Writing your proposal

by Dr. Karin Wilkins
Associate Professor
Radio Television Film

The proposal process

Karin Wilkins Recognize the proposal as a critical part of the dissertation process. The better your proposal, the more you will feel that you have some direction.

Be sure to have support from your adviser before distributing your proposal to the rest of your committee.

Understand the proposal as a way to negotiate agreement among your committee members. It's better to have discussion and disagreement at this stage, rather than when the work is complete.

Attempt to have your committee meet to discuss the specifics of your proposal. Committee members will then need to abide by agreements made in the process of this proposal defense.

The proposal substance

Justify the importance of your research and the problem it addresses in your introduction.

Build on previous work in courses and/ or comprehensive examinations to construct theoretical and literature review.

Elaborate as much as you can in describing your methodological approach. The more detail you can provide at this stage the smoother the research will be.

Know that the parameters of the research may change. If substantial changes are made, inform your committee members early on, rather than once the research is complete.

Managing your committee

Sharing drafts

You may need to revise your proposal following your proposal defense. If so, be sure to distribute your revisions to your committee members, so they see how you resolved the issues raised.

If your adviser agrees to this process, you may want to share individual chapters as you complete them. You may turn in your revised theory and methods sections, for example, so that your adviser is reading these while you write your results sections. While your adviser is reading the results, you can be drafting your conclusion. This staged process helps speed the review process up a bit.

If you have a committee member with substantive knowledge that would help you with a particular section, you should feel free to share a chapter or section in draft form, provided that committee member agrees to review your work in early draft form and that your adviser agrees.

Work with your adviser to determine how and when drafts will be shared with the rest of the committee. Many committee members do not want to see your work until it is near its final form.

Responding to suggestions

Your adviser and committee members will offer many suggestions throughout the process. If you have specific issues, you may want to raise these yourself. It is important to take initiative in this process and not only respond to issues raised by others: this is your work.

You may also consider responding to suggestions made in writing; this helps to clarify the suggestions people raise in meetings, and specify how you attempt to resolve these issues.

Some suggestions will be quite substantive in nature, and others will be more minor. Attempt to discuss with your committee members the nature of their critique, in order to determine whether they consider their suggestions to be critical in your current work, or ideas for future research.

Know that the process of conducting research involves a negotiation. You may find yourself hearing conflicting suggestions from committee members. If this happens, share the substance of the critiques either with your adviser, or with the committee as a whole. Attempt to have the committee be aware of and participate in the resolution of these differences.

Leveraging your research into conference presentations and publications

Consider working parts of your dissertation into conference papers, and then articles or book chapters. Before you finish the work completely, you may find that you have preliminary results of some sections that are ready to share.

Taking your work to conferences offers great feedback, and may even help contribute to your writing of your conclusions. Conference presentations also help you to establish yourself within a community of scholars, enabling networking that may facilitate future employment.

Working dissertation chapters and conference papers into submissions to journals and edited books is also an important step in this process.