Skip Navigation

Thesis Proposal

Graduate students begin the thesis process by writing a thesis proposal that describes the central elements of the thesis work.  Those elements vary depending on the type of thesis (research, artistic, or project) that the student plans to write. Students begin drafting the thesis proposal in the course Thesis Proposal Seminar.  The three proposal formats are described in detail below.

Research Thesis Proposal

Thesis Statement

Following an optional introduction, the basic function of this section is to articulate a phenomenon that the student proposes to investigate (whether a social event, process, a literary work, an intellectual idea or something else), and the question(s), issue(s) or problem(s) related to that phenomenon that thes student plans to address in the thesis. The core of the statement may take the form of a hypothesis that the student will test, of a proposition or argument that the student intends to support, or of a general problem or question the student  will explore. The section puts that basic problem statement in a larger context by explaining its historical origins (where did it come from?) and its intellectual, social, and/or artistic context (what conversation, debate, or line of inquiry does it participate in?). It also describes the sub-questions or themes that constitute the general problem. Students will cite appropriate scholarly, professional and other sources for the ideas, questions and background information contained in the section.

Research Methods

In this section, the student will identify (a) the kinds of information that needed to answer the question(s) raised in the Thesis Statement, (b) the methods the student will use to gather that information, and (c) the strategies by which the student will organize and analyze the information in such a way as to reach and support a conclusion, to construct a sound argument. If the central problem has several facets, the student may need an array of different methods for collecting and analyzing information. Students should be as precise as possible in each stage of the methods statement: Is information needed about the stylistic techniques in a novel, about changes in the poverty rates in Kenya since independence, about the ways children think about nature? Will the student pull out the metaphors in a text, find government reports on household income, interview kids about their experiences in the woods? Will the student deploy statistical forms of content analysis, correlate poverty rates with political changes, interpret themes in children’s stories? Students should reflect on the broad methodological approaches that they propose to use, and cite sources from which they derive their methods and tools. A student's central goal is to demonstrate that he or she knows how to go about answering the question(s) that have been raised.

Please note that if students intend to conduct research on living people, they will need to get the approval of the University Committee on Activities Involving Human Subjects (UCAIHS). Before they apply for that approval, students will need to take a tutorial and pass a test on the various regulations. Refer to the UCAIHS website for more information.

Justification and Limitations

This section of the proposal should explain the rationale for the thesis and the importance of the topic. Indicate the reasons why this study is important to conduct and whom it will benefit. Identify the limits beyond which the inquiry will not go. For instance, if a student is writing on a historical subject, explain the relevance of the time period he or she will be exploring. Finally, describe the contribution the work will make to the field.


This section should summarize the nature and intention of the student's work. Conclude the discussion and mention any pertinent information which may not have been included above.

Artistic Thesis Proposal

The artistic thesis proposal follows the same format as the research thesis proposal in every way except for the following modifications:

Thesis Statement

The artistic thesis consists of an artistic work and essays, and it is important to conceive of them as a coherent whole. Students should therefore begin this section with a brief introduction which forms the framework for their entire thesis and which shows how the creative project and essays work together. Include the following information under the heading "Thesis Statement:"

  • Background Research Essay
    This portion of the proposal should be modeled on the "Thesis Statement" of the research proposal described above. The background research essay of the thesis (see section on "Artistic Thesis" for details) is a scholarly approach to a problem or issue related to some aspect of the artistic work. This section of the proposal should explain that problem and provide the reader with relevant historical or critical information to place the subject in context.
  • Description of the Artistic Work
    Describe, as clearly as possible, the kind of artistic work that will presented. Will it be a collection of short stories, a novel, an evening of dance, an exhibition of paintings, a film, etc.? Be careful to show how the presentation relates to the framework  already lain out and to the background essay. If, for example, it is a performance, include whether it will be viewed publicly or privately.
  • Artistic Aims Essay
    Briefly describe the artistic goals that will guide the development of the creative work. Students may want to refer to particular artistic influences or genres that will inform the work, or describe the aesthetic from which their creative work derives.

Research Methods

This section should identify and justify the methods by which the student will gather and analyze information relevant to the thesis subject that has been articulated in the thesis statement. Students should reflect on the broad analytical approach they will use and on the school(s) of thought that will inform their investigation of the problem. Moreover, the methods section will comment on the kinds of information the student will need to address the central questions. What sorts of things will the student need to find out? On the more technical level, this section specifies the precise steps the student will use to collect and interpret that information (or “data”). What kinds of printed sources will be reviewed, and how will information from them be used? Who will be interviewed, and what kinds of questions will they be asked? What social contexts will be observed, and how will data be organized? If the student plans to conduct experiments, they must be described clearly. The proposal should refer to works on methodology pertinent to the student's field of study, or to examples of previous research employing the methods the student proposes to use. In general, the methods section should demonstrate that the student knows how to go about answering the question(s) that have been posed.

Justification and Limitations

This section should explain the importance of the student's work in the context of his or her particular artistic discipline. While students are not required to “justify” their artistic work, they are being asked to discuss the contributions they think their overall thesis/artistic work will make to their field. Here students may also refer to some of the artistic reasons that led to their decision to embark on this particular project.


This section should summarize the nature and intention of the student's work. Conclude the discussion and mention any pertinent information which may not have been included above.

