Dissertation Proposal Guidelines – LAI Doctoral Programs

The following ideas may be useful to doctoral students in the initial stages of writing their dissertation proposal. The suggested outline is only a guide and students may depart from it in any way that more effectively presents the specific problem to which their study is directed.

The Department requires that specific attention be given to various aspects of the doctoral dissertation. For information about quality of typing, the size and quality of the paper, requirements regarding dissertation titles, and other information specific to the University at Buffalo, Ph.D. candidates should check two publications of the Graduate School, the Graduate Student Manual: Policies and Procedures for Graduate Students and the booklet Guidelines for Graduation and Theses and Dissertation Preparation; and Ed.D. students should check the Graduate School of Education's Ed.M. and Ed.D. Regulations and Procedures. However, the basic guide for dissertation writing in the Department of Learning and Instruction is the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 5th Edition (APA), the MLA Style Sheet, 6th Edition, or Turabian's A Manual for Writers, 6th Edition. Candidates should check with their advisor to determine which is the best to use. (These manuals are up-dated from time to time, and students should use the most current edition.)

An Outline for Writing the Dissertation Proposal

I. Cover Page

A. Title of dissertation
B. Student's name and special field (e.g., English Education, Elementary Education)
C. Names of committee members:
Committee Chair: Professor
Committee Members: Professor

II. Abstract

The abstract should be a one page statement of the purposes and methods of the dissertation. The abstract should enable the reader to ascertain the general plan of investigation without further study of the proposal. It is probably best to write the abstract after the rest of the proposal has been completed.

III. Background of the Problem to Be Investigated

The first section of the body of the proposal should indicate the relation of this study to the developing stream of educational thinking. This statement will rarely be more than 600 words. It may discuss the prior studies in the same area, a field situation to which the study relates, or the conceptual framework out of which the study arises. This section should make clear why the study is of value in extending educational theory, technology, or practice: i.e., the contribution to present knowledge which the proposed study will make.

IV. Problem to Be Investigated

The specific assignment to be undertaken should be stated explicitly in this section. This involves definition of any crucial terms or concepts connected with the problem and a statement of the major problems to be investigated. One of the best ways to state the problem is to list one or more questions that the study is intended to answer. It is also acceptable, but not always necessary or possible, to state these as hypotheses to be tested. The hypotheses stated must be research hypotheses not null hypotheses. It is only rarely that a null hypotheses is of any interest or is germane to the research proposal.

V. Design of the Study

This section should explain exactly how the study is to be conducted. It will be necessary to define in operational terms the specific questions to be answered. Inevitably, some aspects of the technique must be developed as the study proceeds, but this statement should be as definite as possible. Three points must be considered: sources of data, data collection procedures, and data analysis and presentation procedures.

A. SOURCES OF DATA

Persons: The discussion should state explicitly to what population (e.g., students, classrooms, school districts, etc.) the findings are to be applied. The writer should state the exact procedures for sampling this population and point out any sampling assumption made and any characteristics of the selected groups that limit the application of the findings to other groups. The proposal should discuss what generalizations are possible from a sample of the type used. For most investigations, it is necessary to indicate the approximate number of cases to be studied.

Materials: What materials will be examined and how they will be identified should be stated. If the study will include sampling a population of materials, the writer should explain how the population will be defined and listed, and the writer should also show how the materials will be sampled from this population.

B. PROCEDURES FOR COLLECTING DATA: EVIDENCE TO BE OBTAINED

The proposal should describe in detail the procedures to be used to obtain data. The discussion should point out what precautions are being taken to ensure objectivity, reliability, and validity. If a prerequisite to the main study requires the establishment of the reliability or validity of certain procedures or materials, the writer should identify how such will be accomplished and evaluated. It is not necessary to discuss reliability of standard techniques or sources of data (e.g., standardized tests).

C. TREATMENT AND PRESENTATION OF DATA

In some studies, where treatment follows routine and well-known methods, this section may be brief; in other studies writers will need to explain at length how they intend to proceed from data to conclusions.

Any notable assumptions about the conduct of the study should be made clear. It is not important to list a large number of conventional assumptions, but the writer should indicate those assumptions about education, human nature, or the data used that are necessary to interpret the data and to accept the findings of the study.

Studies that are quantitative in nature and include statistical analyses (e.g., parametric, non- parametric, correlational) must attach an appendix that displays an example of the variety of tables and figures the dissertation will include. These tables and figures should be numbered, titled (according to APA style) and include all pertinent column spanners, column heads, stubheads, stubs, etc. The only part of the tables and figures that cannot be included is, of course, the actual data to be presented.

Studies that are qualitative in nature (e.g., historical, reviews, descriptive-qualitative) should attach an appendix specifying an outline of the topics to be presented. The outline should include major headings of the broad topics to be presented, sub-headings for data to be reported, sub-topics, etc. In some ways this outline will have the appearance of the dissertation's Table of Contents.

VI. Significance of the Study/Need of the Study

In one paragraph of about 100 words, the writer should indicate the importance of the investigation for educational theory and practice. This is an extension of the statement of the problem stipulated in Section III of this proposal outline. In some studies, the significance is fairly obvious, but it must still be stated. In other studies, the implications will require explanation. The statement should answer the question: After completing this investigation, how may we be able to advance educational practice, research methodology, or scientific theory?

The second paragraph of this section should provide sufficient information to convince the advisor that there is a need for this study. That is, after having explicitly stated the research problem and convinced the advisor that it is significant, the writer must now show such mastery of the related literature as to inspire confidence in the advisor that the problem has not been satisfactorily resolved in previous research.