Guidelines for Dissertation Prospectus
The dissertation prospectus, which must be submitted by week five of the Fall quarter, is
generally a short document that frames the purpose and scope of the dissertation project,
sets it in the context of relevant scholarship, and provides a chapter outline and a working
Dissertation: Queer Performance in San Francisco
Possible Qualifying Fields: Theories of the Body in Representation; Queer
Performance History; a specific performance; Regional theatre history of
Dissertation: Performing Ourselves, Performing Ethnography: Construction of
Self in Latino/a Cultural Production
Possibly Qualifying Fields: Latino/a Performance History; Ethnography and its
critique; Race, Ethnicity and Identity.
The dissertation prospectus is a kind of scholarly writing that can take various
forms, marked by different disciplinary conventions, and by the fact that the document
may serve multiple purposes and be read by different audiences. The prospectus is not a
contract about what you will include or prove in your dissertation. It is, rather, an attempt
to persuade your various readers (and perhaps yourself) that you have an intellectually
significant project that you are capable of completing in approximately two years of
research and writing from the date the prospectus is approved. The most immediate
readers of your prospectus will be your Major Professor and the other members of your
Dissertation Committee. They will help you to formulate your topic and will also help
you shape the prospectus through the draft process. Very few people create a prospectus
without several drafts and considerable feedback from others, so don’t expect to do the
prospectus over a weekend close to the deadline. And don’t be offended or discouraged if
your committee members ask for revisions: that‟s their job!
The closest generic relative to the dissertation prospectus these days is the
fellowship or grant application, a kind of writing that you may well be doing throughout
your career. You need to write your prospectus as you would a grant proposal, to address
not only the specialists in your area who sit on your committee, but also other faculty
members, both in your department and potentially, in other departments and other
universities, who may read your prospectus in the course of evaluating not only the
dissertation but of assessing it for fellowship aid. Some version of the prospectus may
well form part of your job application process, so it is useful to think from the start about
defining your project for readers who may not know your special field as well as you and
your committee members presumably do.
To be a persuasive intellectual document, your prospectus will probably need to
be at least 10 to 15 pages long and may be as long as 20-25 pages, and should include the
following things, as well as any others you may decide to include for the persuasive
purposes outlined above.
1) A statement of your thesis or hypothesis, either in the form of proposals
or of questions you plan to address in the project. This part of the prospectus usually
comes first and should not be a lengthy rehearsal of your current ideas about your topic.
Instead it needs to clearly state your argument, and/or the main problems/questions/
issues you hope to address with the project.
2) A discussion of how this thesis or set of questions is situated in the
field of critical inquiry. This part of the prospectus should include some account of your
own critical approach and of how you will be extending or revising others’ work in the
course of contributing something new (synthetic and/or analytic or both) to debates that
other scholar-practitioners-teachers have been formulating during the recent past. How
you define the „recent past‟ of your field of critical inquiry will depend in part on the
nature of your topic and of course on whether the field is a traditional (albeit evolving) or
an emergent one. A rule of thumb, however, is to do a search for articles and books
related to your topic that have been published during the last fifteen years. Through such
a search – perhaps along with other kinds of search tactics suitable to your topic – and
through your Major Professor’s, and your committee’s, bibliographic aid, you should be
able to educate yourself about the longer history of your topic by the time you write the
final draft of your prospectus. The interdisciplinary and contemporary nature of much
research in our department, means that your will need to educate your potential readers
about the field as well as about your planned contribution to it.
3) A discussion of your plan of research. What tasks are you going to need
to accomplish, in what order, to advance your thesis or explore your hypothesis? Will you
need to read or look at materials that are not easily available – particularly, will you need
to attend and annotate performances, or search for visual and audio material that might be
difficult to come by? Do you need special collections abroad? Do you need to interview
or consult people who aren’t at Davis, and if so, are you going to need special funds for
travel and/or for electronic communications? If you are including practice as research
elements that involve new work, what provision will you need to make for funding?
What venues will the production use, and how will you find and negotiate them? What
production organization will you need to undertake, and how will you schedule it?
4) A description (provisional) of how you plan to organize your
argument. The usual way of doing this is to suggest a list of chapters, but other tactics
are possible. Practice as research elements should be fully integrated into the argument of
the thesis, and organization should demonstrate how it works sensibly into the schedule
5) Many elements of the presentation of practice as research will need to
be negotiated with the Major Professor and Dissertation Committee: it is vital for the
resulting agreements to be fully described in your prospectus.
6) Reference sources: A bibliography that includes both works you have
already read or consulted and works you know you will need to read, as well as a
theatre/dance/performance-ography that includes major performance influences on your
thinking as well as works with which you know you will need to become acquainted, as
your dissertation progresses. This background need not be exhaustive, nor exhausting, to
prepare, but to be a persuasive part of your prospectus, it needs to be an intelligent survey
into the performances, writings and commentary relevant to your topic.
Use a recognized style-guide for the format of your notes, bibliography and
theatre/dance-ography, such as the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. For
preparation of the written dissertation itself, see “Instructions for Preparing and
Submitting Theses and Dissertations for Higher Degrees‟ on the web under UCDavis