Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Assignments

  • Annotated Bibliography
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  • Writing a Case Analysis Paper
  • Writing a Case Study
  • About Informed Consent
  • Writing Field Notes
  • Writing a Policy Memo
  • Writing a Reflective Paper
  • Writing a Research Proposal
  • Generative AI and Writing
  • Acknowledgments

The goal of a research proposal is twofold: to present and justify the need to study a research problem and to present the practical ways in which the proposed study should be conducted. The design elements and procedures for conducting research are governed by standards of the predominant discipline in which the problem resides, therefore, the guidelines for research proposals are more exacting and less formal than a general project proposal. Research proposals contain extensive literature reviews. They must provide persuasive evidence that a need exists for the proposed study. In addition to providing a rationale, a proposal describes detailed methodology for conducting the research consistent with requirements of the professional or academic field and a statement on anticipated outcomes and benefits derived from the study's completion.

Krathwohl, David R. How to Prepare a Dissertation Proposal: Suggestions for Students in Education and the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005.

How to Approach Writing a Research Proposal

Your professor may assign the task of writing a research proposal for the following reasons:

  • Develop your skills in thinking about and designing a comprehensive research study;
  • Learn how to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature to determine that the research problem has not been adequately addressed or has been answered ineffectively and, in so doing, become better at locating pertinent scholarship related to your topic;
  • Improve your general research and writing skills;
  • Practice identifying the logical steps that must be taken to accomplish one's research goals;
  • Critically review, examine, and consider the use of different methods for gathering and analyzing data related to the research problem; and,
  • Nurture a sense of inquisitiveness within yourself and to help see yourself as an active participant in the process of conducting scholarly research.

A proposal should contain all the key elements involved in designing a completed research study, with sufficient information that allows readers to assess the validity and usefulness of your proposed study. The only elements missing from a research proposal are the findings of the study and your analysis of those findings. Finally, an effective proposal is judged on the quality of your writing and, therefore, it is important that your proposal is coherent, clear, and compelling.

Regardless of the research problem you are investigating and the methodology you choose, all research proposals must address the following questions:

  • What do you plan to accomplish? Be clear and succinct in defining the research problem and what it is you are proposing to investigate.
  • Why do you want to do the research? In addition to detailing your research design, you also must conduct a thorough review of the literature and provide convincing evidence that it is a topic worthy of in-depth study. A successful research proposal must answer the "So What?" question.
  • How are you going to conduct the research? Be sure that what you propose is doable. If you're having difficulty formulating a research problem to propose investigating, go here for strategies in developing a problem to study.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Failure to be concise . A research proposal must be focused and not be "all over the map" or diverge into unrelated tangents without a clear sense of purpose.
  • Failure to cite landmark works in your literature review . Proposals should be grounded in foundational research that lays a foundation for understanding the development and scope of the the topic and its relevance.
  • Failure to delimit the contextual scope of your research [e.g., time, place, people, etc.]. As with any research paper, your proposed study must inform the reader how and in what ways the study will frame the problem.
  • Failure to develop a coherent and persuasive argument for the proposed research . This is critical. In many workplace settings, the research proposal is a formal document intended to argue for why a study should be funded.
  • Sloppy or imprecise writing, or poor grammar . Although a research proposal does not represent a completed research study, there is still an expectation that it is well-written and follows the style and rules of good academic writing.
  • Too much detail on minor issues, but not enough detail on major issues . Your proposal should focus on only a few key research questions in order to support the argument that the research needs to be conducted. Minor issues, even if valid, can be mentioned but they should not dominate the overall narrative.

Procter, Margaret. The Academic Proposal.  The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Sanford, Keith. Information for Students: Writing a Research Proposal. Baylor University; Wong, Paul T. P. How to Write a Research Proposal. International Network on Personal Meaning. Trinity Western University; Writing Academic Proposals: Conferences, Articles, and Books. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing a Research Proposal. University Library. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Structure and Writing Style

Beginning the Proposal Process

As with writing most college-level academic papers, research proposals are generally organized the same way throughout most social science disciplines. The text of proposals generally vary in length between ten and thirty-five pages, followed by the list of references. However, before you begin, read the assignment carefully and, if anything seems unclear, ask your professor whether there are any specific requirements for organizing and writing the proposal.

A good place to begin is to ask yourself a series of questions:

  • What do I want to study?
  • Why is the topic important?
  • How is it significant within the subject areas covered in my class?
  • What problems will it help solve?
  • How does it build upon [and hopefully go beyond] research already conducted on the topic?
  • What exactly should I plan to do, and can I get it done in the time available?

In general, a compelling research proposal should document your knowledge of the topic and demonstrate your enthusiasm for conducting the study. Approach it with the intention of leaving your readers feeling like, "Wow, that's an exciting idea and I can’t wait to see how it turns out!"

Most proposals should include the following sections:

I.  Introduction

In the real world of higher education, a research proposal is most often written by scholars seeking grant funding for a research project or it's the first step in getting approval to write a doctoral dissertation. Even if this is just a course assignment, treat your introduction as the initial pitch of an idea based on a thorough examination of the significance of a research problem. After reading the introduction, your readers should not only have an understanding of what you want to do, but they should also be able to gain a sense of your passion for the topic and to be excited about the study's possible outcomes. Note that most proposals do not include an abstract [summary] before the introduction.

Think about your introduction as a narrative written in two to four paragraphs that succinctly answers the following four questions :

  • What is the central research problem?
  • What is the topic of study related to that research problem?
  • What methods should be used to analyze the research problem?
  • Answer the "So What?" question by explaining why this is important research, what is its significance, and why should someone reading the proposal care about the outcomes of the proposed study?

II.  Background and Significance

This is where you explain the scope and context of your proposal and describe in detail why it's important. It can be melded into your introduction or you can create a separate section to help with the organization and narrative flow of your proposal. Approach writing this section with the thought that you can’t assume your readers will know as much about the research problem as you do. Note that this section is not an essay going over everything you have learned about the topic; instead, you must choose what is most relevant in explaining the aims of your research.

To that end, while there are no prescribed rules for establishing the significance of your proposed study, you should attempt to address some or all of the following:

  • State the research problem and give a more detailed explanation about the purpose of the study than what you stated in the introduction. This is particularly important if the problem is complex or multifaceted .
  • Present the rationale of your proposed study and clearly indicate why it is worth doing; be sure to answer the "So What? question [i.e., why should anyone care?].
  • Describe the major issues or problems examined by your research. This can be in the form of questions to be addressed. Be sure to note how your proposed study builds on previous assumptions about the research problem.
  • Explain the methods you plan to use for conducting your research. Clearly identify the key sources you intend to use and explain how they will contribute to your analysis of the topic.
  • Describe the boundaries of your proposed research in order to provide a clear focus. Where appropriate, state not only what you plan to study, but what aspects of the research problem will be excluded from the study.
  • If necessary, provide definitions of key concepts, theories, or terms.

III.  Literature Review

Connected to the background and significance of your study is a section of your proposal devoted to a more deliberate review and synthesis of prior studies related to the research problem under investigation . The purpose here is to place your project within the larger whole of what is currently being explored, while at the same time, demonstrating to your readers that your work is original and innovative. Think about what questions other researchers have asked, what methodological approaches they have used, and what is your understanding of their findings and, when stated, their recommendations. Also pay attention to any suggestions for further research.

Since a literature review is information dense, it is crucial that this section is intelligently structured to enable a reader to grasp the key arguments underpinning your proposed study in relation to the arguments put forth by other researchers. A good strategy is to break the literature into "conceptual categories" [themes] rather than systematically or chronologically describing groups of materials one at a time. Note that conceptual categories generally reveal themselves after you have read most of the pertinent literature on your topic so adding new categories is an on-going process of discovery as you review more studies. How do you know you've covered the key conceptual categories underlying the research literature? Generally, you can have confidence that all of the significant conceptual categories have been identified if you start to see repetition in the conclusions or recommendations that are being made.

