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How to Write and Produce a Dissertation


While the course work is an important part of any doctoral program, it is the dissertation that is uniquely you. The topic chosen should be one that interests you, and that represents an area of study that you can use to identify you as one with special expertise in a particular area. Therefore, it is very important to proceed with forethought into the dissertation process. Choose the topic with care. Also be sure to choose your advisors carefully, as they will be your guides and mentors.

This guidebook has been designed to provide you with the information you need to successfully complete this process. Read and follow it carefully. You are responsible for understanding and applying its contents.

Research Criteria

To produce a dissertation of which you and your school can be justly proud, it is essential that your dissertation meet certain quality standards that are generally recognized in graduate education. The following policy statement, by the Council of Graduate Schools, indicates in general terms what is expected.

“The document (doctoral dissertation) should demonstrate breadth of scholarship, depth of research, and ability to investigate problems independently and efficiently.”

“It (dissertation) must be a significant contribution to scholarship.”

“It should reveal the student’s ability to analyze, interpret, and synthesize; and demonstrate thorough knowledge of the literature relating to the project”

More specifically, the faculty of the School of Education has adopted the following criteria indicating that the doctoral research should:

  1. Present the relevance of existing theories to the problem.
  2. Include an original and unique dimension which builds on cited research.
  3. Enable the candidate to enter the national or regional debate.
  4. Be sufficiently broad from which to generalize to a larger audience.
  5. Acculturate the candidate to differing academic communities.
  6. Encourage the continuation of scholarly activity.
  7. Reflect the methodology appropriate to the type of research commonly found in dissertations.

Dissertation Topic and Committee

How do I get started? How is my committee formed?

The first steps in producing a dissertation are (1) the selection of a topic (2) the selection and appointment of a research advisor and (3) the selection and appointment of a research committee to provide advisement throughout the process.

Dissertation Topic

Early in your doctoral studies, you should be thinking about research topics that interest you. Keep a notebook of ideas as they come to you. As you read for your various classes, add to or delete from your notebook of ideas. Talk informally with your professors. Find out their interests. Discuss- ing your ideas for potential dissertation topics with several faculty members helps you in selecting your topic and in choosing a committee. As your ideas about topics and committee members crystallize, you will want to discuss them with your adviser and department chair. The topic you eventually select must be a topic useful to you and a topic of interest to a faculty member willing to serve as your advisor.

Final selection of your topic will not occur until your coursework is nearly completed. You will need to consider such factors as the relationship of your topic to your field of specialized study. Select a topic related to an area of academic strength in which you can conduct research responsibly. Finally, be sure that adequate La Sierra University resources are available for the support of the research, such as faculty guidance, library holdings (or access to relevant documents), and laboratory facilities.

The Research Advisor

The dissertation committee chair is the first member of the committee

selected. The responsibility for assigning a chair ultimately rests with the dean, but you have the initial responsibility to find a chair that is willing to work with you and is interested in your topic. This chair must be a faculty member within the School of Education and is usually an individual in your major department. Because it is important to have a chair who has an interest in your proposed topic, you should have a chair assigned before you enroll in the final research methods class, EDRS 704.

Finally, make your formal request for the assignment of the chair to the dean.

Dissertation Committee

Your dissertation committee must contain at least three members. The membership shall consist of a chair, one additional faculty member from within the School of Education, and one faculty member that may be within the larger La Sierra University faculty, or possibly a faculty member in a different University.

Approach potential committee members directly asking about their relationship to your possible topic and whether they would have an interest in serving on your committee. When you have agree- ment from all your potential committee members, be sure to report back to the dean for final assignment of your committee.

The chair carries the primary responsibility for guiding you through your dissertation and is the person with whom you work most closely. An easy, working relationship with your committee chair is most important. The responsibilities of the chair are to:

(1) provide guidance for the disserta- tion proposal and act as chairperson during the committee meetings, (2)

supervise completion of the disserta- tion, and (3) act as chairperson of the final oral defense.

The responsibilities of the committee members are to: (1) provide additional advisement to the student and/or act as a chairperson in the absence of the chairperson, (2) serve on a committee to read the dissertation proposal and participate

during consideration of the proposal, and (3) serve on a committee to read the dissertation and participate during the final oral defense.

In addition to the three (or more) committee members, each dissertation

The Proposal

What is the proper format for a proposal? What are the steps in getting a proposal approved?

The proposal serves as a contract between the student and the dissertation committee that, when approved by all parties, constitutes an agreement that data may be collected and the study may be completed. As long as the student follows the steps outlined in the proposal, committee members should be discouraged from demanding significant changes to the study after the proposal has been approved. Naturally, it is not uncommon to expect small changes, additions or deletions, because one can never envision the unpredictable turns that studies can take.

The dissertation proposal is designed to show the purpose and organization of your research. The proposal gives your committee enough information to determine whether the topic your are investigat- ing and the procedures you will be using will be appropriate.

Proposal Development

The Research Methods Class, EDRS 704a or 704b, is designed to help you understand the process of writing a formal research proposal and, hopefully, in the class you will have completed or nearly completed the research proposal. Regardless, this class will be a valuable resource, although final proposal approval is a responsibility of your committee.

