Writing a Proposal for Your Dissertation

Guidelines and Examples

Steven R. Terrell

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November 11, 2015
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282 Pages
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This user-friendly guide helps students get started on—and complete—a successful doctoral dissertation proposal by accessibly explaining the process and breaking it down into manageable steps. Steven R. Terrell demonstrates how to write each chapter of the proposal, including the problem statement, purpose statement, and research questions and hypotheses; literature review; and detailed plan for data collection and analysis. Of special utility, end-of-chapter exercises serve as building blocks for developing a full draft of an original proposal. Numerous case study examples are drawn from across the social, behavioral, and health science disciplines. Appendices present an exemplary proposal written three ways to encompass quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods designs.

User-Friendly Features

“This book tackles one of the most daunting tasks that doctoral students face. By breaking down the proposal writing process in a manageable and thorough way, the book educates the student from beginning to end. It is a 'must read' for doctoral students—I would use it in all classes about the dissertation process and assign it to all doctoral students as soon as they start their program! It also will be valuable for general research methods classes at the graduate level and any classes leading up to the doctoral dissertation requirement. Students will benefit from the concrete examples that bring the process to life.”

—Jacqueline V. Lerner, PhD, Program in Applied Developmental Psychology, Boston College


“My eyes were starting to glass over late one night as I was trying to complete the required reading for a class—until I started reading this book. The straightforward writing style and examples were a breath of fresh air. Heck, I even chuckled out loud a few times. In sum, I went from 'My goodness, what have I gotten myself in for,' to 'Thank goodness, I can actually relate to this stuff!'”

—Peter Wiernicki, first-year doctoral student in Educational Leadership, Johnson & Wales University, Providence, Rhode Island


“Many students flounder in the process of writing a dissertation proposal. Terrell's book treats in depth what other works on writing a dissertation dispatch in a few paragraphs. He recognizes not only the importance but also the complexity of writing the problem statement and other elements of the proposal, and provides students with expert guidance in how to capture precisely a study's importance within a defined scope. Terrell's insights are wise and on target; students will find them to be of great value.”

—Steven D. Zink, PhD, Vice Chancellor, Nevada System of Higher Education


“This book demystifies the entire dissertation proposal process, and is particularly helpful in the area of considering and refining a research problem. A major strength is the way Terrell clarifies the process by analyzing numerous topics in terms of their problem statement, purpose statement, and research question.”

—Frederick J. Brigham, PhD, Special Education Program, George Mason University


“A valuable resource for my introductory research methods course. This text strikes the perfect balance between substance and practicality. It serves as an excellent supplement to the other required methods texts, and I intend to include it on the textbook list for all my future research courses.”

—Felice D. Billups, EdD, Professor, Educational Leadership Doctoral Program, Johnson & Wales University, Providence, Rhode Island


“The style is accessible and conversational; perfect for apprehensive doctoral students who need a broad overview of the proposal process. I like the way the purpose statement is broken down into variables, participants, and location; this will be helpful to students.”

—Susan Troncoso Skidmore, PhD, Department of Educational Leadership, Sam Houston State University


“Informative and easy to read. Terrell offers a succinct introduction to all the parts of a typical doctoral proposal—introduction, background literature review, and methods—and presents a range of examples for quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods approaches. The book provides a very useful perspective on different methodological approaches and how they fit into the doctoral proposal.”

—Paul Vincent, PhD, Department of Physics, Astronomy, and Geosciences, Valdosta State University

Table of Contents

1. Developing the Problem Statement for Your Dissertation Proposal sample

Introduction

The Doctoral Experience

The Problem Is the Problem

Finding a Good Research Problem

Characteristics of a Good Problem

Writing the Problem Statement

The Problem Statement as Part of a Dissertation Proposal

Summary of Chapter One

Do You Understand These Key Words and Phrases?

Let’s Start Writing Our Own Proposal

2. Writing Purpose Statements, Research Questions, and Hypotheses

Introduction

The Quantitative Purpose Statement

Purpose Statements for Qualitative Studies

Defining and Describing a Research Question

The Methodological Point of Departure

Research Questions Will Ultimately Lead to the Study’s Research Method

Getting Back to Stating Our Research Question

A Word of Caution!

Putting It Together: Problem Statements, Purpose Statements, and Research Questions

Problem Statements, Purpose Statements, and Research Questions in the Literature

Stating Hypotheses for Your Research Study

An Example of Stating Our Hypotheses

Understanding the Four Basic Rules for Hypotheses

The Direction of Hypotheses

Hypotheses Must Be Testable via the Collection and Analysis of Data

Research versus Null Hypotheses

All Hypotheses Must Include the Word “Significant”

Other Parts of Chapter 1 of the Dissertation

Summary of Chapter Two

Do You Understand These Key Words and Phrases?

Review Questions

Progress Check for Chapter 1 of the Dissertation Proposal: The Introduction

Let’s Continue Writing Our Own Dissertation Proposal

3. Writing the Review of Literature for Your Study

Introduction

What Is a Review of Literature and What Is Its Purpose?

There Isn’t a Magic Formula for Writing a Review of Literature

Phase 1. Getting Ready to Write a Review of Literature

Phase 2. Writing the Review of Literature

Summary of Chapter Three

Do You Understand These Key Words and Phrases?

