Loyola University Chicago

School of Social Work


Students are encouraged to begin thinking about specific areas for scholarly inquiry early in their course of study and to discuss these interests with full time faculty members who have similar interest and expertise. The educational experiences are planned to facilitate the development of skills of intensive investigation and the application of research techniques to clinical phenomenon, process and/or services. 

A dissertation proposal chairperson may be selected as early as the second semester of study. The selection of the Chairperson is normally a matter of mutual agreement between the student and the faculty member involved.  Once the full dissertation committee is agreed upon by Chairperson, student, and the doctoral director, a form available on the Graduate School website on committee selection, should be completed and submitted for the appropriate signatures within the SSW and the Graduate School.  Copies should be placed in the student’s official file within the SSW and the Graduate School.  

The development of the dissertation proposal is a continuous process of focus, modification, and refinement until the proposal is developed to the satisfaction of the student and the Chairperson as advisor. The advisor may help the student explore an appropriate topic and develop a proposal, and/or assist the student in utilizing other faculty members in the development of proposal. Students are encouraged to confer with faculty during every phase of the process.

Proposal Committee

The proposal committee is composed of three faculty members: the Chairperson and two others. Two of the committee members must be on the regular faculty or Emeriti faculty of  Loyola University Chicago. The Chairperson must be on the full-time faculty or Emeriti faculty of the School of Social Work and must have a doctoral degree. The students may request that the third member be appointed from outside the School (from another university department, or from another university). Request for a committee member from outside the School will be evaluated by the Director of the Doctoral Program. Students will have access to consultation from all proposal committee members in the proposal development process. Students may also avail themselves of other consultants with special knowledge or expertise relative to the proposal. The Dissertation Committee must be formally appointed prior to scheduling a Proposal Hearing. 

It will be the responsibility of the student’s Proposal Chairperson, in concert with the student, to determine when a proposal is sufficiently developed for formal review by the committee. The formal Proposal Hearing will involve the committee and student and may be attended by other special consultants as desired by the student and/or Proposal Chairperson. Only three committee members may vote (See Dissertation Proposal Form on the Graduate School website). Three actions are possible: approval, disapproval, or conditional approval based on the decision and recommendations of the committee. The Committee also shall decide whether a second formal hearing is needed.  If conditional approval is given, the student must re-submit the modified proposal in writing to the committee for final approval.   

Function of the Proposal

The preparation of a dissertation proposal is one of the most important aspects of a successful doctoral education experience. It sets the direction and tone for a major research effort and brings together the creative thoughts of the student and advice of the student’s proposal committee. In essence the proposal is a living document – one which evolves, changes and matures through the research, knowledge, development and committee deliberations with the student.  

Part of the objective which a proposal development process enables is the refinement, clarity of focus, scope and feasibility of the eventual dissertation effort. The student must make appropriate use of faculty advisement by regular consultation with his/her Chairperson as advisor and faculty members who become part of the committee. A balanced perspective regarding the research plan should emerge prior to the formal Proposal Hearing.  

Approval of the dissertation proposal implies the consensus has been reached between the committee members and the student concerning the direction, scope and structure of the planned study. In conducting the dissertation effort, new factors invariably unfold which potentially might alter components of the planned dissertation after the proposal has been approved and which must be reviewed and approved by the committee in a systematic process established by the committee chair. Formal notification of an approved proposal and change process shall be done in writing followed the Proposal Hearing.  

It is critical for the student to recognize that no work can be begun on the proposal, even though it has been approved by the Proposal Committee, until it has received the approval of Loyola University’s Institutional review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects. Approval must also be obtained from any other board or committee for oversight of research on human subjects that may apply to the organizations relevant to the particular study. Copies of all completed forms must be on file in the student’s record. (See the Loyola University Institutional Review Board Policies and Forms on the Loyola website)  

General Dissertation Criteria

The following criteria will be applied by members of the Dissertation Proposal Committee in determining acceptability of the document and in granting final approval:

1. Proposals must have as their ultimate objective a contribution to the knowledge of the practice of social work. This objective may be in the advancement of relevant theory, the improvement of practice, the process out outcomes, or synthesis of existing knowledge. 

2. The formulated research question must be based on informed and extensive knowledge of theory and prior empirical study in the specific area of pursuit.  

3. Clear concepts and well articulated research questions must be formulated. 

4. Client systems, other social systems, and social service delivery systems are acceptable foci for subject matter within the context of practice related problems, situations, interactions, processes, and outcomes. 

5. Replication of other studies is acceptable provided theory is advanced by way of its application to practice. This implies thinking though of alternative explanations of prior findings, the formulation of questions and hypotheses which reflect this thinking and the development of designs which take into account the gaps and/or limitations of prior work.   

6. Proposals must include an acceptable plan and methodology of inquiry. No single research methodology is favored or prohibited. The proposed study may be exploratory, experimental or historic in nature. Appropriate guidelines for the collection of data and data analysis must be stated.  

7. Sample size must be appropriate to the nature of the study, the questions asked and methods to be used. Intensive case study (individual, group or family) and single subject approached may be acceptable. However, replication over series of cases may improve the potential for committee approval as a dissertation topic and would provide opportunity for comparative analysis.  

8. When agency accessibility and cooperation is essential to the study, a plan based on preliminary negotiations when attention to feasibility must be presented. 

9. Proposals must accord with the policies and procedures of all relevant review boards for the Protection of Human Subjects.

Components of a Proposal 

The more thought and thoroughness which the student invests in the proposal, the greater will be the likelihood of a successful dissertation project. A well-presented proposal also should contribute to the formulation of the final product, since rationale, literature, question formulation, methodology and plan of an analysis all are essential ingredients of the document.  

