The prospectus, or proposal, is the first step of your dissertation. It serves as a plan for your project, an identification of your research goals and method(s), and an articulation of the importance of your work. Alongside its preparation, you will also select members of your committee, who will provide you with important feedback.
Beginning the document often marks a significant change of pace and approach for graduate students. The immensity of the task that is writing a dissertation can feel overwhelming, and can make the prospectus feel equally insurmountable. The prospectus, however, is meant to check precisely these moments. As a plan made in consultation with your committee, it is something to hold onto as you work through, and often get lost in, the details of your project.
Different departments often have different expectations for the prospectus. These include the nature and importance of a literature review, of explaining your method, of discussing the limits of the problem you identify, etc. While some of the advice we offer here is suitable for any graduate student, we also recognize these differences, and so, to aid as broad a range of students as possible, we have compiled a set of sample documents from a range of disciplines below.