WHAT I LIKE TO SEE IN A DISSERTATION PROPOSAL
A dissertation proposal is a presentation of the first three chapters of your dissertation. These first three chapters, then, are not static, but are works in progress and should be treated as such. This means that you will continue to search the literature and update as you find new material, for example, or as interaction with your participants leads you in new directions. Because you are conducting Action Research, which is cyclical, every cycle of investigation should lead to new ideas and discoveries as you move through the process. One last thought on the way Action Research is conducted and written — work on writing in active voice. In other words, avoid sentences like, “This study will…” It’s not your study that’s doing this work — it’s YOU! Consequently, feel free to say, “I will…” and when you’re done, you can say, “I did it!”
The approval process of the proposal always begins with your mentor. Then the remainder of your committee will have the opportunity to read your work. Often, members of your committee will approve with recommendations for revision. Plan on completing multiple iterations of your work!
This is what I like to see in a dissertation proposal — I hope this helps you organize your thinking as you put your proposal together. Creativity is welcome and I realize that the research problem and method can drive the organization of the proposal. Use this only as a guide — your judgment in what you present should prevail. I would like to see some semblance of these headers, however, to help organize the work so that it’s easy to follow and captures everything needed. But remember – This is YOUR study!
CHAPTER 1 – INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY
Introduction: Begin with an introduction that tells us what you’re studying and why you’re interested in this. What has drawn you to this topic and why do you think it’s important? What is the relevance of the problem to the field?
Background of the Problem: Describe some of the important information that readers need to know to understand why this is a research problem and why it should be studied.
Statements of the Problem: After providing some background, concisely state what the research problem is in a couple of paragraphs, including why we need to care about this. Why is this a problem that should be researched?
Research Question(s): Every dissertation study MUST be guided by research questions. Often, in qualitative studies, there is a main question followed by sub-questions. Quantitative studies should also have hypotheses in addition to research questions. This is not part of a qualitative study, however.
Purpose of the Study: This section should answer the important “So what?” question. In other words, what is the larger purpose this study will fulfill? Your main purpose is to answer or address your research questions, but your secondary purpose is to address a larger problem through your results.
Significance of the Study: Drawing from the purpose discussion, who will most benefit from your work? Who in the profession will be most interested in seeing your results and why?
Nature of the Study: How will you conduct the study? Give a brief but specific discussion of the study itself, including method(s).
Assumptions and Limitations: What are the givens with which you’re approaching this work, and what might get in your way? Your assumptions should be methodological, theoretical, and topic-specific. Your limitations might be potential design flaws, issues with participants, or both. They are issues that might impede your ability to draw conclusions from your data once it’s collected. You should also discuss delimitations, or areas that are intentionally being excluded from the research and why.
Definitions of Terms: List and define any terms that might be unfamiliar to the reader and that help to explain what is being measured through your work.
Summary: Summarize your chapter with a transition to the remainder of the proposal or final dissertation.
CHAPTER 2 – LITERATURE REVIEW
A good literature review should contain the following:
• A description of the “line of research” — in others words, what is the history of study of this problem? Where and how will your study contribute to this line?
• Identify, describe, and evaluate the studies that have come before yours on this research problem. What studies support your work and have helped you to determine the research problem, research questions, and significance of your study? Where are the gaps in that research? What unanswered questions have they created that your study might address?
• What is your theoretical framework? How has that helped you to select the focus for the study and potentially guide your analysis and interpretation of the data you hope to collect?
• Are there any studies that support the selection of your methodology and approach to your work? In other words, are there mostly quantitative studies that precede yours and you think a qualitative study is in order as a result? Is this a topic that has never been studied using focus groups, or phenomenological interviews, or surveys, or? Has the group you intend to study never been studied on this topic? These are all questions that help you to address the gap in the literature that your study may fill.
• Any other literature that supports the work you are doing.
• Provide a summary of the literature at the end of the chapter with a clear description of the gap your study will attempt to fill.
Remember — a good Literature Review is research-based, meaning that you should mostly be focused on previous studies in the area you intend to research.
CHAPTER 3 – METHODOLOGY
Chapter 3 is an extremely important chapter in that it presents the step-by-step approach you will use to conduct your study. Think of it as the blueprint for the house you are building and ask yourself, “If someone else were to read my work, would they be able to do EXACTLY what I did?”
Some of Chapter 3 mirrors the work that you did in Chapter 1. In Chapter 1 you described the research question and why it is being asked. In Chapter 3, you are describing exactly how you intend to go about answering it.
A good Chapter 3 should include:
• Purpose of the Study: You should begin by re-introducing why you’re doing this at all.
• Research Design: Define more fully the design of your work. What do you intend to do? With whom? Where and when? How? What instruments do you intend to use (i.e., interviews, surveys, focus groups, etc)?
• Target Population and Participant Selection: What is your sampling method? How will you recruit and choose your participants? How will you avoid coercion? How will you obtain informed consent?
• Data Collection and Data Analysis: Describe in detail and present the instruments you will use (interview questions, focus group procedures, surveys, etc.). Describe in detail how you will collect the data and once collected, how you will analyze your data and present your results.
• Ethical Considerations: How will you protect your participants and the data you collect? Are there any particular concerns for your study that should be addressed? How will you address them?
• Expected Findings: What do you think you’ll have when all is said and done? What are you really going for in this study?
WHAT I LIKE TO SEE IN A DISSERTATION PROPOSAL