Dissertation Process


Upon acceptance of the Dissertation Proposal, and the IRB application, the student proceeds to conduct the research articulated in the proposal. It is expected that the student, Dissertation Chair, and methodologist (who may also be the Chair or another member of the dissertation committee) keep in close contact whilst the research is being conducted.

Upon completion of the research, and with guidance from the Chair, the student writes chapters that report the findings and an analysis of the findings. Additionally the student updates the first three sections from the Proposal (introduction, literature review, and methodology), and presents to the committee a draft document. This document usually contains the following elements. The committee and student, depending upon the nature of the research, may consider other elements.

  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • Findings
  • Conclusions

Dissertation Requirements

The following elements are required of the dissertation narrative. The dissertation proposal and final dissertation must adhere to both APA style guidelines and the Graduate School Thesis and Dissertation Guidelines.

Chapter 1. Introduction

Introduction to Issue: provides a broad introduction to the context in which the particular issue being researched resides. The introduction should rely considerably on appropriate scholarly sources in addition to the writer's interests and concerns. The linkage with educational leadership should be clearly established.

  • Problem Statement: flows from the Introduction to the Issue, and is a more particular statement of the issue/problem that will be addressed in this research project. The problem should be given some definition, its elements described, and the beginnings of a case for why this project should be undertaken. Supporting literature should be included.
  • Research Question(s): is a broad statement, usually framed as a question, which will be addressed in this research project. Sub-questions may also be included.
  • Methodology: in this section, the writer briefly (in a paragraph or two) introduces the methodology that will be used in this research project.
  • Significance of Issue: here the writer presents a rationale for the study and its significance. Typically the significance centers on the need for information about the issue, and addresses gap(s) that exist in our current knowledge. Writing this section assumes a sound knowledge of the literature about the issue.
  • Definition of Terms: each term, used in the study, which may not be commonly known or understood is defined (e.g. non-traditional students, andragogy, students at risk, etc. etc.), often drawing on appropriate citations.
  • Organization of Study: is a brief transitional piece that states what is addressed in each of the major sections (chapters) of the paper.

Chapter 2. Literature Review

  • Classic Literature: for most research undertakings/topics/ there is a well-established body of literature (e.g. adult learning, school leadership, faculty development, etc.) and in this portion of the paper appropriate elements of this literature are reviewed.
  • Research Literature: refers more particularly to research that has been conducted and informs the particular research being proposed. If previous studies are cited the writer usually provides a brief statement about how studies were conducted and conclusions reached (as opposed to just stating what the conclusions were).A theme throughout the literature review should involve developing the case for the proposed study - i.e. showing a gap in our current knowledge that can appropriately be addressed by the proposed study.
  • Conceptual Framework: in many projects the conceptual framework flows nicely from the literature review. The framework provides the rationale for the particular way (e.g. interview questions) that data for the research project will be obtained.

Chapter 3. Methodology

Methodological Approach: presents an overview of the methodological approach and its appropriateness for the proposed study.

  • Research Question(s): essentially repeats the question(s) outlined in the Introduction. The wording in the question(s) should be the same throughout the paper.
  • Research Design: calls for a detailed presentation on the particular design selected for the study and its elements. In the process the writer demonstrates understanding of the design, drawing on appropriate scholarly sources.
  • Design Rationale: makes the case for the particular design chosen.
    • Role of the Researcher: presents a detailed explanation of the role the researcher will take in the study.
    • Ethical Issues: provides the opportunity for the researcher to address any values, subjectivity, experience, etc. that may have a bearing on the study - and how these will be addressed to insure the integrity of the research.
    • Data Sources: describe what source(s) the data will be drawn from (e.g. individuals, groups, databases, etc. etc.)
    • Data Collection: deals with how the data will be collected (e.g. interviews, observations, sections of data bases, etc.)
    • Participants: in the cases where participants will be a source of data, this section describes who they will be (e.g. school principals, college presidents, 8th graders, etc. etc.)
    • Participant Selection: describes how and why the particular participants are selected.
      • Interview Protocol: if interviews are being conducted, this section describes the complete process of how, when, where, etc. they will take place; issues include confidentiality, protection of human subjects, right to withdraw, etc.; a copy of the interview questions (informed by the conceptual framework) typically is referred to and presented as an appendix.
      • IRB Procedures: all research projects need Institutional Research Board (IRB) approval before the research begins. Note of that approval should be included in the methodology section. Researchers and major professors need to have completed the IRB ethics tutorial which can be accessed through the IRB site on the ASU Graduate School web page.
      • Data Coding: describes what procedures will be used to code the data.
      • Data Analysis: describes the procedures used to analyze the data.
        • Trustworthiness: refers to the findings being accurate, believable, reliable, and valid. Descriptions of study's efforts towards credibility, transferability, confirmability, and dependability, reliability and validity may be addressed in this section.