Proposal Format and Content

In both the proposal and the dissertation you are  to follow the latest edition of The School of Educa- tion Doctoral Dissertation Handbook and the American Psychological Association Publication

Manual, 5th edition.

Unless otherwise indicated by your committee, your proposal will generally consist of the follow- ing chapters and sections:

Chapter 1

Purpose and Organization

Introduction and background of the study

Statement of the problem

Purpose of the study/significance of study

Theoretical foundation

Research questions and null hypotheses

Limitations and delimitations

Definition of Terms

Summary and outline of the remainder of the proposal

Chapter 2

Review of Related Material

Include an overview and description of represen- tative literature that supports the methodology used in the research. For certain types of research (such as statistical or clinical studies) this may require a brief description of procedures and instrumentation of previous studies.

This review is not expected to be as extensive as the completed Chapter 2 in the final dissertation. A typical outline for this chapter is as follows:

Summaries and critiques of previous studies

Analysis of theories which bear on the studies

Unresolved Issues, significant problems or questions requiring further study.

Evidence that the specific study proposed arises out of needs demonstrated in this chapter and that the proposed study could fill in gaps or add to substantive or theoreti- cal understanding


Chapter 3

Research Methodology

Listed below are the most common sections to be included in this chapter. For some studies such as historical, philosophical, or developmental studies, other items would be proper.

Introduction Population and sample Description of instrument(s)

Research procedures and time period of the study

Analytical procedures to be used to attain the objectives, test the hypotheses, or respond to the research questions of the study


Preparation of Your Proposal

You must prepare your proposal in a logical, polished form. Your committee judges your fitness to conduct research on your topic based on the quality of the proposal.

If you have any problems with the English language, we advise you to employ the services of an editorial assistant who can aid you in presenting to your committee polished prose in approved format and style. Your committee is not respon- sible to be your editor or writer. As a researcher, these responsibilities are yours.

Committee Involvement

During the preparation of your proposal you have opportunity to establish a working relationship with your committee chair. First submit all drafts to your committee chair for evaluation and comment.

After your committee chair has given approval, share the draft with the other members of your committee. You must maintain this approach throughout the writing of the dissertation.

When both your committee chair and the members of your committee have had opportunity to evaluate your proposal, request your committee chair to call your committee for formal consider- ation of your proposal.

For this meeting, you must furnish one copy of your dissertation proposal to your committee chair and each committee member. Your committee, in formal face-to-face meeting discusses your proposal and questions you on any parts they believe may need revision. The committee will then discuss whether or not they will give approval to your proposal. They may or may not invite you to remain for this session. Consult with your com- mittee chair.

Faculty Research Specialist

Each dissertation committee shall receive formal input, in writing, from a faculty research specialist prior to the time of proposal approval.

Institutional Research Board (IRB)

If you are conducting research involving human subjects as part of your degree program, you must submit a proposal of research to the Institution of Review Board (IRB) for approval. This proposal includes: a general summary of the purpose of the study, a detailed description of the study, the letter of informed consent to be signed by the subjects or their parents/guardians, and the copies of tests to be administered (if other than well- known standard tests). Detailed guidelines concerning this proposal are available in the office of the chairperson of the IRB. A report from the IRB should be attached to the final approved proposal.

6 Only after approval of your proposal are your ready to begin collection of the data for the dissertation itself.


How does my committee function? What is the role of consultants?

What are the contents of a dissertation?

An excellently produced dissertation will demon- strate your familiarity with the literature pertinent to the topic, demonstrate your competence to conduct independent research and present a logically organized and readable account of the investigation, its findings, conclusions, and impli- cations. It should focus on a clearly defined problem of strong importance to the profession and employ well planned and executed acceptable research techniques.

Working with the Committee

The chair of your dissertation committee carries the primary responsibility for guiding the disserta- tion and holds the prerogative of deciding when draft copy is or is not ready for examination by the other members of the committee. The preferred method of dissertation development in the School of Education is chapter-by-chapter submission to the committee, however, the committee chair has the privilege of choosing another procedure with the consent of the committee.

When your committee chair has cleared a chapter or section, prepare copies to present to the other members of your committee. After receiving their response, move on to the next chapter or section. It is well not to begin a new chapter for your dissertation until you resolve all questions on the previous chapter. If you have not heard from your committee members within a reasonable period, consult with your committee chair.

In qualitative research, questions will continue to surface until the end of the study. Therefore, work on several chapters may proceed simultaneously. Plan to pace your submissions to your committee chair and members. Professors should be given opportunity to read you material thoughtfully. Plan on approximately two weeks time. Do not expect committee members to respond to your time schedule.

Working with Consultants

It is possible that you may wish or need to consult with individuals with special expertise such as statisticians or editors. Use such consultants discriminatingly to assist in developing your own understanding of and ability to communicate the various dimensions of the study.

