Preparing for Your Defense:
Dissertation Defense or Dissertation Proposal Defense
©1999 Edward G. Rozycki

updated 8/17/11

See first: Preparing a Dissertation Prospectus

(Transfer your cover sheet, making necessary changes, to this new document.)

IMPORTANT: The form of your proposal is specified in your Doctoral Student Handbook, as is the form of your dissertation. Nothing in this article supercedes those requirements.

What is a defense? A defense of your dissertation or of your dissertation proposal is a performance. Like teaching, lecturing or similar performances, defense performance is enhanced through practice.

Below are a list of questions you should be ready to answer. Practice by having someone ask you them. Help a fellow student out by asking them the questions. Rehearse, if possible with tape recording, or in front of a mirror until it becomes second nature to you. Use your own words as much as possible. Develop several ways to answer the same question. Don't just mechanically recite from memory.

(You should begin trying to answer the questions below from the very start of your undertaking a dissertation -- even before the proposal stage. If you are my doctoral student, prepare for a conference with me by preparing the questions below appropriately to the stage you are in. -- EGR)

You are becoming an authority in a specific realm of knowledge. Enhance that image of authority by taking the trouble to develop a fluid, almost casual way of responding to question about those topics you are supposed to be authoritative about.

For most not technical situations, the image is as important as the knowledge that presumably backs it up. (By practicing your delivery, you firm up your knowledge.)

Practice, practice, practice.

Here are the questions; think of them as an expansion on your cover sheet questions: (some may not be applicable to all dissertations)

1. What is your dissertation about? (What kind of theory is it based on? )

2. What hypotheses are you looking to test? (What are your research questions? How are they operationalized?)

3. What previous related research has been done on your topic? (Give specific citations and explanations from the literature.)

4. Why is your dissertation worth doing? How is it a contribution? Does it have any "practical" use?

5. What brought you to explore this particular topic?

6. What do you think is the most important piece of related research? Explain in detail, i.e. authors' intents, hypothesis, method, findings, weaknesses, etc.

7. Explain your method. (How does it address your research questions?) Are there potential validity problems?

8. What reservations do you have about finding out what you want to know? (What are its limitations?)

9. What general impact, at best, will your dissertation have?

10. How do you see this dissertation as fitting into your career plans?

Convert and expand your cover sheet into an accurate table of contents for your dissertation defense.