An explanation of the Dissertation Proposal and Defense

When can I defend my proposal?

This question is asked by every doctoral students -- for good reason.

First, you must have an approved proposal by your major professor.  You are both defending your proposal.

Next, your dissertation must be in excellent shape (theory, structure, grammar).


Quality of the Formal Dissertation Proposal Document

The dissertation proposal is normally the first formal committee meeting of the doctoral process.

Your proposal must be free of spelling and grammatical errors (a professional editor is highly recommended - see "Dissertation Editor" section below).

You must have minimally COMPLETED Chapters 1, 2, and 3.  These must be 99% complete - This means that only minor corrections must be made after the dissertation proposal defense.   Please look at the  dissertation examples page to see the quality needed.  The only difference is that your proposal will be written "before data collection and analysis" rather than "after data analysis".  It is recommended that you also have the framework for tables and figures for Chapters 4 and 5. This will give the committee a clear idea of the direction of your study.  The most successful dissertation proposal have the framework for Chapters 4 and 5.

This is a proposal good rubric guide that a Dr. Kim Nimon and I put together:  Dissertation Proposal Rubric.  You should be prepared to answer these issues and more.

You and the I must BOTH agree that the proposal is ready to present to the committee.

Do not expect to have any committee meetings during: the summer (many faculty are not on contract), the first few weeks of a semester, or the last few weeks of a semester.  Committee members are very busy, or not available during these times.  This will take some planning on the students part.  It is a "fact of the university" that you must work around.  I'm not making up these "facts" - I'm just telling you what they are and how to work with it.

An "Application for Approval of Investigation Involving the Use of Human Subjects" form must be completed and approved by the University of North Texas Institutional Review Board BEFORE data is collected by the student. This application may be completed immediately after approval of the dissertation proposal.  

and provide Dr. Allen the certificate before he will sign your Human Subjects form.  This will be include in your dissertation appendix.

The dissertation must be related to your major - Applied Technology, Training and Development (see Quality of Doctoral Research document)

Final Preparation for your proposal

After you have a quality dissertation document, you must do a some final preparations.  I have prepared a "Final Preparation for Proposal and Defense" document that provides a sample dissertation defense date and provides you some activities that need to be done in the six weeks leading up to the defense date.

Format of the Proposal

The proposal format is dependent on the research topic, writing style, and dissertation committee. You should discuss the dissertation format with your major professor – your major has the final decision on your dissertation format.

My Philosophy on Format:  I follow a fairly traditional format that will answer the majority of the committee's/reader's questions (in the appropriate order).  More information can be gain by reviewing dissertation examples.

NEWS: I'm changing with the times to a Journal Format for Theses and Dissertation.  My current doctoral students are transitioning to this style of dissertation format.  I'm learning at the same time.  Here are some resource pages to help you:

From the UNT Graduate School:

Basic Format:

Comprehensive site from Texas A&M:

The Proposal Defense Meeting

The proposal defense meeting is your first formal committee meeting.   It is your chance to present your dissertation proposal to your committee.   If you have followed the advise thus far (and you must), your meeting will go off without any major problems.

However, the committee can decide that your proposal is unacceptable, inappropriate, not yet ready, should include or exclude X, Y and Z, etc.   It is your job and the major professor's job to make sure that this problem is minimized.   This is the reason that the quality of the dissertation proposal must be exceptional.

The following is what typically happens:

First, the student and committee and any guests will introduce themselves and be seated.

then, the major professor will ask the candidate and guest to leave the room and will conduct and brief private meeting with the committee to determine and hopefully remedy any major problems.

then, when everyone is invited back in the room the candidate will provide a brief presentation to the committee and guest.

Proposal Presentation Format

The candidate will be allowed between 10 and 20 minutes to make a presentation of their proposal.  I have included below a link to download a successful dissertation of the proposal presentation.  This proposal was defended by Sunil Patel in Spring 2012:


After completing the presentation (sometimes during), the committee will ask the candidate question about the proposal and will correct any errors that they feel are contained in the proposal.

Finally, the committee will formally vote (in a private session) on the merit of the proposal. Upon acceptance by the committee, the candidate will continue work on the dissertation until the dissertation defense.

Dissertation Defense

Believe it or not, the dissertation defense is the easiest part.  The information provide in the dissertation proposal section is the same for the defense.  Including the presentation.  The only addition is defense of Chapters 4 and 5.

Dissertation Editor

Kathleen Smith, 858.523.9859
13710A Portofino Drive
Del Mar, California 92014

I personally will not allow you to defend your dissertation without first having AN editor to review it.

Here is an example from a doctoral student that took my advice:

PDF Document, Roger Bowle's edits (thanks Roger!)

I have found that Kathleen Smith is excellent... so have many of my students.  I have personally used Kathleen as the editor since 1995 of all of my professional papers and articles.  I can't say enough about Kathleen's work and professionalism.  I learn a lot each time I meet with her.

Post-Dissertation Defense

Plan to publish your dissertation in a refereed publication.  It is a wonderful avenue for you to continue your professional career and further your professional work with your major professor.

Suggested Journals

Enjoy your final defense!  This is your opportunity to share your hard work and defend your conclusions.  A well-developed dissertation is a pleasure to defend and disseminate.