Review Questions

Progress Check for Chapter 3 of the Dissertation Proposal: The Review of Literature

Let’s Continue Writing Our Own Dissertation Proposal

4. The First Part of Your Dissertation Research Method

Introduction

Philosophy 101

The Research Paradigm

Nonrandom (Nonprobabalistic) Sampling

Identifying the Population and a Sample for Your Study

Summary of the Sampling Process

Data Collection Instruments

Instruments for Quantitative Research

Instruments for Qualitative Research

Reliability and Validity

Plans for Data Analysis

Ethical Considerations

Plans for Presenting the Results

Summary of Your Proposal

Summary of Chapter Four: The First Part of Your Dissertation Research Method

Do You Understand These Key Words and Phrases?

Review Questions

5. Quantitative Research Methods

Introduction

Different Types of Data

Quantitative Research Designs

Survey Research

Correlational Research

Causal–Comparative Research

Hypothesis Testing

Experimental Research

The Validity of Your Study

Threats to the Internal Validity of Your Study

Threats to the External Validity of Your Study

Experimental Research Designs

Preexperimental Designs

Quasi-Experimental Designs

Experimental Designs

Putting This All Together for the Quantitative Dissertation Proposal

Chapter 3 of a Quantitative Dissertation Proposal

Our First Example of Chapter 3 of a Proposal

Summary of Chapter Five

Do You Understand These Key Words and Phrases?

Review Questions

Progress Check for Chapter 3 of a Quantitative Dissertation Proposal

Let’s Continue Writing Our Own Dissertation Proposal

Appendix 5.1. Example of a Descriptive Research Study

Appendix 5.2. Example of a Correlational Research Study

Appendix 5.3. Example of a Quasi-Experimental Research Study

Appendix 5.4. Example of an Experimental Research Study

Appendix 5.5. Threats to the Validity of an Experimental Study

6. Qualitative Research Methods

Introduction

An Overview of Qualitative Methodologies

The Role of the Researcher

The Format of a Qualitative Dissertation Proposal

Chapter 1 of a Qualitative Dissertation Proposal: The Introduction

Chapter 3 of a Qualitative Dissertation Proposal: Research Methods

Choosing the Right Qualitative Research Method

Participants and Sampling

Instruments

Research Procedures

Plans for Data Analysis

The Validity and Reliability of a Qualitative Study

Ethical Considerations

Plans for Presenting the Results

Summary

Summary of Chapter Six

Do You Understand These Key Words and Phrases?

Review Questions

Progress Check for Chapter 3 of a Qualitative Dissertation Proposal

Let’s Continue Writing Our Own Dissertation Proposal

Appendix 6.1. Narrative Study Procedures: The Case of the Unfortunate Departure

Appendix 6.2. Phenomenological Study Procedures: The Case of Sending Your Child to Safety

Appendix 6.3. Ethnographic Study Procedures: The Case of Climbing the Mountain

Appendix 6.4. Case Study Procedures: The Case of the Standardized Test

Appendix 6.5. Grounded Theory Procedures: The Case of Homelessness

Appendix 6.6. Content Analysis Procedures: The Case of the Eye Witness

7. Mixed Methods Research Designs

Introduction

An Overview of Mixed Methods Research

The Format of a Mixed Methods Proposal

Chapter 1 of a Mixed Methods Study: The Introduction

Background, Statement of the Problem, and Significance of the Study

The Central Purpose of the Study

Research Questions

Hypotheses for Mixed Methods Studies

Chapter 2 of a Mixed Methods Dissertation Proposal: The Review of Literature

Chapter 3 of a Mixed Methods Dissertation Proposal: Research Methods

The Mixed Methods Paradigm

Research Design

The Three Major Mixed Methods Designs

Participants and Sampling

Instruments

Research Procedures

Plans for Data Analysis

Ethical Considerations

Plans for Presenting the Results

Summary of Chapter Seven

Do You Understand These Key Words and Phrases?

Review Questions

Progress Check for Chapter 3 of a Mixed Methods Dissertation Proposal: The Research Methods

Appendix 7.1. Sequential Explanatory Design: The Case of the Tutors

Appendix 7.2. Sequential Exploratory Design: The Case of the Academies

Appendix 7.3. Convergent Design: The Case of Calling It In

Epilogue: Have We Accomplished What We Set Out to Do?

Appendix A. Progress Check for Chapter 1 of a Dissertation Proposal: The Introduction

Appendix B. Progress Check for Chapter 2 of a Dissertation Proposal: The Review of Literature

Appendix C. Progress Check for Chapter 3 of a Quantitative Dissertation Proposal

Appendix D. Progress Check for Chapter 3 of a Qualitative Dissertation Proposal

Appendix E. Progress Check for Chapter 3 of a Mixed Methods Dissertation Proposal

Answers to Review Questions

Glossary

References

Index

About the Author


About the Author

Steven R. Terrell, PhD, is Professor in the College of Engineering and Computing at Nova Southeastern University, where he teaches quantitative and qualitative research methodology and statistics. He is active in the American Counseling Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Educational Research Association, where he chaired the Online Teaching and Learning Special Interest Group. Dr. Terrell serves on the editorial boards of several national and international journals and is the author of Statistics Translated: A Step-by-Step Guide to Analyzing and Interpreting Data, as well as more than 120 journal articles, book chapters, conference papers, and presentations.

Audience

Graduate students in education, psychology, geography, sociology, social work, health sciences, business, information systems, and other behavioral, social, and health sciences.

Course Use

Serves as a text in Dissertation or Master's Thesis courses or as a supplement in graduate-level courses in research methods, quantitative analysis, qualitative methods, or mixed methods.