Friday, August 30, 2013

How to Write A Dissertation Proposal – A Statistician’s Viewpoint

By Steve Creech | January 22, 2011
1) It starts with personal interest in a “general topic” within your area of specialization. Most likely this topic is something you are familiar with from personal or professional experience.
2) Conduct some preliminary literature review to insure the general topic you have in mind has not already been thoroughly researched and published (i.e. don’t reinvent the wheel).
3) Once you have identified a general topic and you have done enough literature review to know you are not reinventing the wheel, hire a statistician to help with the statistical aspects of your proposal.
Aside: I charge on a fixed price basis. Whether you get me on-board from day one, or after attempting to get your entire proposal accepted, only to have it rejected one or more times, the price is the same. It is almost always “more” work for me to help a doctoral student that has gotten very far into the proposal than to help a doctoral student that is just starting out. The sooner you start working with a statistical consultant, the smoother things will go for you. With my services, since it is the same price, why not get me on-board early?
4) Consult with the statistician about your topic and share your ideas about what sort of data you want to collect (e.g. maybe you have a particular survey in mind, or an archived data set). The statistician can advise you on methodological considerations relating to your planned approach. Most likely the statistician will point out a variety of options, each of which has pros and cons, and the choices you make have implications for your problem statement, purpose of the study, research questions, instrumentation, population and more.
5) After the consultation with the statistician, you should have a rough draft of your problem statement, purpose of the study, research questions, independent and dependent variables, research questions, instrumentation, population and data collection strategy.
Aside: I almost always send a rough draft of that information after the first collaborative phone consultation. Then, within a matter of 7 days or less, I will have completed all of the statistical considerations for your proposal (e.g. data analysis plan, sample size justification).
6) Once you receive the write-up of the statistical considerations from the statistician (just a cleaned up, technically written documentation of what we collaborated on during the initial consultation), then it is just a matter of incorporating that information into the current draft of your proposal.
7) Actually writing the proposal from this point on is largely an organizational challenge. I believe you should use the following process to “construct” the proposal:
1. Start with a blank Word Document.
2. Insert the title on page 1
3. Copy the Table of Contents from the rubric onto pages 2 through however many pages it takes.
4. On the very next page, insert the chapter heading (e.g. CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION), and underneath that, insert each of the section headings that go in that chapter. Make sure the section headings match the rubric. Don’t add additional headings, don’t leave any out, and don’t change the order.
5. Repeat step four for chapters 2 (Literature review) and 3 (Methodology).
6. Make a copy of the document you just created and save it as something like “Disseration Proposal Shell”.
7. Using a copy of the “Shell” from step 6, start with chapter 1. Skim through the sub-headings and pick the one you feel the most confident in, the one you think you could write off the top of your head (i.e. the low hanging fruit).
8. Write as little as you possibly can in that section, while capturing all of the main points that you think should be in that section. Try to keep it to one paragraph or less if possible.
9. Pick the next section in chapter 1 that you feel most comfortable with and repeat step 8.
10. Continue steps 8 and 9 until you get stuck. If you are stuck, if it has anything to do with statistics, consult with your statistician for advice. If it is a subject matter issue, maybe you need to stop and do more literature review.
11. Follow steps 8-10 until you have 1 paragraph or less written in every section of chapter 1. You might find that while doing this, you can fill in some of the sections in chapters 2 and 3. Go ahead and do that also. After all, you should have the research questions, hypotheses, data analysis plan, power analysis and other statistical considerations from your statistician by this point, and that all goes in chapter 3.
12. Once you have written 1 paragraph or less in every section of chapters 1, 2 and 3, stop and save a copy. That is your “bird’s eye view” of the entire proposal.
13. Work on cleaning up the “Bird’s Eye View” of your proposal until it flows naturally, with smooth transitions from one section to the next.
14. Review each section again and ask yourself, did I “mention each core idea” that needs to go into this section (check the rubric for what should be there)? If you missed an idea, add it. Do this for all of the sections and save this as Bird’s Eye View Revision 1.
15. Run the Bird’s Eye View draft past your statistician. He or she should be able to tell you if there are any inconsistencies with what you wrote, and the statistical aspects of your study. The statistician should also be able to give you critical input about how to make the paper flow logically.
16. Now that you have this Bird’s eye view of the proposal finished, it is just a matter of “fleshing out” each section. What I would do is take each main “idea” within each section, determine how long I want that section to be, and then decide how much I want to expand on each main idea until that section is the desired length.
17. At this point you should have a well organized and nearly complete dissertation proposal. Read through it carefully, correct as many grammar and punctuation mistakes as possible and try to make the transitions from one section to the next as smooth as possible. Then, submit that draft to your statistician for another review.
18. The statistician will likely recommend a number of revisions to help organize the proposal and to insure what you wrote is consistent with the statistical aspects of the study. Work with the statistician back and forth until there are no further revisions from the statistician’s perspective.
19. Submit the proposal to your mentor. The mentor will likely have several comments, questions and suggested revisions. Share those comments with your statistician. You want to make sure you understand any comments and questions that relate to the statistical aspects of your study. Work with your statistician to develop responses to the reviewer’s comments.
Aside: Just because the mentor suggested a revision doesn’t mean you should make that revision. Remember, you probably know 10 times more about your study than your mentor does at this point. You have probably spent several weeks if not months of intensive work on just this one study, whereas your mentor has to teach and probably mentor several other doctoral students as well.
20. Once you have developed a response to every comment from the mentor, making revisions where you and your statistician felt they were appropriate, send the revised draft back to the mentor.
21. Repeat steps 19 and 20 until the mentor has no further comments and passes it on to the other committee members.
22. Repeat steps 19-21 for the other committee members until they are satisfied and they submit the proposal to the ARB, IRB, external reviewer or whatever the next step is at your university.
23. By this point, you should be very close to having an accepted proposal.