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Each student is required to complete and defend a dissertation prior to
receiving his or her Ph.D. Doctoral D.M.F.T. students complete an Applied Clinical
The project whose guidelines are covered in another document. The margins of a dissertation
are as follows: 1.5″ left margin; 1″margins for top, right, and bottom. Also, the setup of
these Guidelines can be used as a guide; however, specifics and details are included
within the various sections. Remember that numbers on Chapter Title pages are
The dissertation is expected to be a scholarly work that makes a significant
contribution to the body of knowledge of the student’s discipline. The dissertation
constitutes an “original” work deemed to demonstrate a level of learning and scholarship
commensurate with the awarding of the Doctor of Philosophy degree. As such, the
successful completion ofthe dissertation process represents the culmination ofthe
student’s formal education and a level of expertise within his or her chosen discipline.
Thedissertation shouldtakethe formeitherofadatabased analytic study,or,
with approval from the committee chair, a theoretical work considered to be an important
and unique contribution to the field ofstudy. A completed research dissertation usually
THE STUDY. The number and nature of chapters for a completed theoretical
dissertation, as well as with some qualitative research approaches, may differ from this
format. Any differences are coordinated with the dissertation chair.
This document details the procedures for completing the dissertation as required
by the Department of Family Therapy, Graduate School of Humanities and Social
Sciences at Nova Southeastern University. The dissertation process entails the following
steps which will be addressed in this document in detail:
1. Completion of all pre-dissertation requirements.
2. · Formation of the dissertation committee.
3. Registering for dissertation credits.
4. Development and writing of the dissertation proposal.
5. Defense of the dissertation proposal.
6. Submission to and approval by Institutional Review Board.
7. Conducting the research project: data collection and data analysis.
8. Writing ofthe dissertation.
9. Defense of the final dissertation.
10. Binding and submission of the dissertation.
11. Registering the dissertation with Proquest-Dissertation Abstracts.
In addition, formatting and stylistic policies are discussed. The first 9 steps must be
completed prior to the student being allowed to participate in commencement
ceremonies. Degree conferral comes after all steps are completed.
After satisfactorily completing the minimum number of graduate hours required
by the individual’s department (refer to the catalog under which student entered the
program for this information), the student must take and pass all doctoral program
qualifying exams/portfolios. At that point, the student may register for and formally begin
the dissertation process and may approach faculty members to discuss chairing and
committee membership.
Formation of the Dissertation Committee
The dissertation committee consists, minimally, of the chair and two other core
members. The chair and core committee members work closely with the student in the
conceptualization, development, and writing of the proposal and the final dissertation.
The committee also makes the determination whether or not to accept or to reject the
proposal and the dissertation.
The criteria for all core committee members are a faculty appointment at a
regionally accredited university and an earned doctorate degree from a regionally
accredited university in the student’s discipline or in a closely related field of study. The
chair and at least one of the core committee members must be faculty members from the
student’s department within the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences. If a
student wishes to have an outside faculty committee member, that member must have a
terminal degree and be a full-time faculty at a regionally accredited university and be in
the MFT profession.
A dissertation committee may also include non-voting advisory members, who
may contribute to the shape and content of the document. Advisory members must have
a terminal degree in their discipline from a regionally accredited university and be
approved by the dissertation chair.
The Dissertation Chair
Only one of the dissertation committee members is designated as chair. The
student’s faculty advisor may be helpful in this selection process. It is essential for a
committee chair to be supportive of the student’s area of research. To be supportive, a
chair should have some familiarity with either the student’s proposed area of research or
contemplated methodology.
After the student has asked a faculty member to be chair and the faculty member
has accepted, the student and the chair sign the School’s Dissertation Chair Approval
Form (see Appendix). After the student’s Program Director, Department Chair, and Dean
have signed this document, the original form is given to the Program Coordinator to be
filed in the student’s permanent file.
Dissertation Credits
After the Dissertation Chair Approval Form is filed, the student may register for
dissertation credits. A minimum of three hours of dissertation credit must be taken each
trimester by the student once the dissertation process has begun. By taking three hours of
dissertation, the student is considered by the School to have full-time status.
Students must continue to register for dissertation hours until they complete and
successfully defend their document. Registration is required for students to work with
their chair and committee. Students must be registered at all times to work with the chair
and committee.
If, for some reason, the student cannot continue working on the dissertation, a
leave of absence for one trimester may be discussed with the chair and requested in
writing, then presented to the chair for signature. The chair will present the leave of
absence request to the Program Director and Department Chair, who will approve or
disapprove the request. Written results of this decision will be forwarded to the student
by the chair. If the student requests leave for longer than one trimester, or if a second or
third trimester-long leave is requested and approved, it may not be possible for the
student to continue with the chair with whom he or she had earlier been working. A
student can request no more than three trimesters of leave of absence to remain in the
program. A leave of absence does not extend the timeframe for completing the program.
