Concept Paper/Prospectus

After some deliberation, you have finally settled on your dissertation topic, and with that decision, you have taken a big step forward in the process—take some time to feel good about this moment!  Nevertheless, what better time to push forward yet some more than now?  With all of the literature you’ve reviewed fresh in your mind, you can easily transition into crafting your research prospectus, which may go by a variety of names depending upon your institution (e.g., research plan, concept paper, etc.).  Considering your prospectus will likely represent your first official submission to your committee, it’s only natural to feel a bit apprehensive.  However, this feeling can be good, for even a modicum of apprehension signals that you care about putting your best foot forward.  Perhaps more importantly, your committee has a good idea of what it expects to see when you submit.  As such, thoroughly exploring the topics most committees expect to see will prove to your committee members that you have thoughtfully considered the important aspects of actually conducting your study.

Now, ideally your institution has a template for you to follow—so please inquire within your department for any guiding material—but you will typically want to start your prospectus by clearly indicating in its introduction the rationale behind your dissertation topic.  This will necessarily involve providing background information—either in the introduction or separately—to familiarize your committee with the literature in which your study sits.  Still, whether you work this information into your introduction or not, providing background information does not mean you will investigate the entire universe; instead, focus on couching your study in the research problem you will address, narrowing your background material to a gap in the literature that you aim to fill.  Regardless, in your introduction, you should certainly consider answering in full not just what your research problem is, but why you identify it as a problem, which studies helped you identify this problem, what research questions arise that will help you answer this problem, as well as what your current set of assumptions looks like, perhaps including any limitations you anticipate having.  Essentially, let your committee know that you have a rock solid grasp on what you aim to study, and why you know you must do so.

Again, since you have already touched upon the literature you have reviewed to develop your dissertation topic, you will now need to identify the various theories that provide the framework for your study.  This will require you to explicitly state, or perhaps restate, the literature from which these theories originated.  In short, consider carefully how you would explain this to another researcher such that they can sufficiently understand which theoretical issues surface in the study you are proposing.  When constructed properly, other researchers will quickly be able to identify that you know existing theories do not adequately resolve your research problem.  Additionally, citing the literature puts clarity around something novel that you aim to investigate, lending an air of familiarity to where you see your research going, namely, contributing significantly to the field.

Lastly—and please consult your department for additional clarity—you will now need to provide a generalized research plan.  While this will not represent your exact path forward, it will need to signal to your committee how you propose to conduct your study such that you answer your preliminary research questions, and therefore your research problem in turn.  You should also outline what kind of data you anticipate collecting (e.g., survey, interviews, etc.), specifying even from whom you anticipate getting this information from, and why you feel this subset of people represents your target population.  And before you wrap your prospectus up with a conclusion, you will want to explore an initial approach to how you will even analyze these data, and also why you feel these data will ultimately prove valid as a source.  (Note that in your conclusion you can include some additional elements if you haven’t yet, like whether you can identify any potential setbacks and how you plan to minimize or circumvent these setbacks, or even who you feel your research will disproportionately benefit in the end.)

Armed with this thoughtfully constructed prospectus, your committee will readily see you as a serious candidate, one who can confidently move ahead with their research study.  Certainly you know more steps exist for you to now take, but hopefully you see how completing the above outline in a methodical, well-researched manner better positions you for literally every aspect of your dissertation henceforth.  Of course, should you find yourself questioning any of the above material, or perhaps you want to see how to mold this outline onto what your department recommends, Statistics Solutions has expertly navigated these prospectus waters for years, and we would certainly take to helping you safely get to port, so to speak.  Feel free to fill out the contact request form and one of our dissertation specialists will be in touch for a Free 30-minute consultation.  We love nothing more than using our decades of experience to help dissertation students get the results we know they are capable of!