CSULA Department of English | Guidelines for Thesis Proposals

Guidelines for Thesis Proposals

Comprehensive Examination and Thesis

Thesis Guidelines

This section is designed to aid students in preparing thesis proposals. The
Graduate Studies Committee recognizes that different topics may require
different treatments. For instance, a thesis on a neglected writer or subject is
apt to have a much shorter bibliography than one on a major figure or popular
topic. Nevertheless, the committee believes that the following guidelines will
apply to most proposals. Samples of successful proposals are also available in
the advisement office.


A proposal should sum up the key ideas and issues of the proposed thesis as
clearly and as precisely as possible. It is not always possible, however, to
specify the conclusions that will be reached or even the exact arguments that
will be developed until later stages of research and writing have been
completed. Nevertheless, students should be able to define the central subjects
of inquiry and to present preliminary arguments, including working hypotheses,
in order to demonstrate their ability to undertake the project.

Although proposals will vary widely in emphases, most will enable the Thesis
Committee to answer the following questions related to the following basic

  1. Purpose and Working Hypotheses

    What is the central purpose of your thesis? What are the
    main issues you plan to explore? What significant assertions
    or insights do you intend to develop that make this project
    worth undertaking? What claim does your work make for the
    attention of the reader? What are the tentative conclusions or
    expected outcomes?

  2. Scope

    Is the scope of the project reasonable? Is the topic
    important enough to warrant a 50-page essay? Is the subject
    too large for the master's thesis? Has the topic been defined
    carefully enough so that your work can be completed within two
    or three quarters?

  3. Critical Background

  4. Have you clearly explained the
    underlying theory or methodological framework? Does your
    proposal demonstrate sufficient preliminary understanding of
    the theory and issues? Does your proposal, and especially your
    bibliography, demonstrate a familiarity with other relevant
    criticism and scholarship? How does your study build on
    previous work? How does it differ from the work that has
    already been published and avoid simply repeating the
    conclusions of others?

  5. Timetable

    How much work
    have you already done, and when do you expect to be able to

    Length: The length of proposals may vary
    somewhat according to the complexity of the topic, but most
    successful proposals average about 1,500 words or six to eight
    typed double-spaced pages plus bibliography.

    for Theses in Literature:
    The bibliography should be
    annotated and selective. The annotations, which should be no
    longer than a sentence or two, should demonstrate your general
    familiarity with each book or article cited. The Thesis
    Committee will not expect that you have read every single book
    cited, but it will expect that you have spent enough time with
    cited books to be aware of their content and relevance to your
    thesis topic. In many cases, it will not be possible to cite
    all the relevant material, and it is usually not necessary to
    cite more than 15 to 20 items. A selective bibliography should
    list the editions of the primary texts you are using, any
    annotated bibliographies or reference guides that are related
    to your topic, and the most important secondary sources. Your
    selection of secondary material will serve as evidence of your
    expertise on the topic and your readiness to begin the thesis.

    for Theses in Composition, Rhetoric, and Language:
    bibliography is a preliminary, working bibliography. It should
    be thorough enough to demonstrate that the project is grounded
    in theory and scholarship. Approximately 20 entries should be
    annotated, usually with no more than a sentence or two.
    Although you need not have read all of the works cited, the
    annotations should show that you have spent enough time with
    the cited works to be aware of their content and relevance of
    your thesis topic.