Dissertation Prospectus Sample Literature Review

Thesis and Dissertation Forms (English Dept. Graduate Studies Office)

Resources for Thesis & Dissertation Writing(list compiled by WPA-listserv)

What is the Prospectus?

The prospectus, either for the M.A. Thesis or Ph.D. Dissertation, is a written plan for the research the student intends to complete. At the Ph.D. level, students must defend the prospectus in an oral examination after passing the Ph.D. exams.

Goal: To position yourself within an academic conversation and define the methods for your research project. Your stance and voice dominate the entire discussion, including the literature review. Entering the conversation, or facilitating a new one, is the key, and having questions to ask, if not answers you hope to find.

Length: 20 – 25 pages of text, including a working bibliography, chapter outline, and timeline for completing the work.


  1. Why this research is important or necessary
  2. Focus of the project and / or specific research questions addressed by the research
  3. What you hope to discover, presented as a thesis statement or a hypothesis

Literature Review: Much of the prospectus should review the scholarly literature, whether divided into topical / thematic sections or as an ongoing discussion from theory to application, specific analyses to general reception, historical contexts to specific texts, or another organizational structure.

Methodology: How do you plan to conduct the research? Describe theoretical frameworks or the philosophy that underlies your methods. Then name your specific methods for analysis and/or data collection. Many projects use a mix of specific methods and draw upon specific inspirational sources as models.

Chapter Outline: Parse out the sections of the dissertation project based on specific texts, theoretical frameworks, themes, or topics to be addressed. Having logically distinct sections for completing your work allows you to shift from one section to another if you become stuck.

Schedule: A basic plan for when you plan to complete each section of work. This plan can be as detailed as the writer or committee thinks is necessary.

Working Bibliography: List the sources that directly support the literature review and models for your methodology, but include everything consulted at this point, not just those cited in the prospectus. Some projects separate the sources into sections that indicate which sources supports specific themes, topics or methods.

The Oral Defense (for dissertations): In a separate document, outline your talking points, select visuals or other examples, and anticipate challenges during the research process. Plan to explain these in a 15- or 20-minute presentation during the prospectus defense. A tentative writing schedule will be discussed so that the committee knows how the project will proceed and who will read which sections. You might end with questions or concerns to offer the committee.

Explanation from a Sample Dissertation Prospectus

Introduction sets the stage by identifying a “lack of conversation” and “dissonance” among scholarly discussions from Writing Center studies, Composition Pedagogy, professionalization literature, and pedagogical practices when she chose to focus on the lived professional and educational experiences of graduate student tutor / teachers. The writer first examines issues of definitions and words that fail to encompass the complexity of graduate students within their multiple professional identities and pedagogical spaces. This discussion leads to a key term, “reflexive reflection” that incorporates discourse communities and complicates current descriptions of what we think of as “good” pedagogical theory and goals.

Literature Review: Still within the Introductory section, these definitional research problems lead immediately to a review of literature about discourse communities and communities of practice in order to gather the strands or fragments that will be brought together in this new conversation about a subject that challenges and disrupts the individual bodies of scholarly conversation. The writer’s strategy is an organic one, with the literature discussed throughout her argument, that then forces scholars to talk to one another in a kind of musical retuning into counterpoint harmony. The introductory section offers many of the specific argument moves in miniature, within and against the literature, which will be developed and expanded by the empirical evidence collected during the research process.

Methodology makes the case for lore as a flexible, experience-based, narrative methodology and takes on the scholarly debates about lore’s value and how it supports the goals of the project to examine reflection and reflexivity in more fluid, community-based ways. The writer then moved into describing the specific methods, which are the specific tools for empirical and ethnographic teacher research: surveys, interviews, teaching portfolios and observations. Each stage of data collection is described and the planned sequence builds toward the necessary triangulation of data and the goals of building an interpretation.

