Plain talk about your dissertation proposal
Nothing in any of the above implies any particular structural format
that a dissertation proposal must have. When you plan your proposal, it
should be with the purpose of the proposal (as indicated above) in mind.
For each section, it should be transparently clear what that section has
to with which purpose.
- The purpose of the proposal is to convince your committee that there
is a tractable question which is worth pursuing and that you are in
a position to do a good job of pursuing it.
- Therefore, the proposal should demonstrate that you:
- [a.] have defined and delimited an interesting research question
- [b.] can explain the importance of the question to a linguist not intimately
familiar with it
- [c.] can formulate testable hypotheses
- [d.] have a detailed plan for testing the most promising hypotheses
- You do not have to read everything that was ever written about anything
that might conceivably be relevant to a full understanding of the phenomenon
you are interested in addressing before you write the proposal, but you
do need to be familiar with material that you know is germane to your approach
to the problem. You are expected to make an effort to locate such material.
- Whether your proposal contains a Literature Survey summarizing the
history of relevant research on your topic, and if so, how extensive it must
be, should be settled early between you and your advisor.
In any case, you should situate your proposed dissertation within the
context of what is known and/or generally believed about the phenomena
you will investigate, and you should discuss both the lasting contributions
and the shortcomings of previous research.
- Do not attempt to satisfy (2a-d) by doing the dissertation research
before you write the proposal. Do not write the dissertation before
the prelim. If you do, you will be treating your hypotheses like
conclusions, and your prelim will turn into a defense of those propositions.
Since that is the role of the dissertation defense, scheduled after a year
or so of testing, writing, reviewing, revising, retesting, and rewriting,
you can expect to fail if you try to do it at this point. A proposal is
supposed to describe what you propose to do, and why and how you
propose to do it.
- Questions your proposal should answer directly:
- What problem are you going to tackle?
- Why is it a problem?
- Why is it important to solve it?
- Where are you going to look for answers?
- Why are you going to look there?
A note on exposition
- Don't put the footnotes at the end of the document; put them at the
foot of the page.
- It is not enough to say what you believe to be true. You need to
be clear and explicit about how your (tentative) conclusions follow from
the assumptions you make, and then make a big deal of them.