Dissertation Process

The Dissertation

The research question for the student’s doctoral dissertation shall derive from the student’s focus area and have significance for social work theory, practice, policy or administration. Information on various aspects of the dissertation follows.

Useful dissertation resources are available online at: http://www.grad.illinois.edu/thesis

Dissertation Proposal Guidelines

The dissertation proposal is the product of a careful and searching inquiry into a significant problem or question in the field of social work.  The proposal will be a cogently argued description of the proposed research study, its rationale, and its significance.  It includes a description of the study questions or hypotheses as well as a feasible plan for the research.  In situations where agency cooperation is required, negotiations with participating agencies should have begun.  All proposals must abide by University IRB guidelines.

Criteria for Evaluation of a Dissertation Proposal

  1. A question must fall within the area of social welfare, have significance for the field, and not have been satisfactorily resolved by existing knowledge.
  2. The proposed investigation must be feasible with respect to the candidate’s qualifications to complete the investigation as well as the resources available. This includes the necessary clearances to access data, protection of human subjects, a reasonable time table and available resources to conduct the study.


Specific Guidelines on Developing Dissertation Proposal

Preliminary Dissertation Exam Procedures

The student should work with their advisor and committee to determine an exam date that will work with all member schedules.  Once the date has been set, the student should reach out to the Admission and Records Officer to complete the request for committee assignment and reserve a room for the hearing.  The request for committee assignment form needs to be submitted to the Admissions and Records Officer at least two weeks prior to the hearing.  The Admissions and Records Officer will request the Graduate College Appointment of Doctoral Dissertation Committee form and will give this document to the Advisor the day of the hearing.  Notification regarding the hearing will be sent out on the Faculty and PhD student listservs 1 week prior to the hearing and the day prior to the hearing.  The dissertation proposal must be circulated to the preliminary committee at least 10 working days prior to the hearing.  Students must be enrolled during the semester they complete their preliminary exam.

Preliminary Exam/Hearing

Except for time set aside for committee deliberation, the dissertation preliminary exam is a public hearing. The hearing has two objectives: to examine the candidate’s knowledge of the supporting literature and research methodology, and to contribute to the intellectual and educational climate of the School.

Preliminary hearings begin with the student making a brief (20-25 minute) presentation of the research plan. This presentation is a summary of the proposal. Committee members then question the candidate. Upon completion of committee questioning, non-members of the committee are invited to participate/ask questions. Upon completion of the discussion as determined by the chair, the candidate and the non-committee members present are asked to leave for the committee to deliberate.

The committee has the following choices:

  1. Pass: The candidate may proceed with the dissertation.
  2. Fail: The student may be granted another opportunity to take the examination after completing additional work. The chair will inform the Graduate College if the student should be given a second examination.
  3. Decision Deferred: If this option is chosen:
    • The same committee must re-examine the student,
    • The second exam must occur within 180 calendar days of the date of first exam, and
    • The outcome of the second exam must be pass or fail

The committee must render a unanimous decision and sign the Certificate of Result. Upon completion of the deliberations the candidate is invited back into the room and told of the committee’s action. The committee chair is responsible for turning in the Certificate of Result of Preliminary Examination for the Doctoral Degree to the Admissions and Records Supervisor to be filed in the student’s record and the original sent to the Graduate College. The Dean of the Graduate College shall notify the student in writing of the official outcome of the examination after it has been received and recorded by the Graduate College.

Final Dissertation Defense

The procedure to arrange the final dissertation defense is the same as for preliminary exam. The composition of the final doctoral committee need not be identical to the preliminary examining committee. However, only in unusual circumstances will the composition of these committees differ. The final doctoral committee is responsible for final examination and approval of the student’s dissertation. The final doctoral committee is appointed in the same manner as the preliminary committee. The students must be enrolled during the term in which they take their Final Examination.

  1. The completed dissertation must be submitted to committee members at least 10 days prior to the final examination.
  2. The dissertation must follow the APA editorial style and Graduate College guidelines (in writing the dissertation), free of typographical and spelling errors, and grammatically correct. To facilitate writing the dissertation in compliance with APA editorial style, students are encouraged to use this style in writing all scholarly papers prior to writing the dissertation. The chair of the dissertation committee has the right to refuse any copy that does not meet these requirements and hence to postpone the hearing.
  3. The defense is handled in the same manner as the preliminary hearing. Questions are normally restricted to the findings and analysis, because questions of design are handled at the proposal hearing prior to the beginning of the research.
  4. The committee has the following choices
    1. Pass
      A. Satisfactory
      B. Satisfactory pending revision
    2.  Fail
      A. The student may be granted another opportunity to take the examination after completing additional work. The student may be granted another opportunity to take the examination after completing additional work.

