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Thesis Proposal

The thesis topic follows from the literature research conducted for the Comprehensive Exam. This means that most students develop a feasible study question in conjunction with the analysis of the research literature examined for the Comprehensive Exam. Consultation with the supervisor enables the student to refine the question and prepare a Thesis Proposal.

In developing the thesis study question and method(s), the student should give careful attention to the time required to complete the project. The student should estimate that 3 to 4 months may be necessary to develop the proposal, select and pretest data collection instruments, obtain human ethics approval, and negotiate suitable sites for sample selection and implementation of the data collection procedures. A draft of the Thesis proposal is submitted to the supervisor for feedback and revision prior to convening a meeting of the Supervisory Committee for review and approval of the Thesis Proposal.

The supervisor is expected to provide feedback on the draft of the Thesis Proposal within a 2-week time frame.


Thesis Proposal Format

Students are required to indicate whether they choose to do one of the following Thesis

1. A Traditional Dissertation (a dissertation with chapters)


2. Three Paper Dissertation

The student should specify the selection of the thesis format in the Thesis Proposal. Each
option is described in the next section. The proposal should not exceed 20 pages, double-spaced, excluding references and work plan.

In addition, the title page of the Thesis Proposal must include the following statement:

“This Thesis Proposal is an independent piece of work submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements to be met for a doctoral thesis in social work.”


Thesis Proposal Outline

1. Title: The thesis title should give a clear indication of the topic being studied.

2. The Problem: A description of the study problem includes specification of the study question(s), justification for their selection vis-à-vis previous research, and the potential relevance of addressing these questions for the advancement of social work knowledge.

3. Theoretical Framework and Background Information: The major theoretical premises that underlie the problem are articulated, and the salient concepts are defined. Following a concise, critical review of the theoretical and research literature, a theoretical model or framework is proposed in support of the selected research question.

4. Design and Methods: Research questions and/or hypotheses are formulated clearly such that all study constructs and/or variables and their anticipated relationships are
specified. The selected research design is detailed (survey, archival, descriptive, interpretive, experimental, etc.). The reasons for selecting the design are given, including its merits and limitations. Where applicable, the operational definitions of each study variables are defined.

Participant and the sampling procedures are specified including the inclusion/exclusion criteria for study participants, justification for selecting the population, or database, from which the sample is to be drawn. Sample size, or extent of database, is specified and justified.

Data collection methods are described in detail. Interview schedules, procedures for analyses of databases, coding methods, recording methods, instruments, or any other proposed data collection techniques are to be described, including the psychometric properties where applicable.

5. Data Analysis: The methods of analyses appropriate for the study design are described. The specified procedures are consistent with the nature and quality of the data. Pilot testing of the analytic procedures may be required when these procedures have not been previously tested. The results of the pilot study are reported, including the identification of potential problems.

6. References: Only items cited in the text are included.

7. Work Plan: At the end of the proposal the student attaches an addendum, which provides a detailed work plan, including estimates of the time needed to complete each phase of the proposed research.



Assessment of Thesis Proposal

The supervisor, as the Chair of the Committee, and the Supervisory Committee members have the responsibility of adjudicating the merits of the Thesis Proposal. The student proceeds to the collection of data and preparation of the thesis only after approval of the Thesis Proposal has been obtained from the Supervisory Committee.


Thesis Proposal Defense Meeting

Following revisions of the Thesis Proposal based on feedback from the supervisor, a Thesis
Proposal defense meeting of the Supervisory Committee is convened. The student submits copies of the Thesis Proposal to each member of the Committee at least 2 weeks prior to the proposal defense. The student attaches to each copy of the proposal the Thesis Proposal Assessment Criteria Form.

The Thesis Proposal defense meeting is required in adjudicating the merits of the student’s Thesis Proposal. To obtain candidacy, students are required to complete their Thesis Proposal defense by the end of the third year.

The following criteria will be considered for assessing the Thesis Proposal during the proposal defense:

To what extent is the research question focused and researchable?

  • To what extent has a coherent and relevant theoretical model been developed in support of the research question?
  • To what extent are the design and methods appropriate and clearly articulated?
    • Are the sampling strategies and other sources of information well thought out and appropriate?
    • Are the information-collecting strategies clearly stated, including psychometric properties where appropriate?
    • Are the planned analyses of the collected information clearly outlined and appropriate?
  • Is the proposal work plan feasible?

During the meeting, the student is expected to present a summary of the Thesis Proposal to
the committee and respond to questions raised. Based on the assessment of the written proposal and the student’s responses to these questions, the committee makes specific recommendations as to corrections, modifications, or substantial revisions.

The supervisor and committee members record the recommendation on the Thesis Proposal Recommendation Form (Appendix 10). The supervisor writes a Summary Report of the Supervisory Committee’s review of the Thesis Proposal addressing each of the assessment criteria.


Final Submission of Thesis Proposal

The supervisor completes the Summary Report of the Supervisory Committee’s review of the Thesis Proposal. The Summary Report is appended to the completed Thesis Proposal Recommendation Form and copies are sent to the student, each committee member, and the PhD Program Director. The PhD Program Director forwards the reports to the Administrative Coordinator, Admissions and Programs (ACA), Angela Umbrello, for recording on ACORN and filing in the student file.


Possible results of the Supervisory Committee’s review of the Thesis Proposal include:

  • Approved without changes
  • Approved with minor revisions
  • Approved with major revisions
  • Not Approved


If the Thesis Proposal is approved, the student makes corrections or modifications to the proposal as recommended by the Supervisory Committee and submits a copy to the supervisor, each committee member, and the PhD Program Director. Following the initial notification of the approval status, students who receive “Approved with Minor Corrections” are required to submit the final copy within 1 month, and those who receive “Approved with Minor Modifications” are required to submit the final copy within 3 months.

If the Thesis Proposal is not approved and major revisions have been recommended, the student revises the proposal accordingly. The Supervisory Committee is reconvened, and a second adjudication of the proposal proceeds as described above. When final approval has been obtained, the student proceeds with data collection.