Social and Political Data Science: Introduction

EPPS GROW series

Karl Ho

School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences

University of Texas at Dallas

How to write dissertation proposal

Speaker bio.


Dissertation proposal is the first step of the formal dissertation process. Starting well is the good indicator of success not just in finishing an academic document but more importantly later career developments.

This presentation gives simple suggestions and general directions of preparing and starting this writing process. Much of these suggestions are based on the author's personal experience as an advisor of graduate studies and from sitting on dissertation committees in different roles.


In general, four steps:

  1. Planning

  2. Research

  3. Writing

  4. Defense                                                  


  • Next steps                                                               

  • Tools


  1. Most Important: Invite your chair

    1. Build a trust-based relationship with your professors

    2. Start talking about research with as many professors as possible

    3. LISTEN for "data collection"

    4. Write formal invitation


  1. Who is your chair?

    1. Professor and instructor

    2. Mentor

    3. Advisor

    4. (Coauthor)

    5. Professional vs. Personal                               


  1. Schedule regular meetings with chair

    1. Observe professional etiquette

      1. Email correspondence

        1. Appropriate

        2. Timely

        3. Regular

      2. Build professionalism (start thinking of whom you will become, "already but not yet")


  1. Schedule regular meetings with chair

    1. Produce content weekly

    2. Make in-person meeting                                     


  1. Find a topic

    1. Start from something small and unnoticed

    2. Read

    3. Investigate


  1. Literature

    1. Database approach vs. memory approach

    2. Cite, cite smart and cite well

    3. Take notes, annotation


  1. Scaling

    1. "Prototype"   

      1. Build something that works, then "scale"

    2. Focus

    3. Originality                                                       



    1. Use all tools and techniques

    2. Read multiple times

      1. Style manual (e.g. how to cite, how to build reference list, how to use numbers, sentences)

      2. Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White (also available here)

    3. Do everything you can, e.g. attend workshop, start a project to build writing skills                     



    • Personal suggestions (particularly for international students):
      • Avoid long sentences (KISS)
      • Avoid personal
        • e.g. use this study instead of "I"
      • Use active voice
      • Pay attention to numbers use nine instead of 9.
    • Aesthetics: simple, clean, consistent


2. Unforgivable mistakes                                                 

  1. Spelling

  2. Grammar

  3. Missing page numbers

  4. Formatting

  5. In a nutshell, do your own review and revise multiple times 

    1. Don't let your chair frown on your work


  1. Do your own paperworks 

    1. It is your responsibility, not your chair

    2. Know the rules (OGE, EPPS Dean's office)

  2. Leave ample room to committee members to read and advise

    1. Schedule defense only when your proposal is ready or only need minor revisions

    2. Send to committee at least two weeks in advance

    3. Schedule individual meetings with members at least one week in advance to the defense

Next steps forward

  1. Repeat step 1

    1. Meet with chair regularly
    2. Produce content weekly
    3. Observe OGE deadlines and plan for final oral defense

Sample Structure I (adapted from UCLA)

  1. Title

  2. Abstract

  3. Introduction

  4. Motivation/Research Statement

  5. Hypotheses

  6. Review of Literature

  7. (Theoretical/Conceptual Framework)

  8. Data

  9. Methods

  10. (Preliminary Results)

  11. (Significance/Implications)

  12. Timeline

  13. References

Sample Structure II (UTD Three papers)

Each paper:

  1. Title

  2. Abstract

  3. Introduction

  4. Hypotheses

  5. Review of Literature

  6. Data

  7. Methods

  8. Significance/Implications or Takeaways

  9. Timeline

  10. References

The three papers need be coherent while each be independent.


UTD Office of Graduate Education Guidelines:

Preparation of Dissertation and Thesis

Terrell, Steven R. Writing a proposal for your dissertation: Guidelines and examples. Guilford Publications, 2022.

Writing the Social Sciences Dissertation Proposal, UCLA Graduate Writing Center



Guest speaker


GROW: How to write dissertation proposal

By Karl Ho

GROW: How to write dissertation proposal

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