The Dissertation Committee
The student works with the chair to select committee members. The research
topic may determine the membership of the committee. Many faculty members may
base their decision to serve on a committee, at least in part, upon the nature of the
research. Therefore, prior to asking faculty members to serve on a dissertation
committee, the student should have a firm idea of the research topic.
The chair may provide guidance in honing the dissertation topic; however, the
student is responsible for the choice of research area. After a general research topic has
been chosen and a preliminary literature search has been conducted, the chair and the
student should begin articulating the domain of the inquiry and composing a
researchable question or questions for the dissertation.
As the focus of the dissertation becomes clearer, the student should begin to
approach other faculty members and ask them to serve as core committee members. The
committee membership is recommended by the student and must be approved by the
dissertation chair, Program Director, Department Chair, and Dean. When this process is
completed, a Dissertation Committee Approval Form (see Appendix) must be signed by
all relevant parties (i.e., chair, student, committee members, Program Director,
Department Chair, and Dean). This form must be filed with the Program Coordinator.
Any subsequent changes in committee membership must be approved by the
committee chair, Program Director, Department Chair, and Dean. Any revised
Dissertation Committee Approval Forms must also be signed and filed with the
Program Coordinator.
Content of the Dissertation Proposal
After the formation of the dissertation committee, the student must develop a
formal dissertation proposal, the first three chapters of the dissertation. While individual
committees may function in slightly different ways, the student first should discuss the
research question for the dissertation with the committee chair and the committee
members. The student should confer with the committee as to how to proceed with the
development of the proposal.
In writing the proposal, the student should assume the readers to be intelligent
individuals who are knowledgeable in the discipline, but who may not be experts in the
particular area addressed by the proposal. Hence, while the proposal should not be
written as a primer, sufficient background and definitions should be provided to enable
the reader to grasp readily the concepts being addressed.
The proposal should be a well-written and professionally appearing document.
In producing the dissertation, the student must follow all guidelines detailed in the section
of this document entitled “Format and Style of the Dissertation.”
Organization of the Proposal
Dissertation proposals typically contain at least three major sections: the
Introduction, the Literature Review, and the Methodology. These sections, however, may
vary with the nature of the dissertation. For example, theoretical dissertations normally
will not have a methodology section, but should have a chapter explaining what the
nature of the work will be. In some qualitative research approaches, the literature section
may appear after the Data Analysis chapter or there may be more than one literature
review chapter in the completed work. In any event, the student should clarify the content
and organization of the proposal with his or her chair in advance of writing it.
All of the components of the proposal are depicted in Table 1.
Table 1: The Components of a Proposal
Preliminary Pages
Title Page
Copyright Page
Table of Contents
List of Tables (if needed)
List of Figures (if needed)
Chapter I: Introduction
Chapter II: Review of the Literature
Chapter III: Methodology
Each section is described briefly below with an example in the Appendices.
Title page. The title page contains the title of the proposal, the name of the
student, and other information. The title should describe concisely the proposed study
using the appropriate key words. Words which contribute nothing to the description
should be omitted. For example, phrases such as “A Study of …”contribute nothing and
should not be used. The number of words in the title should not exceed 15.
Copyright page. The copyright page contains a copyright designation, the
name of the student, and the month and the year of the proposal defense. The month
and year is updated after the final submission.
Table of Contents, List of Tables, List of Figures. The Table of Contents,
List of Tables, and List of Figures should be prepared similar to those in the front of
this document. Please review carefully the example in the appendices.
Abstract The abstract should tell the reader what the dissertation proposal is
about. The student should summarize the key points of the document, including the area
of inquiry, the research question, and the method. The maximum length for a
dissertation abstract, as specified by Dissertation Abstracts International, is 350 words.
This may be less for the proposal phase; more for the final abstract.
Body. The body of the dissertation proposal usually consists of three chapters:
Introduction, Review of the Literature, and Methodology. The nature and number of
these chapters may not be appropriate for all dissertation proposals. However, variations
from the chapters listed should be cleared in advance with the student’s chair and
Introduction. The first section of the body of the proposal should provide the
introduction to the inquiry domain of the proposal. After presenting this domain,
the student should then focus the study by presenting the research
question(s) to be addressed by the dissertation research. In this discussion, the
student should cite relevant literature as necessary to define the inquiry domain
and to support the pursuit of the research question(s). At the conclusion of the chapter,
the reader should have a clear understanding of the area to be addressed in the
Review of the literature. The review section should be a critical discussion and
examination of the literature relevant to the inquiry domain and the dissertation and
question(s) and should logically flow out of the Introduction. The extent of the review is,
in part, determined by the committee, but all relevant research which articulates the
inquire domain and bears on the dissertation question(s) should be included. Every effort
should be made to include the most recent relevant literature. Historic literature should be
included only to the extent that it is directly relevant or necessary to place the research
question(s) in context.
