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  8.  | Dissertation Specific: Prospectus

What is a Prospectus?

A dissertation prospectus is a document that shows the researcher’s plan for the dissertation project. This document should provide enough information to verify the need for their study, the way it is situated amongst existing literature, and how the research will be facilitated. A committee will use this document to verify the viability of a study and to start the conversation regarding where the research could go or other potential avenues to explore.

Note: The prospectus is only the initial starting point, so the focus of the study may change as you continue to research and develop your ideas.


In the prospectus, you are primarily responsible for identifying:

  1. What you are researching
  2. Why it matters
  3. What the foundation of the research is
Use Sources Develop Argument


The dissertation will follow the format of the prospectus template. It is primarily modeled after the professional version of APA 7th edition, but does require minor deviations.


The prospectus is generally a minimum of 15 pages, is double-spaced, and includes an extensive reference section. Remember that the prospectus is the initial plan. While a fair amount of information and evidence is necessary to show a firm foundation, it should not be exhaustive. Provide the information that is necessary in a concise and clear manner.


The prospectus will consist of the following sections/components:


The title of your dissertation should be relevant, clear, concise, and informative.

Focus: Can your readers determine the focus and topic of your research?

Approach: Does indicating your approach help the reader to determine the overall impact on your results?

Specificity: Were you specific enough about the factors or aspects studied?



Problem Background

What is the central problem that your research will address? The existence and extent of this problem should be verified with research.

Context: Explain the depth of the problem with enough information for readers to understand the reason it is an issue

Issue: State the problem clearly and precisely

Importance: Indicate who it influences or what would happen if this problem were not solved.

Objective: Situate your research here. What will you achieve with your research? What is your aim? (tense: future simple – This study will….)

Problem Statements

From the context of your problem background, identify specific problems that your research aims to address. These should be stated in a single sentence format (at most two) and be supported with a citation.

Note: The problem statements should link to the research questions


Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study will explain, in simple terms, what the point of the study is. You can think of this as identifying the research type, direction, purpose (reason for it), and what the overall goal is.

Begin the sentence with: “The purpose of this (qualitative/quantitative/mixed methods) study is to (insert action verb).

Action verbs for qualitative studies: explore, understand, describe, etc.

Action verbs for quantitative studies: examine, analyze, predict, etc.

Theoretical/Conceptual Framework

The framework will indicate the structure and basis of your proposed research. For more information on frameworks, see the framework page.

Research Questions

Indicate three (3) research questions that derive from the problem statements previously mentioned.

Specific: Does each question focus on one issue/problem?

Clear: Does your reader understand what you are researching?

Legitimate: Is it a question (open-ended) and not a statement?

Answerable: Can you answer the question that you have asked with the resources and time you have available?

Aspect No Yes
Specific What is the long-term benefit of outdoor recreation treatment facilities in the treatment of alcohol abuse and how much time is needed for this benefit to become viable for participants? (2 questions) What is the long-term benefit of outdoor recreation treatment facilities in the treatment of alcohol abuse?

What is the duration needed for a participant to complete in an outdoor treatment facility to attain the long term benefits of the program?

Clear Why are social networking sites harmful? How do social networking sites contribute to instances of bullying in adolescents from 12-17?
Legitimate Are wise strategies impactful on student motivation to revise assignments? (yes/no question) How impactful are wise strategies on student motivation to revise assignments?
Answerable How will the world’s economy recover after the COVID-19 pandemic? (think of time and scope) How was the American economy impacted by the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Nature of the Study

Explain your proposed method, research design, required data, data collection method, and data analysis methodology.

Note: This is a plan for a future study, so future simple is used.

Method: Qualitative, quantitative, mixed

Research design: Evaluation, action research, correlational, quasi-experimental, grounded theory, phenomenological, etc.

Data: What data is needed? (Primary/secondary?)

Data collection method: Survey, questionnaire, interview, observation, focus group, etc.

Data analysis methodology: exploratory analysis, descriptive analysis, regression analysis, etc.

Consider aspects like: location of study, time frame, participants, sampling, etc.

Significance of the Study

Indicate the potential impact of your study.

Note: This is a plan for a future study, so future simple is used.

Contribution: How will your findings contribute to your field?

Gap: What will your research add to the gap you identified?

Benefit: Who will benefit most from this research?


The references typically span 3-5 pages. All references should be formatted using APA 7th edition. See the APA page for further information on properly formatting your references.

Samples of Prospectuses

When Do I Complete the Prospectus?

The prospectus will be completed in the second year of your doctoral program during the RES721 course.

Can I Start Working on it Before RES721?

For suggestions on what you can be working on now to prepare for your dissertation, please see here.

What if I need help?

For help on the prospectus, you can see the list of services the Doctoral Writing Center provides here.