Preparing a Dissertation Proposal:

Mixed Methods Version





Dr. Rosemary Talab

Kansas State University

February 2009












Dr. Rosemary Talab

Kansas State University

226 Bluemont Hall

Manhattan, KS 66506


(785) 532-5904 Secondary Education

(785) 532-5716 Office



Introduction to these Guidelines



            Over the years, I have served as the major professor for doctoral students and served as a member on doctoral committees, as well as having served as outside chair of the final dissertation defense. My doctoral students have asked many questions about content and format when preparing their dissertation proposals. As a result, I have developed the following guidelines to facilitate the preparation of the dissertation proposal, using the mixed methods format for this example. Each dissertation is different and major professors have their own recommendations. These are mine.

            I am familiar with several books about writing the dissertation proposal and conducting the study. In my opinion, the following book is the most useful and practical:

            Glatthorn, Alan A. (1998). Writing the Winning Dissertation: A Step-by-Step

Guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Corwin and Sage (the same company) have other guides, as well.

Also, you should take dissertation hours after having taken 1/3 of your classes.

This way, you can work on your research for the literature review as you go. All dissertations from KSU are available online through K-Rex, which is an option on the ProQuest Research Library/Academic ASAP, available through Hale Library Online Databases. All other dissertations are available through Hale, as well, by downloading them from the online databases.

            When readying your dissertation you will also need the latest copy of the dissertation guidelines from the KSU University Publications Office and learn how to use the Electronic Theses and Dissertations Report template (ETDR). All dissertations must be submitted in electronic format, and there are templates and guides for you to use available from the KSU Graduate School website, as well as tutorials. You will also need to take the Institutional Review Board modules so that when your proposal is accepted you can submit the form to be accepted in order to begin collecting data. Additionally, each semester the Graduate School gives a presentation on submission guidelines. My Ph.D. Proposal Guide has a guide to the entire process and these websites.


            Best wishes as you continue on the next step in your professional journey.


                                                                                                Dr. Rosemary Talab


Include a cover page with the type of information and layout shown in this sample:


Your Title
Your Name
B.S, (university) 1980
M.S., (university), 1994
submitted in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
College of Education
Manhattan, Kansas
                                                                                                Approved by:

                                                                           Dr. Rosemary Talab, Major Professor

                        Committee Member

Committee Member

Committee Member





Include a table of contents for your dissertation proposal that shows the headings and subheadings that are in your proposal. In the table of contents, show only three levels of headings in each chapter. Use the following layout for the table of contents. The Electronic Template for Dissertations and Research (ETDR) automatically formats the table of contents. It is available at



Chapter 1—INTRODUCTION                                                                                              1

            Overview of the Issues                                                                                               1

            Statement of the Problem                                                                                            5

            Theoretical Framework                                                                                               6

            Purpose of the Study (this includes the Research Questions)                                    7

           Significance of the Study                                                                                            8

            Limitations of the Study                                                                                              10

            Definition of Terms                                                                                                     12

Chapter 2—REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE                                                                     15

Chapter 3—RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY                                                                                             55

            Chapter Overview

            Research Questions                                                                                                     56

            Research Design                                                                                                         57

                        Population and Sample                                                                                    59       

                        Protection of Human Subjects                                                             60

            Data Collection Methods                                                                                             61

                        Quantitative Measures (including surveys, validated instruments,

                                    if used, research authorities cited, proposed tests for validity

                                    and reliability, etc.                                                                               62

                                    Population (or sample) of the Study                                                   62

                                    Survey                                                                                                63

                                    Preparing the Survey                                                             64

                                    Pilot Testing the Survey                                                                    66

                                    Selecting and Contacting the Sample                                     69

                                    Administering the Survey                                                                 70

                                    Reliability                                                                                          71

Validity                                                                                             71

                        Qualitative Measures (including what qualitative measures

                          are used, such as grounded theory in analyzing themes

                        that arise from open-ended questions, research

                                    authorities cited, and any additional sources of evidence)               72

                                    Survey Open-Ended Questions                                                        73

      Interviews                                                                                       73

                                    Preparing the Interview                                                                    74

                                    Pilot Testing the Interview                                                               77

                                    Selecting and Contacting the Sample                                                79

                                    Conducting the Interviews                                                                80

            Chapter Summary                                                                                          82

REFERENCES                                                                                                                       98


            A         Tentative Timeline of Events                                                                           105

            B-?      (Include a separate appendix for each additional item such

                        as cover letters, first draft of a survey, a list of interview questions,

                        interview protocols, or other pertinent materials)                                           106



The final dissertation will have these additional chapters:

IV. Chapter 4— DATA ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS                                                                                                                                         1

            Chapter Overview                                                                                                      

            General Characteristics of the Respondents                                                               

                        Quantitative Measures                                                                        

                                    Research Question 1                                                                          

                                    Research Question 2                                                                                                  

            Qualitative Measures (open-ended themes on survey are discussed here by

                        Theme, interviews, etc.)                                                                                 

            Chapter Summary                                                                                                      




            Recommendations for Further Study

Chapter 1



            Use the following headings to organize your content. This chapter is typically about 12-15 pages long (deliberately concise).


