project and oncoming dissertation as “the present research”. Do not refer to it as “my study”, “these studies”, or “my dissertation project”, as this is too informal.

  3. Write your dissertation proposal in the speculative future tense, as it has not yet been conducted. For example, state that the present research will examine a certain topic, not that it already has examined that topic. You will switch to past tense in your final dissertation paper.

  4. Do not use jargon or technical terminology when it is unnecessary. You should particularly avoid inaccessible word choices in the introduction and conclusion chapters of your proposal, as these should be more general and outward looking than the rest of the document.

  5. End your dissertation proposal with a hopeful, if realistic implications chapter. This chapter should explain what you will do with the results of your dissertation, if they are promising. You should give the reader a taste of what is to come in your academic future.

  6. Use the active voice when you can, and keep your sentences relatively clipped and brief. If you are uncertain how to refer to yourself, try using “the researcher” or “the research time” if you have collaborators.

  7. Do not use informal language, slang, contractions, or other signs of relaxed speech.
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