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Dissertation Guide

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

The Dissertation Journey

Establishing a Dissertation Committee

The dissertation committee will consist of the chair and a minimum of two committee members (candidates may choose to select an additional individual to serve on their committee, for a total of four dissertation committee members). The chair must be a member of the PSU faculty and must have earned a terminal degree which required completion and defense of an original research project (dissertation). The other committee members may be PSU faculty or professionals external to the University. All dissertation committee members must have earned a terminal degree in their field.

Candidates are expected to select dissertation committee members in consultation with their chair. Candidates must submit a Dissertation Committee Proposal Form, and all other required documents, to confirm committee membership.

Committee Chair Responsibilities

The committee chair is responsible for:

  • assisting the candidate in selecting Dissertation Committee members and requesting member appointment from the director of the EdD program;
  • approving all proposals and dissertation drafts before submission to the committee;
  • providing guidance throughout the dissertation process;
  • explaining and upholding the standard expected of successful doctoral work; and
  • responding in a timely fashion to communications from the candidate.

Committee Member Responsibilities

Each committee member is responsible for:

  • reviewing the proposal and dissertation in its various stages;
  • providing appropriate and timely feedback regarding content, methodology and editing;
  • preparing substantive questions for both the proposal and dissertation defenses.

Changing Dissertation Committee Membership

At times and for various reasons, a candidate may wish to change the committee membership or committee members may request to withdraw from the committee. The doctoral program coordinator and the program coordinator of the Learning, Leadership, and Community (EDD) must approve any change.

Prior to initiating a change in the committee, the candidate must consult with his/her chair. If the candidate and his/her chair wish to change committee membership, the candidate must:

  • meet with the doctoral program coordinator to discuss changing the committee; and
  • submit a written request for appointment of a new committee member to the doctoral program coordinator.

If a committee member wishes to be replaced:

  • the committee member must inform the candidate and the committee chair that a change is considered necessary;
  • the chair must submit written notification of the change to the director of the EdD program;
  • the candidate must submit written notification of the change to the doctoral program coordinator; and
  • the candidate must meet with the committee chair, and/or the doctoral program coordinator to discuss identifying a new committee member.

The director of the EdD program must approve removals and appointments. Upon approval of a change in committee membership, the doctoral program coordinator will notify the candidate and the committee members. After the change of committee membership, the new committee must meet and review the candidate’s progress to confirm the direction of the dissertation.

Working with the Dissertation Committee

Communication between the candidate and the dissertation committee is of the utmost importance. Is is the responsibility of the committee is to provide candidates with appropriate and timely feedback, therefore all communication should be open, honest, and respectful.

It is expected that the candidate will maintain communication with the committee chair on a regular basis and with committee members as needed. Various drafts of the dissertation must be submitted to the chair. The chair will submit drafts to the committee members when it is deemed appropriate. Committee members’ recommendations shall be delivered to the candidate through the chair, and the chair will negotiate with committee members when there is a difference of opinion among them.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is the foundation of the pursuit of knowledge. All members of the academic community are expected to be dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge in an honest, responsible, respectful, and ethical manner. A violation of academic integrity includes any act that portrays a member of the academic community as having acquired knowledge through legitimate study or research when, in fact, it has been stolen. Members of the academic community should report any instances of violations which come to their attention. Both faculty and administration consider it their duty, as guardians of academic standards and intellectual honesty, to enforce the PSU policy by prosecuting all cases of violation of academic integrity to the fullest extent. Students are urged to consider that it is the toleration of violations of academic integrity, and not the reporting of it that is dishonorable. Please see the PSU Academic Integrity Policy for more information on University policies and procedures regarding academic integrity.

The Dissertation Proposal

The dissertation proposal requires the candidate to conduct a formal presentation of the research study and methodology to be used to conduct the research. The written portion of the proposal is comprised of chapters one through three of the dissertation. While students often begin thinking about various elements of their dissertation during their doctoral core courses, research for the dissertation may not be conducted prior to the approval of the proposal by the doctoral dissertation committee. Candidates may not propose their dissertation until approval has been confirmed by the Plymouth State University Institutional Review Board (IRB).


Institutional Review Board (IRB)

The IRB serves as an oversight committee, governed by Federal Regulations, with the purpose of protecting and managing risk to human participants involved in research. All research conducted in association with Plymouth State University must: promote the safety and well-being of human participants; ensure adherence to the ethical values and principles underlying research; ensure that only ethical and scientifically valid research is implemented; and assure the general public that research is conducted in a responsible manner. See for information regarding the IRB process.

After the chair has received confirmation that the candidate has IRB approval and all committee members agree he/she is ready to defend the proposal, the dissertation proposal defense will be scheduled. The candidate will defend the dissertation proposal before the committee; this is not open to the public.

