Each Ph.D. candidate must submit a written dissertation proposal (approximately 10-15 pages long), which must be approved by the candidate’s Reading Committee. The proposal should be written and submitted before the student undertakes the bulk of the dissertation research. It establishes the background, feasibility and interest of the proposed research, and it details the procedures for accomplishing it in a timely manner.
A dissertation proposal will clearly specify the leading research questions and hypotheses, the data relevant to answering those research questions, the theoretical framework and the methods of analysis. It will provide a brief literature review, elucidating the relationship of the proposed research to other current research, and a clear work plan. The proposal should also present and interpret progress to date if the research is already underway. Finally, it should briefly discuss any research costs involved and the anticipated sources of funding.
The written proposal is modeled on the project description for an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (DDRIG) in Linguistics. The project description is a major part of the full grant application, so the dissertation proposal can serve as a stepping stone towards a complete DDRIG application, if desired. For those who choose not to seek NSF funding, the proposal format will still be helpful for other types of fellowship and funding applications.
An example of a dissertation proposal that was also submitted for an NSF DDRIG:
After the approval of the written dissertation proposal, each student is required to meet with their reading committee plus one or more faculty members who are not members of the reading committee, who can provide a fresh perspective on the research. The purpose of the meeting is to provide the student with further guidance on how best to undertake the dissertation research and complete the dissertation in a timely matter. Topics to be discussed might include priorities among possible research avenues, the best formulation of the research questions and hypotheses, the design of experimental, corpus, or field studies, sources of research funding, and the preparation of grant applications.
For More Information
Further details about the dissertation proposal and the proposal meeting, including timeline for completion and the selection of additional faculty for the proposal meeting, can be found in the PhD Handbook available via the Resources for Graduate Students web page.