Writing Your Dissertation Proposal While Designing Your Dissertation Research

I have changed...in so many ways. I feel so much more confident about what I can do. I believe I can do almost anything!

Writing and defending a dissertation caused me to approach issues more critically.

Writing your dissertation proposal prepares you for conducting your research and subsequently writing your dissertation. A dissertation proposal typically is comprised of several related sections. In many instances, the dissertation proposal has a proscribed format, including several chapters. The content of the proposal may include an explanation of the rationale for planning the study and a design for conducting the study. In some institutions this can be a relatively brief ten- to fifteen-page document, whereas in others it is lengthy, averaging seventy-five pages.

Writing the proposal takes a significant amount of time since most doctoral students are developing their ideas about their dissertation concurrently with their writing a document in acceptable form for institutional approval. Because the document includes components essential in conducting the research study, you may use the format as a preliminary outline for drafting plans for your research. Apprentice researchers typically write each section of the proposal, intending to revise it, based on professors' feedback. In the process of moving from section to section, you will refine your ideas, requiring your revision of earlier sections to present a consistent perspective. The multiple drafts enable you to contemplate important issues while becoming proficient at writing in the acceptable genre for your institution. This chapter offers a great number of details inherent in the writing of your dissertation proposal. From a "quick read" you will get the gist of the chapter. Since there are numerous minute details discussed, you will find it useful to return to each section as you progress in your own proposal writing.

I will discuss the purposes for writing a dissertation proposal first, and then proceed to discuss the content of the proposal, as well as typical steps towards approval of your proposal. While there are probably unique components to each institution's process and proposal form, the guidelines which follow are fairly representative of most program requirements.

Writing your dissertation proposal Purposes for Writing a Dissertation Proposal

There are six major purposes accomplished by writing your dissertation proposal. In writing it, you:

• identify your specific research focus;

• create a group of faculty scholars who will guide your research apprenticeship;

• establish your research proficiencies;

• acquire proficiency in a writing style acceptable for your dissertation;

• draft early chapters of your dissertation;

• and prepare yourself for writing your dissertation.

Let's consider these purposes.

Identify your specific research focus In order to write your dissertation, you need a clear research agenda. Your research agenda is derived from your depth of knowledge of your "field," including your understanding of the theories which are guiding your discipline and the directions in which your discipline is moving. Your research typically either systematically tests one aspect of a theory, or generates data towards theory-building where there is no viable theory.

The dissertation research is intended to contribute to an on-going professional discussion. In each discipline there are debates about important issues. Your dissertation is intended to inform that dialog. Your dissertation proposal is your opportunity to present an "argument" acknowledging multiple perspectives while advancing a new perspective on the on-going discussion. Your focused presentation is intended to convince your readers that this proposed study is worthwhile doing and that you have the necessary expertise to conduct the study.

Create a group of faculty scholars Faculty with expertise in areas germane to your study direct your writing of your dissertation proposal. These professors nurture your learning and evaluate your work, eventually deciding when they believe it meets the university's standards.

As you progress you will give evidence of understanding another element in the dissertation process: your reliance on others. Some chairs want their doctoral students to be "humble," displaying their dependency on their mentor for progress in their dissertations. Others want students to be independent, utilizing all the resources available to them without overburdening the chairs. In most instances, students need to adopt multiple stances, depending on the stage they are at in the dissertation process and the preferences of the members of their committee.

Establish your research proficiencies Since most doctoral students have limited experience in conducting research, particularly on dissertation scale, the dissertation proposal serves to validate the doctoral student's potential as a researcher. From this perspective, then, your preparation of the proposal is a quick immersion in research methodologies and problem finding.

Acquire proficiency in a writing style acceptable for your dissertation The style of writing in dissertations is often disparagingly called dissertation-ese. While this style is unique, it is not universally valued. Many universities are more expansive in the styles which they accept. It is essential that you demonstrate your writing proficiency in the genre (s) acceptable at your university as part of the proposal writing process.