            Begin the chapter by simply mentioning the main headings that follow in your discussion. This may be only one paragraph before moving ahead to the section on “Overview of the Issues.”

            An opening paragraph may be stated something like this:

            “Teacher educators have searched for ways to effectively supervise student teachers and to provide feedback about their performance. This study examines one particular supervisory approach. Discussion in this chapter is organized in the following sections: (1) overview of the issues, (2) statement of the problem, (3) purpose of the study, (4) significance of the study, (5) limitations of the study, and (6) definition of terms.”


Overview of the Issues

(about 3 or more pages)

            This section provides pertinent background information and establishes a context for your study.

            This discussion is commonly developed like an inverted pyramid—you start with a discussion of the broad issues and then sequentially proceed to the discussion of the more specific issue that will be the focus of your study.

            For example, a dissertation might examine a specific way that student teachers are supervised. You would likely begin with a discussion about curriculum and instruction/instructional technology/other programs and the fact that there are national standards for this area as a part of these programs. Then you would get more specific about the need for integrating both curriculum and technology standards into state standards, then into district standards, and next about alternative ways that they are incorporated. Finally, you could describe a new way in which to integrate and incorporate them in a way that can enhance student achievement.

Theoretical Framework

(about 3-4 pages)

            This section introduces the theory or theories that are used in studying and analyzing the problem. The general theory is introduced, explained, and elaborated upon as to its utility in framing the research questions of this study.

            Two examples follow. From the earlier example on supervising student teachers, the ISTE standards would be examined, their history, any studies on their use with student teachers, etc., and how this applies. These ISTE standards would be the theoretical framework for studying how well student teachers integrate technology into student teaching. Another example would be to examine a proposed change to the curriculum, such as going from face-to-face instruction to online learning or blended learning, the theoretical framework for such a study could be the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM). You would explain the history and utility of this model online learning or blended learning, as well as dissertations that apply to the topic. You would also explain why these concerns affect instructors and its use in developing professional development to overcome these concerns. CBAM is frequently used for technology adoption.

Statement of the Problem

(about 1-2 pages)

            From the issues you discussed in the first section and the theoretical framework presented, show that there is a problem and that there is a need for additional research.

            In the earlier example about curriculum and technology standards, you could now point out that little has been studied about the effectiveness of this new approach and that there is a need for that information. Additionally, you could


Purpose of the Study

(one or more paragraphs ½ a page)

            Specify the purpose of the study in this section. How does the study address the problem that you just discussed? What void does your study help fill?

Significance of the Study

(about 1-2 pages)

            This section discusses why the study is important. The discussion might address the following questions:

            1.         What contribution will the research make to the field of study?

            2.         Will the study likely contribute new knowledge?

            3.         Who would likely benefit from the information provided by this study. For example, you might indicate that teacher educators, state technology professionals, district technology professionals, principals, technology or curriculum coordinators, and teachers could use the information. Clarify how each would be influenced.

Research Questions

(about a page)

            After discussing those issues, then number and list the research questions that will be the focus of this study. There are usually 2-4 research questions.



Limitations of the Study

(about 1-2 pages)

            This section lists and describes the various limitations in the study. Some limitations relate to the means of data collection and analysis. For example, interviews have limitations because you rely on the self-disclosure of the person being interviewed. Or the population and sample might have limitations. Or other issues may contribute to limitations for drawing conclusions or generalizations.


Delimitations of the Study

(optional, but about ½ page)

            This section lists and describes how you have limited the study, yourself. For example, while all colleges and universities in Kansas could be studied, this study limits itself to Regents universities, since the same classification system is used for library support staff.


Definition of Terms

(about 1-2 pages)

            List and define any key terms that will be used in the study. Place these terms in alphabetical order.



Chapter 2

Review of Literature


            This chapter should include a thorough review of the theoretical framework and pertinent research and literature related to the issues to be studied. It is helpful to have several headings and subheadings to break up and organize the content.