Chapter 4. Results

  • Introduction: calls for a brief introduction to the study, method, and elements to be presented in this portion of the paper.
  • Participants: in qualitative studies, the participants and surroundings are introduced with rich description and detail.
  • Results: include the appropriate presentation of the data and results from the research.

Chapter 5. Conclusions

  • Introduction: includes a short paragraph identifying the sections that are to follow in this portion of the paper.
  • Analysis - Literature Links: here the writer provides analysis of the major findings, and makes linkages back to the literature about the topic.
  • Addressing the Gaps: woven into the analysis it is appropriate to identify if and how findings address the gaps identified in the rationale for the study and its significance.
  • Limitations: every study will have some limitations, and at this point it is most appropriate to address them
  • Revisiting the Conceptual Framework: in this section it will be useful (especially for following researchers) to identify if the framework worked for this study. If changes are suggested based on the study's findings that will be helpful for future studies they can be addressed at this point.
  • Implications: the study and its findings will have implications. At this point these implications (and for whom - e.g. policy, politicians, the academy, school systems, etc. etc.) should be presented - along with some points about how these implications might be addressed by their intended audience(s). The implications should be clearly linked with the data and findings.
  • Recommendations for Future Research: each study typically will present suggestions for further research. These suggestions should be clearly linked to the findings, and perhaps to the limitations identified in the process.


All references should be typed in APA style. Only those references cited in text should appear in the reference list.

Dissertation Defense and Outcomes

The oral defense of the Dissertation must be scheduled well in advance once a student has completed the necessary steps for graduation. The Dissertation Chair will work with the student to decide when work on the Dissertation is ready for defense. The student may meet with their committee any number of times before a final copy of the dissertation is ready to be delivered to committee members, and the Doctoral Program Director. The Dissertation defense must be completed at least 4 weeks in advance of the final class day of the semester of graduation. Scheduling the defense well in advance of this deadline is preferred.

A finalized copy of the dissertation with all edits made is due to the graduate school 7 days before the last class-meeting day of the semester in which the student intends to graduate. The Doctoral Program Director and members of the Dissertation Committee should receive the final version of the dissertation from the student 3 weeks before the date of the defense.

The oral defense is a formal occasion. The Doctoral Program Director introduces the student to the audience and will then present an overview of dissertation followed by an oral examination with the committee. The chair of the Dissertation Committee facilitates this examination and subsequent dialogue.

At the conclusion of the public presentation and examination the committee meets in executive session to determine the outcome of the examination. Frequently, the student is asked to make changes, and agreements are established to complete this work. If no change is required, the student is so informed. Before formal adjournment the student is congratulated and necessary paperwork is signed.

Moving Toward Graduation

An application for graduation should be filed with the Graduate School once the student is aware of the semester that they will be defending the dissertation. A fee is required to complete this application. Please see deadlines posted on the Graduate School website. If the graduation date must change for any reason, the student must re-apply for graduation and re-pay the fee.

Following the Dissertation Defense and completion of all requested changes, the student delivers one copy of the dissertation, printed on plain paper, to the Graduate School. The Dean of the Graduate School, or a reader, will read the dissertation and return it to the student with format and editing suggestions. These are the final changes that will be required. Once all revisions have been completed, the corrected dissertation, along with the returned copy, is sent to the Graduate School for one final review. After this review, the student will be given clearance to make official copies for binding.

The three required copies should be on official Appalachian thesis paper that contains the Appalachian seal as watermark, and is available at the campus bookstore. Print should appear on one side of each sheet. Each copy should be in a large brown envelope with a fastener.

Every envelope must have a label stating the student's name, program and degree.

The student pays a binding fee at the Cashier's Office prior to submitting the final copies. The blue receipt is then given to the Graduate School along with the official copies.

Click Here for a list of published Dissertation Titles.