Chapter Outline reminds us that the dissertation will take on scholarship throughout as it builds an argument based on the evidence collected about graduate student tutor/teachers. The Introductory chapter will answer the broad research questions by using a literature review as well as some of the research results. This chapter and all the subsequent chapters are driven by specific research questions that have data collection tools associated with them. Here’s where we find a specific statement of what the writer is planning to find, stated as hypotheses that will tested and proven by the data collected:

I believe these questions will lead me to find that graduate students develop the ability to reflexively reflect on teaching practices when they have a tutoring background and that teaching informs tutoring practices as tutoring informs teaching practices. Further, this study seeks to establish that a greater depth of professional development occurs when graduate students embody spaces of teaching and tutoring, as opposed to embodying one or the other throughout their graduate experience. Finally, the data collected will, theoretically, illustrate that a greater understanding of composition theory and pedagogy occurs when graduate students also act as tutors and also that a greater understanding of practitioner-researcher methodology occurs when graduate students function as both teacher and tutor during the graduate experience.

The subsequent chapters are thematic in terms of these expected findings: Teacher Education Theory, Teaching and Tutoring Practices Informing Each Other, Professional Development, Enactment/Embodiment of Multiple Spaces, and Implications for Research.

Example of a short literature review in sports medicine is available here.

 An example of a student literature review in psychology and lecturer's comments is here.


 A literature review in a proposal to investigate  how  indigenous peoples choose  plant medicines.

 An example of a literature review on language and gender with annotated comments.




Below is an example of a lit. review from the social sciences

See the following link.

From Vaughan Dickson and Tony Myatt, “The Determinants of Provincial Minimum Wages in Canada,” Journal of Labor Research 23 (2002), 57-68:

In the last few years, prompted largely by the work of Card and Kruger (1995), numerous articles on the employment effects of minimum wage legislation have appeared. This renewed interest in how minimum wages affect employment leads naturally to another question: What factors determine the minimum wage? Despite the ubiquity of minimum wage legislation, this question has received surprisingly little attention. One reason may be that in the U.S. the minimum wage is legislated at the federal rather than at the state level of government. Since this federal wage changes only occasionally, most U.S. studies have been limited to cross-sectional studies that focus on how the characteristics of the states, and the party affiliation of legislators, influence the vote on proposed changes in the federal minimum wage (Silberman and Durbin, 1970; Kau and Rubin, 1978; Bloch, 1980; Seltzer, 1995).[1] However, as pointed out by Baker et al. (1999), Canada offers some unique advantages for minimum wage studies: Since the Canadian minimum wage is under provincial, not federal jurisdiction, there has been substantial variation in the level and timing of changes in the wage across provinces, thus providing the opportunity to explore a relatively rich panel data set. To date, only one... study (Blais et al., 1989) has investigated the determinants of provincial minimum wages using a pooled data set extending across eight years (1975 to 1982) and nine provinces....

As noted, U.S. studies have usually been cross sectional and have examined what variables influenced congressional voting for increases in the federal minimum wage.[3] For example, Bloch (1993) related state wage levels and proportions of unionized employees to votes by senators to amend the 1977 and 1989 Federal Labor Standards Act and thereby increase the minimum wage. For each year he found only the union variable increased the probability of an in-favor vote - and only for Republicans, since Democrats almost universally support minimum wage increases. An earlier contribution is Silberman and Durden (1976) who examined congressmen's votes for the 1973 amendment to increase the minimum wage. Using variables for each congressional district, they found larger political contributions by unions and larger proportions of low-income families increased the probability of an affirmative vote, while larger campaign contributions from small business and larger proportions of teen-age workers reduced the probability. Kau and Rubin (1978) expanded Silberman and Durden's analysis to five separate cross sections covering five legislated increases in the federal minimum wage between 1949 and 1974. They found that higher state wages and a measure of the congressperson's liberalism were always positively and significantly associated with votes for, while percentage of blacks in the state was negatively related, but not significant, in all the cross sections. Unionization in the state's work force and political party of the legislator were never significant; the latter result probably occurred because northern and southern Democrats typically voted on opposite sides.