NOTE: Do not shy away from challenging the conclusions made in prior research as a basis for supporting the need for your proposal. Assess what you believe is missing and state how previous research has failed to adequately examine the issue that your study addresses. Highlighting the problematic conclusions strengthens your proposal. For more information on writing literature reviews, GO HERE .

To help frame your proposal's review of prior research, consider the "five C’s" of writing a literature review:

  • Cite , so as to keep the primary focus on the literature pertinent to your research problem.
  • Compare the various arguments, theories, methodologies, and findings expressed in the literature: what do the authors agree on? Who applies similar approaches to analyzing the research problem?
  • Contrast the various arguments, themes, methodologies, approaches, and controversies expressed in the literature: describe what are the major areas of disagreement, controversy, or debate among scholars?
  • Critique the literature: Which arguments are more persuasive, and why? Which approaches, findings, and methodologies seem most reliable, valid, or appropriate, and why? Pay attention to the verbs you use to describe what an author says/does [e.g., asserts, demonstrates, argues, etc.].
  • Connect the literature to your own area of research and investigation: how does your own work draw upon, depart from, synthesize, or add a new perspective to what has been said in the literature?

IV.  Research Design and Methods

This section must be well-written and logically organized because you are not actually doing the research, yet, your reader must have confidence that you have a plan worth pursuing . The reader will never have a study outcome from which to evaluate whether your methodological choices were the correct ones. Thus, the objective here is to convince the reader that your overall research design and proposed methods of analysis will correctly address the problem and that the methods will provide the means to effectively interpret the potential results. Your design and methods should be unmistakably tied to the specific aims of your study.

Describe the overall research design by building upon and drawing examples from your review of the literature. Consider not only methods that other researchers have used, but methods of data gathering that have not been used but perhaps could be. Be specific about the methodological approaches you plan to undertake to obtain information, the techniques you would use to analyze the data, and the tests of external validity to which you commit yourself [i.e., the trustworthiness by which you can generalize from your study to other people, places, events, and/or periods of time].

When describing the methods you will use, be sure to cover the following:

  • Specify the research process you will undertake and the way you will interpret the results obtained in relation to the research problem. Don't just describe what you intend to achieve from applying the methods you choose, but state how you will spend your time while applying these methods [e.g., coding text from interviews to find statements about the need to change school curriculum; running a regression to determine if there is a relationship between campaign advertising on social media sites and election outcomes in Europe ].
  • Keep in mind that the methodology is not just a list of tasks; it is a deliberate argument as to why techniques for gathering information add up to the best way to investigate the research problem. This is an important point because the mere listing of tasks to be performed does not demonstrate that, collectively, they effectively address the research problem. Be sure you clearly explain this.
  • Anticipate and acknowledge any potential barriers and pitfalls in carrying out your research design and explain how you plan to address them. No method applied to research in the social and behavioral sciences is perfect, so you need to describe where you believe challenges may exist in obtaining data or accessing information. It's always better to acknowledge this than to have it brought up by your professor!

V.  Preliminary Suppositions and Implications

Just because you don't have to actually conduct the study and analyze the results, doesn't mean you can skip talking about the analytical process and potential implications . The purpose of this section is to argue how and in what ways you believe your research will refine, revise, or extend existing knowledge in the subject area under investigation. Depending on the aims and objectives of your study, describe how the anticipated results will impact future scholarly research, theory, practice, forms of interventions, or policy making. Note that such discussions may have either substantive [a potential new policy], theoretical [a potential new understanding], or methodological [a potential new way of analyzing] significance.   When thinking about the potential implications of your study, ask the following questions:

  • What might the results mean in regards to challenging the theoretical framework and underlying assumptions that support the study?
  • What suggestions for subsequent research could arise from the potential outcomes of the study?
  • What will the results mean to practitioners in the natural settings of their workplace, organization, or community?
  • Will the results influence programs, methods, and/or forms of intervention?
  • How might the results contribute to the solution of social, economic, or other types of problems?
  • Will the results influence policy decisions?
  • In what way do individuals or groups benefit should your study be pursued?
  • What will be improved or changed as a result of the proposed research?
  • How will the results of the study be implemented and what innovations or transformative insights could emerge from the process of implementation?

NOTE:   This section should not delve into idle speculation, opinion, or be formulated on the basis of unclear evidence . The purpose is to reflect upon gaps or understudied areas of the current literature and describe how your proposed research contributes to a new understanding of the research problem should the study be implemented as designed.

ANOTHER NOTE : This section is also where you describe any potential limitations to your proposed study. While it is impossible to highlight all potential limitations because the study has yet to be conducted, you still must tell the reader where and in what form impediments may arise and how you plan to address them.

VI.  Conclusion

The conclusion reiterates the importance or significance of your proposal and provides a brief summary of the entire study . This section should be only one or two paragraphs long, emphasizing why the research problem is worth investigating, why your research study is unique, and how it should advance existing knowledge.

Someone reading this section should come away with an understanding of:

  • Why the study should be done;
  • The specific purpose of the study and the research questions it attempts to answer;
  • The decision for why the research design and methods used where chosen over other options;
  • The potential implications emerging from your proposed study of the research problem; and
  • A sense of how your study fits within the broader scholarship about the research problem.

VII.  Citations

As with any scholarly research paper, you must cite the sources you used . In a standard research proposal, this section can take two forms, so consult with your professor about which one is preferred.

  • References -- a list of only the sources you actually used in creating your proposal.
  • Bibliography -- a list of everything you used in creating your proposal, along with additional citations to any key sources relevant to understanding the research problem.

In either case, this section should testify to the fact that you did enough preparatory work to ensure the project will complement and not just duplicate the efforts of other researchers. It demonstrates to the reader that you have a thorough understanding of prior research on the topic.

Most proposal formats have you start a new page and use the heading "References" or "Bibliography" centered at the top of the page. Cited works should always use a standard format that follows the writing style advised by the discipline of your course [e.g., education=APA; history=Chicago] or that is preferred by your professor. This section normally does not count towards the total page length of your research proposal.

Develop a Research Proposal: Writing the Proposal. Office of Library Information Services. Baltimore County Public Schools; Heath, M. Teresa Pereira and Caroline Tynan. “Crafting a Research Proposal.” The Marketing Review 10 (Summer 2010): 147-168; Jones, Mark. “Writing a Research Proposal.” In MasterClass in Geography Education: Transforming Teaching and Learning . Graham Butt, editor. (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), pp. 113-127; Juni, Muhamad Hanafiah. “Writing a Research Proposal.” International Journal of Public Health and Clinical Sciences 1 (September/October 2014): 229-240; Krathwohl, David R. How to Prepare a Dissertation Proposal: Suggestions for Students in Education and the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005; Procter, Margaret. The Academic Proposal. The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Punch, Keith and Wayne McGowan. "Developing and Writing a Research Proposal." In From Postgraduate to Social Scientist: A Guide to Key Skills . Nigel Gilbert, ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2006), 59-81; Wong, Paul T. P. How to Write a Research Proposal. International Network on Personal Meaning. Trinity Western University; Writing Academic Proposals: Conferences , Articles, and Books. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing a Research Proposal. University Library. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Digital Commons @ USF > College of Behavioral and Community Sciences > Social Work > Theses and Dissertations

Social Work Theses and Dissertations

Theses/dissertations from 2018 2018.

