Master’s Thesis Proposal - Outline Template
Dr. James P. Davis, Associate Professor
Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Version Date: 9/26/02
This document provides my current thoughts on the structure, organization and content of an MS
Thesis Proposal, required by the Department and the Graduate School, University of SC.
1. The proposal serves as the statement of the problem to be addressed, and the statement of
work you intend to carry out in solving the problem.
2. The proposal can be, or can become (by morphing) the Chapter 1 of your thesis.
3. Thoughts on Content of the Proposal:
3.1 Introduction to the domain
This is some introductory statement about the domain in which the research is to be carried out.
There may be more than a single domain, and so we need to structure the presentation of material
in this section to introduce the reader to relevant information in these domains in some logical
order. The sub-sections covering the various domains should be interconnected in a manner that
allows the reader to make the appropriate connections of the material.
3.2 Brief, high-level survey of the Problem Background
This is some, discussion about the context in which the identified problem is defined. We have
some background, presented as introduction, and you are now doing the set-up for presenting the
statement of the problem to be solved. This may be in the form of discussing various techniques
or approaches, some chronological treatment of the domain(s), or some summary of the issues
that are relevant to understanding the problem statement that follows.
Note that this section may be a description of the larger problem in which your specific “sub-
problem” resides. You might be tackling a piece of a much larger problem and, therefore, you’ll
need to describe enough of this large problem in order to define the context for your reader about
the landscape in which your problem resides.
3.3 Statement of the Research Problem
This is the rationale for what you will be doing and why it is important, why does it demand your
attention. You might present this statement in terms of quantitative metrics or qualitative
criteria, or you may simply state the problem in the form of one or more questions: "what if"?
Since research problems can be theoretical or applied in nature, the statement of the problem can
vary according to these forms. So, it becomes a matter of what is most appropriate, given the
type of thesis work that is to be conducted, the domain(s) in which the work is being done, and
on the nature and scope of the problem to be solved.
MS Thesis Proposal Guidelines – Dr. James P. Davis Page 1
3.4 Statement of Solution Approach
Here, you discuss your current thoughts about how you intend to solve the problem as stated.
You should also discuss, at a high-level, some rationale and/'or benefit of the approach you are
taking: is it a "hunch"? Is it based on some practical, constraining factors? Generally, there are
some issues that govern the selection of a solution approach--most of which are based on some
idea of what constitutes the best approach for solution, given the constraints, where your actual
research must then validate these assumptions through analysis and experimentation.
It is conceivable that, after you conduct the actual work, you might find that the approach you
thought was the right one is not, and some other one is more suitable. This is part of the
discovery process, and is a natural byproduct of the research activity.
3.5 Statement of Work
This is a refinement of the statement of solution approach, broken down into a specific plan:
consisting of the steps, or the "how", that goes with the "what" of the proposed solution. This
also defines the scope of work that you intend to carry out as part of your research, and it
provides your advisor and committee with some metric to evaluate whether the scope of work
being proposed is adequate, too small, or too large for an MS-level of research effort.
This should be a detailed description of (1) tasks, (2) ordering, (3) outputs/deliverables, and (4)
evaluation criteria (if possible).
3.6 Outline of the Thesis itself
This is material that would define for the reader what you would be discussing in the actual
Thesis write-up; to be composed either during or after the actual proposed research is completed,
once the proposal itself has been approved. This could be done in terms of the contents of the
actual chapters of the Thesis document.
This should be a listing of the primary references that have been consulted to this point of
writing the proposal. It is possible that your committee may decide that this list is deficient in
some area, and may recommend that you add some others (reviewing them first) prior to
accepting the proposal in its current form.
The listing of references can be done either numerically or alphabetically (using a mnemonic for
the authors' names). Personally, my preference would be to use the IEEE format defined for
papers submitted to IEEE conferences and journals--as this is the one we would most likely be
using when taking material from the thesis and submitting for peer-reviewed publication.
Note that this list will expand as you embark on the actual research itself (as a result of your
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