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Dissertation Proposal Example Computer Science


In the thesis proposal, the PhD or DES student lays out an intended course of research for the dissertation.  By accepting the thesis proposal, the student’s dissertation proposal committee agrees that the proposal is practicable and acceptable, that its plan and prospectus are satisfactory, and that the candidate is competent in the knowledge and techniques required, and formally recommends that the candidate proceed according to the prospectus and under the supervision of the dissertation committee. It is part of the training of the student’s research apprenticeship that the form of this proposal must be as concise as those proposals required by major funding agencies.


The student proposes to a committee consisting of the student’s advisor and two other researchers who meet requirements for dissertation committee membership.  The advisor should solicit the prospective committee members, not the student. In cases where the research and departmental advisors are different, both must serve on the committee.


The student prepares a proposal document that consists of a core, plus any optional appendices. The core is limited to 30 pages (e.g., 12 point font, single spacing, 1 inch margins all around), and should contain sections describing 1) the problem and its background, 2) the innovative claims of the proposed work and its relation to existing work, 3) a description of at least one initial result that is mature enough to be able to be written up for submission to a conference, and 4) a plan for completion of the research. The committee commits to read and respond to the core, but reserves the right to refuse a document whose core exceeds the page limit. The student cannot assume that the committee will read or respond to any additional appendices.

The complete doctoral thesis proposal document must be disseminated to the entire dissertation committee no later than two weeks (14 days) prior to the proposal presentation. The Doctoral Program Administrator must be informed of the scheduling of the proposal presentation no later than two weeks (14 days) prior to the presentation. Emergency exceptions to either of these deadlines can be granted by the Director of Graduate Studies or the Department Chair on appeal by the advisor and agreement of the committee.

A latex thesis proposal template is available here.


The student presents the proposal in a prepared talk of 45 minutes to the committee, and responds to any questions and feedback by the committee.


The student’s advisor, upon approval of the full faculty, establishes the target semester by which the thesis proposal must be successfully completed. The target semester must be no later than the eighth semester, and the student must be informed of the target semester no later than the sixth semester.


Passing or failing is determined by consensus of the committee, who then sign the dissertation proposal form. Failure to pass the thesis proposal by the end of the target semester or the eighth semester, whichever comes first, is deemed unsatisfactory progress: the PhD or DES student is normally placed on probation and can be immediately dismissed from the program. However, on appeal of the student’s advisor, one semester’s grace can be granted by the full faculty.

Last updated on July 20, 2016.

The aim of this document is to provide general guidelines on the form that is expected of Ph.D. thesis proposals.  It is assumed that the proposal will be presented in typescript, with minimal typographic errors, and written in an appropriately mature and grammatical style.  If this is a problem for you, then it would be useful to consult one of the many books on scientific report writing, and also to discuss the matter with your supervisors.  A proposal should be at most 6 pages of A4, written at a line spacing of 1.5 per line.  Each new technical term should be defined on first occurrence, and identified by italicising or emboldening.  The proposal must be accompanied by a second document - the full literature survey - which will typically have 50-120 references.

Although 6 pages may seem brief, it is the same length as a submission to EPSRC for a major grant.  If you cannot get your problem/method/ criteria/ solution/plan/content over on 6 pages, you probably have a problem with lack of focus.

A typical thesis proposal should contain the following sections:


The proposal should be introduced by an abstract of around 300 to 500 words, which enables the reader to get an overview of the contents of the proposal without reading it.  It must include a clear statement of the expected novel contribution to the subject.

Statement of Problem

This section describes the research problem that is to be addressed during the Ph.D. work.  It is no use coming up with a problem such as "I want to solve the problems of software maintenance".  The Assessors here are looking for clear focus and a clearly identified problem.  Also, be sure to identify both the particular problem you are solving and also the foundational issues you are addressing.  The latter will consist of the generic problem you are solving, and its solution will enable you to clarify the contribution to your field.  For example if you are writing a program slicing tool for a wide spectrum language, your problem is to implement the tool in a well engineered way.  This alone is not enough.  There must be some generic issues e.g. the novel issues posed by wide spectrum language that can be your contribution to the subject.

Context of Work

The objectives of this section are to show that you understand the context in which your particular area of research fits.  For example, if you are undertaking a project on formal methods in reverse engineering, you need to set the problem in a wider context of software maintenance and in turn to set software maintenance in the context of software engineering. A useful technique is to explain the issues in terms of the historical development  of the subject, and/or current industrial problems.

Review of Literature

This must be in two parts.  In the thesis proposal itself, a concise synopsis must be given, identifying key trends, latest results, a critical assessment, a reference to just a few key papers, and a summary of the gap in the field you have identified.

The thesis proposal must be accompanied by a full literature survey, typically of 30-60 pages, which could constitute one or more chapters of the final thesis.

This survey should include a comprehensive and up-to-date review of literature in your area.  Appropriate standards for citing work should be used.  It is important to stress that although the Assessors will be looking for breadth and depth of review, as well as the inclusion of the most up-to-date references possible, an extremely important criterion for this section is an adequate, critical analysis.  It is of no use just summarising work done by others.  It is essential to present a detailed critical analysis of the literature so that at the end of this section you can present an authoritative statement of the state of the art, including research that is still required to be done, including your own.


Having defined the problem and shown its relationship to the rest of the field in previous sections, you now need to state the way in which you are going to solve it, and the criteria for success such that you know when you have solved it.  Different sorts of projects will use different methods; for example a project might involve constructing and evaluating a tool, developing a mathematical theory, developing a model etc.  Adequate attention must be addressed to the actual underpinning of work.  Note that the method must be judged sound by established philosophy of scientific or engineering research.  If the method is unsound, this could result in the complete failure of the thesis independent of the rest of its contents.


 A short summary is required here of the form of results that is expected from the research.  Clearly at this point few results if any are likely to be available, but it is required to think about what sort of results will come out of the work.

Evaluation Criteria

This section should establish clearly the criteria by which you intend to judge the success of the work.  If you are not clear about this now, it will be much more difficult towards the end, and then it may be too late to take remedial action.

The above represents the minimum requirement; if more work happens to have been done by then, so much the better.  However, please do not use diary style in the proposal.


A brief plan for the remainder of the research should now be given.  This should show the write up of the thesis being included in the overall period available for the research.  The major milestones should be shown.


A list, in correct style of citations used.  As noted above, the main reference list will be in the literature survey.


A list, in correct style, of other relevant papers and books you have read (optional).


A glossary of terms used in the proposal.

Further guidance on the preparation of a thesis proposal can be found in a Computer Journal paper by Lauer.  A reference to this is included in the Postgraduate Handbook.

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