Dissertation Proposal

  • The Dissertation Committee

    Students have the option of continuing toward a dissertation proposal or prospectus with the QE chair or may select a new chair. The dissertation chair must hold Graduate Faculty status (for current list of the Graduate Faculty, visit www.graduate.appstate.edu). Typically, dissertation chairs are tenured faculty members in the College of Education.  Depending on the student’s research interests a chair may be an untenured Graduate Faculty member from the Reich College of Education or a tenured Graduate Faculty member from another department at Appalachian State. The Dissertation Chair will serve as the student’s primary advisor from this point forward.

    Once a Graduate Faculty member has agreed to serve as chair, the chair and student will collaboratively identify additional Graduate Faculty to serve as dissertation committee members. The committee (including the chair) consists of a minimum of three members, all with graduate faculty status (see the Graduate School website for a current listing).

    Additional members may be added.  It is recommended that the student choose a committee that will guide their research in the following ways:

    • Enriching the current body of literature through extensive knowledge of the topic.
    • Creating a sound methodological design and conducting accurate data analysis.
    • Enhancing the quality of the written work through extensive editing.

    A student may change their committee but only after consultation with the Doctoral Program Director.  It is possible for non-ASU faculty to become dissertation committee members, once they receive formal Graduate Faculty status with the Graduate School.

    Dissertation Proposal or Prospectus

    A dissertation is required of all doctoral students. The proposed dissertation will show command of the literature and research methodology of her/his specialty.  Dissertations are expected to conform to the Dissertation Guidelines of the Graduate School and the style described in the most recent edition of the American Psychological Association (APA) Publication Manual.

    There are two distinct pathways.  Depending upon the student’s concentration within the doctoral program and the guidance of the dissertation chair, the student will complete one of two pathways:

    1. a doctoral dissertation proposal with the first three chapters of the dissertation (Introduction, Literature Review, Methodology); or
    2. a doctoral prospectus a 25-30-page paper that outlines a proposed study (theoretical, conceptual, or methodological).* 

    The Dissertation Proposal serves the function of demonstrating the student's ability to articulate:

    • A viable researchable issue
    • The context for the issue
    • The significance of the proposed research
    • The theoretical/conceptual framework that informs the study
    • The literature that informs the researchable issue
    • A methodology for the proposed research

    The audience for the dissertation proposal, along with the Dissertation Committee, is any member of the faculty in the college as well as the Graduate School.

    The student should meet with the committee in order to defend the dissertation proposal.. After the committee approves the dissertation proposal, an electronic version and hard copy of the dissertation proposal should be submitted to the Director of the Doctoral Program along with the Dissertation Committee Form (see Appendix I) at least 3 weeks prior to the end of the semester before the semester in which the student wishes to begin enrollment in EDL 7999: Dissertation Research (for example, if a student wishes to be enrolled in EDL 7999 during the Spring of any semester, the approved proposal and IRB application must be submitted 3 weeks prior to the end of the preceding semester).  In order to be enrolled in EDL 7999, the proposal and completed Dissertation Committee Form must be submitted and approved by the Doctoral Program Director and sent to the Graduate School.  In addition, enrollment in dissertation credits (EDL7999) requires an approved IRB application.

    Dissertation Proposal Guidelines

    The following outline is meant as a guide, not a rigid framework. It assumes an empirical project. Students adopting a non-empirical project, such as a philosophical or conceptual analysis, will veer significantly from this guide.

    Effective dissertation proposals should contain the following:

