Dissertation Proposal


You would think that writing a dissertation proposal would be a relatively short endeavor. Not so much. Compared to the dissertation it is a tiny piece, but it can give you fits. Many students re-write that proposal several times before it is finally approved by an advisor and all committee members. It seems that everyone has his/her little agenda items that they want changed, deleted or added. You’ll have to just grin and bear it, because you can’t really get started until that proposal is approved.

Sections of a Research Proposal for Dissertation
  • 1

    Statement of the Research Question. This is the most important sentence in your proposal and the first sentence that your committee will see. Actually, it will be in the form of a question. You will have already met with your advisor, and you and s/he will have agreed upon this question. The important thing is that the question is significant to your field and that it is one on which there is a good body of literature for initial research.

  • 2

    Brief Summary of Your Early Research. To come up with your research question, you have done some initial research, if only to determine that there is literature that will relate directly to your question. This section will summarize this early research so that you can demonstrate that your question is worth pursuing.

  • 3

    Your Research Design. Of all the sections of dissertation proposal writing, this one must be right. It is the one that committee members will review carefully and the one for which most suggestions for revision will be made. Remember, you are designing an original research study, even if it is replicating an earlier study. You must describe your design and justify how this design is the best one for answering your question.

    There are two types of design – quantitative and qualitative.

    A qualitative study will collect “hard” data that will then be statistically analyzed. There are some options from which you can choose. You can design experimental and control groups; You can have a single group that will receive a specific “treatment,” and then analyze the results.

    A qualitative design will gather what is called “soft” data – observations, interviews, surveys, and such. The “participants” may be parts of a sampling, either random or selective, of a specific demographic. While the data gathered is still statistically analyzed, there is a greater potential for irrelevant data and what is known as nuisance factors. You will want to address your attempts to keep these to a minimum.

    This section will also include the instruments you intend to use to gather your data. They may be already validated instruments that prior researchers have used or those that you have designed. You will need to justify their direct relationship to your question, element by elements.

  • 4

    The Timeline. You must establish a schedule by which you will complete each chapter. Certainly, it is flexible and subject to change. Still, your committee wants to see that you have a plan for getting it completed in a reasonable amount of time (12-18 months).

    If your proposal is not accepted the first time, understand that most are not. As stated before, individual committee members will want to make suggestions and requests. If you face a re-write of certain parts, don’t be discouraged This is normal.

Important Considerations
  • 1

    Your organizational structure must follow the guidelines of your department.

  • 2

    Your language and style must be formal and scholarly

  • 3

    You must demonstrate that you have spent a great deal of time and careful thought in crafting this piece.

  • 4

    Remember that requests for changes should be seriously considered. If you disagree, state your case calmly and respectfully

Do and Don`t
  • Be certain that you can show the importance of your research question to your field
  • Do indicate if you are attempting to replicate earlier research or striking out into a new research area
  • When you create your timeline, be realistic, based upon your other obligations
  • Be prepared to answer questions that committee members may have
  • Rely on your advisor to review your proposal and to make suggestions before the final copy goes to the committee
  • If you have already conducted lots of literature reviews, choose only some of those pieces to include in your proposal
  • Don’t become defensive when revisions are requested. This is a normal part of the process
  • Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. There are lots of sample proposals on the web that you can study
  • Don’t submit a proposal that has even one grammatical or spelling error. You need to show that you will be submitting professionally produced writing
  • Don’t struggle needlessly. If you are stuck, get some help
Mistakes to Avoid
  • The biggest mistake that proposal writers make is rushing through, believing that the proposal is not that important. They could not be more wrong. Take your time, craft it carefully, and don’t submit it until it is really perfect.
  • Procrastination can be an issue. Sometimes, this happens because students are nervous about submitting that proposal. It means the beginning of a tough journey. Don’t put this off. Get it finished and submitted. Think of the end goal – that degree.
  • It is a mistake to become defensive if committee members question elements of your research design. Remember, they may know more than you, and, deep down, they want you to be successful
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