Tomorrow's Professor Msg.#77 The Function of the Dissertation Proposal


Whether or not your department requires you to submit a dissertation
proposal, if you are a Ph.D. student you should seriously consider doing so. The work you put into such a proposal will redound to your benefit many times
over once you begin working on your dissertation. The written (and
approved) proposal is also a way of setting expectations for both you and
your advisor(s) in advance of what is a major research undertaking. Below
is an excerpt on the functions of the dissertation proposal taken from an
excellent book, Proposals That Work: A Guide for Planning Dissertations and
Grant Proposals, by Lawerence F. Locke, Waneen Wyrick Spirduso, and Stephen
J. Silverman, Sage Publications, Newbury Park, CA, 3rd editon, 1993 pp 3-5.


Rick Reis
UP NEXT: An Intellectual Cooperative at ASU

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A [dissertation] proposal sets forth both the exact nature of the matter to
be investigated and a detailed account of the methods to be employed. In
addition, the proposal usually contains material supporting the importance
of the topic selected and the appropriateness of the research methods to be

A [dissertation] proposal functions in at least three ways: as a means of
communication, as a plan, and as a contract.


The proposal serves to communicate the investigator's research plans to
those who provide consultation, give consent, or disburse funds. The
document is the primary source on which the graduate student's thesis or
dissertation committee must base the functions of review, consultation,
and, more important, approval for implementation of the research project.
It also serves a similar function for persons holding the purse strings of
foundations or governmental funding agencies. The quality of assistance,
the economy of consultation, and the probability of financial support, will
all depend directly on the clarity and thoroughness of the proposal.


The proposal serves as a plan for action. All empirical research consists
of careful, systematic, and pre-planned observations of some restricted set
of phenomena. The acceptability of results is judged exclusively in terms
of the adequacy of the methods employed in making, recording, and
interpreting the planned observations. Accordingly, the plan for
observation, with its supporting arguments and explications, is the basis
on which the thesis, dissertation, or research report will be judged.

The research report can be no better than the plan of investigation. Hence,
an adequate proposal sets forth the plan in step-by-step detail. The
existence of a detailed plan that incorporates the most careful
anticipation of problems to be confronted and contingent courses of action
is the most powerful insurance against oversight or ill-considered choices
during the execution phase of the investigation. The hallmark of a good
proposal is a level of thoroughness and detail sufficient to permit another
investigator to replicate the study, that is, to perform the same planned
observation with results not substantially different from those the author
might obtain.


A completed proposal, approved for execution and signed by all members of
the sponsoring committee, constitutes a bond of agreement between the
student and the advisors. An approved grant proposal results in a contract
between the investigator (and often the university) and a funding source.
The approved proposal describes a study that if conducted competently and
completely should provide the basis for a report that would meet all the
standards for acceptability. Accordingly, once the contract has been made,
all but minor changes should occur only when arguments can be made for
absolute necessity or compelling desirability.

With the exception of plans for qualitative research, proposals for theses
and dissertations should be in final form prior to the collection of data.
Under most circumstances, substantial revisions should be made only with
the explicit consent of the full committee. Once the document is approved
in final form, neither the student nor the sponsoring faculty members
should be free to alter the fundamental terms of the contract by unilateral