Transition of Persons with Developmental Disabilities from Parental to Sibling Co-Residential Care: Effects on Sibling Caregiver Well-Being and Family Functioning , Richard Steven Glaesser

An Exploratory Study of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Communication among Haitian Mother–Daughter Dyads in West Central Florida , Stacy Eileen Kratz

Theses/Dissertations from 2017 2017

An Exploration of the Relationship between Child Welfare Workers’ Ambivalent Sexism and Beliefs about Father Involvement , Katrina Lee Brewsaugh

Physical, Verbal, Relational and Cyber-Bullying and Victimization: Examining the Social and Emotional Adjustment of Participants , Melanie Mcvean

Understanding the Experience of Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder: A Phenomenological Study of Emerging Adults , Kristin M. Smyth

Theses/Dissertations from 2016 2016

A Mixed Methods Inquiry of Caregivers of Veterans with Sustained Serious "Invisible" Injuries in Iraq and/or Afghanistan , Bina Ranjit Patel

Exploring the Relationship of Healthy Lifestyle Characteristics with Food Behaviors of Low-Income, Food Insecure Women in the United States (US) , Kimberly Ann Wollard

Theses/Dissertations from 2015 2015

Development of the Professional School Social Work Survey: A Valid and Reliable Tool for Assessment and Planning , Catherine E. Randall

Clinical and Criminal Justice Outcomes in the Jail Diversion and Trauma Recovery (JDTR) Program , Daniel Harold Ringhoff

Theses/Dissertations from 2014 2014

Evidence-Based Practice Attitudes, Knowledge and Perceptions of Barriers Among Juvenile Justice Professionals , Esther Chao Mckee

Theses/Dissertations from 2013 2013

The Efficacy of Aggression Replacement Training with Female Juvenile Offenders in a Residential Commitment Program , Jody Anne Erickson

Rural Communities: How Do Individuals Perceive Change When Industry Enters the Area? , Katherine Danielle Ferrari

The Baby Blues: Mothers' Experiences After Adoption , Brigette Barno Schupay

Use of Services by Female Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence: In Their Own Words , Michele M. Scordato

Efforts to Engage Parents and Case Outcomes in the Child Welfare System , Patty Sharrock

Continuing Attachment Bonds to the Deceased: A Study of Bereaved Youth and Their Caregivers , Erica Hill Sirrine

Spiritual Life Review With Older Adults: Finding Meaning in Late Life Development , Alicia Margaret Stinson

Theses/Dissertations from 2011 2011

Children Who Die of Abuse: An Examination of the Effects of Perpetrator Characteristics on Fatal Versus Non-Fatal Child Abuse , Donald L. Dixon

The Mediating Role of Social Support and Fulfillment of Spiritual Needs in End of Life Care , Kimberley A. Gryglewicz

Theses/Dissertations from 2010 2010

Examination of the Effect of Child Abuse Case Characteristics on the Time a Caseworker Devotes to a Case , Christopher J. Card

Evaluating Social Work Students’ Attitudes Toward Physical Disability , Rachael A. Haskell

Theses/Dissertations from 2009 2009

Prevalence of Client Violence against Social Work Students and Its Effects on Fear of Future Violence, Occupational Commitment, and Career Withdrawal Intentions , Pamela Myatt Criss

An evaluation of the influence of case-method instruction on the reflective thinking of MSW students , Marleen Milner

Theses/Dissertations from 2008 2008

Developing a School Social Work Model for Predicting Academic Risk: School Factors and Academic Achievement , Robert Lucio

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See the Academic Calendar for policies regarding:

  • Regulations and procedures governing the doctoral dissertation.
  • Doctoral dissertation guidelines.
  • Thesis style and format guidelines.
  • Submission of approved master's thesis or doctoral dissertation for binding.

Approval of the Dissertation Advisory Committee

Preliminary Consultation

The comprehensive requirement must be successfully completed before a dissertation topic is approved. However, it is advisable to begin discussing the research topic, even before completing the comprehensive requirement, with anyone whose consultation and advice is thought to be helpful, and to be refining the focus of the dissertation.

Dissertation Advisory Committee

Each Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) must consist of 2 members from the student’s home program, and a maximum of 4 members in total, with no more than 1 member acting as a co-advisor. The committee membership is comprised as follows:

  • A Dissertation Advisor (DA), who is a Regular Member of the Graduate Faculty of the university and is a full-time faculty member in the academic unit/program of the candidate. The Advisor is principally responsible for mentoring the student’s progress to completion (research, course selection, professional development). (Advisor – see Table below) 
  • One who is a Regular Member of the Graduate Faculty of the university and a full-time faculty member in the WLU academic unit/program of the candidate (DAC Member 2 – see Table below), and 
  • One who is either a Regular Member of the Graduate Faculty of the university from any program, or a faculty member elsewhere who meets the same requirements (DAC Member 3 – see Table below). Both DAC Member 2 and Member 3 provide feedback, and participate actively in the dissertation progression of the student 
  • A fourth member is optional, and may be an academic or professional outside the university with appropriate expertise (DAC Member 4 – see Table below). This 4th DAC member must hold Associated or Special Membership on the Graduate Faculty at WLU.

For candidates in a joint program, committee members who are full-time faculty members in the joint program at the partner institution and who are Associated Members of the Graduate Faculty at Wilfrid Laurier University may serve as DAC Member 3 and as co-advisor.

The DAC may participate in the comprehensive/qualifying exam (or equivalent), based on program norms.

After the candidate has completed the requirements for the comprehensive paper, the student establishes their Dissertation Advisory Committee ( see Graduate Calendar ). If the Comprehensive Examination Committee transitions to the DAC, the student completes the PhD Dissertation Advisory Committee Formation form .

If there are changes in the advisor and/or members when created the DAC, the student is to submit the following to the Associate Dean, PhD Program:

  • The names of the proposed committee members, indicating who is the new member.
  • A brief rationale identifying the expertise that new person(s) brings to the committee, and the relevance of the composition of the committee as a whole to the student’s topic.
  • If a proposed member is not a member of the graduate faculty, an electronic file of that member’s CV should be included.

If needed, the Associate Dean takes this information to the PhD Admissions, Curriculum and Student Affairs Committee for approval. Once the DAC has been approved, the student should complete the  PhD Dissertation Advisory Committee Formation form , and submit it to the associate dean who sends it to the dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies for approval.

FSW Dissertation Proposal Guidelines

Be sure to consult the Graduate Calendar’s requirements for doctoral dissertations.

Students are engaged in advanced research that reflects social work values, addresses important issues, promotes new understandings and knowledge, and informs social work theory, practice, education and policy.

From the Graduate Calendar

As seen in the quotation above, a primary goal of the dissertation research is to develop new understandings and knowledge of a topic. This goal is achieved in the context of what is known in the literature and existing issues or gaps or new ways of approaching the topic. The comprehensive papers provide an opportunity for students to familiarize themselves with the literature and theoretical approaches relevant to their substantive area of study; the dissertation builds on those papers. As also reflected in the quotation, social work research aligns with social work values and aims to inform theory, practice, education, and policy. In achieving their goals, students are expected to propose studies that are grounded in and guided by relevant theories and utilize robust methods.

Funding: Faculty of Social Work doctoral students can apply for funding from the program for their dissertation research.

Type of Dissertation: Traditional or Multiple Manuscript

Doctoral students have the option of preparing a traditional dissertation or a multiple manuscript dissertation. The Graduate Calendar provides the following descriptions of each option.

Traditional dissertation

[the] work is understood to be a structurally unified body of work, with each part contributing to the development of a coherent whole, with an overarching research question/concern that is developed through a succession of chapters or sections (though this does not necessarily mean parts might not be excerpted for publication). The guiding principle here is that the manuscript most closely resembles a book.

Multiple manuscript

the dissertation is a coherent body of work; however, the apparatus of the dissertation will normally include, among its other elements, three articles suitable for publication in peerreviewed journals, and these articles derive from the findings, methods and/or literature review sections of the dissertation. … The two or three articles are meant to be component parts of a much larger work that fulfills the conditions of a traditional dissertation, including an  overarching research question, thesis, methodology, literature review, and appropriate theoretical contexts and approaches.

As per the Graduate Calendar, this option also involves

an introductory chapter to the entire thesis and a final chapter (general discussion [of the contributions the overall work makes] and conclusions) to relate the separate studies to each other and to a relevant discipline or field of study.

Students completing the multiple manuscript option should work closely with their advisor to identify the aims and questions that will be addressed in each manuscript. It is not necessary for each manuscript to report findings from the collected data, because a manuscript may also be solely theoretical or methodological in nature, depending on the research study. Regardless of nature of each manuscript, each manuscript should address specific aims, be structured in the format of published scholarly journal article, and offer new insights and understandings to the scholarly literature in which it is embedded. Students pursuing the multiple manuscript option are not expected to submit their manuscripts to journals for review/publication as they write their dissertation articles/chapters. Those who wish to do so should consult their advisor. It is possible that the page/word limits of an intended journal might be limiting and prevent the student from conveying sufficient information and analysis that one would expect to see in a dissertation article/chapter.