More recently, Seltzer (1995) explored support in both the House and Senate for the 1938 introduction of the federal minimum wage law. He found variables representing small business and low-wage workers decreased support for the bill, while ideology (liberals for, conservatives against) was also important. To anticipate future problems, Seltzer emphasized that not only are some variables inevitably theoretically ambiguous (a low-wage worker may rationally support or oppose minimum wage increases depending on whether job loss is expected), but also the coefficients on some variables must be interpreted cautiously. For example, should the coefficient for a variable measuring teen workers in the labor force be interpreted as their demand for higher wages, or does the coefficient better reflect the demands of well-organized firms that disproportionally hire younger workers?

In contrast to the U.S., Canada presents a better opportunity to study variations in minimum wages across jurisdictions and time, so it is perhaps surprising that the only study, to our knowledge, that examines Canadian minimum wage determination is Blais et al. (1989). They related the minimum wage, measured as the minimum wage divided by the average manufacturing wage, to the percentages of union workers, women, and 15 to 19-year-olds in the labor force, the current year unemployment rate, the inflation rate, the percentage of employment in small firms (less than 20 employees), and a "convergence" variable that measures average manufacturing wages in a province divided by average wages in Canada. This model was tested with ordinary least squares for a pooled sample covering nine provinces for the years 1975 to 1982, with no fixed effects for provinces or years. All variables had negative coefficients that were significant at the 5 percent level, except for the union variable which was, unexpectedly, negative and insignificant....


Abizadeh, Sohrab and John A. Gray. "Politics and Provincial Government Spending in Canada." Canadian Public Administration 35 (Winter 1992): 519-33.

Akyeampong, Earnest B. "Working for Minimum Wage." Perspectives on Labour Income. Statistics Canada Catalogue 75-001E (Winter 1989): 8-20. 

Baker, Michael, Dwayne Benjamin, and Schuchita Stanger. "The Highs and Lows of the Wage Effect: A Time-Series Cross-Section Study of the Canadian Law." Journal of Labor Economics 17 (April 1999): 318-50. 

Blais, Andre, Jean-Michel Cousineau, and Kenneth McRoberts. "The Determinants of Minimum Wage Rates." Public Choice 62 (July 1989): 15-24. 

Bloch, Farrell E. "Political Support for Minimum Wage Legislation: 1989." Journal of Labor Research 14 (Spring 1993): 187-90. 

Card, David and Alan Kruger. Myth and Measurement: The New Economics of the Minimum Wage. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995. 

Cox, James C. and Ronald L. Oaxaca. "The Political Economy of Minimum Wage Legislation." Economic Inquiry 20 (October 1982): 533-55. 

Fortin, Pierre. "Unemployment Insurance Meets the Classical Labor Supply Model." Economics Letters 14 (1984): 275-81. 

Kalt, Joseph P. and Mark A. Zupan. "Capture and Ideology in the Economic Theory of Politics." American Economic Review 74 (June 1984): 279-300. 

Kau, James B. and Paul H. Rubin. "Voting on Minimum Wages: A Time-Series Analysis." Journal of Political Economy 86 (April 1978): 337-42. 

Mueller, Dennis. Public Choice II . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. 

Peltzman, Sam. "Toward a More General Theory of Regulation." Journal of Law and Economics 19 (August 1976): 211-40. 

Salop, Steven C. and David T. Scheffman. "Raising Rivals Costs." American Economic Review 73 (May 1983): 267-71. 

Seltzer, Andrew J. "The Political Economy of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938." Journal of Political Economy 103 (December 1996): 1302-42. 

Silberman Jonathan I. and Garey C. Durden. "Determining Legislative Preferences on the Minimum Wage: An Economic Approach." Journal of Political Economy 84 (April 1976): 317-29. 

Simon, R.J. Public Opinion in America, 1936-1970. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1974. 

Sobel, Russell S. "Theory and Evidence on the Political Economy of Minimum Wage." Journal of Political Economy 107 (August 1999): 761-85. 

Stigler, George. "The Theory of Economic Regulation." Bell Journal of Economics and Management Science 2 (Spring 1971): 3-21.




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