Project Thesis Proposal

The project thesis includes two major components: (a) an activity (program, intervention, campaign, etc.) designed to address (solve, remediate, improve) a problem, issue or opportunity in the student's domain as a professional or activist; and (b) a written document that describes, rationalizes, analyzes, and assesses the activity. It is not strictly a research study, but rather an exercise in reflective practice. Therefore, the proposal takes a form different from that of the research or artistic thesis. Please note, as well, that a project thesis must be not only designed but implemented and evaluated.

Problem Statement

This section of the proposal identifies, describes, and analyzes the problem (issue, need, opportunity) that the student will address in the project. Clearly articulate the nature of the problem: its historical, social and professional context; its dimensions and extent; its impact, and perhaps some previous efforts to address it. Present information that explains the student's understanding of the origins or causes of the problem, to set up the rationale for the choice of a strategy to solve it. At each stage, refer to appropriate scholarly and professional literatures.

Project Plan

Students should spell out their plans for addressing the problem. Students should describe the institutional setting within which the project will take place, as well as the individuals, groups, or organizations with whom they will work. What will the student (and, perhaps, others) do? What resources and strategies will be used? If the student need funds, how will they be raised and disbursed? What schedule will be followed? Be efficient, but concrete and clear in specifying the activities that will make up the project. Identify the professional and theoretical sources of the strategies for the project: What precedents and ideas is the student drawing on?

Also, the student should discuss the means by which he or she will record and report the project activities for the members of his or her thesis committee. Will the student write a journal, shoot videos, keep material artifacts and documents? Students must be clear about how they intend to document the project. They may also elect to invite the members of their committee to witness the project first-hand.


The proposal speaks to three aspects of the assessment process. In all three, students should be concrete and refer to appropriate literatures as sources of their plans.

  • Criteria. First, students should describe and justify the criteria by which they will determine whether the project has succeeded. What are the goals and objectives? What changes does the student want to see in the participants, the organization, the larger world?
  • Methods. What information will be needed to determine whether the goals and objectives have been met? How will that information be collected and organized?
  • Analysis. How will that information be utilized to describe the project’s success or failure? What sorts of lessons does the student hope to draw from the assessment?

Justification and Limitations

This section of the proposal should explain the rationale for the thesis and the importance of the topic. Indicate the reasons why this study is important to conduct and whom it will benefit. Identify the limits beyond which the inquiry will not go. Finally, describe the contribution the work will make to the field.


This section should summarize the nature and intention of the work. Conclude the discussion and mention any pertinent information which may not have been included above.

Format of the Proposal

All thesis proposals should conform to the following specifications:

  • Title Page
    The title should be reasonably succinct, but descriptive enough to convey the nature of the thesis; the title page should include your full name, the date of submission, and your adviser’s name.
  • Length
    The thesis proposal should be approximately 8 pages, excluding the annotated bibliography. Remember that this is a proposal, not the thesis itself; tell us what you propose to do and how, don’t do it.
  • Annotated Bibliography
    This bibliography should contain brief commentaries on no fewer than 10–15 relevant source works.

The Approval Process for the Thesis Proposal

Please remember that you should not get very far into the production of the thesis before submitting the thesis proposal and having it approved by your adviser and by Gallatin. You may waste a great deal of time by working on a thesis that is later rejected.

Submitting the Thesis Proposal

As you are working on your proposal, you should meet with your adviser to get feedback on your project.  Once your adviser has approved the final version of your proposal, you should submit the proposal to Gallatin using the online Thesis Proposal submission form. Please note that submitting your proposal to the instructor of Thesis Proposal Seminar is not the same as submitting your proposal to Gallatin.  Even if you receive a passing grade in the course, you still need to submit your proposal to Gallatin for review.

Gallatin strongly recommends that students submit the adviser-approved thesis proposal to Gallatin while they are enrolled in Thesis Proposal Seminar or soon after finishing the course. Students who complete Thesis Proposal Seminar in the Spring are required to submit the thesis proposal to Gallatin by September 16.

The Thesis Proposal submission form serves as a kind of cover letter and preface to your thesis proposal. It will provide the thesis proposal reviewer with information about your academic and professional background, such as the courses, internships and independent studies you have taken and the jobs or volunteer positions you have held that prepared you to undertake the proposed thesis. The function of this form, with the proposal itself, is to establish your qualifications for the thesis work.

Adviser Approval

When you submit the Thesis Proposal submission form, Gallatin will contact your adviser to confirm his or her approval of the thesis proposal.  Your adviser must approve the proposal before it will be assigned to a Gallatin faculty member for review. 

Gallatin Approval

After your adviser has approved the thesis, it will be reviewed by a member of the full-time Gallatin faculty (this is true even if your adviser is from Gallatin).

When the Gallatin faculty member has reviewed your proposal, you will receive an email notifying you of the decision. If your proposal is approved, you may proceed with the thesis work. If the proposal is not accepted, you will revise it based on the reviewer’s comments and suggestions and on further consultations with your adviser; then you will resubmit the proposal for another review. Please allow two to three weeks for review of your proposal.

If you have questions about the thesis proposal submission process, please write to  The M.A. program directors are also available to consult with you about the thesis proposal.