Guidelines for thesis proposal


A thesis should make a convincing scholarly case that the project is rigorous and innovative in theory and conception, methodology and material content, and that it can produce new, relevant and independently verifiable insights. If you can outline these points clearly in a proposal, then you will be able to focus on a research topic and finish it rapidly. A secondary purpose of the proposal is to train you in the art of proposal writing. Any future career in computer science, whether it will be in industry or academia will require these skills in some form.

It should be noted that even the best laid out research plans may not work out as intended, and that the best completed theses sometimes bear only little resemblance to the thesis planned during the proposal. Therefore, when evaluating a thesis proposal, it is essential to realize that the thesis proposal serves two purposes:

  • It shows that you have a clear picture on the process and structure of research as it's practiced by the discipline and in the computer science community.

  • More specifically it shows if you can present a clear and reasonable thesis idea, if you can clearly relate it to other relevant literature, if you can justify its significance, if you can describe a method for investigating it, and if you can decompose it into a sequence of steps that lead toward a reasonable conclusion.

If this is true then the thesis proposal is a success regardless of whether you modify or even scrap the actual idea down the line and start off in a different direction. What a successful thesis proposal demonstrates is that, regardless of the idea you pursue, you know the steps involved in turning it into a thesis.

Procedure for thesis proposal

  • The student distributes the thesis proposal two (2) weeks before the actual presentation of the thesis proposal.

  • The thesis proposal seminar consists of (i) a presentation made by the student at a CUGS event, for doctoral students and faculty in CUGS, followed by (ii) a discussion session with questions from the audience. Three people (faculty member and two students) are appointed to start and lead the the discussions initially; these should meet before the actual thesis proposal to discuss their outline.

Structure of the thesis proposal

The thesis proposal should address the following issues, and it is recommended that it is structured accordingly:

  1. A background to the area of study. A summary of previous work and results is important to demonstrate the significance of the problem to be addressed in the thesis. It is an opportunity to show what is known and unknown in the chosen area of research. It is essential to recognize which parts of the background material are fundamental to the proposed thesis research. All previous work should be appropriately cited in the text.

  2. Thesis statement + A detailed problem description.

    • A thesis statement, i.e., in a couple of sentences, state your thesis, and this can take the form of a hypothesis, research question, project statement, or goal statement. The thesis statement should capture the essence of your intended project

    • A detailed problem description that colours the thesis statement and also helps to set boundaries of the problem, ensuring focus.

  3. Relevance, i.e., motivating the need and importance for solving the problem. Why is it worth knowing? What are the major implications?

  4. Related work A comparison to related work to demonstrate both research originality and the potential increase in knowledge.

  5. Preliminary/expected results and research contributions

    • A presentation of any results you already have obtained and discuss how they fit in the framework of your thesis.

    • A presentation of what new knowledge the project will produce that we do not already know?

  6. Methodology What strategy is suggested to approach the problem. On what basis can we evaluate the validity of the conclusions?

  7. Project plan

    • A detailed description of what you plan to do until completion of your thesis project

    • A presentation of important milestones of your project

    • A timeplan for your project (also including any work you already have completed.

The thesis proposal may also include a discussion on any particular challenges that need to be overcome.

The thesis proposal is recommended not to exceed 10 pages (5000 words) in size.

Recommended time between year 1 and 2. Students who have been awarded a licentiate degree (or passed 60% of the doctoral degree) are not expected to present a thesis proposal.



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Courses Fall 2013

Courses Spring 2014


Last modified on December 2004 by Anne Moe