Please see the Graduate Calendar for additional information about each option, including their components.

The dissertation proposal is to specify which option the student intends to undertake. If planning a multiple manuscription dissertation, the focus/research questions addressed in each manuscript are to be specified in the proposal. If using multiple data sources, it might be necessary to specify the data source for each manuscript.

The Proposal

Students can construct their dissertation research to involve non-Western epistemologies, arts-based, or other creative approaches, among others. What is outlined below are the various components that typically are included in a dissertation proposal. Though these general components should be included, the presentation and approach to the dissertation might look different depending on how the student and the DAC wish to approach the research. Feel free to modify language to suit your approach. For instance, concepts such as ‘protocol’ and ‘methods’ might be replaced by ‘story gathering’ or other language consistent with the selected research framework.

Components and Formatting of the Proposal

Each of the following parts are suggested components of both the traditional and multiple manuscript dissertation proposal. They are numbered for convenience. Suggested page lengths are included for each section, and these can be adjusted in consultation with your supervisor and DAC. The dissertation should follow APA standards in terms of citation practices, writing, and formatting, including for headings and references. The proposal should be double-spaced and in a 12-point font and be approximately between 17 and 20 pages in length, excluding the title page, references, appendices, and any tables or figures.

The proposal title should give a clear indication of the topic being studied.

2. Introduction (1.5 pages)

Provide a brief introduction to the problem/issue leading to the study. This should include connecting the problem/issue to the larger literature, identifying issues or gaps, as well as noting the significance of the problem/issue to social work. The introduction should provide a roadmap to the proposal and state the overall research aim, primary research questions, and mention the proposed methodological design.

3. Researcher Positionality (1.0-2.0 pages)

Describe your connection to the topic and your positionality/worldview in relation to the proposed study. Describe your epistemology or research paradigm guiding the study. Identify any specific implications your positionality and epistemological approach has for the study design. These implications could involve broader ethical considerations beyond procedural ethics related to REB requirements for the ethical conduct of research. Depending on the paradigm adopted, considerations might include principles and measures which support relational accountability, and responsible and respectful engagement with participants and the broader community, including knowledge holders. Examples of this can include community consultations and advisory meetings, engagement with elder knowledge keepers, partnering with community, and working with participants as co-researchers.

4. Literature Review (3.0-3.5 pages)

This section should provide a brief review of the literature on the topic, establish the need for the study, and help to frame the approach to the questions that will be examined in the study.

In some instances, this section might include relevant information about the context (e.g., prevalence of events, common explanations of events, historical evolution, policies, service delivery networks, organizations, program models, theoretical and/or epistemological approaches) of the topic. Such points should be very brief as the primary focus of this section is to review the literature and establish the need for the study as a project that advances understanding and knowledge.

The literature review should be a brief summary (potentially drawn from the literature review comprehensive paper) of existing research/knowledge in the field along with areas or approaches that are unexplored and that your own study will address. This section should be written to frame the proposed research aim and questions, and effectively demonstrate the need for the proposed study. You can briefly articulate its potential benefits for social work practice, policy, and/or other applications.

5. Theoretical Framework (3.0-3.5 pages)

This section presents the study’s guiding theoretical framework, which is based on an analysis and integration of the appropriate literature, research, and theories. It might also highlight the praxis in which your theoretical framework enables you to engage in research which aligns with social work values and aims. In many instances, a student’s theoretical framework is based on what they developed in their comprehensive examination theory paper, and they present a paired down description of it in the dissertation proposal. However, for their dissertation research, some students create a theoretical framework that is different from that developed in the comprehensive examination paper. In all cases, students need to clearly present their framework and discuss how it informs the study generally (e.g., questions posed, lens to understand the phenomenon), and possibly the methodology (e.g., centering of narratives) and the implementation of the study. In some quantitative studies, students might aim to test a theory or aspects of it. Some students might include a figure representing their theoretical framework.

6. Research Aims and Questions (1.0 page)

This section presents the study’s broad research aim(s) followed by specific research questions and, for some quantitative studies, hypotheses to be tested. Aim statements reflect the project’s ultimate purpose, whereas research questions are answered through the study. Ensure the research questions/hypotheses are aligned with the type of inquiry (e.g., qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods) to be conducted. A statement providing the rationale for undertaking this research is to be provided in terms of the study’s likely contributions to knowledge as well as its potential benefits for social work practice, policy, and/or other applications.

7. Methods (8.0-10.0 pages)

This section describes the study’s overall methodology (connected to epistemology, reflexive stance, and theory) and outlines the proposed research design and activities. It is important to justify core methodological decisions, which would be based on the state of current knowledge (e.g., little is known about the topic, thus an exploratory study will be conducted), aspects of one’s overall methodology, the research aim(s), and the research population.

If using an overall framework, such as decolonizing, participatory action research, feminist, or critical race, state this and provide a brief description. Note: ensure the methods reflect such frameworks. For example, if your framework emphasizes relational accountability with participants and the community, specify how you will establish such accountability.

For all studies, describe the research approach (i.e., qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods) and the specific design (e.g., ethnography, case study, phenomenology, institutional ethnography; crosssectional survey; explanatory sequential design) being adopted and give a brief justification. This should include a discussion about why this approach/design is appropriate to answer the research questions. Outline the sequence of the phases used in a mixed method inquiry and how they relate to one another.

The methods section should also include:

• Research population, sampling, and recruitment strategy: If engaging various information sources  (e.g., online surveys, interviews, government documents), information about sampling will need to  be provided for each source. What is the research population? What are the inclusion criteria? What  type of sampling (e.g., random, convenience, purposive, maximum variation) will be used and what  is the desired sample size? How will participants be recruited (e.g., posters, emails, social media)?

• Key concepts/measures: For qualitative studies, the core concepts to be explored need to be  described, which might help to frame interview questions (if any). These concepts will be linked to  the theoretical framework you are using. For qualitative studies involving interviews/focus groups,  describe the key areas of exploration of the interviews in order to address the larger research  questions. If applicable, outline steps to pilot test your interview guide(s). For quantitative studies,  outline the key concepts and their conceptual and operational definitions in terms of how they will  be measured (i.e., using existing scales or adaptations of them, or researcher created scales). For  existing scales, briefly discuss the appropriateness of their use with the intended population, as well  as, if applicable their reliability and validity. For adapted scales or ones to be developed as a part of  the project, outline strategies (e.g., cognitive interviewing, pilot testing) to ensure reliability and  validity. For all types of studies, this section should include demographic information that will be  collected from participants to describe the sample and contextualize responses.

• Data collection methods and instruments: Describe the methods for gathering the information and  your specific instruments/tools (e.g., interview guide, focus group facilitation guide, survey).  Outline  the steps used to collect data, including any pilot testing. Provide a brief explanation for how the  methods are appropriate for the study and how they connect to the theoretical and epistemological framework of the study.

• Data analysis plan: Discuss your plan for handling and analyzing your data, including analytic  approaches for qualitative data (e.g., thematic analysis, narrative analysis, discourse analysis) and  statistical functions and tests to be performed for quantitative data. For mixed methods inquiries,  there should be a description of how the data from each phase will be considered in relation to one  another.

• Strategies for rigor: For qualitative studies, describe any strategies for enhancing the rigor and  trustworthiness of the data (e.g., prolonged engagement, triangulation, member checking, negative  case analysis, audit trail).

• Researcher reflexivity: For all studies, describe the reflexive strategies (e.g., journaling, peer  debriefing and support) that will be used.

• Procedural research ethics : Identify and justify any exceptional procedural ethical concerns (e.g.,  use of deception, abnormal risks to participants, obtaining parental consent when research is with  children) emanating from the proposed research and outline plans for addressing them. It is  unnecessary to outline steps associated with following REB standards and guidelines, such as  obtaining informed consent from adults and securely storing data (those will be addressed in your  submission to the REB).  For some parts of the methods section (e.g., measures), some students might be able to effectively convey required information in table format.

