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Dissertation Guide

Information for doctoral students preparing for, writing, or submitting their dissertations.

For Theses

Master's students should refer here instead:

Citing Your Work

Citation Managers


Program Characteristics and Overview

The Doctor of Education is a degree oriented to the improvement of professional practice by extending the knowledge, expertise, and skill of candidates through the application of research to leadership issues. The purpose of the Doctor of Education program is to provide challenging professional growth to experienced practitioners and professionals, including educators, administrators, counselors, and individuals working in higher education and related community agencies or organizations.

The dissertation requires doctoral candidates to demonstrate mastery of a set of applied inquiry skills necessary to investigate authentic problems and effectively lead research-based improvements within their practice. Candidates will position themselves as scholar practitioners of educational leadership as they use inquiry to a) better understand an authentic local problem, b) persuade organizational decision-makers to undertake a research-based course of actions, and c) lead an educational improvement effort grounded in social justice. 

Carnegie Program on the Education Doctorate (CPED)

PSU is a member of the Carnegie Program on the Education Doctorate (CPED). This is a prestigious nationally recognized organization, which works with higher education institutions to develop and redesign Doctor of Education Programs.

The mission of the CPED Framework is to develop a professional doctorate in education that prepares educators for the application of appropriate and specific practices, the generation of new knowledge and the stewardship of the profession. 

There are Six Guiding Principles for Program Design: The Professional Doctorate in Leadership, Learning and Community. 

  1. Is framed around questions of equity, ethics, and social justice to bring about solutions to complex problems of practice. 
  2. Prepares leaders who can construct and apply knowledge to make positive difference in the lives of individuals, families, organizations, and communities. 
  3. Provides opportunities for candidates to develop and demonstrate collaboration and communication skills to work with diverse communities and to build partnerships. 
  4. Provides field based opportunities to analyze problems of practice and use multiple frames to develop meaningful solutions. 
  5. Is grounded in and develops a professional knowledge base that integrates both practical and research knowledge, that links theory with systemic and systematic inquiry. 
  6. Emphasizes the generation, transformation, and use of professional knowledge and practice.


Program Design Concepts 

There are six program design concepts that are an integral part of the doctorate program. 

  1. Signature Pedagogy is the pervasive set of practices used to prepare scholarly practitioners to think, to perform, and to act with integrity.  It challenges assumptions, engages in action, and requires ongoing assessments and accountability. 
  2. Laboratories of Practice are settings where theory and practice inform and enrich each other. They address complex problems of practice where ideas formed by intersection of theory, inquiry, and practice can be implemented, measured, and analyzed for the impact made. 
  3. Problem of Practice is as a persistent, contextualized, and specific issue embedded in the work of a professional practitioner, the addressing of which the potential to result in has improved understanding, experience, and outcomes. 
  4. Scholarly Practitioners blend practical wisdom with professional skills and knowledge to name, frame, and solve problems of practice. They use practical research and applied theories as tools for change. 
  5. Inquiry as Practice is the process of posing significant questions that focus on complex problems of practice and the ability to gather, organize, judge, aggregate, and analyze situations, literature, and data with a critical lens. 
  6. Dissertation in Practice is a scholarly endeavor that affects a complex problem of practice. 

The doctoral dissertation represents the candidate’s contribution to the educational knowledge base. The dissertation should display mastery of, and the ability to apply research findings to, new analyses, syntheses, interpretations, and other research methods and procedures in order to contribute to the improvement of practice in leadership. The purpose of the dissertation is to produce knowledge, insight, materials, and/or new methods in the candidate’s field of specialization. It may replicate and extend an earlier study for the purpose of correcting errors, eliminating shortcomings, and enhancing or clarifying it. The dissertation must be meaningful and provide evidence of familiarity with existing research in the field.

The student is responsible for certifying that the dissertation has been prepared in accordance with the regulations in this guide and that it is the student’s own work. The text should be proofread and free of grammatical errors and typos. For support with editing, students may contact the Writing Center. The dissertation author bears ultimate responsibility for meeting all of the formatting and style requirements set forth by the University and the dissertation committee. It is extremely important that the author carefully review and proofread the dissertation before the final submission. If format errors exist, the dissertation will be returned and this may delay graduation. After the dissertation has been submitted to and received by library staff, changes will not be permitted.

The overall dissertation format is standard, with the dissertation having four chapters that are completed in three blocks.

  • Chapter 1: Moving from a Problem to a Problem of Practice
  • Chapter 2: Review of Knowledge and Action: Literature Review
  • Chapter 3: Methods and Designs for Action: Methodology
  • Chapter 4: Description of Findings and Recommended Actions

The reference list for the completed dissertation is placed after Chapter Four and before any appendix. Documents, tables and figures whose importance to the text is tangential may be handled as appendix material.

