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Ph.D. Dissertation Requirements

Writing a dissertation has several aims.  First, it should demonstrate the level of competence a Ph.D. candidate has attained, as well as his or her ability independently to identify an important research question or set of questions, design a study to answer the question(s), identify primary sources or acquire relevant data, and conduct analyses appropriate for determining the answer(s) to the research questions.  Although the dissertation is supervised by both an adviser and a committee, it should reflect the student's readiness to function on his or her own in contributing to the advancement of knowledge within pertinent areas of disciplinary specialty.  Second, the dissertation provides an opportunity to hone research skills. Some of this occurs via interaction with members of the candidate’s advisory committee.  Other skills develop through introspection, reflection, and practice. A third aim is for the student to establish the foundations of an ongoing program of research that will help him or her to advance within the academic profession or other relevant one to which scholarly inquiry is central.  Accordingly, we expect that the dissertation will lead to publishable work appropriate to the student's area of scholarly specialization.   A reasonable expectation is two to three articles in respected refereed professional journals or, if appropriate, a book with a reputable publisher.

The Prospectus

The first formal step toward completing the dissertation is the development of an acceptable prospectus. The determination of whether or not a prospectus is ready for assessment by the candidate’s advisory committee is the responsibility of the adviser.  This requires that the rationale for the project and the design of the study be as good as collaboration between the student and the person supervising the research can make them.  Satisfying this criterion allows the student to maximize the value of the input from committee members.

Prospecti vary in length according to the student's area of research and the expectations of his or her adviser and committee.  In Rhetoric, a prospectus of 20 pages would be reasonable to expect.  In Communication Science, prospecti of 50 to 100 pages are more the norm.  At minimum, a prospectus should address the following matters:

  • A statement of purpose that addresses the question, “What problems will be solved by the research, or what contributions to knowledge will by made by the project?
  • A review of relevant scholarship, including both disciplinary and interdisciplinary literature and foundations relating to the research problem, the relevant theoretical perspectives, and the methodologies to be employed in the study.
  • An enumeration of the research questions or hypotheses that will guide the research, and (if appropriate) a discussion of expected outcomes.
  • A discussion of the design of the study, including plans for archival research or for the acquisition and analysis of data.

Although every student and every dissertation is different, a rule of thumb is that students should expect to spend at least a year completing their dissertation following approval of the prospectus.