8. References

Only items cited in the text should be included. Follow APA (7th ed.) referencing formatting.

9. Appendices

Workplan: Provide a detailed work plan and timeline for the research beginning with applying for REB approval to presenting drafts of the report to your advisor and DAC.

Other Appendices: Students should consult with their advisor to determine if they should include research tools as appendices. These documents might include recruitment materials (e.g., flyers, text for social media/email recruitment), informed consent forms, and/or data collection tools (e.g., interview guides, demographic questionnaires, surveys) that will be required for the REB application for research involving human subjects.

Useful Resources

Absolon, K. (2022). Kaandossiwin, this is how we come to know: Indigenous worldviews and methodologies in search for knowledge (2 nd ed.). Fernwood Publishing.

Antonenko, P.D. (2015). The instrumental value of conceptual frameworks in educational technology research. Educational Technology Research and Development, 63 (1), 53–71.

Creswell, J. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2018). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (5th ed.). Sage.

Locke, L. F., Spirduso, W. W., & Silverman, S. J. (2013). Proposals that work: A guide for planning dissertations and grant proposals (6th ed.). Sage.

Punch, K. F. (2016). Developing effective research proposals (3rd ed.) Sage.

Smith, L. T. Tuhiwai (2021). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and Indigenous peoples . Zed Books

Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2014). R-words: Refusing research. In, Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities (pp. 223-248). Sage.

Walter, M., & Andersen, C. (2013). Conceptualizing quantitative methodologies. In, Indigenous statistics: A quantitative research methodology. Routledge. [This source is useful for understanding the connection between the research standpoint involving the researcher’s epistemology, social position, axiology, and ontology, theoretical frame, and research methods]

Van de Sande, A. & Schwartz K. (2017). Research for social justice . Fernwood.

Ethics Review

Approval of the dissertation proposal.

All members of the DAC must review and approve the dissertation proposal. All members of the DAC must sign the  PhD dissertation proposal approval form . One copy of the approved proposal should also be attached to the form and given to the associate dean who will forward it and the original signed form to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Doctoral Dissertation Format

The dissertation is the culmination of a candidate's program. All PhD candidates are required to complete an original dissertation that makes a significant contribution to the existing knowledge in their field. If dissertation research involves humans, approval must be obtained from the Laurier  Research Ethics Board ; if it involves animals, approval must be obtained from the  Laurier Animal Care Committee .

In order that the dissertation may be subject to the scholarly criticism of all members of the university community, it is placed on display in the Graduate Studies office two weeks prior to the oral defence. Also, the oral defence is open to any member of the university community.

Traditional Dissertation Format

This work is understood to be a structurally unified body of work, with each part contributing to the development of a coherent whole, with an overarching research question/concern that is developed through a succession of chapters or sections (though this does not necessarily mean parts might not be excerpted for publication). The guiding principle here is that the manuscript most closely resembles a book.

The traditional dissertation can include the following components:

  • copyright page
  • declaration of co-authorship/previous publication
  • dedication (if applicable)
  • acknowledgements (if applicable)
  • table of contents
  • list of tables (if applicable)
  • list of figures (if applicable)
  • list of appendices (if applicable)
  • list of abbreviations, symbols
  • nomenclature (if applicable)
  • body of thesis (divided into various chapters)
  • bibliography/references (can either precede or follow the appendices)
  • appendices (include copyright releases here where applicable)

Guidelines for the Multiple Manuscript Dissertation Option

The Faculty of Social Work acknowledges the individual preferences and strengths of its doctoral students. To recognize such strengths, we offer the Multiple Manuscript Dissertation (MMD) option for SK899: Dissertation. Under this option, the dissertation is a coherent body of work; however, the student writes a minimum of three articles suitable for publication in peer-reviewed journals, and these articles become components of the findings, methods and/or literature review sections of the dissertation.

Please note that when a student, prior to the dissertation defence, submits a manuscript for publication that will be included in the dissertation, he/she should be advised that acceptance of a manuscript from a journal is separate from and does not constitute acceptance or approval by the advisory committee. It is the responsibility of the examining committee to determine if the dissertation fully meets degree requirements.

MMD Approval

Students wishing to pursue this option should discuss the feasibility and appropriateness of this option with their advisor. All students who wish to select the MMD option require prior approval of their advisor and DAC. Faculty members who prefer not to work with students choosing this option should communicate this to students who inquire about it.

Organization of the MMD

  • Issue/problem to be investigated is clearly articulated, identifies central concerns.
  • Context of the issue/problem is presented.
  • Theoretical or conceptual framework guiding the dissertation is identified as appropriate.
  • A rationale for the dissertation as a whole is provided.
  • An overview of the dissertation as a whole is presented.
  • Objectives for the dissertation as a whole are identified.
  • Presented in a logical sequence.
  • Provides a summary of the current state of knowledge on the problem.
  • Identifies consistencies and contradictions in the literature.
  • Notes gaps or areas with little research.
  • Lays a foundation for the dissertation study.
  • A manuscript that reviews all or parts of relevant literature and is a self-contained article prepared for, submitted to, or already published in a peer-reviewed journal may form a part of this section.
  • Research questions and/or hypotheses are clearly stated.
  • Research design, sampling, data collection and analysis.
  • Rationale for these choices is provided.
  • A manuscript that describes all or part of the methodology employed and is a self-contained article prepared for, submitted to, or already published in a peer-reviewed journal may form a part of this section.
  • Findings are presented in the form of one or more manuscripts that are self-contained articles prepared for, submitted to, or already published in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • Findings from the research that are not reported in the manuscripts should be reported in a separate chapter in this section.
  • Provides a synthesis of the main findings of the full dissertation including the findings reported in the manuscripts.
  • Strengths and limitations of the dissertation are provided.
  • General conclusions and implications for practice and future research are provided.
  • References.

Style Requirements

Articles are submitted to journals following the style requirements of those particular journals. The dissertation will be formatted and bound consistent with Laurier guidelines.

Dissertation Proposal and Defence Procedures

Dissertations prepared under the MMD option are subject to dissertation defence procedures as specified by the policies and procedures set out by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Authorship of a Manuscripts Included in the MMD

Normally all manuscripts that are included in the MMD Dissertation are authored by the doctoral student only. Any exceptions to this practice must be approved by the PhD Admissions, Curriculum and Student Affairs Committee.

Related Forms

  • PhD Dissertation Advisory Committee Membership Formation Form
  • PhD Dissertation Advisory Committee Membership Change Form
  • PhD Dissertation Proposal Approval Form
  • PhD Dissertation Defence - Request to Schedule Oral Examination Form

Contact Us:

E: [email protected] T: 519.884.0710 x5201

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Dissertation Structure & Layout 101: How to structure your dissertation, thesis or research project.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) Reviewed By: David Phair (PhD) | July 2019

So, you’ve got a decent understanding of what a dissertation is , you’ve chosen your topic and hopefully you’ve received approval for your research proposal . Awesome! Now its time to start the actual dissertation or thesis writing journey.

To craft a high-quality document, the very first thing you need to understand is dissertation structure . In this post, we’ll walk you through the generic dissertation structure and layout, step by step. We’ll start with the big picture, and then zoom into each chapter to briefly discuss the core contents. If you’re just starting out on your research journey, you should start with this post, which covers the big-picture process of how to write a dissertation or thesis .

Dissertation structure and layout - the basics

*The Caveat *

In this post, we’ll be discussing a traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout, which is generally used for social science research across universities, whether in the US, UK, Europe or Australia. However, some universities may have small variations on this structure (extra chapters, merged chapters, slightly different ordering, etc).

So, always check with your university if they have a prescribed structure or layout that they expect you to work with. If not, it’s safe to assume the structure we’ll discuss here is suitable. And even if they do have a prescribed structure, you’ll still get value from this post as we’ll explain the core contents of each section.  