B. The student may not be granted another opportunity.

Composition of Doctoral Committees

The Dean of the Graduate College shall appoint voting members of doctoral committees, upon recommendation of the executive officer of the student’s unit. Upon unit request, the Dean may also appoint non-voting members of doctoral committees, such as an external reader, a faculty member who is on leave off campus, or others who have made a significant contribution to the dissertation but who cannot be present at the examination.

  1. The committee shall consist of a minimum of four voting members, three of whom must be members of the graduate faculty of the UIUC and two of whom must be tenured. One voting member must come from outside the department.
  2. The chair of the committee must be a member of the graduate faculty and a tenure track faculty of the School of Social Work; this includes a member on leave or on zero-time appointment. Committee chairs are typically tenured and/or have had experience directing dissertation research in the past.  A faculty member who resigns or retires from the University is automatically terminated from membership in the graduate faculty unless the unit asks that the faculty member continue for a specific period of time. Emeriti faculty who have been awarded continuing membership on the graduate faculty may chair committees. Co-chairs and co-directors of research may be appointed.
  3. A person who is not a member of the graduate faculty, but who is especially qualified to participate in an examination, may be appointed a voting member of the committee. A brief description of qualifications should be stated on the Request for Appointment of Doctoral Examination Committee. The Graduate College does not defray expenses for committee members to be present at the examination.
  4. All members of a committee need not be present in person at an examination. However, the committee chair, student, and at least one additional voting member of the committee must be physically present for the entire duration of all oral components of the prelim and final examinations. If the committee has more than one chair, all chairs must be physically present; in these cases, no additional voting member is required to be physically present. If not present, committee members must participate in the examination via an appropriate electronic communication technology. Preliminary and final examination committees need not have the same membership or chair.

Procedure of Dissertation Format Check

When you provide your dissertation to your committee for your final dissertation defense, you should give a hard copy to the Admissions & Records Supervisor to have your format checked. You can then incorporate format changes with your final revisions. Once that is completed you will return the dissertation to the Admissions & Records Supervisor for one more final format check. It is recommended that you meet with the Admissions & Records Supervisor in person to discuss her feedback if necessary. Please submit your final draft to the Admissions & Records Supervisor at least 10 working days before the dissertation deposit deadline. Please provide your UIN for dissertation approval.

Students who choose not to deposit their dissertation for a period of time after completion of their final defense must have their dissertation completed with revisions and format changes while still on campus. Once this is done and you are ready to deposit you may send an email to the Admissions & Records Supervisor with your UIN for your dissertation to be approved with the Graduate College.

The School does not provide editing.

Campus Requirements for Dissertation Format

An abstract is required with the title of ABSTRACT.

Please use all capitals and bold for major headings, e.g. ABSTRACT, ACKNOWLEDGMENTS, TABLE OF CONTENTS, CHAPTER HEADINGS, etc. Subheadings should be in upper and lower case. All chapters must say CHAPTER 1, etc.; single space and then the next line should be the title of the chapter. Center all chapter headings; multiple line headings need to be single spaced. Use bold, italics or underlines for subheadings. These need to be easily seen on the page. Do not center all of your subheadings.

The title “TABLE OF CONTENTS” should be in bold print, but no other bold lines, italics or underlining should appear on the table of contents. If there are two lines to a heading, single space and line up the second line of text with the first word of the heading; make sure the first line does not overlap the page numbers. Main level headings from within chapters should be listed in the Table of Contents, do not include lower level headings in the Table of Contents (per Grad College request). Please use this format CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION on the Table of Contents only.

The list of References should start on a new page using the heading of REFERENCES. Please make sure references are single-spaced and double-spaced between and that you do not split the reference citation on separate pages: if some of the lines automatically roll to the next page you must force the rest of the citation to that page with a page break. All line spacing needs to be consistent throughout the dissertation

Social Work Abstracts

Students are encouraged to prepare an abstract of their dissertation for Social Work Abstracts. You may obtain the necessary forms from the PhD Program Director.

School Requirements for Depositing a Dissertation

Follow the Graduate College guidelines thoroughly when formatting. Your dissertation must be complete (meaning that it should include your table of contents, etc.) before it will be checked. Turn in your dissertation to the Admissions and Records Supervisor at least 7 days prior to the Graduate College semester deadline to be reviewed.  You need not have all of your revisions from your final committee completed to have the format checked.

