The prospectus is your roadmap to your proposal, a.k.a. chapters 1-3. Within three to five single-spaced pages, your prospectus will outline the information that you intend to provide in the your proposal.
Based on our experiences advising numerous dissertations, this prospectus exercise will help you and your advisor focus your study, make explicit your assumptions and goals of each section, and improve the overall coherence of your first three chapters. The prospectus should be a challenging exercise. It should take considerable prior work reading enough conceptual/theoretical literature, literature on research design and methods, and literature that helps you situate your study in a specific (e.g., “school improvement” or “student service”) or broad (e.g., “NCLB” or “higher education governance”) context.
Below we suggest sections for your prospectus; however, your advisor and you should discuss the final layout of your prospectus. Please note that the purpose of the prospectus is not to address each possible section of your dissertation. It is a roadmap and an opportunity to wrestle with and clarify some of the intellectual challenges one faces when developing and writing a dissertation. Your dissertation will undoubtedly have additional sections than the ones discussed below.
The introduction will situate your study within its relevant and larger context. In other words, it will explain to the reader why your study is important and timely. The introduction section might situate your study within a major policy issue or situation. From this larger picture your introduction should funnel down to the topic of your study, the purpose of the study, and the corresponding research questions.
First, it is important to note that in this section you will not provide a literature review, per se. Rather, prior to writing this section, you will have reviewed much of the literature related to your study and decided what elements of that literature belongs in your literature review and how it fits together. Consultation with your advisor on this section is encouraged.
In the prospectus, the purpose of the literature review section is three-fold. In this section, the literature review will inform you and your advisor what bodies of literature will be covered in your chapter 2. Second, it will provide a rationale for the choices you have made regarding which literature is relevant to your dissertation. And finally, through your writing, you will demonstrate the logical and seamless transitions that will take place between the various topics and sections covered in your literature review.
Design and Methods
This section will cause you to distinguish between the design of your study and the methods you will employ to implement the study. First, discuss the design of your study, e.g., case study, grounded theory, action research, evaluation, quasi-experimental design. Attention should be paid to making sure that your design choices make sense in terms of the purpose and research questions your described earlier. Appropriate citations and sufficient description of the design should be provided in order to demonstrate that you possess enough understanding of the design to make an informed choice.
The methods section should describe in brief but sufficient detail the logistics around carrying out your study. A qualitatively oriented study would call for descriptions of and rationales for 1) data sources, e.g., participants, documents, observed events, etc. 2) strategies and decisions behind selection of data sources (e.g., which participants will you interview and why), 3) methods of data collection, e.g., interviews, document analysis, or field observations, 4) procedures for data analysis, and 5) methods for ensuring validity/trustworthiness.
Significance of the Study
In this section force yourself to think about what your study, once completed, would contribute and to whom. Regardless, of what your find how might this study inform your practice, the practice of others, policymakers, etc?
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