Arrangement of Contents

Every dissertation consists of three parts: prelimi- nary pages, text, and reference materials. In addition, it must have an abstract. All the pages of these parts occur in a certain order and are counted and/or numbered according to specific rules. The following outlines incorporate a step by step excursion through the skeleton of the dissertation. Not every dissertation will need every heading. Some dissertations, on the other hand, may need to add headings not mentioned here or subdivide some of these. Keep in mind there is no standard outline all dissertations are required to follow, however, this is a suggested guideline. It must be understood that this outline may not be suffi- ciently comprehensive to fit all studies and that modifications, deletions, or additions may be made as needed.

Quantitative Dissertation

The following items are normally in a quantita- tive dissertation. The items to include and the location of the items within sections may vary. For more detailed descriptions regarding each section, refer to published guide books to a doctoral dissertation.

Front Matter Title page Abstract

Acknowledgments (optional) Dedication (optional)

Table of contents

List of tables, figures and illustration

Chapter 1

Purpose and Organization

Introduction and background of the study

Statement of the problem

Purpose of the study/significance of study

Theoretical foundation

Research questions and null hypotheses Limitations and delimitations Assumptions and definition of terms Organization of the document

Chapter 2

Review of Related Material


Summaries and critiques of previous studies Analysis of theories which bear on the studies Unresolved issues, significant problems and unanswered questions requiring study

Evidence that the specific study proposed arises out of needs demonstrated in this chapter and that the proposed study could fill in gaps or add to substantive or theoreti- cal understanding


Chapter 3

Research Methodology Introduction Population and sample

Description of instrument(s)

Research procedures and time period of the study

How the data are to be analyzed to attain the objectives, test the hypotheses, or respond to the research questions of the study

Chapter 4

Results (or Findings) of the Analysis of Data


Results (of findings) regarding the first hy- pothesis, or question being investigated

Results of findings regarding the second (and others in sequence)

Results regarding interactions, if any, among the hypotheses or research questions Results and findings on matters not planned as part of the study but which were uncovered in the investigation course and which are relevant


Chapter 5

Conclusions, Implications and



Conclusions drawn regarding the hypotheses, or research questions as stated in Chapter 1 (Each is dealt with as a topic separately. If there are interactions among some or all of the objectives, hypotheses, or research questions, those interactions are treated as separate topics.)


Recommendations for further studies and programmatic recommendations

End Matter

Reference and notes


Qualitative Dissertation

Qualitative dissertations are field focused and therefore allow the researcher to approach writing the dissertation with flexibility in format. For more detailed descriptions regarding each section, refer

to published guidebooks to a doctoral dissertation.

Front Matter Title page Abstract

Acknowledgments (optional) Dedication (optional)

Table of contents

List of tables, figures and illustration

Chapter 1


Background, history and/or theoretical orientation of the study

Purpose of the study Description of the site Questions in the study Importance of the study

Chapter 2

Review of the Literature

Analysis of previous related studies Analysis of related theoretical literature Relationship of the literature to the current study

Chapter 3


Description of the study

Research design (The research design will be planned in cooperation with the doctoral committee.)


Chapters 4+

Presentation of the Findings

These chapters will present the findings in a manner appropriate to a given study. There may be one or several chapters needed to present the study. Arguments will be well formed, insightful and grounded in the study. Theoretical arguments will be formed from the data and presented in a coherent and informative manner.

Final Chapter


This chapter will present the conclusions drawn from the study, relate the findings to broader theoretical issues, critique the precess used, and describe implications which could affect other similar sites.

End Matter

Reference and notes


Form and Style

What are the typing rules for my dissertation? Who is the final authority on form and style?

What kind of paper do I use?

The School of Education Doctoral Dissertation Handbook must be used in conjunction with the American Psycho- logical Association Publication Manual, 5th edition. Where there are discrepancies between the APA publica- tion manual and The School of Education Handbook, the doctoral disserta- tion handbook is to be followed.


Dissertations shall be produced by a word processor. All dissertations are to be printed in black ink, using standard 10-12 point fonts, and using only one side of the page. Text must be clean, straight, and dark enough to be read and duplicated easily. Final copies must be laserprinted.


All copies shall be produced on standard size 8-1/2″ x 11″ paper. For draft copies, use white bond of at least 20 pound weight. Final copies shall be run on high quality paper; 20 pound bond with at least 25 percent rag content. To insure longer shelf life, use an acid-free paper with a minimum of 2% alkaline reserve.


The left-hand margin must be 1 1/2 inches and all other margins must be a full 1 inch. The initial page of a chapter or a major section (i.e., table of contents, references, etc.) has a 2-inch margin at the top of the page.

Absolutely nothing may be outside of these margins, except for the page number. Do not use right or full justification.

Page Numbering

Preliminary pages

Preliminary pages that precede the main text are numbered with lower case Roman numerals. The title page is not numbered but is considered as the first page. If you elect to register a copyright, enclose a copyright page, but do not number it or include it in the pagination sequence. Subsequent numerals are centered 3/4 inch from the bottom edge of the paper.

Main text

All pages are numbered at the top, 1 inch from the right margin, above the text. The first page of the disserta- tion text is page 1. All pages must be numbered consecutively. To keep their location and size uniform throughout the disserta- tion, page numbers are added after reducing tables or figures.

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