Dissertation Requirements


This document will orient you to the steps you should follow to complete your dissertation and graduate from the Instructional Psychology & Technology PhD program. Since it is only an overview of the critical steps, you will need to refer to specific documents mentioned in this description for additional details. These documents and forms are available from the department secretary or on the IP&T web site.

Step 1:
Finish Preparation Courses and Comprehensive Exam Projects

You may begin conceptualizing, reading, and running pilot studies connected with your dissertation at any time in the program. However, we recommend that your dissertation serve as the culminating activity of your graduate program. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you complete the coursework outlined in your program of study along with both comprehensive exam projects before registering for dissertation credit. As you work on your dissertation, remember that you will need to continue to meet the department minimum progress requirements.

Step 2:
Form Dissertation Advisory Committee

Composition of committee. As you begin to formulate the topic and thrust of your dissertation, you should reassess the composition of your advisory committee. You are in no way obligated to work with the committee members or chair who initially signed your Program of Study form during your first semester in the program. You should make sure that the interests and expertise of the faculty members on your committee coincide with your dissertation efforts. Once you have decided on a chair, whether he/she is a new chair or the same chair you had in your first semester, you should meet with him/her and decide on a committee that will optimize the input and expertise you will need to complete your dissertation. You may wish to include faculty members from other departments on your committee (e.g., psychology or statistics). Changing one or more of your committee members involves completion of the Request for Program of Study Change, Form 3b [PDF]. You will need to obtain the appropriate signatures and return it to the department secretary.

Roles of committee members. The chair of your committee should be responsible for providing the major input on your dissertation efforts. You should develop a very close working relationship with your chair from the inception of your dissertation through the data analysis and write-up stages. You should also expect to meet individually on various occasions with the other members of your advisory committee to receive input on the design, instruments, materials, data analysis or drafts of your report.

Step 3:
Sign up for Dissertation Credit

You should register for dissertation credit (IP&T 799R) the semester(s) you plan on working on your dissertation. PhD students must complete a total of 18 hours of dissertation credit in order to graduate. Consequently, you may wish to sign up for dissertation credit over a period of several semesters as you prepare your prospectus, collect your data, and write your report. You may only register for a total of four   hours of dissertation credit prior to approval of your dissertation prospectus. Also it is important to keep in mind that you must be registered for at least two hours of dissertation credit or other program coursework and/or pay the equivalent registration fee the semester you plan to graduate. Dissertation registration must be done by an add/drop card signed by your advisory committee chair.

Step 4:
Identify a Dissertation Topic

Identifying a good dissertation topic may require considerable thought, study, and consultation with members of your advisory committee. Your dissertation will need to be a contribution to knowledge in addition to being original, important, and interesting to you and your committee. The best way to identify a good dissertation topic is to become familiar with current research in your area of interest. This can be done by studying journal articles, literature reviews, course textbooks, dissertations, and research handbooks such as the Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology. Many journal articles and dissertations conclude with a section describing future research opportunities.

Step 5:
Prepare Prospectus

The next major stage in preparing your dissertation is to write a prospectus to be approved by your advisory committee and the department chair or graduate coordinator. This is a crucial stage because you must make critical decisions concerning the scope, content, and design of your dissertation. An approved prospectus becomes a contract between you and your committee. If you then execute your dissertation study in accordance with your prospectus, committee members may not subsequently add requirements.

In order to minimize wasted effort, you should prepare your prospectus in stages. Begin by discussing your dissertation ideas with your advisory committee chair and other members. After they give you the go ahead, prepare a written mini-prospectus of three to ten pages outlining the problem and questions you want to address and briefly describing how you plan to address them. When you receive favorable feedback on your mini-prospectus from your committee members, you are ready to prepare the formal prospectus. Consult the document Guidelines for Preparing a Prospectus for a Project or Dissertation [PDF Word] for a detailed outline of the prospectus document. A well prepared prospectus can serve as the first three chapters of your dissertation. Consult with your advisor and committee members frequently as you prepare your prospectus. Submit early drafts to your chair for review and feedback. Expect to iterate through multiple drafts.

Step 6:
Defend and Submit Prospectus

Once you have completed your prospectus and you and your chair feel it is ready for formal review, you should submit a copy to each member of your committee. At least two weeks in advance, schedule a time to meet with your committee to defend your prospectus. During this meeting members of the committee may ask clarifying questions or request changes in the prospectus. Once the members of the advisory committee are satisfied with your prospectus (possibly after the meeting and the completion of requested revisions), you should have the committee members sign the Thesis or Dissertation Prospectus Approval form [PDF Word] and submit this to the department secretary along with a copy of your prospectus. You should not begin data collection for your dissertation until your committee and the department chair have approved your prospectus.

Step 7:
Obtain IRB Approval

If your research involves the use of human subjects, you will need to apply for IRB (Institutional Review Board for Human Subjects) approval. The approval process requires that you study an IRB tutorial, pass an IRB exam, and submit an IRB proposal and application. You cannot submit an IRB application until your advisory committee approves your prospectus. Further information on the IRB review process may be accessed at the ORCA web site.

Step 8:
Apply for Graduation

During the first month of the semester you plan to graduate, you should submit the Application for Graduation, Form 8a, [PDF] to the Office of Graduate Studies no later than the deadlines listed on the current Graduation Deadlines for Graduate Students [PDF] document. You should have completed or be currently registered for all of the coursework outlined on you Program of Study form before applying for graduation.