            The length of this chapter varies considerably depending on the amount of research that has been conducted on the dissertation topic. The length of this chapter varies from about 25 pages to as many as 80 pages.

            A brief opening paragraph on the theoretical framework of the ISTE Standards could be stated something like this:

            “National Curriculum and instruction, as well as teacher and student technology standards, are employed by national organizations, such as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the International Society for Technology in Education, which developed the first technology standards, and the American Association of Teacher Educators. These standards are increasingly used at the state and district level in planning for the effective use of curriculum and technology integration to support student achievement. There is a growing amount of research and information about the use of curriculum and technology standard integration approaches, and the discussion in this chapter is organized into the following sections: (1) the growth of the assessment movement in American education, 2) the growth of national standards development in education, (3) national curriculum and instruction standards development, (4) national educational technology standards development for teachers, students, technology coordinators, and principals used by national associations and accrediting bodies , and (5) the use of these standards at the state and district level.”

            This opening paragraph is intended to serve as an advance organizer for the content that follows. This paragraph should introduce all major topics in the dissertation, which must be discussed in order. After this brief paragraph, begin with your first major section. Some literature reviews are chronological, some are mixed, since the topic dictates how these topics are presented.

Purpose of the Review of Literature

            The purpose of the review of literature is to document why the need for your study exists. The review of the literature must lead to the research question (i.e., the literature says "A" and the literature says "B" and the literature says "C;" therefore, the following question "D" needs to be resolved). It should explain the theoretical framework you have chosen and its utility in examining the research questions. Previous research and dissertations pertinent to the framework and the type of study you will conduct are necessary. The review of literature should conclude with how your study fills a void in the existing knowledge.

Tips for Preparing the Review of Literature

            1. Begin the chapter with a paragraph that mentions the titles of the major headings included in the chapter. This paragraph serves as an advance organizer for the chapter. Then move directly to the first major heading and its discussion.

            2. Recognize that you will not be able to report everything there is to know about your research topic and related issues. As a result, state the parameters of your review and deal only with those issues.

            3. Include primary references (i.e., original sources reporting on original research). Supplement the primary references with secondary references or other sources as you deem necessary. Secondary references are works that refer to or summarize the original studies. The primary references are intended to show the research foundation for your study, and to help show that there is a particular area of research (your study) that needs to be done to add to the body of knowledge.

            4. Try to use both the most recent, pertinent citations and the citations for the origination of a concept, theory, or type of research. So do include any important older references that you deem necessary.

            5. You may want to include some original quotations from key sources, but avoid using long and detailed quotations. For any quote used, always indicate the page number or numbers and use APA 5.

            6. When gathering information, be sure to record all the information needed for a complete citation in the references (e.g., author, title, volume, issue number, journal title; book title, publisher, city and state of the publisher; chapter pages, etc.)

            7. Use Dissertation Abstracts for national dissertations and K-REX for KSU ones. Both will be helpful. Find all dissertations that apply to your theoretical framework and topic. Summarize the study, findings and recommendations for further study, when appropriate. This is not intended to be a list of dissertations! You must show the relevance of each study to your own, show major findings specifically, such as type of study (case study, mixed methods, etc.) major findings (type of data analysis, pertinent findings, etc.) and explain how each study affects your own proposed study. If there is no relevance to a study then don’t use it. If there is relevance then the reader must be shown why. “Connect the dots” for the reader.

Useful Guide in Writing a Literature Review

            Guidelines for writing literature reviews are often included in books about preparing a dissertation proposal. The following book deals exclusively with writing a literature review, and it is a very good resource:

            Galvan, Jose L. (1999). Writing literature reviews: A guide for students of the social and behavioral sciences. Los Angeles: Pyrczak Publishing. [ISBN 1-884585-18-3] (paperback, 111 pages) [Pyrczak Publishing, P.O. Box 39731, Los Angeles, CA 90039]

            Another useful resource is:

Fink, Arlene. (1998). Conducting literature reviews: From paper to the internet. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. [; 1-800-818-7243] (paperback, 280 pages; $32.95)

There is probably a newer version, so check the website.

Sage Publications has many excellent books on quantitative, qualitative, and survey methodology, as well.
Chapter 3


            Be sure that your research questions dictate your methodology, not the reverse!!! This can not be stressed enough. There are many types of analysis that you will learn about-factorial analysis, experimental design, mixed methods (combining methodologies), the use of validated instruments, ethnography, surveys, grounded theory approaches, etc. Talk to me about your questions so that we can choose your methodology to suit them.

