Guide to Writing a Dissertation Proposal

By Elizabeth Ferry, Department of Anthropology, Brandeis University (updated November 17, 2021)

Once you have passed your comprehensive exams, the time has come for you to complete the dissertation proposal. In this memo, I give you some of my thoughts on ways to approach the proposal. Also, I asked students who already completed the requirement to tell me what they wished they had been told beforehand and have included some of their comments in this document. Of course, since everyone’s project, mind, and life circumstances differ, not all of these suggestions will work for all of you. I have tried to write something that is sufficiently general to apply to many of you, but that still has practical, specific suggestions.

Final Thoughts

I hope these thoughts help some of you manage this rather stressful, but ultimately rewarding, exercise. I have two final points to emphasize. The first is simply to underscore what I said earlier: break down the task into manageable steps, and you will be far more likely to succeed. The second is also simple and, I hope, inspiring: the dissertation proposal is an extension of the comprehensive exams. Where the comprehensive exams established you as an expert in various fields of anthropological literature, the dissertation proposal establishes you as an expert in your project and its significance. You should feel free to enjoy and explore that sense of expertise.