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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dissertation Proposal Help for Capella Ph.D. Students

The dissertation proposal is a critical step towards completing your dissertation, and graduation. Many schools such as Capella University and University of Phoenix have very detailed dissertation proposal forms that must be filled out to get the ball rolling. For example, at Capella’s Harold Abel School of Psychology they have a “Methodology Review Form (MRF).” While we hope that other dissertation students benefit by this writing, I will take sections of Capella’s MRF to discuss the aspects of dissertation proposal “Methodology Review Form (MRF).”

Capella’s Methodology Review Form is essentially a research methods form. For a great book on research methods, I strongly recommend reading John W. Creswell’s (2003) Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches (Sage Publications). In it, Creswell talks about the purpose statement, the research question (MRF: Chapter 1 – Section F) and hypotheses (Chap. 1, Sec. F; Chap. 3, Sec. E, F), quantitative and qualitative methods. His section on Research Design (MRF: Chapter 1, Section E) is a terrific read and a great source to site.

Dissertation Proposal Topic

With all of the research ideas, how is a learner to pick one? You can look at articles that you’ve read and see if there is a twist to that topic. For example, did the research look at the data by ethnic group or socioeconomic status? Did the researchers do a pre-test and a post-test? Is there an interesting intervention that you can test? In short, you don’t have to change the world with your dissertation, just add to the body of knowledge, even in a small way. Find a topic that’s able to be tested. The variables involved in the research should be easily measured. Once you have a topic, you can begin a literature review, which may include how many students hire a dissertation consultant and the length of time students take to complete their dissertation proposal.

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Capella’s Methodology Review Form 1.1: Research Problem (Chapter 1, Sec. A and B)

Maybe the best way to talk about the research problem is to give a research example. I want to know if hiring a dissertation consultant (yes vs. no) affects the time spent (in months) in the dissertation proposal process. A researcher studied the impact of hiring a dissertation consultant on the time (in months) in completing their dissertation proposal. The research problem is simply stated, “Does hiring a dissertation consultant impact the time (in months) a learner spends to complete their Capella dissertation proposal.”

Capella’s Methodology Review Form 1.2 Purpose of the Research (Chapter 1, Sec. C)

In this section, you can state that the purpose of the study is to examine whether, and the extent to which, hiring a proposal consultant (yes vs. no) impacts the amount of time on the dissertation proposal writing approval process.

Capella’s Methodology Review Form 1.3: Significance of the Problem.

(Chapter 1 – Section D)

In this section, the learner should talk about the significance of the research problem. Does it matter how long the dissertation writing process takes? Why would this be important? It could be important to the student because another semester in school could cost thousands of dollars, or impact promotion at their current job. The time it takes to complete the dissertation could impact the student’s quality of life. The time for the dissertation could impact whether the student finishes at all and could indicate good or poor support for Capella, and certainly impact the referrals that Capella receives from the student learners.

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Capella’s Methodology Review Form 1.4: Research Question

(Chapter 1 – Section F)

It may seem repetitive, but in this section, I believe you just rewrite the research question. The review form wants you to list subquestions if you have them.

Capella’s Methodology Review Form 2.1: Research Design

(Chapter 1, Section E)

In the research design section, you want to describe your research as a Pre-experimental design, quasi-experimental design, an Experimental Design, or a Single participant design.

Capella’s Methodology Review Form 2.2: Approach (Chapter 1, Section E)

In this section state the research design of your study. Capella lists designs such as experimental, quasi-experimental, or non-experimental/descriptive. From Creswell’s text (p.168), the design seems to be a Pre-experimental design, Post-test only with non-equivalent groups. This research design is consistent with the research problem because the researcher is comparing group A (those with the intervention, i.e., obtaining a statistical consultant) with group B (a comparison group without the intervention of a statistical consultant).

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Capella’s Methodology Review Form 2.3: Methodological Model (Chapter 1, Sec. E)

This is the section to state the particular quantitative model. For example, the simplest statistical method would be an independent sample t-test. The t-test is the appropriate statistic when examining the differences on a ratio-level dependent variable (i.e., the length of time to complete the dissertation proposal in months) by a categorical-level independent variables (i.e., whether statistical or proposal consulting services were obtained, yes or no).

Capella’s Methodology Review Form 4.4: Sample Size
(Chapter 3, Section C)

In this section, the researcher is to state how many participants are needed (i.e., the desired sample size). Researchers call this a power analysis or statistical power. For each type of statistical test, there is a different sample size required. For example, for a correlation evaluated at the .05 level alpha, with a statistical power of .80 and a large effect size, 28 participants are desired, while for an ANOVA with two levels of the independent variables at the .05 level alpha, with a statistical power of .80 and a medium effect size, 128 participants are desired.

Sample size calculations do not have to be an ominous task. Just realize that different statistical tests require different sample size calculations. We be glad to assist with the sample size for your proposal.

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Capella’s Methodology Review Form 6.5 Statistical Analysis

(Chap. Three, Sec. G)

In this section, describe for the reader the specific statistics you will use in your research. For example, if you are looking for differences on some dependent variable (e.g., time to complete the dissertation proposal) by an independent variable (hiring a dissertation consultant vs. not hiring a dissertation consultant), a t-test would be the appropriate statistic. If your research question seeks to examine whether hiring a dissertation consultant (yes vs. no) predicts the time taken to complete the dissertation proposal, a liner regression is the appropriate statistic. If you want to examine the relationship between time for the proposal and dissertation consultancy (yes vs. no), a point-biserial correlation is the appropriate statistic.

I founded a dissertation research and statistic consulting company, Statistics Solutions, Inc. (, 877-437-8622) 16 years ago; I have a full staff of competent statisticians to address your dissertation proposal and statistical analyses needs. If you like what you read, bookmark the blog and pass it along to your colleagues in your community. I hope this helps you move forward in your academic career, and most importantly, move forward in life. ENJOY!