            Use a variation of the following headings to organize your content. These are just examples. They are not meant to be complete. Cite experts in the field on the type of research that you will do and explain how your study. Sage Publications and John Wiley & Sons have excellent research books on all types of research. A brief opening paragraph could be stated something like this:

            “All aspects of the research methodology used in this study are reported in this chapter. This information is organized into the following sections: (1) research questions, (2) research design (qualitative and quantitative), (3) means of data collection, (4) means of data analysis, and (5) reliability and validity.”

            This chapter can be as little as 20 pages or as much as 40 pages, depending on the type(s) of research used and the number and type of research questions. This opening paragraph is intended to serve as an advance organizer for the content that follows. After this brief overview paragraph, begin with your first major section.


            Research Questions

            This is a brief section that usually just repeats the research questions that are identified in chapter 1.

Research Design

            This section describes the design and approach of the study (e.g., is it a qualitative or quantitative study or both).


This section might have several subheadings to deal with issues such as:


Population and Sample


Protection of Human Subjects


Qualitative Analysis

Merriam, R. (2002). Qualitative Research in Practice: Examples for Discussion and Analysis. .     

            Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Merriam, R. (1997). Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education: Revised       

            and Expanded from I Case Study Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Miles, M. & Huberman, M. Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook (2nd ed.).

            Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


Silverman, D. (2006). Interpreting Qualitative Data: Methods for Analyzing Talk, Text and           Interaction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Wolcott, H. (2008). Writing up qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Yin, R.
(2009). Case Study Research: Design and Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage      Publications.

Quantitative Analysis

            “Mixed methods” research usually involves a survey and a qualitative aspect, whether case study or the use of grounded theory or other qualitative measure(s), such as open-ended survey questions and/or interviews or a case study. Below are some experts in each area:

Mixed Methods

Cresswell, J. & Clark, CV. (2007). Conducting mixed methods research. Thousand Oaks, CA:  

            Sage Publications. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Tashakkori, A. & Teddlie, C. (1998). Mixed Methodology: Combining Qualitative and        Quantitative Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Teddlie, C. & Tashakkori, A. (eds.). Foundations of Mixed Methods Research: Integrating            

            Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches in the Social and Behavioral Sciences.      Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


Dillman, D., Smyth, J., & Christian, L. (2009). Internet, Mail, and Mixed-Mode Surveys: The       

            Tailored Design Method. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Dillman, D. (1978). Mail and Telephone Surveys: The Total Design Method. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Fowler, F. (2009). Survey Research Methods (Applied Social Research Methods). Thousand         

            Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Salant, P. & Dillman, D. (1994). How to conduct your own survey. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley &  


There are many more books and articles on these types of research and others.

Data Collection

            This section includes a listing of the specific ways that the data will be collected. For example, state whether a survey or an interview will be used. Also, you might discuss why you selected these particular means of data collection over other approaches.

            Use a subheading or number each approach to data collection. Then for each, provide a clear, detailed description of how the data will be collected through the approaches selected.

            If there was any pilot study or pilot testing, discuss it in this section about data collection.

            The following display of subheadings and other information about the preparation and testing of the survey or interview, which is a common approach.




            1. Survey Preparation

            2. Pilot Testing the Survey (optional, but useful)

            3. Selecting and Contacting the Sample or Population

            4. Survey Administration


            1. Preparing the Interview     

            2. Pilot Testing the Interview

            3. Selecting and Contacting the Sample

            4. Conducting the Interviews


Data Analysis

            This section includes a description of the ways that the data will be analyzed for each means of data collection mentioned earlier. For example, clearly describe the steps that the interview data will be analyzed. Or describe the way that the quantitative data will be analyzed for standard deviation, analysis of variance, etc. It often is helpful to list each means of data collection and then number and describe the ways that each will be analyzed.

            Have a separate subheading for each type of data collection, and then describe how the data are to be analyzed for each. For example, you may have the following subheadings:


Quantitative Analysis - Survey



Qualitative Analysis - Interview



Reliability and Validity

            Include a discussion about why you think there is a high degree of reliability and validity. Discuss any factors that may increase or decrease reliability and validity. Also discuss aspects of your methodology that helped promote reliability and validity. The KSU Statistics Department has both faculty consulting and walk-in consulting to help you with quantitative methodology. I can help you collect qualitative data. The best way is to tape and transcribe, which must be done systematically, and then coded. I usually help with coding.





