The dissertation is an in-depth, lengthy study that demonstrates a student’s knowledge of a specific area in the field of his or her concentration. It should be original research that contributes to the field. Two hundred pages is considered a reasonable minimum length for a doctoral dissertation. For Creative Writing students, the dissertation is a major work of imaginative writing.

The Dissertation Proposal

For students writing scholarly dissertations, the dissertation proposal should describe or explain: the subject students intend to write about; the argument they are proposing; the current state of scholarship and criticism relevant to their project; the scope of their project; the methodology; the anticipated results or conclusions, and the significance of their work. Proposals for scholarly dissertations typically begin with a section addressing many of the areas listed above, such as the project’s general organization, significance, position within related fields and current scholarship, main argument, and tentative conclusions. The proposal should also present a chapter-by-chapter outline of the material to be covered and a description of the methodology to be used to discuss or treat the material. Students must prepare a list of works cited in the proposal, following MLA guidelines.

For students writing creative dissertations, the dissertation proposal should describe or explain: the style of their project (genre, structure, significant features, e.g.) both the creative and critical/theoretical influences or concerns that have shaped the project; their artistic intentions for the project; and the place they see their project occupying in contemporary literary, aesthetic or cultural discourse. Some students choose to include and discuss passages from their work to address these broad areas. Students must include a list of works cited, following MLA guidelines, if applicable.

Dissertation proposals must be 7-12 pages in length, including the bibliography. All proposals must be double spaced with one inch margins and use standard 12 point type. Dissertation proposals should be submitted for approval by the GPC within one semester of achieving dissertator status.

Students may sign a form, kept on file in the English Graduate Studies Office, that permits other students free or limited access to their dissertation proposals. If you would like to see samples of successful dissertation proposals, contact the Graduate Studies Program Associate.

Students in Plan C

  1. The student can choose to write a dissertation proposal and follow all of the steps required of this process, or:
  2. The student can choose to complete a Dissertation Intention Form, which must be approved by the student’s Committee, the Coordinator for Creative Writing, and by the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies. After the creative body of the dissertation is completed, this option commits the student to writing a critical introduction in prose (3000-9000 words) which demonstrates the correlation between the candidate’s academic and creative interests. The critical introduction would follow MLA guidelines for documentation and might discuss, for example: contexts for understanding the artistic body of the dissertation; relation to ongoing literary trends, cultural, and/or historical issues; and articulation of literary/artistic influences. As with the entire dissertation, the critical introduction must meet the Committee’s standards for quality.

The Dissertation Committee

The chair of the doctoral committee (who must be an English Department faculty member) is the student’s advisor/major professor; the chair works closely with the student in preparing the dissertation proposal. The doctoral committee consists of the advisor and at least two other current UWM graduate faculty members.

The doctoral committee consists of three members by the time of the dissertation proposal, and four members by the time of the dissertation defense. In both cases, the majority of the committee must be members of the English Department faculty. For the dissertation defense committee, one faculty member must be from a UWM department other than English. All members of the student’s dissertation committee must be approved for such duty by the Department of English and the Graduate School. For approval of the dissertation committee, the student will complete the Declaration of Committee form available on the Graduate Student Handbook’s online Forms Checklist and Links page. The Associate Chair will inform the student if a committee member is not authorized to be on student dissertation committees.

Note: The student’s Major Advisor has the option to approve a fifth voting member on the dissertation defense committee.

All committee members must also be approved by the Graduate School to be on student committees. Inclusion of committee members’ names on a properly filed ‘Application for Doctoral Defense and Graduation’ constitutes a request for approval by the Graduate School.

The student may also consult with the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies in the Department of English and with the Doctoral Program Specialist at the Graduate School to ensure that proposed committee members are approved to serve on dissertation committees.

Requests for the participation of no more than one non-UWM graduate faculty member (including retired or former UWM graduate faculty members) on a dissertation defense committee must be approved by the Associate Chair of Graduate Studies. Students must consult the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies if they want to make such a request, and must submit a curriculum vitae for any proposed external committee members who are not former UWM faculty. The Graduate School must also approve requests for dissertation co-directors, where one director does not currently have UWM graduate faculty status. The Associate Chair for Graduate Studies makes these requests on the student’s behalf.

In extremely rare cases, an untenured faculty member with graduate faculty status may be permitted to direct a dissertation. A student wishing to make such a request must petition the GPC for an exception to existing policy; GPC approval is required, and all decisions are on a case-by-case basis only. Graduate School approval is also necessary. Consult the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies for further information.

The Approval Process

When the student’s committee is ready to approve the Dissertation Proposal, the student obtains a Dissertation Proposal Cover Sheet or a Dissertation Intention form from the Forms Checklist and Links page and signs it. The student’s committee members will also sign the Cover Sheet indicating their approval. The student delivers to the Program Associate for Graduate Studies the original Cover Sheet, attached to the original Proposal, and also emails a digital copy of the entire package

The Dissertation Proposal will be placed on the agenda for consideration at the next GPC meeting.

Should the GPC approve the Proposal, the student will complete a Doctoral Dissertation Proposal Hearing Form on the Graduate School’s Doctoral Milestones system. The Major Professor and the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies will then approve the Doctoral Dissertation Proposal Hearing Form in the Doctoral Milestones system.

The GPC can reject proposals and return them for further work. If it does so, the GPC must explain to the student and the student’s advisor why it rejected the proposal and what revisions are required.

Dissertation Formatting

Students should obtain a copy of the Graduate School’s Master’s Thesis and Doctoral Dissertation Format Requirements, as they must follow Graduate School format requirements for the dissertation. When there is a conflict with MLA guidelines, students should follow the Graduate School format. Formatting information is also available on the Graduate School web page.

Students must also make an appointment with the Doctoral Student Specialist at the Graduate School to ensure that their dissertations conform to the Graduate School formatting requirements. Students should schedule an appointment a few weeks before the defense so that there is time to make any needed corrections.