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Dissertation Planner: Prepare & Propose

This planner aims to help doctoral students through the dissertation writing process.

Work on Your Research Topic and Methodology

Identify topic


IDENTIFYING YOUR RESEARCH TOPIC is a critical step. Make sure that you choose a topic and pose a research question that interests you and that will help you advance your career.  If you can sustain interest in your research question, you will be better able to maintain focus on the dissertation writing process.

The work you do may become the starting point for future research and the next steps in your career. However, your choice of topic will depend on the requirements of your advisor, program, department, college, university, and academic discipline.  Review documents that outline requirements and expectations specific to your program, department, and the Graduate School as a whole.


Once you have a general topic or idea for a research question and after you have reviewed your departmental requirements, you will want to perform a LITERATURE REVIEW on your topic. In your literature review, you will want to find:

  • The state and limits of previous research;
  • The key themes, issues, variables, methodologies, limitations, terminology, controversies, and gaps in the current research;
  • The significant scholars and researchers who have previously or are currently working in your area of study; and
  • The journals, monographs, research blogs, online resources, conferences, and scholarly and professional societies that are important in your area of study.

You may also want to learn more about faculty research areas and identify faculty who might be interested in working with you.

Also, investigate University of Kentucky Research Centers to explore the cross-disciplinary interests of faculty who could be helpful as you refine the research topic and write your dissertation.

These resources listed on the Help & Resources page will aid you in the literature search and review. If you need assistance, feel free to contact UK Libraries' academic liaison for your department or college. 

Adjust question

When going over the results of your literature review, you should ADJUST YOUR RESEARCH QUESTION as appropriate by considering these questions:

  • Does your research question have a feasibly discoverable answer?
  • Is the scope too broad or too narrow?
  • Is your topic evolving quickly?
  • Will you ble able to maintain a sustained level of interest throughout the dissertation writing process?
  • Will the topic be beneficial to your future career?

You should discuss your ideas with colleagues, professors, mentors, and other people in your field and incorporate their feedback while adjusting your research question. You should also work closely with your advisor through this process to ensure that you and your advisor are in agreement on your research question before your final proposal.

Develop method


Once you have adjusted your research question, the next step is to DEVELOP YOUR RESEARCH METHODOLOGY, i.e., how you will answer the research question, and the strategy or blueprint for the collection of information that you will eventually analyze and synthesize in support of your dissertation’s central argument. Generally speaking, the design provides the logical foundation for your project. The methodology constitutes the detailed steps to plan your investigative research along with any theoretical framework you may be using. The nature of your research question will determine the type(s) of designs and methods you may use.

Every discipline has its own research methods and paradigms. Certain research designs and methods are expected in specific fields of study or programs. Your design needs to be consistent with the requirements and expectations of your advisor, dissertation committee, and department. Your best resource for research methodology will be your advisor and members on the dissertation committee. Other faculty members in your program or department will also be excellent resources.

Research topic process



Finalizing a dissertation topic involves a cyclical process of refining a topic, conducting a literature review, and developing an appropriate methodology.  You may want to consult with your advisor in this process. 

These resources listed on the Help & Resources page will aid you in the literature search and review. If you need assistance, feel free to contact UK Libraries' academic liaison for your department or college. 

Establish a Committee

ESTABLISHING YOUR COMMITTEE moves the dissertation project ahead and will help you develop areas of interest and expertise. To begin the formation of a dissertation committee, you should:

  • review departmental guidelines regarding dissertation committee make-up;
  • seek out an advisor who can be a compatible ally and an on-task mentor; and
  • initiate a dialog with individuals who might serve on the committee.

Overall, dissertation committee members should:

  • represent a range of expertise related to your research interests and methodological choices;
  • advise you throughout the process; and
  • comment on written materials from the proposal stage through the conclusion of the dissertation.

Keep in mind this caveat: Forming your committee need not be driven only by the idea of amassing content experts. Rather, consider these:

  • Set up a committee that includes faculty who will support you in different ways
  • Work with your advisor to form your committee
  • Take time to think about why you select certain faculty
  • Figure out how, why, and when to interact with the committee throughout the process

Once you have found your committee members, you are required to submit an Advisory Committee Request Form, which is available on the Doctoral Degree Candidate Forms page from the Graduate School. 

Submit a Proposal

The specific requirements for your PROPOSAL are determined by your department and your committee. Therefore, check with your advisor to ensure compliance with these specific requirements.

Generally, the purpose of your proposal is to persuade your committee that your dissertation will pursue an interesting and worthwhile research question. Furthermore, the proposal demonstrates that you are a researcher capable of:

  • explaining the significance of your research topic and question;
  • setting out a plan for gathering data and assembling information;
  • locating materials germane to your focus;
  • pursuing substantive examination of materials gathered; and
  • presenting a sound analysis of ideas to an academic audience.

The proposal helps you clarify your thoughts, arguments, and approach to your topic. The proposal is not a time to prove or claim you have read every article and book on the topic. Consider these questions when drafting a proposal:

  • 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?

You want to make clear and explicit the ways in which your conclusions or hypotheses follow from the ideas and research you have outlined in the proposal. Moreover, you should locate your own work within the larger field of study.

Schedule your proposal meeting after approval by your advisor, and make sure to follow all departmental guidelines and procedures. Procedures for proposal meetings and approvals vary widely among departments. Check that you are following the correct ones for yours.

As in all things related to your dissertation, check often with your advisor and department about internal requirements because they may change. One good way to determine the expectations and requirements for your proposal meeting is to talk to other students in your program who have completed the proposal process.