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How to Prepare a Successful Dissertation Proposal Defense


As a Ph.D. candidate, you will create a dissertation proposal that summarizes your motivation to research a topic. Once your proposal is ready, you will present it to your dissertation committee for approval. Taking time to organize your research, create a presentation and ready yourself for questions can help you prepare for a successful dissertation proposal defense.

Dissertation Draft

While requirements will vary among universities and departments, a few general guidelines apply to all dissertation proposals. Your proposal should serve as a road map for your upcoming research. The fundamental elements within a solid dissertation proposal are a title, abstract, introduction, objectives, literature review, statement of research question, methods, discussion and bibliography. Ask for copies of recent proposals from students who have passed their proposal defense to help you prepare.

Prior to your proposal defense, all committee members must fully read your proposal. First, submit a copy of your dissertation proposal to your committee chair for a preliminary review and revision. After his approval, submit this material to the other members of your committee at least two weeks in advance of your defense. This provides them with enough time to prepare edits and agree on your proposal prior to your defense.

Determine Expectations

Each university has its own specific guidelines for a dissertation proposal defense. Check with your committee chair and department to confirm your specific guidelines. At Purdue University's Hispanic linguistics department, for example, a dissertation proposal defense consists of a 20- to 30-minute presentation that includes handouts or a graphics presentation. At Baylor University’s geology department, students provide a formal 30- to 40-minute presentation that summarizes the objectives, methodology, timetable and budget for their dissertation. When preparing your presentation, ensure that you address what the study is, why it is relevant, how you plan to perform the research and when you intend to complete the work. Your proposal is your opportunity to convince your advisory committee that your topic is important enough to receive funding and that you have a reasonable chance of completing it successfully. Prepare yourself to give this presentation without a set of notes. This demonstrates to your committee that you have an in-depth understanding of your topic.

Prepare Questions

Following your presentation, you will field questions from your committee to identify possible problems with your proposed research and to examine ways to improve your dissertation. Your committee is looking for you to have a clear understanding of your proposed research methodology. Prepare your answers to the following questions ahead of time: the purpose of your research; why you want to conduct this research; how you plan to perform your research; and when you intend to conduct the research. Be prepared to describe the methods you propose for collecting and analyzing data and be able to convince your committee that these methods are appropriate.

Know the Literature

During your dissertation proposal defense, you are not expected to present research results. Yet, you should be familiar with statistical literature related to your proposed research topic. Your committee wants evidence that your dissertation will be a high quality, original document and that you have statistical knowledge, technical skills and motivation to produce a reputable dissertation. Review relevant material and be able to reference this literature if asked.

About the Author

Fitzalan Gorman has more than 10 years of academic and commercial experience in research and writing. She has written speeches and text for CEOs, company presidents and leaders of major nonprofit organizations. Gorman has published for professional cycling teams and various health and fitness websites. She has a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech in political science and is a NASM certified personal trainer.

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