What's in a Thesis Exposé?

When I accept to supervise a thesis (be it a Bachelor, Master, or Doctoral Thesis), I will ask the candidate to produce, as the first milestone in the project, an exposé of his or her thesis. Its size and the time available for producing it differ for the three types of theses: For a Bachelor thesis, it should be available about 2-3 weeks after the formal thesis start; for a Master thesis after 1 month; for a Doctoral thesis after 3 months. However, the idea and structure are equal in all three cases.

A thesis is a one-person research project, and think of the exposé as a project plan. It needs to answer the questions: What is the goal of the project? Where does it start from? Why bother? What is the plan to run it in time? In terms of a research project and a thesis exposé, this leads, more sternly, to the sections:

The size and detail of the exposé varies with the type of thesis, according to the calibre of the problem and the available project time. For a Bachelor thesis, think of 1-2 pages; for a Master thesis 2-3 pages; for a doctoral dissertation 5-6 pages.

The author of the exposé is the candidate, i.e., you! Why?: Your thesis supervisors have normally an idea of the thesis topic that they give to you. Your formulation in the exposé shall make sure that you have the same understanding of what you are supposed to work on. Moreover, much of the exposé text may in fact go into your final thesis: a typical introduction shares much of the material with your exposé, and you should have written that yourself.

Be prepared, however, to adjust your topic while working on it! In fact, this is the norm rather than the exception, which leads to the final remark about the exposé: This is a plan for your thesis work, and, like all plans in life, is subject to revision in detail! Don’t hesitate to change details of what your exposé says, if it turns out to be necessary. However, do hesitate to change significantly the topic and approach of your thesis that you have described in your exposé – before you do that, consult your instructors!