Three Article Dissertation Option

PhD students also have the option of completing a three-article dissertation in lieu of the traditional dissertation. Guidelines for completing a three-article dissertation are provided below:

  1. The dissertation should be comprised of a minimum of three articles. The articles should form a cohesive body of work that supports a theme or themes that are expressed clearly in the introduction of the dissertation (Chapter 1). The need for three articles (as opposed to just two) should be clear and approved by the dissertation committee, and not merely represent minor tweaks of a work that would be more appropriately reported in just one or two articles.
  2. A maximum of one article published or accepted for publication prior to the proposal defense may be included. This article must represent work undertaken while the student is enrolled in the PhD program and be approved by the committee at the time of the student’s proposal defense. This article must be connected to the theme or themes of the dissertation. If a previously published article is approved by the committee, the student will be responsible for securing necessary permissions from the copyright holder and other authors.
  3. It is expected that the three articles submitted for the defense are of publishable quality. Articles may have been published before the defense. However; if so, the student must obtain copyright permission from the publishing journal to include the article in his/her dissertation. Doing so is required by U.S law. When asking for permission to include the article in the dissertation, students should notify the journal editor that the dissertation will be made available on-line.
  4. At least two of the articles should be based on data that are analyzed by the student. If the third article is conceptual in nature, or based on a synthesis of the literature, it must be connected to the theme or themes of the dissertation without overlapping heavily with the contents of either article. Whether the extent of any overlap is excessive will be determined by the student’s dissertation committee.
  5. A certain amount of overlap is acceptable. For example, portions of the literature review may need to be cited in the various articles because it delineates the entire historical background of the study’s focal topic. Redundancy can be carefully reduced by citing one’s own work. However, self-plagiarism – reusing one’s own previously written work or data in a ‘new’ written product without letting the reader know that this material has appeared elsewhere – is prohibited.
  6. Journals to which articles are being submitted prior to a successful dissertation defense must be approved by the dissertation committee. Serving as an “editorial board” for the student, the committee will help select journals that will challenge the student and offer a reasonable chance of publication success.
  7. Students must be first author on all articles. As first authors, students are responsible for development and articulation of a concept or idea for research, development of a proposal to pursue this idea, development of a research design, conducting research and analysis, writing major portions of a manuscript, designing an intervention or assessment (if relevant), and interpreting results. No other students can be co-authors on any of the articles. The student may identify dissertation committee members who have made a significant contribution as co-authors on specific articles. Co-authors must be identified at the student’s proposal defense. The article and the role of the co-authors must be presented and approved by all members of the dissertation committee. Any changes in co-authorship must be approved by the student’s committee.
  8. If an article is rejected by a journal during the dissertation process, the student may submit to another journal approved by the dissertation committee. In the case of a revise and resubmit during the dissertation process, any changes to the article must be approved by the dissertation committee. Co-authorship will not be changed for a revise and resubmit.
  9. If an article is rejected by a journal after the successful completion and defense of the dissertation, co-authorship decisions that were made during the dissertation process will no longer be in effect. Submission to a new journal will be at the sole discretion of the PhD graduate. Also after the successful dissertation defense, any new submission or re- submission, including changes in the authorship or article content, will be at the discretion of the PhD graduate.
  10. If the journal reviewers suggest modifications to any of the 3 submitted manuscripts prior to the dissertation defense, your plan for addressing those suggestions should be shared with your dissertation committee members and approved by all of them before you enact the changes. Changes can be made to any of the 3 manuscripts provided that the dissertation committee members are aware of and agree to the changes being made and their rationale. Students may opt to defer changes requested by a journal to which they have submitted an article until their dissertation has been successfully defended.
  11. The dissertation must adhere to an outline approved by the dissertation committee. The outline must include the function of each presented section. Alterations to the outline must be submitted to and approved by the dissertation committee.
  12. Copyright issues frequently arise with previously published material. The students need to obtain permission to duplicate copyrighted material (and, possible, multiple author releases). Students should check with the Graduate College to make sure they are in compliance with University dissertation guidelines and copyright regulations (http://www.grad.illinois.edu/thesis/faq).
  13. Students must submit their manuscripts at least 2-3 weeks prior to the defense for a preliminary review.
  14. Students should decide as early as possible, in concert with their dissertation chair, whether to pursue the 3-disseration format. However, they may switch from one format to the other at any time provided that their dissertation committee approves the switch.

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