The dreaded thesis is progressing nicely. I just submitted my first three chapters to my committee members in preparation for the formal proposal to the department. If the proposal is accepted, then I can proceed with data collection.
The first three chapters of the thesis are called the prospectus. Chapter 1 is the introduction, Chapter 2 the review of literature, and Chapter three the materials and methods. In the final write-up of the thesis, the first three chapters become an appendix to the much shorter actual thesis portion.
This being the fourth thesis topic for which I've read between 150 and 300 or so pages of literature (in total I've probably read 1000+ pages), I'm very glad to be quickly approaching the data collection phase.