A Ph.D. dissertation should include original research based on firsthand investigation, with clearly developed theoretical foundations, of a problem related to the student’s academic discipline. In special instances, research involving the laying of theoretical foundations may be accepted as fulfilling the requirement.
Securing a Reader
Normally, the First Reader of the dissertation will be the student’s advisor. Note that if the subject of the dissertation will focus on the analysis of the work of the advisor or reader, the prospectus should be accompanied by a notice acknowledging this factor in the advising relationship and detailing how the student and the advisor or reader will deal with it. If necessary, an additional outside reader, not tied to the work being analyzed, may be included.
Preparing the Prospectus
Before beginning to prepare a prospectus, students should review their academic transcripts with their advisors to determine that all requirements have been satisfied and recorded. When all such requirements have been completed, the student should work with the Readers to shape the thesis project and draft a prospectus. Students must submit a prospectus to the Advanced Studies Committee. Failure to do so will result in an Academic Review by the GC.
Submitting the Prospectus to the GC
Every prospectus submitted to the GC thereby becomes a public document within the school.
Students are allowed a maximum of 3 submissions. Failure to gain approval by the third submission, or by the end of the third year after completion of coursework, whichever comes first, will result in academic review by the GC.
Candidacy for the Degree
A candidate for the PhD is a student who has completed all academic requirements (coursework, language and qualifying examinations, prospectus) except for the dissertation. Only after students have an approved prospectus in hand may they refer to themselves as candidates for the degree.
Content and Format Guidelines for the Dissertation Prospectus
The following guidelines are meant to serve as a framework for students and faculty.
Elements of a Dissertation Prospectus
Statement of the Problem
The prospectus should begin with a simple and concise statement of the problem or question that the dissertation is meant to address. It can usually be done in one sentence followed by a few explanatory sentences. Use this section of the Prospectus to circumscribe your topic and to state, in a preliminary way, the thesis you intend to defend. Remember that you are trying to communicate with the experts in your field and knowledgeable non-specialists. Avoid jargon or technical language as much as possible.
Significance of the Problem
In this section, you should explain how your dissertation will contribute to and advance the scholarship in the field. Be prepared to answer the question, “So what?” As part of your explanation of the project’s significance, you should describe the body of literature and theory that will serve as its foundation. What other scholars have wrestled with the problem before you, and how will your research and analysis move beyond theirs? In addition, you should note why and how your project might be significant for religious communities and their leaders.
Method of Investigation
This prospectus section should describe the scholarly activity you will pursue to accomplish your task. It should describe the primary and secondary sources that will form the basis for your analysis and reflection. What is the body of information (texts, observations, interviews, historical events, set of ideas) that will form the focus of your work? And, what are the primary critical and analytical strategies you anticipate bringing to the topic? That is, describe the methods (e.g., theological, historical, critical, sociological, reflective, practical, etc.) by which you will pursue your study. Make sure that the critical and normative dimension of your work is clear. On what grounds will you evaluate what you have learned?
Sources of the Study
What sources of information will be necessary for pursuing this topic in the way you have proposed? Do you have access to the literature, archives, persons, and/or observation sites you will need? In this section, outline what resources you will need and identify how you will gain access to them. If you intend to gather primary data (e.g., through interviews, questionnaires, and systematic observation), you should briefly describe the method and foci of your research. A full copy of your research instruments or guides should be supplied in an appendix.
Limitations and Plans for Completion
Make clear any limitations that are inherent to the nature of the project or that have been deliberately set to limit the scope of the undertaking. Explain the reasons for the limitations. Provide an estimated timeline for completing your work.
Provide an outline of the proposed chapters and a brief (2-3 sentence) description of the points to be covered in each.
List and comment, where appropriate, on the sources you plan to use for your study and on secondary work relevant to your subject. Organize the bibliography by categories and provide an introductory paragraph. A complete and thorough bibliography is likely to be at least ten pages in length
As noted above, all research instruments should be included in an appendix, along with your draft informed consent document (if needed). Other essential background documents may be included as needed.
Throughout the document, the student should be clear about how key words and concepts are being used. If there is extensive special vocabulary, an appendix of definitions may be used.
Length of the Prospectus.
Normally the body of the prospectus should be limited to 15 pages of typewritten, double-spaced text; the bibliography and appendices are not counted within those pages.
Format of the Prospectus
The prospectus should be submitted with a title page formatted according to the sample page shown in the thesis guide. Footnotes should be done according to Kate L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, currently in its seventh edition (2007). See the thesis guide for more information.