Step 9:
Conduct Pilot Study

We highly recommend that you conduct a pilot study of your dissertation to verify the feasibility of your procedures, the reliability and validity of your instruments, and the power of your intervention.

Step 10:
Conduct Dissertation Study

Make any necessary adjustments to your procedures, instruments, and materials based on the results of your pilot study. You are now ready to conduct your dissertation study as outlined in your prospectus. You should continue to frequently consult with your advisory committee during this stage.

Step 11:
Write Dissertation

The format and content of your dissertation report may take various forms depending on the nature of your dissertation work and the recommendations of your advisory committee.  A possible outline for a research dissertation follows:

Chapter 1 Introduction

  • Statement of Problem
  • Background Literature
  • Hypotheses or Questions

Chapter 2 Methods

  • Participants or Subjects
  • Apparatus or Materials
  • Instruments
  • Design, Independent and Dependent Variables
  • Procedure

Chapter 3 Results

Chapter 4 Discussion, Conclusions and Recommendations



In preparing your dissertation manuscript, you should carefully follow the style guidelines outlined in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th edition. You should consult the APA Guidelines web site prepared by the IP&T Department that outlines some of the ways to avoid the most common errors found in student dissertations and enumerates some variations from the guidelines acceptable for dissertations. You should also access the Microsoft Word Heading Styles Tutorial on how to use styles in Microsoft Word to facilitate the implementation of the APA heading guidelines. This tutorial includes a link to a Microsoft Word template document that includes all the necessary styles already defined. Using heading styles will facilitate electronic submission of your dissertation to the Harold B. Lee Library (see Step 14 below).

Consult the document Minimum Standards for Submitting Dissertations, Theses, or Selected Projects [PDF] for critical information on format and style requirements, including samples of title, copyright, approval, abstract, and acknowledgments pages. Templates [Word] for these preliminary pages are available for download.

Step 12:
Submit Draft for Review and Make Revisions

You should submit a draft of your dissertation report to your advisory committee chair for review, then make any recommended revisions. It is common to iterate through multiple drafts in order to produce a polished report. Your chair may recommend that you also submit drafts to other members of your advisory committee. Your committee members should not take more than two weeks to review each draft and provide feedback, unless they notify you of extenuating circumstances.

Step 13:
Hold Preliminary Orals

When you and your advisory committee chair feel that you have a polished draft of your dissertation report, you should schedule a preliminary oral examination with your advisory committee. You should submit a copy of your polished dissertation to your committee chair and members for their review two weeks prior to the preliminary oral. During the examination your committee should recommend any needed revisions and determine if you are ready to schedule the final oral examination.

Step 14:
Schedule and Hold Final Oral Examination

Schedule the final oral. Once you and your advisory committee feel that you are ready for your final oral examination, you should schedule it with the department secretary by submitting the Department Scheduling of Final Oral Examination (Master’s and Doctoral) Form 8c [PDF]. A copy of your dissertation and Form 8c must be submitted to the department at least two weeks before the actual examination. Interested university faculty and students are encouraged to review your dissertation prior to the examination.

Nature of exam. Any interested member of the university community may attend your final oral exam. Although the format may vary, the purpose of the oral exam is to defend your dissertation. Generally you will be asked to make a short presentation of your study and findings, after which members of your committee may ask specific questions about the study. Your committee may also ask questions concerning any of the coursework on your program of study. You may want to consult the chair of your advisory committee prior to the exam to find out about the format he/she intends to follow. An oral exam may take from one to four hours, but they typically last about two hours.

Results of exam. You may either pass, pass with qualification, recess, or fail the examination. The most common result is to pass with qualification, which means that you will be required to make some revisions to your dissertation report and/or strengthen some limited subject matter area(s). Recess means that a second and final oral examination may be formally scheduled no sooner than one month after the recessed examination. Fail means that the degree program is terminated.

Step 15:
Obtain Final Approvals and Signatures

Make final revisions to your dissertation and obtain committee approval signatures.

Submit your dissertation for review and approval to the IP&T Department graduate coordinator and department chair.

Submit your dissertation for review and approval to the dean of the McKay School of Education. The signature pages should be printed on 24 lb. bond paper, while the rest of the dissertation can be printed on regular paper.  Do not punch holes in the signature pages. 

You may anticipate some additional minor revisions based on these reviews. Each of these reviews may take several days to two weeks to complete.

Step 16:
Submit Electronic Thesis or Dissertation (ETD)

The IP&T Department requires that all dissertations be submitted electronically. Consult the ETD web site for detailed instructions for electronic submission. As part of this process you must submit Approval for Submission of Dissertation, Thesis, or Selected Project Form 8d, Parts 1 & 2 [PDF] to the library and pay relevant fees. All members of your advisory committee, the department graduate coordinator, and the McKay School of Education graduate administrator must sign Form 8d. You may use this form to request bound copies of your dissertation. Your committee chair and the department chair may waive their right to bound copies on this same form.

Step 17:

You are invited to participate in the university commencement and McKay School convocation exercises, but you are not required to do so. You may indicate your intention to attend graduation exercises on Form 8a, Application for Graduation. Your diploma will be mailed to you eight to twelve weeks following commencement. The Office of Graduate Studies will furnish a letter of completion on request.