Dissertation Plan & Prospectus Help

(Updated on October 27, 2017 by Michelle Williams)


A dissertation is a long, complex document.  Therefore, it's essential to develop a dissertation plan before beginning the researching and writing process.  Dissertation plans are strategies of approach that detail the ways in which a writer plans to execute the dissertation's requirements, from start to finish.  Often, these plans establish specific objectives and tentative deadlines for each chapter, based on a timetable determined by the writer and his/her advisor.  Dissertation plans aren't the same as dissertation outlines, which detail the information that will be included; dissertation plans are basically detailed schedules that serve to keep the dissertation on track.

Dissertation Plan & Prospectus HelpThe first goal of the dissertation plan should be to complete the introduction.  The introduction outlines the student's research objectives and provides background on the topic.  It is likely that most of this information has been included in the student's dissertation proposal; therefore, the student should attempt to complete the introduction in a fairly short amount of time.  Once completed, the student should submit the chapter to the dissertation advisor.  Students should always wait to submit the next chapter until receiving feedback from the advisor, as it's likely that the advisor will suggest many changes that will affect subsequent chapters.  Students should therefore build extra time into their document plans to account for the time it will take the advisor to respond.

Typically, the second chapter of a dissertation is the literature review.  This is often the longest chapter and also the most time-consuming.  It is likely that a partial literature review was submitted with the dissertation proposal; however, the literature review for the final dissertation will likely be longer and more in-depth.  Students should budget significant time in their document plans for literature review research and composition—likely three or four three times the time they committed to the introduction.  

The remaining chapters of the document will explain the student's research and research method.  The organization and number of these chapters will vary depending on what type of dissertation the student is writing.  No matter how many chapters there are, however, each should be a separate goal in the plan and should be completed only after the student has received previous chapters from his/her advisor.  

When designing a dissertation plan, learners should be realistic about what is possible to complete in a certain timeframe.  The research and composition of a dissertation typically take a year or more; therefore, it's unwise to create a plan that follows a schedule of less than a year.  Furthermore, learners should know in advance that their dissertation plans will likely change throughout the composition process.  Therefore, they should view the dissertation plan as a dynamic, in-progress, flexible document that can and will be altered as the project moves forward.

Dissertation Prospectus

Dissertation prospectuses are documents that outline the rationale and proposed research methods for executing a master's or doctoral dissertation.  A dissertation prospectus must be submitted to—and approved by—a student's department and committee before that student can proceed with the actual project.  Dissertation prospectuses are similar to thesis prospectuses in their purpose; however, typically dissertation prospectuses must include a long and comprehensive research component known as a "literature review."  Not all thesis prospectuses require such a component.  In addition, some universities require that dissertation prospectuses go through a formal defense process.

A dissertation prospectus is a precursor to the project, and is therefore sometimes thought of as the first step.  This is because, despite the fact that a dissertation prospectus is a preliminary document, it contains the foundational aspects of the complete reference project.  Thus, sometimes a dissertation prospectus will take months to prepare.  

Often, a dissertation prospectus contains three sections: an introduction, a literature review, and a methodology.  These sections will later be revised into the first three chapters of the final document.  The introduction of a dissertation prospectus outlines the research objective.  In other words, the first chapter states the purpose of the researcher's proposed study.  Therefore, the chapter should provide any necessary background information on the topic and should also explain why the topic is deserving of study.  This chapter should also outline the researcher's expectations or hypotheses regarding the outcomes of the study.

The literature review is the second component of a dissertation prospectus.  In this section, the writer must present a comprehensive overview of existing research related to his/her assignment topic.  The compilation and study of this research will be very time-consuming; the literature review section is therefore often the longest section to complete, simply because of the time it takes to perform the required research.  Once the research is complete, the writer should organize the relevant research studies in the dissertation prospectus, presenting a summary of each study.  The literature review should close by suggesting areas in the research that are incomplete or not yet fully explored.

The methodology section of a dissertation prospectus outlines the proposed way in which the study will be carried out.  The entire process of the study should be explained in extreme detail so that the student's university can determine whether or not the study will be adequate for researching the topic.

To ensure that the student is on the right track, each section of a dissertation prospectus should be submitted to the student's committee or advisor for review before moving on to the next chapter.

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