At the conclusion of the literature review, there should be a section in which the
student makes a statement that brings the singular focus of the study to light. This
statement should be something to the effect of, “Given the preceding discussion, the
question (or questions) addressed by the proposed research is …” This statement
should be logically related to the inquiry domain (articulated in the Introduction) and to
the literature review.
Methodology. While all aspects of the proposal are important, the methodology
section is critical, as it presents the details of the research process. Although the exact
content of this section will vary as a function of the nature of the particular research, an
introduction of the choice of paradigms and methodology should be a clear guide of
how you will proceed with your research. Generally the methodology section should
include the following topics:
1. Data Collection. Answers to the questions of who, what, why, where, etc. need
to be clearly identified. Participants and/or sites: Who or what are they? Where
are they located? Why were they selected? How were they chosen? How will
access be obtained? What are the ethical concerns regarding access (such as
confidentiality)? When and how often will you meet with participants? etc.
2. Self of the Researcher: Include detailed description of what posture(s) you will
take as a researcher, for example, participant-observer, clinical interviewer,
researching therapist, etc. Answer such questions as: how do these roles fit
with the research questions and theoretical framework?; what is your prior
experience, research or otherwise, that affects this study [such as researcher
bias]?; etc.
3. Data gathering: Include detailed rationale and descriptions of what will be
done, when, how, for how long, why, etc.
4. Procedures or data processing: Give sufficient detail for an independent
researcher to replicate the study.
5. Data Analyses: Describe the rationale for, and the various steps of, the
proposed analytic process, whether qualitative, graphical, statistical, or
6. Trustworthiness of the Method: Discuss issues such as validity, reliability,
ethics, and generalizability. Base this information relative to the method
used, since the language of each method varies.
References. The references appear after the text. They should be formatted
according to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
(6th ed., latest printing), which, along with other relevant style guides, is
discussed further in the “Form and Style of the Dissertation” section in these
guidelines. These are very precise guidelines, and it is the student’s responsibility
to ensure correctness.
Appendices. The need for a dissertation to be documented completely so asto
permit independent replication usually requires the inclusion of appendices.
Appendices typically contain materials that help to explain what has been done,
but that are either too bulky or too tangential to incorporate in the text. The
instructions given to the subjects/participants, consent forms, and original
instruments or questionnaires are some of the materials that may appear in
appendices. Some committees may require the student to include the raw data,
such as transcripts or field notes, in an appendix.
Dissertation Proposal Defense
Following the completion of the proposal (i.e., the first three chapters plus
references and appendices), the student must receive written approval of the dissertation
text from each dissertation committee member. When each committee member has
approved the written proposal, the Chair will then sign the Proposal Defense Scheduling
Form (see Appendix). When these tasks are accomplished, the student is ready to
schedule the proposal defense. The dissertation proposal must be defended before the
members of the dissertation committee. In addition, this defense is open to all faculty
members, staff, and students of the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences.
When the proposed study involves research, it may be desirable for the student to have
run pilot studies, to have conducted preliminary data analysis or, at least, to have tested
the method prior to the public defense. In some cases, the committee may require a
pilot study, some preliminary data analysis, or analysis exemplar. The purpose of these
activities is to familiarize the student with the participants, data generation, data
collection, data processing, and data analysis and to demonstrate the feasibility of the
analysis plan. It is not uncommon for a proposal to be modified after running one of
these procedures. If a pilot study is needed, review the IRB requirements and discuss
with the chair to see if IRB approval is needed.
The following guidelines are to be observed in the proposal defense process:
1. The defense will include all the committee members. It is the student’s
responsibility to schedule the defense with the chair and committee members.
2. The student must produce the proposal in final form and distribute a final
copy to the committee at least TWO weeks prior to the proposal defense.
3. After presenting the signed Proposal Defense Scheduling Form to the
Department Assistant, a room, date, and time will be coordinated and the
Assistant will prepare an official notice of the proposal defense and distribute
it and an abstract of the proposal to all Graduate School of Humanities and
Social Sciences faculty, professional staff, and doctoral students.
4. Three weeks prior to the proposal defense, the student will notify the
Department Assistant, along with an approval from their chair and a final
abstract, that they are ready to set a date for the proposal. The proposal date
will be set based on committee and room availability. Due to space
constrictions, a date cannot be set until a room and time are available. The
student and committee will be notified as to the dissertation proposal defense
room and time. The Department Assistant will post the announcement to the