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 issues:

  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 finish?

    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.

    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.

    Bibliography for Theses in Composition, Rhetoric, and Language: The 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.