    1. Title
    2. Introduction to the Study: Context of the Issue
      1. Research problem (if applicable)
      2. Research statement and purpose (Create a clear and focused statement that describes your intended inquiry. (i.e., The purpose of this study is…). Refer to this statement in your proposal whenever you discuss your plans.)
      3. Kind of study (qualitative, quantitative, conceptual/theoretical, mixed methods, historical or arts based) r and why it is appropriate
      4.  What is the significance of the study?
    3. Study Context: Review of the Literature and a Description of the Conceptual Theoretical Framework
      1. Relationship of study to existing research
      2. Relationship of study to personal experience and knowledge (qualitative)
      3. Contributions of pilot study to your current thoughts and proposed approaches
        1. Research Questions Description of the major questions or hypotheses that your work seeks to understand/explain/prove
        2. Statement(s) regarding the relationship of your questions/hypotheses to prior research and theory and your own research purposes
        3. Research Methods (Describe and justify each selection, making use of research texts and articles to demonstrate your familiarity with the procedures you are proposing.)
          1. Description of research setting or context
          2. Detailed discussion of your chosen research strategy/type of study
          3. Sampling strategies (population, sites, places, times, and other data sources)
          4. Data collection techniques (instruments, variables, observation techniques, protocols)
          5. Data analysis procedures
          6. Consideration of possible ethical issues
          7. Validity
            1. Potential threats to the study’s validity/trustworthiness
            2. How you are dealing with/will deal with these threats
          8. Implications/Significance/Contributions
            1. Knowledge, Policy and/or Practice (How might your research contribute to knowledge or theory, policy, educational practice or practitioners?)
          9. References
          10. Appendices
            1. Timetable
            2. IRB Request for Initial Review
            3. Recruitment materials
            4. Consent forms
            5. Request for Letter(s) of Agreement from participating agency (ies) (i.e., schools)
            6. Interview protocols, sample instruments, observation form. 

    Dissertation Prospectus Guidelines

    The dissertation prospectus is typically a 25-30 page document that includes the following essential questions:

    1)     What is your problem statement (if applicable)

    2)     What is your topic? What is (are) your research question(s)? Clearly describe your central claim(s) and focus.

    3)     What theories and/or concepts inform your proposed research? What is the theoretical or conceptual framework for your study, if applicable?

    4)     How theories and/or concepts inform your methodological approach?

    5)     How does your topic fit within the existing scholarship on your topic? (i.e., history of the topic, significance or importance of your topic, the ongoing scholarly discourse, and how your study may contribute to the current discourse.)

Guiding Questions for Methodology

Quantitative Considerations

Qualitative Considerations

Non-Empirical Considerations

Projects in this genre will differ significantly from traditional social science conventions.

According to AERA, these forms of scholarship include: reviews of research; theoretical, conceptual, or methodological essays; critiques of research traditions and practices; and scholarship more grounded in the humanities. (Educational Researcher, Vol. 35, No. 6, pp.33-40, 2006)

1)     Population and Sampling

  • Is your proposed sample representative of the population to be studied?


1)     Participants and Sampling

  • What is your strategy for identifying your sources of data and why is this an appropriate strategy?
  • If your research includes participants, provide a justification for why you have chosen these particular participants?
  • How will the selected participants and/or sites of study particularize your data?

1)     Sources of knowledge

  • What text/phenomena/concept/theory are you analyzing and why?
  • What is the history of the text/phenomena/concept/theory and its current status in the literature?



2)     Methodology & Analysis

  • What type of study will be conducted: non-experimental, experimental, or quasi-experimental?
  • What are your dependent and independent variables?
  • What instruments will be used to collect data?
  • What statistical methods will you use to analyze your data? (Are the required assumptions met for using a particular statistical test?)
  • How will you organize, analyze, and interpret the data?


2)     Methodology & Analysis

  • What is your methodology or overall research design? (e.g., ethnography, case study, narrative, etc.)
  • What are your data sources?
  • What data collection method(s) will you use and why?
  • How do you plan to work toward trustworthiness?
  • What are ethical issues that need to be considered regarding your method(s)?
  • How will you organize, analyze, and interpret the data?

2)     Analytic approach

  • What are the main organizational approaches you will create or use?
  • What are your main arguments?
  • What are the analytic questions that guide your strategy?
  • What theories/concepts guide these analytic questions?

Application for Candidacy

Students must work with their chair to file the Thesis/Dissertation Committee Membership form after receiving committee approval of the proposal. One completed form is submitted to the Director of the Doctoral Program along with a hard copy of the approved proposal.  Once the director approves the proposal, the program assistant forwards the copy of the proposal to the Graduate School along with the completed form and the special course form that enrolls the student in Dissertation hours. In addition, once this proposal has been approved,  the student must provide an electronic copy t to the Doctoral office program assistant for the records. 

Institutional Review Board (IRB)

All dissertation research requires obtaining human subject clearance from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of the University. IRB approval must be obtained before beginning research on the dissertation and before filing the Dissertation Committee form. Upon acceptance of the Dissertation Proposal by the committee, the student working with the chair prepares and submits an IRB application.

The chair and student must each complete the CITI Training Program prior to submission of an IRB application.