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I am currently writing my thesis concerned with the analysis and design of data visualizations. For certain use cases my thesis suggests certain visual interpretations (to which I generally refer as visualizations, this being the term used in the academic field).

One of my chapters eventually introduces these proposed visualizations, and I am wondering about the chapter's title:

  • Visualization Proposals
  • Visualization Suggestions

Both come to mind, and I am unsure as to the exact difference in the meaning (or how they feel).

Could someone elaborate on the difference of the two words in the above context? Many thanks in advance.

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I'd suggest "proposals" because you're proposing them. Perhaps all proposals are also suggestions, but that doesn't mean that all suggestions are proposals. A gesture can be a suggestion but not a proposal. –  user21497 Dec 28 '12 at 9:59
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I concur with Bill Franke and J.R. that you want proposal here. But I don't think it's a matter of formal vs informal usage. It seems to me that the core difference between these two words is the depth of consideration and confidence they imply.

You're in a committee meeting wrestling with a problem and a Bright Idea occurs to you. You throw it out on the table for the group to examine and discuss — that's a suggestion. In fact, if you see dubious expressions on some people's faces you may say exactly that — “Just a suggestion, guys,” to indicate that you're not committed to it, you just think it's worth exploring.

Subsequently, the group looks at your suggestion from many angles, considers its possible side-effects, modifies it in some respects to reduce costs, extends it in other respects to increase benefits, and agrees at last that you're not going to come up with anything better. Now you put all your useful thoughts into formal language, carefully craft your exposition to demonstrate the depth and breadth of your examination, frankly admit possible drawbacks to cover your asses, arbitrarily insert passages (of negligible relevance and dubious legitimacy) which will appeal to management's known prejudices, and pass the document upstairs — that's a proposal. In fact, you may entitle it Framistatitude: a Proposal for Indeflature of Ongoing Porsitility.

Mutatis mutandis, that's how a thesis works. You take a Bright Idea — a suggestion — to your advisor, work it up, modify it, contradict it, revise it, massage it, bolster it with a Review of Literature, rewrite repeatedly; and when you're done you present it to your reviewers. At that point you're committed. You must not offer them anything so tentative and vulnerable as a suggestion: that's an invitation to evisceration. It's got to be bold, assertive, confident. It has to be a proposal.

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Great answer; so good I've read it thrice. “A proposal is a suggestion with commitment” – I guess that's why we make marriage proposals. –  J.R. Dec 28 '12 at 11:18
@J.R. Excellent point. A marriage suggestion will elicit the response "Come back when you're sure." –  StoneyB Dec 28 '12 at 11:20
Thank you for your excellent response. Informative and fun to read. :) –  fgysin Dec 28 '12 at 12:01
That's certainly true of a thesis before it is written, but I understood the OP to be seeking a title for a chapter of the thesis itself. –  Barrie England Dec 28 '12 at 12:40
@BarrieEngland Quite so. He asks us what the difference would be between Suggestions and Proposals in that title and which he should prefer; I tell him that Suggestions carries the wrong, well, suggestion, and that he should prefer Proposals. –  StoneyB Dec 28 '12 at 13:16
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Grüezi! I agree with Bill that, of the two, proposals is preferable, if only because suggestions is too informal in such a context, but I wonder if either is really what you want. If the chapter considers the various visualizations that might be possible, then something like Visualization Options might be possible, or perhaps something longer like Data Visualizations: The Available Choices, or Data Visualizations: Some Recommendations. But it really depends on the content of the chapter, and only you know that. What title would you give it in one or other of the Swiss national languages?

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It depends, too, on where the chapter is located in the thesis. Generally speaking, I think "Recommendations" would be a good word for a chapter title near the conclusion, while "Proposals" might be a better word near the beginning. –  J.R. Dec 28 '12 at 10:54
@J.R. Good remark. The chapter is rather at the end of the thesis, and takes into account analysis/design/concept phases throughout the entire project. –  fgysin Dec 28 '12 at 11:57
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Like Bill Franke, I'd suggest you use proposal.

Even though the two words can be somewhat synonymous (my on-board thesaurus lists propose as the first synonym for suggest), suggest is the more informal of the two. I would expect to see suggest used more in everyday conversation (as in, "I suggest you wear nicer clothes to the concert"), while propose is generally the better word for more formal contexts, such as a chapter title of a research thesis. A proposal carries more weight than a suggestion.

In NOAD, the definitions of the two words are nearly identical, but notice the difference in the example usages there:

suggest (verb) put forward for consideration : I suggest that we wait a day or two

propose (verb) put forward (an idea or plan) for consideration or discussion by others : he proposed a new nine-point peace plan

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