Overview: S tructuring a dissertation or thesis

  • Acknowledgements page
  • Abstract (or executive summary)
  • Table of contents , list of figures and tables
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Literature review
  • Chapter 3: Methodology
  • Chapter 4: Results
  • Chapter 5: Discussion
  • Chapter 6: Conclusion
  • Reference list

As I mentioned, some universities will have slight variations on this structure. For example, they want an additional “personal reflection chapter”, or they might prefer the results and discussion chapter to be merged into one. Regardless, the overarching flow will always be the same, as this flow reflects the research process , which we discussed here – i.e.:

  • The introduction chapter presents the core research question and aims .
  • The literature review chapter assesses what the current research says about this question.
  • The methodology, results and discussion chapters go about undertaking new research about this question.
  • The conclusion chapter (attempts to) answer the core research question .

In other words, the dissertation structure and layout reflect the research process of asking a well-defined question(s), investigating, and then answering the question – see below.

A dissertation's structure reflect the research process

To restate that – the structure and layout of a dissertation reflect the flow of the overall research process . This is essential to understand, as each chapter will make a lot more sense if you “get” this concept. If you’re not familiar with the research process, read this post before going further.

Right. Now that we’ve covered the big picture, let’s dive a little deeper into the details of each section and chapter. Oh and by the way, you can also grab our free dissertation/thesis template here to help speed things up.

The title page of your dissertation is the very first impression the marker will get of your work, so it pays to invest some time thinking about your title. But what makes for a good title? A strong title needs to be 3 things:

  • Succinct (not overly lengthy or verbose)
  • Specific (not vague or ambiguous)
  • Representative of the research you’re undertaking (clearly linked to your research questions)

Typically, a good title includes mention of the following:

  • The broader area of the research (i.e. the overarching topic)
  • The specific focus of your research (i.e. your specific context)
  • Indication of research design (e.g. quantitative , qualitative , or  mixed methods ).

For example:

A quantitative investigation [research design] into the antecedents of organisational trust [broader area] in the UK retail forex trading market [specific context/area of focus].

Again, some universities may have specific requirements regarding the format and structure of the title, so it’s worth double-checking expectations with your institution (if there’s no mention in the brief or study material).

Dissertations stacked up


This page provides you with an opportunity to say thank you to those who helped you along your research journey. Generally, it’s optional (and won’t count towards your marks), but it is academic best practice to include this.

So, who do you say thanks to? Well, there’s no prescribed requirements, but it’s common to mention the following people:

  • Your dissertation supervisor or committee.
  • Any professors, lecturers or academics that helped you understand the topic or methodologies.
  • Any tutors, mentors or advisors.
  • Your family and friends, especially spouse (for adult learners studying part-time).

There’s no need for lengthy rambling. Just state who you’re thankful to and for what (e.g. thank you to my supervisor, John Doe, for his endless patience and attentiveness) – be sincere. In terms of length, you should keep this to a page or less.

Abstract or executive summary

The dissertation abstract (or executive summary for some degrees) serves to provide the first-time reader (and marker or moderator) with a big-picture view of your research project. It should give them an understanding of the key insights and findings from the research, without them needing to read the rest of the report – in other words, it should be able to stand alone .

For it to stand alone, your abstract should cover the following key points (at a minimum):

  • Your research questions and aims – what key question(s) did your research aim to answer?
  • Your methodology – how did you go about investigating the topic and finding answers to your research question(s)?
  • Your findings – following your own research, what did do you discover?
  • Your conclusions – based on your findings, what conclusions did you draw? What answers did you find to your research question(s)?

So, in much the same way the dissertation structure mimics the research process, your abstract or executive summary should reflect the research process, from the initial stage of asking the original question to the final stage of answering that question.

In practical terms, it’s a good idea to write this section up last , once all your core chapters are complete. Otherwise, you’ll end up writing and rewriting this section multiple times (just wasting time). For a step by step guide on how to write a strong executive summary, check out this post .

Need a helping hand?

dissertation social work research proposal

Table of contents

This section is straightforward. You’ll typically present your table of contents (TOC) first, followed by the two lists – figures and tables. I recommend that you use Microsoft Word’s automatic table of contents generator to generate your TOC. If you’re not familiar with this functionality, the video below explains it simply:

If you find that your table of contents is overly lengthy, consider removing one level of depth. Oftentimes, this can be done without detracting from the usefulness of the TOC.

Right, now that the “admin” sections are out of the way, its time to move on to your core chapters. These chapters are the heart of your dissertation and are where you’ll earn the marks. The first chapter is the introduction chapter – as you would expect, this is the time to introduce your research…

It’s important to understand that even though you’ve provided an overview of your research in your abstract, your introduction needs to be written as if the reader has not read that (remember, the abstract is essentially a standalone document). So, your introduction chapter needs to start from the very beginning, and should address the following questions:

  • What will you be investigating (in plain-language, big picture-level)?
  • Why is that worth investigating? How is it important to academia or business? How is it sufficiently original?
  • What are your research aims and research question(s)? Note that the research questions can sometimes be presented at the end of the literature review (next chapter).
  • What is the scope of your study? In other words, what will and won’t you cover ?
  • How will you approach your research? In other words, what methodology will you adopt?
  • How will you structure your dissertation? What are the core chapters and what will you do in each of them?

These are just the bare basic requirements for your intro chapter. Some universities will want additional bells and whistles in the intro chapter, so be sure to carefully read your brief or consult your research supervisor.

If done right, your introduction chapter will set a clear direction for the rest of your dissertation. Specifically, it will make it clear to the reader (and marker) exactly what you’ll be investigating, why that’s important, and how you’ll be going about the investigation. Conversely, if your introduction chapter leaves a first-time reader wondering what exactly you’ll be researching, you’ve still got some work to do.

Now that you’ve set a clear direction with your introduction chapter, the next step is the literature review . In this section, you will analyse the existing research (typically academic journal articles and high-quality industry publications), with a view to understanding the following questions:

  • What does the literature currently say about the topic you’re investigating?
  • Is the literature lacking or well established? Is it divided or in disagreement?
  • How does your research fit into the bigger picture?
  • How does your research contribute something original?
  • How does the methodology of previous studies help you develop your own?

Depending on the nature of your study, you may also present a conceptual framework towards the end of your literature review, which you will then test in your actual research.

Again, some universities will want you to focus on some of these areas more than others, some will have additional or fewer requirements, and so on. Therefore, as always, its important to review your brief and/or discuss with your supervisor, so that you know exactly what’s expected of your literature review chapter.

Dissertation writing

Now that you’ve investigated the current state of knowledge in your literature review chapter and are familiar with the existing key theories, models and frameworks, its time to design your own research. Enter the methodology chapter – the most “science-ey” of the chapters…

In this chapter, you need to address two critical questions:

  • Exactly HOW will you carry out your research (i.e. what is your intended research design)?
  • Exactly WHY have you chosen to do things this way (i.e. how do you justify your design)?

Remember, the dissertation part of your degree is first and foremost about developing and demonstrating research skills . Therefore, the markers want to see that you know which methods to use, can clearly articulate why you’ve chosen then, and know how to deploy them effectively.

Importantly, this chapter requires detail – don’t hold back on the specifics. State exactly what you’ll be doing, with who, when, for how long, etc. Moreover, for every design choice you make, make sure you justify it.

In practice, you will likely end up coming back to this chapter once you’ve undertaken all your data collection and analysis, and revise it based on changes you made during the analysis phase. This is perfectly fine. Its natural for you to add an additional analysis technique, scrap an old one, etc based on where your data lead you. Of course, I’m talking about small changes here – not a fundamental switch from qualitative to quantitative, which will likely send your supervisor in a spin!

You’ve now collected your data and undertaken your analysis, whether qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods. In this chapter, you’ll present the raw results of your analysis . For example, in the case of a quant study, you’ll present the demographic data, descriptive statistics, inferential statistics , etc.

Typically, Chapter 4 is simply a presentation and description of the data, not a discussion of the meaning of the data. In other words, it’s descriptive, rather than analytical – the meaning is discussed in Chapter 5. However, some universities will want you to combine chapters 4 and 5, so that you both present and interpret the meaning of the data at the same time. Check with your institution what their preference is.

Now that you’ve presented the data analysis results, its time to interpret and analyse them. In other words, its time to discuss what they mean, especially in relation to your research question(s).