It is the charge of the dissertation committee members to determine if the proposed dissertation will:

  • Produce knowledge, insight, and methods in candidate’s field of specialization by identifying a problem/question and addressing it.
  • Make a significant contribution to the understanding of the problem/question that it examines by providing an ethical, reliable, and valid study of the problem.
  • Provide a research approach that has been approved by the Institutional Review Board.
  • Demonstrate the candidate’s ability and willingness to carry out sound independent research.

After the proposal discussion, the committee will recommend one of the following:

  • Approval of the proposal including the signing of the proposal approval form.
  • Minor revisions to the proposal with revisions to be approved by the chair prior to the signing of the proposal approval form by the committee.
  • Major revisions to the proposal with revisions to be approved by the full committee prior to the signing of the proposal approval form by the committee.
  • Major revisions with a repeat of the oral defense of the proposal before the full committee.
  • Rejection of the proposal.

The Doctoral Dissertation

The EdD is a practitioner based degree program oriented to the improvement of professional practice through the extension of knowledge, expertise, and practical application of original research. As such the doctoral dissertation represents the candidate’s ability to make a significant contribution to their field.  

Dissertation Format

See the Formatting page within this guide.

Dissertation Defense

The dissertation defense is scheduled when the doctoral candidate has successfully completed all aspects of the research study - all four chapters have been submitted to, and approved by, committee members - and all committee members agree that the candidate is prepared to defend the dissertation.

After the candidate has completed all data collection, he/she will draft chapters four. Upon completion of chapters four the candidate will review and prepare chapters one, two and three for final revisions. The chair will work with the candidate throughout the dissertation writing process. During that time the chair will consult with committee members and share chapter drafts to request feedback as appropriate. Committee members are expected to review and submit all feedback to the chair in a timely fashion.

When all four chapter drafts are complete and have been forwarded to committee members for feedback, the chair will consult with committee members to determine whether they agree that the candidate is ready to defend the dissertation. If a committee member(s) indicates the dissertation is not ready for defense, the chair will work with the candidate to provide appropriate feedback to improve the dissertation. This process will continue until all committee members agree that the dissertation is ready for final defense.

The dissertation defense will be delivered in a public forum in the presence of the candidate’s full dissertation committee and a moderator.  During the defense the candidate will have approximately 45 minutes to present their dissertation research.  The candidate should use the Dissertation Self-assessment to prepare for the defense.  At the conclusion of their presentation the moderator and audience will have the opportunity to ask questions of the candidate. The question and answer session will take approximately 15-30 minutes.

  1. The moderator welcomes those in attendance and introduces the candidate and the committee to the audience.
  2. The candidate explains what will happen during defense presentation.
  3. The candidate presents their defense (45 minutes).
  4. Audience members are invited to ask questions.
  5. The moderator asks the audience to leave the auditorium so that the candidate can meet with their committee
  6. Committee members meet with candidate to provide feedback, request clarification if needed, and/or address any concerns regarding the dissertation presentation.
  7. The committee dismisses the candidate to deliberate on their decision to accept, accept with minor revisions, accept with major revisions, or reject the dissertation.
  8. The committee announces their decision  

Dissertation Defense Outcomes

Immediately after the dissertation defense, the committee, without the candidate present, will determine whether or not the candidate has successfully defended the dissertation. The following options are available to the committee:

  • The candidate successfully defended the dissertation. The signature page is signed. The doctoral program director is contacted and student sends in the approval page. The candidate prepares the dissertation for publication in consultation with the Lamson Library and Learning Commons staff.
  • The candidate successfully defended the dissertation with provisions for minor modifications. The signature page is signed, and the doctoral program director is notified. The candidate will work with the chair to complete, and get approved, all minor modifications. Following modification approval, the candidate will prepare the final dissertation for publication in consultation with the Lamson Library and Learning Commons staff.
  • The candidate does not successfully defend the dissertation. The candidate meets with the chair to determine next steps.

Submitting Your Dissertation

Completed dissertations must be submitted to Lamson Library before a final grade can be posted and the degree conferred. The ownership of the completed dissertation rests solely with the candidate. All of the contents, as well as all formatting, are the responsibility of the candidate.

Two bound copies of the dissertation will be maintained at Lamson Library, and additional copies can be ordered by the candidate as noted in the Lamson Library Dissertation Guide (see

Drop off two copies, plus any additional personal copies, and a PDF copy on a thumb/flash drive of your Dissertation to the Technical Services Office of the Library (by appointment), located on the upper floor in the Lamson Learning Commons along with completed Thesis/Dissertation Order Form and appropriate fees associated with extra copies.

IRB Final Report

A Human Subjects Research Final Report summarizing the findings of your dissertation research must be submitted to the IRB (see Appendix C, p. 27, in PSU Human Subjects Guidelines and Procedural Manual).

Degree Conferral

Candidates must submit an application for degree conferral as soon as their defense has been scheduled. In most cases, forms must be submitted by February 1 for May conferral.  See dates on the degree conferral application.