Dissertation Checklist – Check this list BEFORE you Submit


By Marilyn Simon and Jim Goes

As longtime dissertation chairs, mentors, and committee members, we constantly see a number of common errors and problems in dissertation drafts.  Each one of these errors has the potential to halt your progress in dissertation development, whether in the developmental stage, the quality review stage, or even at the university or outside review level. This checklist was developed to help you avoid these problems, and for our selfish interests as well – to reduce the number of chapter or dissertation drafts that we receive that exhibit these chronic problems.

Once you move out of the development phase on your dissertation proposal, and submit your draft for review by your dissertation chair, mentor, or committee, use this checklist to verify that each of these quality elements are present or checked BEFORE you submit your draft for review.  Your committee will thank you, and your proposal or final dissertation will move through the process MUCH more quickly!

Dissertation Check List

The Importance of Alignment in Dissertation Development


By Jim Goes and Marilyn Simon

The concept and importance of alignment in dissertation development is of paramount concern in many doctoral programs. Alignment refers to careful articulation of major proposal and dissertation elements in such a way that the proposal and dissertation narrative flows logically and consistently across different elements of the study. Reviewers are increasingly challenging doctoral learners to demonstrate alignment before their proposals or dissertations will be approved.

The key to successful alignment is to make certain that each major element is logically consistent, and fits with the problem, purpose, and other elements of the study. For example, a qualitative methodology would not fit with a problem that is inherently quantitative, such as testing the relationship between variable ‘scores’ on two Likert-type scales.  Similarly, it would make little sense to propose a correlational test for data that are primarily textual and descriptive, such as one would find in a qualitative study.  Both cases would present an alignment problem – the nature of the data does not align with the proposed analytical approach. Such data could potentially be quantified by coding particular responses using a set of established codes, followed by testing correlations or relationships using the coded data.

Each major element of the proposal needs to be logically and methodologically aligned with other elements.  For example, research questions need to be aligned with hypotheses, hypotheses with the proposed theory or conceptual model, and tests, if any, should flow logically from the way in which hypotheses are constructed. A phenomenological design could be used to determine how a group of people perceive their lived experiences around a particular phenomenon. The problem, purpose, and research questions would need to be in alignment with this determination. In this case, the subjectivity of the data leads to difficulties in establishing reliability and validity of approaches and information, and does not produce generalizable data.

General methodology textbooks usually do not provide sufficient grounding for specific designs and methodologies. It is of great importance to review and cite texts and peer-reviewed journal articles of methodological thought leaders that elucidate the nuances of the specific methodology you choose for your study. For example, Yin for case studies, Moustakas for phenomenological studies, Glaser and Straus for grounded theory studies, and Stephenson for Q-methodology studies. See the sources below for additional guidance on achieving alignment in your dissertation. The HAT tool is particularly useful in tracking alignment through various iterations of proposal and dissertation development.


Historical Alignment Tool (HAT)

Dissertation Writing: The Importance of Alignment


Scholarly language and writing


By Jim Goes and Marilyn Simon

Language Matters. One of the most common problems we see in mentoring doctoral students is also one of the most basic elements of being a scholar—writing and expressing oneself in a scholarly manner.  Being a scholar does not mean your writing must be full of long winded sentences or stuffy, obscure words.  Rather, being scholarly means being open and unbiased in tone and language.  This is essential in conducting and communicating honest, objective, and influential research.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when writing for a doctoral committee or an academic audience is to be open and non-judgmental in your language.  Never presuppose the outcome of a study.  Your dissertation or doctoral study proposal may involve speculating about relationships between variables, or discovering new patterns in data, but except for specific hypotheses that will be tested formally, you should never use language that suggests you think or know what the outcome of the research will be. You need to be tentative regarding how the findings from your study could influence policies and actions. Using words like ‘could’ or ‘might’ demonstrate ontological humility as opposed to using the word ‘will.’ The word ‘best’ means unparalleled, optimum, incomparable, ideal, and can be construed as hyperbolic. It is not possible to validate the term ‘best.’

Phrases like “this research will prove that X and Y are related”, or “the study will demonstrate the importance of A and B in relation to C” are indications of bias towards a specific outcome, regardless of what the data indicate!

Instead, all researchers, particularly doctoral students, should be open in their perspective and cautious in their inferences about a particular outcome for the study.  Here are a few examples:

Wrong: “The proposed study will prove that Variable A is related to Variable B”

Right: “The proposed study will be used to determine whether Variable A and Variable B are related”

Wrong:  The study will generate evidence that women are more effective at child rearing than men.”

Right: “The proposed study may generate evidence about differences in child rearing effectiveness between men and women.”

The scholarly writer “hedges” their language, using terms like “may”, “could”, “might”, “suggest”, “imply”, etc.

See the links below for further suggestions about how to be an honest and persuasive scholarly writer, and remember to get on the scholarly writing BOAT: Your writing needs be Balanced, Objective, Accurate, and Tentative.


The Importance of Tone in Scholarly Writing

Scholarly Writing

Scholarly Voice


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