1.         Include any sources that you cite in this proposal.


2.         Start a new page for the references


3.         Use the APA style guidelines for the references.


      American Psychological Association. (2001). Publication manual of the American

Psychological Association (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.







Appendix A

Tentative Timeline of Events



Include this appendix to show the tentative dates when the various events will take place. Creating this timeline will help you think through all the steps and to realistically gauge the amount of time that is needed for each step. Doctoral students often do not recognize the amount of time that is needed and think they will be done before every step can realistically be completed.


This timeline is included as part of the dissertation proposal, but it is not included in the final dissertation.


Here is a sample timeline:


March-August 2005    Work with your major professor to prepare the dissertation proposal. This process may take 2-4 months. Once your major professor is satisfied with the proposal, then you can call a committee meeting to review the proposal.

Sept. 2005                   Your supervisory committee meets to review and approve the dissertation proposal.

Sept. 2005                   After your supervisory committee approves the dissertation proposal, submit materials to the university’s Committee for Research Involving Human Subjects for review and approval. No data collection can take place without this approval.

Oct.-Dec. 2005            Collect data

Jan.-April 2006           Analyze data

April-Aug. 2006         Complete the writing of the first draft of each chapter

Oct. 2006                    Final exam (dissertation defense)


NOTE: It often is about one year from the time the committee approves the dissertation proposal to the time of the final defense. However, it could take more time than that.
Appendix B

Sample Materials


Include a separate appendix for any sample materials.


Each appendix should begin on a new page. Include a descriptive title for each appendix. These should be labeled with letters of the alphabet (e.g., A, B, C, D, ...)


Include as many support materials as possible in the appendices.


Here are some typical sample items; each is a separate appendix item:

1.         The first draft of a survey

2.         Interview questions

3          Cover letters

4.         A letter to reviewers in a pilot study

5.         A list of questions to be asked to reviewers in a pilot study

6.         Other pertinent items

Writing and Formatting Guidelines


1.         Margins. The left margin should be 1 and 1/2 inches. The top, right, and bottom margins should be 1 inch.

2.         Page Numbers.

            A.        Placement. Page numbers should be centered at the bottom of the page. The page number must be above the 1-inch bottom border.

            B.        Style.

                        •           Beginning with the Table of Contents, use lower case Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv. v, etc.). All items before Chapter 1 need to have this type of numbering; that includes items such as the List of Tables and Acknowledgements.

            •           Beginning with Chapter 1, each page of the text must be numbered with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.).


3.         Double Space. Everything should be double spaced, including the table of contents, the references, and the tables.


4.         Left Justification. Use left justification for your content. Do not use full justification.


5.         Chapter Numbers and Titles. The chapter number should be on one line and the chapter title should be on the next line. After the chapter title, add one more line return so there is an open line before you begin the chapter content. I suggest using bold type. Use upper and lower case letters as shown in the following example:




Chapter 1



6.              Capitals on Opening Pages Before Chapter 1. According to Graduate School guidelines,

The titles for each of these items (or any other item before Chapter 1) must be typed with all CAPITAL letters.

            •           Abstract

            •           Table of Contents

            •           List of Tables

            •           Acknowledgements


7.              Headings and Subheadings in the Chapters. Use the formatting guidelines that are shown on the attached sheet.


8.         Using Advance Organizers in Your Writing. It is very helpful for the reader to have

advance organizers when there is long or complicated material. Whenever possible, create a list of numbered or bulleted items. Or include statements such as: “There are four issues concerning student teaching supervision. First, xxxxxxxxxxx (you discussion might go on for a sentence or two or more). Second, xxxxxxxxxxxx. Third, xxxxxxxxxx. Fourth, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.”

Using Chapter Headings and Subheadings


            Follow the APA guidelines about the ways to display headings and subheadings. In the 5th edition of the APA Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, headings are mentioned on pages 114-115 and on pages 289-290.

            Generally, three levels of headings are needed in dissertations. Use the following APA guidelines for the way to display the headings. I could not find anything in the APA manual about having an open line above a heading. In my opinion, an open line just above a heading helps the reader see the heading. So I recommend that an open line be used just above each heading.



First-level Headings

            First-level headings should use upper and lower case letters in regular type and be centered on the line. Leave a blank line just above the heading.



Second-level Headings

            Second-level headings should use upper and lower case letters in italicized type and be placed flush left on the line. Leave a blank line just above the heading.



            Third-level Headings. Third-level headings should be indented as in the start of a new paragraph. They should use upper and lower case letters in italicized type. Leave a blank line just above the heading.