Draft early chapters of your dissertation It is not unusual for many parts of the dissertation proposal to be included in your dissertation. Particularly in settings where the proposal is quite lengthy, students incorporate large parts of the proposal text in their dissertations.

Prepare yourself for writing your dissertation Once you have succeeded in meeting the expectations for the dissertation proposal, you will have a clearer idea of the form, content, and procedures for completing your dissertation. In some respects you can view the proposal writing as a dry run for your dissertation writing.

Writing the proposal is a major step on the road to getting done with your dissertation. It provides students with the necessary tools for conducting dissertation research while assuring the university that the student has the appropriate knowledge and proficiencies for succeeding at this project.

Contents of the Dissertation Proposal

The dissertation proposal is a preliminary, scholarly document. It is preliminary to your dissertation. It is scholarly in that it follows the style guide adopted by a scholarly organization (e.g. the American Psychological Association or the Modern Language Association) and it presents an academic argument or position advancing your research as a potential contribution to knowledge. Each word is carefully chosen to convey precisely the intent of the writer. The organization clearly facilitates the reader's understanding of the major issues. The content impresses the academic community with the writer's breadth and depth of knowledge and with the importance of the proposed study to advance knowledge or understanding of a practice or a phenomenon.

The proposal typically contains four major components:

1 A descriptive title.

2 A statement of the research problem or question and the theoretical concerns to be addressed.

3 A presentation of studies and theories which are related to the proposed study.

4 An explanation of the procedures planned to conduct the proposed study.

Although these are listed as four separate parts, they are actually interdependent. The title of your proposal notes key issues which your study will investigate. The methods are influenced by the theories under investigation. The different parts may initially be written in isolation, but gradually they become directly linked. In the example given in Figure 10.1, a table of contents from a dissertation proposal, you notice the most significant terms appear in all the sections: "classroom discourse," "learning disabilities," and "learning." In many respects, your first drafts are times for clarifying the major issues. As you revise the several sections, you will create a consistent, coherent whole.

Typically, multiple drafts of a proposal are made, during which time the doctoral student becomes more precise about what will actually happen in the study, while simultaneously working toward an increasingly integrated presentation of the major theories and research which are guiding the project. This recursive process (going from one part of the proposal to another and returning again) will be an integral part of creating your final, polished dissertation proposal. We will consider the contents of each of the different sections.

While there are several different goals for conducting research (e.g. test a theory, build a theory, critique practice), there is usually only one format for the dissertation proposal. That format is most directly aligned with studies which are intending to test a theory. While this causes a problem for those who are conducting different types of study, chairs and their students have become resourceful in adopting the established style to their needs. For example, in studies which are intending to develop categories of analysis in the process of collecting data, dissertation proposals focus on possible and probable directions, noting that as the study progresses, additional decisions will be made. Some of these differences are noted in the chart below.

Research Proposal Table Contents

Figure 10.1 Sample table of contents for a dissertation proposai Source: Levine ( 1993)

Proposal Title: Classroom Discourse with Students Labeled Learning Disabled

Chapter I: The Problem

Statement of the Problem Theoretical Rationale Classroom Discourse

Classroom Discourse and Theories of Learning Language and Learning

Learning Theories for Students Labeled Learning Disabled Limitations of the Study

Chapter II: Review of the Literature

Historical Perspectives on Learning Disabilities Educational Programs for Students Labeled Learning Disabled Classroom Discourse

The Potential Influence of Peer Groups The Roles of the Teacher Classroom Discourse and Learning

Chapter III: Research Design

The Setting of the Study The School The Classroom The Participants

The Teacher-Researcher The Students Collection of the Data Videotaped Lessons Interviews

Lesson Plans and Curriculum Plans Methodological Considerations Verifications and Validity Analysis of the Data

Preliminary Processes for Developing Categories Categories Emerging from the Data Feasibility Study

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    Why discipline is important when writing dissertation?
    7 years ago
  • rudy grant
    How to write research contents at the proposal?
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    How to write progress on dissertation?
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  • emanuela cattaneo
    How to design a dissertation research?
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