Electronic Publication

Once accepted, your dissertation will be uploaded to the PSU repository, Summit Institutional Repository@PSU, where scholarly and artistic works of the faculty and students are collected. Theses and dissertations are included in the repository, but are accessible only on campus unless the author grants permission to make their thesis or dissertation openly available online.

Open Access Publishing

Some of the benefits of making work openly available are:

  • Increased awareness and broad dissemination of the work, often resulting in increased citations
  • A permanent location for the work, with a stable URL that can be shared on future applications and CVs

In some situations there may be reasons not to make a thesis or dissertation available immediately. Research that includes personal information of research subjects, a patentable discovery, or is undergoing peer review for journal publication may need to be restricted in some way. In these cases either an embargo or partial redaction may be appropriate. More information on these situations as well as restriction options can be found in the FAQs below.

Publishing an openly available copy in the PSU repository is strongly encouraged. If you would like to make your thesis or dissertation openly available, please print and sign this permission form below and return it with your submission. This permission form requests a non-exclusive license to publish your work electronically. That means that you retain all of your copyrights and are free to enter into agreements to publish this work or another version of it elsewhere. 

If you have any questions please contact librarian Alice Pearman via phone (603-535-2226) or email (ajpearman (at) plymouth (dot) edu).


How is this different than the release I sign on the approval page of my thesis or dissertation?

“I understand that my dissertation will become part of the permanent collection of Plymouth State University, Lamson Learning Commons.  My signature below authorizes release of my dissertation to any reader upon request.” 

The above text, which appears on the approval page, is the permission the library needs in order to make your thesis or dissertation available in print and online within the Plymouth State campus community and outside of it should we receive an interlibrary loan (ILL) request. This signature is required.

The permission form to make your thesis or dissertation openly available online is entirely optional. There is no penalty for choosing not to make your work openly available, other than not reaping the benefits described above.

Why might someone want to restrict access to their thesis or dissertation?

The thesis or dissertation contains sensitive information, for example personal details about individuals involved in the research. If applicable, consult the application and approval of the Institutional Review Board for guidance on what limitations are appropriate. 

The thesis contains a patentable discovery. To successfully patent an invention, it must not have been previously published or presented.

A journal article based on the thesis or dissertation is currently undergoing or is likely to undergo a peer review process. Open availability of the work would threaten a blind peer review process.

What are the options for restricting access to my thesis or dissertation? 

Embargo: A publication delay of usually 6 months to 2 years may be appropriate while journal articles derived from a thesis or dissertation are undergoing the peer review process or when a patent application is pending. Longer embargoes are possible but not encouraged.

Redaction: Removing parts of the thesis or dissertation maybe appropriate in cases where sensitive personal information is involved. 

I am planning to submit an article to a journal based on the work described in my thesis or dissertation. Will making my thesis or dissertation openly available interfere with this process?

It is not unusual for an author to derive one or more journal articles from the work of their thesis or dissertation in order to share their discoveries in a more succinct way. You should always be upfront with the journal editor about the relationship between the article and your thesis or dissertation, but generally open access thesis or dissertation publication is not an impediment to journal publication.

Theses/dissertations and journal articles have very different requirements, formats, and audiences. Because significant edits to sections of a thesis or dissertation are likely in order to produce an article, there is generally not a “self-plagiarism” problem with this practice.  However, one possible concern is that an open access copy of a dissertation, especially one that shares a title with the article, makes it impossible to guarantee a blind peer review process for the article. If you or your editor have concerns about this, consider placing an embargo on your thesis or dissertation.

Someday I might want to turn my manuscript into a book.  Does this count as previous publication?

As most works undergo significant editing and changes in format before becoming a book, most publishers do not consider an open access copy of a thesis or dissertation an impediment to subsequent publication of a book based that thesis or dissertation. (2011 Survey of Publishers)

Ok, I’m in, how do I know when my work is available in the repository or what my permanent URL is?

Authors will receive an email containing their URL when their work become available in the repository. Authors can expect their work to appear in the repository 4-6 weeks after submitting the permission form and digital copy to the library. If you have concerns about the timeline, please contact librarian Alice Pearman via phone (603-535-2226) or email (ajpearman (at) plymouth (dot) edu).

Submitting to ProQuest

You may also choose to submit your dissertation for inclusion in the ProQuest database Dissertation & Theses Abstracts Online, where it will be discoverable by PSU students, faculty, and staff as well as patrons of other institutions.  

Please note: Sending your dissertation to ProQuest is optional. Your permission is required in order for us to upload your dissertation to ProQuest. Please include a signed copy of the ProQuest permission form when you submit your dissertation.