What you discuss here will depend largely on your chosen methodology. For example, if you’ve gone the quantitative route, you might discuss the relationships between variables . If you’ve gone the qualitative route, you might discuss key themes and the meanings thereof. It all depends on what your research design choices were.

Most importantly, you need to discuss your results in relation to your research questions and aims, as well as the existing literature. What do the results tell you about your research questions? Are they aligned with the existing research or at odds? If so, why might this be? Dig deep into your findings and explain what the findings suggest, in plain English.

The final chapter – you’ve made it! Now that you’ve discussed your interpretation of the results, its time to bring it back to the beginning with the conclusion chapter . In other words, its time to (attempt to) answer your original research question s (from way back in chapter 1). Clearly state what your conclusions are in terms of your research questions. This might feel a bit repetitive, as you would have touched on this in the previous chapter, but its important to bring the discussion full circle and explicitly state your answer(s) to the research question(s).

Dissertation and thesis prep

Next, you’ll typically discuss the implications of your findings? In other words, you’ve answered your research questions – but what does this mean for the real world (or even for academia)? What should now be done differently, given the new insight you’ve generated?

Lastly, you should discuss the limitations of your research, as well as what this means for future research in the area. No study is perfect, especially not a Masters-level. Discuss the shortcomings of your research. Perhaps your methodology was limited, perhaps your sample size was small or not representative, etc, etc. Don’t be afraid to critique your work – the markers want to see that you can identify the limitations of your work. This is a strength, not a weakness. Be brutal!

This marks the end of your core chapters – woohoo! From here on out, it’s pretty smooth sailing.

The reference list is straightforward. It should contain a list of all resources cited in your dissertation, in the required format, e.g. APA , Harvard, etc.

It’s essential that you use reference management software for your dissertation. Do NOT try handle your referencing manually – its far too error prone. On a reference list of multiple pages, you’re going to make mistake. To this end, I suggest considering either Mendeley or Zotero. Both are free and provide a very straightforward interface to ensure that your referencing is 100% on point. I’ve included a simple how-to video for the Mendeley software (my personal favourite) below:

Some universities may ask you to include a bibliography, as opposed to a reference list. These two things are not the same . A bibliography is similar to a reference list, except that it also includes resources which informed your thinking but were not directly cited in your dissertation. So, double-check your brief and make sure you use the right one.

The very last piece of the puzzle is the appendix or set of appendices. This is where you’ll include any supporting data and evidence. Importantly, supporting is the keyword here.

Your appendices should provide additional “nice to know”, depth-adding information, which is not critical to the core analysis. Appendices should not be used as a way to cut down word count (see this post which covers how to reduce word count ). In other words, don’t place content that is critical to the core analysis here, just to save word count. You will not earn marks on any content in the appendices, so don’t try to play the system!

Time to recap…

And there you have it – the traditional dissertation structure and layout, from A-Z. To recap, the core structure for a dissertation or thesis is (typically) as follows:

  • Acknowledgments page

Most importantly, the core chapters should reflect the research process (asking, investigating and answering your research question). Moreover, the research question(s) should form the golden thread throughout your dissertation structure. Everything should revolve around the research questions, and as you’ve seen, they should form both the start point (i.e. introduction chapter) and the endpoint (i.e. conclusion chapter).

I hope this post has provided you with clarity about the traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout. If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment below, or feel free to get in touch with us. Also, be sure to check out the rest of the  Grad Coach Blog .

dissertation social work research proposal

Psst... there’s more!

This post was based on one of our popular Research Bootcamps . If you're working on a research project, you'll definitely want to check this out ...

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many thanks i found it very useful

Derek Jansen

Glad to hear that, Arun. Good luck writing your dissertation.


Such clear practical logical advice. I very much needed to read this to keep me focused in stead of fretting.. Perfect now ready to start my research!


what about scientific fields like computer or engineering thesis what is the difference in the structure? thank you very much


Thanks so much this helped me a lot!

Ade Adeniyi

Very helpful and accessible. What I like most is how practical the advice is along with helpful tools/ links.

Thanks Ade!


Thank you so much sir.. It was really helpful..

You’re welcome!

Jp Raimundo

Hi! How many words maximum should contain the abstract?

Karmelia Renatee

Thank you so much 😊 Find this at the right moment

You’re most welcome. Good luck with your dissertation.


best ever benefit i got on right time thank you

Krishnan iyer

Many times Clarity and vision of destination of dissertation is what makes the difference between good ,average and great researchers the same way a great automobile driver is fast with clarity of address and Clear weather conditions .

I guess Great researcher = great ideas + knowledge + great and fast data collection and modeling + great writing + high clarity on all these

You have given immense clarity from start to end.

Alwyn Malan

Morning. Where will I write the definitions of what I’m referring to in my report?


Thank you so much Derek, I was almost lost! Thanks a tonnnn! Have a great day!

yemi Amos

Thanks ! so concise and valuable

Kgomotso Siwelane

This was very helpful. Clear and concise. I know exactly what to do now.

dauda sesay

Thank you for allowing me to go through briefly. I hope to find time to continue.

Patrick Mwathi

Really useful to me. Thanks a thousand times

Adao Bundi

Very interesting! It will definitely set me and many more for success. highly recommended.


Thank you soo much sir, for the opportunity to express my skills

mwepu Ilunga

Usefull, thanks a lot. Really clear


Very nice and easy to understand. Thank you .

Chrisogonas Odhiambo

That was incredibly useful. Thanks Grad Coach Crew!


My stress level just dropped at least 15 points after watching this. Just starting my thesis for my grad program and I feel a lot more capable now! Thanks for such a clear and helpful video, Emma and the GradCoach team!


Do we need to mention the number of words the dissertation contains in the main document?

It depends on your university’s requirements, so it would be best to check with them 🙂


Such a helpful post to help me get started with structuring my masters dissertation, thank you!

Simon Le

Great video; I appreciate that helpful information

Brhane Kidane

It is so necessary or avital course


This blog is very informative for my research. Thank you


Doctoral students are required to fill out the National Research Council’s Survey of Earned Doctorates

Emmanuel Manjolo

wow this is an amazing gain in my life

Paul I Thoronka

This is so good

Tesfay haftu

How can i arrange my specific objectives in my dissertation?


  • What Is A Literature Review (In A Dissertation Or Thesis) - Grad Coach - […] is to write the actual literature review chapter (this is usually the second chapter in a typical dissertation or…

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Home » Blog » Dissertation » Topics » Social Work » Social Work Dissertation Topics (25 Examples) For Research

dissertation social work research proposal

Social Work Dissertation Topics (25 Examples) For Research

Mark Jun 20, 2020 Jun 18, 2020 Social Work No Comments

If you are planning to make a career in the field of social work, you need to take a cognitive approach to improve the lives of many people. Your social work dissertation would be an important part of your degree program. You need to choose the right social work dissertation topics considering your area of […]

social work dissertation topics

If you are planning to make a career in the field of social work, you need to take a cognitive approach to improve the lives of many people. Your social work dissertation would be an important part of your degree program. You need to choose the right social work dissertation topics considering your area of interest.

We offer a list of social work dissertation topics providing suggestions on research topics on social work and project topic on social work. So, if you are stuck in choosing social work dissertation topics and project topics on social work, you can take our help. We not only help in topic selection but also offer writing services.

List of Social work dissertation topics

The role of social workers in the evolution of children raised in violent families.

Studying the impact of social work on the mental health of visually impaired people.

The importance of social work for domestic violence in slum areas.

The role of social workers in rescuing procedures of earthquake victims.

The risks involved in the areas of an epidemic for social work professionals.

Evaluating the legal rights of families of social workers working in susceptible areas – case of the UK.

Investigating the role of social work in the mainstream development of low-income groups.

The significant problems associated with dealing with children related to the victims of kidnapping.

How social workers can help in bringing positive changes and developments in society?

How social workers highlight the problems of society and contribute to developing solutions to reduce problems?

Impact of technology on mass communication and how it reaches the public.

What are the main reasons behind homelessness in the UK?

Are there any connections between race and the occurrence of child abuse in families?