The proposal process also established the style of the working relationship between the student and his/her committee. Implicit in this agreement is the commitment of the committee to guide the student and the commitment of the student to following the negotiated protocols on the conducting the dissertation. It is desirable that each of these components be as clear as possible by the time the dissertation proposal is approved. 

The following elements are essential ingredients of the written proposal and thus may serve as general guidelines to the student: 

A. Statement of the Study Issue

Indicate a tentative title for the project and try to state the central focus of the study in as few words as possible. Then clarify and elaborate the issue so that the reader can grasp the subject of the proposed inquiry. This section should include the core statement of the research question or hypothesis.  

B. Rationale

Indicate the basis for your choice of the study issue and discuss its promise for contributing to knowledge likely to be useful to the profession. Specification must be made concerning the significance of this study to clinical social work practice.  

C. Prior Related Work in the Profession

All good research and scholarship starts with a thorough examination of the literature. Attention should be directed to both theoretical material related to the topic as well as to investigations bearing on it. Rather than cataloging the work of others, present your analysis of it. Make clear its scope and limitations for illuminating the issue of concern. This section should specify why this choice of study is pertinent; i.e., the theoretical basis for this study.  

D. Method

This section should include a description of the general plan of the study. The form of the project and the basis for its choice should be stated. For projects emphasizing collection of empirical data, the plan should identify the data source, sampling techniques, and the size of the sample envisioned. The method by which the student expects to secure and analyze the data and the procedure he/she expects to follow in the research should be outlined. For projects not emphasizing the collection of original data, and outline of the proposed course of work should be sampling plan (e.g. are standardized measures to be used or new data collection instruments developed); and what form(s) if analysis will be applied. If human subjects are involved, plans for approval by the Institutional Review Board on Human Subjects must be developed following university guidelines. 

F. Feasibility

It is important to determine whether the student resources needed for the pursuit of a particular dissertation project is readily accessible. The student must be able to point toward possible impediments in the dissertation plan and have alternatives strategies in mind. The student should have adequate faculty support available for consultation and review. In same instances, pilot studies may be advisable in order to refine instruments, test accessibility to give client populations, refine study questions or experiment with analytical procedures. Approval of proposal will depend in part on feasibility. It is recognized that it may not be possible at the time of the hearing to clarify every part of the plan in full. It is useful however, to attempt to specify as much as possible the plan in its entirety on order to identify the aspects of the plan which cannot be specified, the statement of design should indicate the procedure by which clarity about these matters may be achieved.  

Format of Proposal  

The written format of the proposal must conform to the norms of acceptability in scholarly publications. {Recommended: Kate L. Turabian. A Manual for Writers of Dissertation. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press}. Proposal outlines are found in most research texts. They should be used as guidelines in proposal writing since these organizational formats will not apply to all studies.  

The use of a computer for word processing of dissertation material is required. Students may wish to utilize their personal equipment for this purpose but  also have access to Loyola University Chicago’s resources. 

Completed copies of the proposal must be made available to the Proposal Committee members and participating special consultants at least 10 days prior to the date of the formal proposal hearing. 

Implementation and Completion of Dissertation

The student and his/her Dissertation Committee Chairperson are expected to maintain contact with each other throughout the implementation and completion of the dissertation. While the extent of communication is partially based on the mutual decisions of the individuals involved, decisions relative to the alteration and/or fine tuning of aspects of the research proposal must have the approval of the Chairperson and the committee members. It is therefore, in the student’s best interest to be certain that the Chairperson is fully informed of the developments in the progress of the project and agrees with any of the decisions made regarding the shape of the research.  Ordinarily, at any Proposal Hearing the Committee members agree as to how they will proceed to work with the student and at what point each wishes to be informed. The student should rely on the advice of the chairperson in matters pertaining to the specific involvement of the committee members.  

It is the responsibility of the student to schedule and maintain appointments and the responsibility of the Chairperson to be reasonably accessible and flexible in time commitments. Since it is assumed the Dissertation Committee members are selected on the basis of the substantive contributions they can make, the student should utilize the expertise of the committee members when appropriate.

It is the right of the student to be informed of the expectations of the Dissertation Committee and the evaluation of any work to date. Any student who believes there to be difficulty in communication with his/her Dissertation Committee may petition the Director of the Doctoral Program to call a formal meeting of the Dissertation Committee. Should circumstances necessitate a change in the membership of the Dissertation Committee, the Director of the Doctoral Program will consult with the Chairperson and the student before making any necessary changes.

Dissertation Hearing

It is expected that the Student will work closely with the Chairperson in drafting the report of the completed research. In order to receive acceptance of the final dissertation report, the student must have the approval of the Chairperson and at least one of the other two committee members. The student should work with the Chairperson regarding the manner in which the drafts are shared with the other committee members. 

When the Chairperson is satisfied that a report is reaching a stage at which approval from the Committee is likely, the Chairperson will request the Director of the Doctoral Program to schedule a Dissertation Hearing which will be open to the public and advertised to the students and faculty and the School of Social Work. Following the student’s presentation of an overview of the research project, the committee members will seek any clarification or further information they may require. The audience may also be allowed to ask questions or make comments on the research. The Committee will then take a vote. The Dissertation draft may be rejected, approved in full, or approved upon conditions of satisfactory revisions.  

Dissertations Filing

After the Dissertation Committee has given final approval to the Dissertation, the student must work with the Assistant Dean of the Graduate School to bring the manuscript form into conformance with official specifications and to submit all appropriate abstracts and forms. Students should be aware that they will not be allowed to graduate unless the Assistant Dean is satisfied that they have met all the requirements related to the submissions of the final document.  Again, all instructions related to the number of copies, format, etc. are available on the Graduate School website.