Exploring the relationship between social work and social problems studying systems theory and constructionism.

The relationship between sociology, social work, and social problems.

Analysing the knowledge of social conditions and social problems.

How social work is contributing to solving social problems in underdeveloped countries?

The strategies that can be used by social workers to volunteer for helping elderly people?

Helping stray animals can help in creating a better place to live in – A qualitative analysis.

A literature review on how social work has a positive impact on society and communities.

Can social workers convince people to act responsibly and ethically?

Exploring the future of the newspaper based on qualitative analysis.

Values, dilemmas and political controversies faced by the professional social workers.

Analysing the societal challenges that affect the role of social workers.

Critique the social work profession’s response to social problems.

Discussing the cases of how the donations are used unethically and inappropriately.

Importance of a journalist’s integrity while reporting.

The importance of transparency and accountability in the field of social work.

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  1. Social Work Theses, Projects, and Dissertations


  2. How to Write a Research Proposal

    Research proposal length. The length of a research proposal can vary quite a bit. A bachelor's or master's thesis proposal can be just a few pages, while proposals for PhD dissertations or research funding are usually much longer and more detailed. Your supervisor can help you determine the best length for your work.


    A dissertation proposal, describing the student's intended focus of her/his dissertation research, must be submitted for final review by the School of Social Work Doctoral Program Committee at least six (6) months prior to the student's expected date of degree completion.

  4. How to Write a Dissertation Proposal

    Table of contents. Step 1: Coming up with an idea. Step 2: Presenting your idea in the introduction. Step 3: Exploring related research in the literature review. Step 4: Describing your methodology. Step 5: Outlining the potential implications of your research. Step 6: Creating a reference list or bibliography.

  5. How to Write a Dissertation or Thesis Proposal

    Dissertation proposals can be up to 25-30 pages in length. Note Sometimes, a research schedule or detailed budget may be necessary if you are pursuing funding for your work. Dissertation prospectus examples. Writing a proposal or prospectus can be a challenge, but we've compiled some examples for you to get your started.

  6. Dissertation Instructions

    At some point during the dissertation process each candidate is required to make a 30-minute presentation of her/his research at a Dissertation Colloquium. 2 The colloquium is an open assembly of Social Welfare Faculty, PhD students, and others (e.g., faculty from the School of Social Work and other departments, MSW and BASW students, and ...

  7. What Is A Research Proposal? Examples + Template

    The purpose of the research proposal (its job, so to speak) is to convince your research supervisor, committee or university that your research is suitable (for the requirements of the degree program) and manageable (given the time and resource constraints you will face). The most important word here is "convince" - in other words, your ...

  8. Writing a Research Proposal

    How to Prepare a Dissertation Proposal: Suggestions for Students in Education and the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005. ... how does your own work draw upon, depart from, ... No method applied to research in the social and behavioral sciences is perfect, so you need to describe where you believe ...

  9. Writing a Research Proposal

    In general your proposal should include the following sections: I. Introduction. In the real world of higher education, a research proposal is most often written by scholars seeking grant funding for a research project or it's the first step in getting approval to write a doctoral dissertation.

  10. PDF Writing a Doctoral Thesis or Dissertation in the Social Sciences

    Dissertation in the Social Sciences Anne Jordan, Ph.D. Ontario Institute for Studies in Education University of Toronto ©2020 A guide for doctoral students at various stages of their doctoral theses and dissertations: Designing their thesis proposals, developing their research question(s), beginning their data collection, or writing their ...

  11. PDF Sample Research Proposals

    Sample Research Proposals. You will find here two examples of proposals for postgraduate research from the Department of Social Policy and Criminology. They both give good indication of the sorts of things that need to be included. The first, on fathering after divorce or separation, represents first thoughts on the proposed topic, but sets out ...

  12. Proposals That Work

    Proposal 1 is a multipart experimental study. In many academic areas in the social and behavioral sciences a series of studies now is the standard for dissertation research. This proposal and our comments show the particular demands of a multipart study and how the tasks of proposing a dissertation can be tailored to more complex research.

  13. Social Work thesis and dissertation collection

    Topping up the tank: enhancing the emotional resilience of social workers in local authority adult services . Rose, Sarah (The University of Edinburgh, 2022-11-17) The emotional resilience of social workers has increasingly been a focus of research, particularly in response to high levels of stress in the profession.

  14. What Is a Dissertation?

    A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to finish a PhD program. Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you've ever completed. It requires solid research, writing, and analysis skills, and it can be intimidating ...

  15. PDF Writing a Research Proposal in the Social Sciences

    Like any other genre of writing, a good research proposal takes time, multiple drafts, and a clear understanding of the task at hand. The purpose of a research proposal is a) to persuade your reader of the value of your research. question, b) to show you have a clear idea of where your research sits in existing knowledge, and c) to demonstrate ...

  16. Social Work Theses and Dissertations

    Theses/Dissertations from 2009 PDF. Prevalence of Client Violence against Social Work Students and Its Effects on Fear of Future Violence, Occupational Commitment, and Career Withdrawal Intentions, Pamela Myatt Criss. PDF. An evaluation of the influence of case-method instruction on the reflective thinking of MSW students, Marleen Milner

  17. Dissertation Project

    The Dissertation Project is the main research project carried out by Joint Ph.D. Program students. The approval of the dissertation project proposal is not a course requirement but is a formal stage in the progress of the Ph.D. candidate, indicating that the proposal is acceptable and the student may proceed with an REB (Research Ethics Board ...

  18. PhD in Social Work Dissertation

    The dissertation proposal is to be developed in consultation with the dissertation advisor and committee. These guidelines are advisory rather than prescriptive in nature and are designed to accommodate a broad range of approaches to dissertation research. ... As also reflected in the quotation, social work research aligns with social work ...

  19. PDF A Sample Qualitative Dissertation Proposal

    Microsoft Word - Proposal-QUAL-Morales.doc. A Sample Qualitative Dissertation Proposal. Prepared by. Alejandro Morales. NOTE: This proposal is included in the ancillary materials of Research Design with permission of the author. LANGUAGE BROKERING IN MEXICAN IMMIGRANT FAMILIES LIVING IN.

  20. Social Work Dissertations

    Including full dissertations, proposals, individual dissertation chapters, and study guides for students working on their undergraduate or masters dissertation. ... Child abuse within Black African families is an important topic which has been given extensive attention in British social work research and literature to date. However, only a ...

  21. Dissertation Structure & Layout 101 (+ Examples)

    Time to recap…. And there you have it - the traditional dissertation structure and layout, from A-Z. To recap, the core structure for a dissertation or thesis is (typically) as follows: Title page. Acknowledgments page. Abstract (or executive summary) Table of contents, list of figures and tables.

  22. Sample Thesis Proposal

    April 25, 2016. On my recent blog post Should You Go to Grad School for a Master of Social Work (MSW), a reader asked how to write a thesis proposal for the social work application. So, here is the thesis proposal I wrote when I applied to UBC (the University of British Columbia) a few years ago. My MSW program was two years because my first ...

  23. Social Work Dissertation Topics (25 Examples) For Research

    List of Social work dissertation topics. The role of social workers in the evolution of children raised in violent families. Studying the impact of social work on the mental health of visually impaired people. The importance of social work for domestic violence in slum areas. The role of social workers in rescuing procedures of earthquake victims.

  24. School of Education Graduate Research Forum

    2024 Graduate Research Forum School of Education Manhattanville University May 1st, Reid Castle Please join us as we showcase the rigorous and important work. ... 2024, successfully defended his dissertation proposal. The... Successful Final Dissertation Defense - Congratulations to Jennifer M. Miller! ...

  25. Dissertation Proposal Colloquium Announcement by Lara Ray

    Department of Learning and Teaching Announcement of Dissertation Proposal Colloquium You are cordially invited to attend aDissertation Proposal Colloquium Anchors and Networks Amidst Transience: Exploring Social Capital in Highly Mobile and Military Families April 26, 20249:00 a.m.(PDT)Zoom James Fabionar, PhD, ChairReyes Quezada, EdD, Member In Partial Fulfillmentof the Requirements for the ...