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See the academic calendar for policies regarding:

  • Regulations and Procedures Governing the Doctoral Dissertation
  • Doctoral Dissertation Guidelines
  • Thesis Style and Format Guidelines
  • Submission of Approved Master's Thesis or Doctoral Dissertation for Binding

Approval of the Dissertation Advisory Committee

Preliminary Consultation

The comprehensive requirement must be successfully completed before a dissertation topic is approved. However, it is advisable to begin discussing the research topic, even before completing the comprehensive requirement, with anyone whose consultation and advice is thought to be helpful, and to be refining the focus of the dissertation.

Dissertation Advisory Committee

Each Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) must consist of four members:

  • A dissertation advisor (DA), who is a member of the graduate faculty of the university and who normally will be a full-time faculty member in the Faculty of Social Work;
  • Two other members who are members of the graduate faculty of the university. Normally, these members are from the Faculty of Social Work; and
  • One member who is external to the Faculty of Social Work. If this person is not a member of the graduate faculty of the university, he or she must be nominated by the associate dean and approved by the dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies as an associate or special member of the graduate faculty of the university.

After the candidate has completed the requirements for the comprehensive paper, and in consultation with the preferred advisor the student submits the following to the associate dean, PhD Program:

  • The names of the proposed committee members.
  • The topic or title of the proposed dissertation.
  • A brief rationale identifying the expertise that each committee member brings, and the relevance of the composition of the committee as a whole to the student’s topic.
  • If a proposed member is not a member of the graduate faculty, an electronic file of that member’s CV should be included.

The associate dean takes this information to the PhD Admissions, Curriculum and Student Affairs Committee for approval. Once the DAC has been approved by this committee, the student should complete the committee membership/notice of change form, and submit it to the associate dean who sends it to the dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies for approval.

The Dissertation Proposal

The proposal is to be developed in accord with the guidelines that follow. The candidate should prepare copies for each member of the DAC. This general outline is designed to accommodate a broad range of approaches to dissertation research.


The thesis title should give a clear indication of the topic being studied.

Thesis Focus and Rationale

The thesis proposal should include a clear presentation of the topic(s) to be addressed. Depending on the research approach, this may be a statement about the topic(s) to be investigated coupled with the particular questions of interest. Or the statement might focus on specific research questions and, in some cases, hypotheses to be tested. In all proposals, a statement providing the rationale for undertaking this research is to be provided. Normally, this would include a discussion of its likely contributions to social work knowledge as well as its potential benefits for social work practice, policy and/or other applications.

Theoretical and Conceptual Foundations

In most instances, the proposal should include a discussion of the initial theoretical or conceptual framework/s that will guide the research. This should be based on an analysis and integration of the appropriate literature and research. For more emergent research approaches, the discussion should present the initial concepts guiding the research and a discussion of when and how a more complete theoretical or conceptual framework/s is to be developed.

In many instances, it will be relevant to include information about the contexts influencing the topic(s) to be investigated (e.g., prevalence of events, common explanations of events, historical evolution, policies, service delivery networks, organizations, program models, norms and expectations, etc.). Generally, the literature analysis helps to frame the student’s approach to the questions / issues that are being examined in the research study. In many instances, the presentation of the theoretical and conceptual foundations(s) in the dissertation proposal would extrapolate from and add to the material developed in the comprehensive paper.


An explanation and rationale for the general research approach should be provided (e.g. participatory action research, experimental, feminist, ethnographic, etc). Information should be provided about the nature and requirements of the general research approach to be used. This should include a discussion about why this general approach is appropriate for the research focus and research questions.

The proposal should describe the research design(s) for the investigation: where and when information is to be gathered. It should also specify the sources of information for the study (e.g. documents, individual and group respondents, researcher observations etc.). It should identify the sampling strategies to be used to select sources of information in the study. Methods for gathering the information should be described. Where appropriate, it should provide an initial plan for analyzing the data. The connections between these methodological considerations and the study’s research focus, questions and/or hypotheses should be explained. The strengths and limitations of the proposed research methods should be discussed. Any ethical concerns emanating from the proposed research should be identified and plans for addressing these concerns presented.


Only items cited in the text should be included.

Work Plan

At the end of the proposal the student is expected to attach an addendum that provides a detailed work plan and time line for the research.

Length of the Proposal

The length of the dissertation proposal should be negotiated with the advisor and DAC.

Note: Faculty of Social Work students can apply for funding for their thesis or dissertation research.

Ethics Review

Please note that the dissertation proposal must be approved by the Research Ethics Board before data collection begins. 

Approval of the Dissertation Proposal

All members of the DAC must review and approve the dissertation proposal. All members of the DAC must sign the PhD dissertation proposal approval form. One copy of the approved proposal should also be attached to the form and given to the associate dean who will forward it and the original signed form to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Doctoral Dissertation Format

The dissertation is the culmination of a candidate's program. All PhD candidates are required to complete an original dissertation that makes a significant contribution to the existing knowledge in their field. If dissertation research involves humans, approval must be obtained from the Laurier Research Ethics Board; if it involves animals, approval must be obtained from the Laurier Animal Care Committee.

In order that the dissertation may be subject to the scholarly criticism of all members of the university community, it is placed on display in the Graduate Studies office two weeks prior to the oral defence. Also, the oral defence is open to any member of the university community.

Traditional Dissertation Format

This work is understood to be a structurally unified body of work, with each part contributing to the development of a coherent whole, with an overarching research question/concern that is developed through a succession of chapters or sections (though this does not necessarily mean parts might not be excerpted for publication). The guiding principle here is that the manuscript most closely resembles a book.

The traditional dissertation can include the following components:

  • title page
  • copyright page
  • declaration of co-authorship/previous publication
  • abstract
  • dedication (if applicable)
  • acknowledgements (if applicable)
  • table of contents
  • list of tables (if applicable)
  • list of figures (if applicable)
  • list of appendices (if applicable)
  • list of abbreviations, symbols
  • nomenclature (if applicable)
  • body of thesis (divided into various chapters)
  • bibliography/references (can either precede or follow the appendices)
  • appendices (include copyright releases here where applicable)

Guidelines for the Multiple Manuscript Dissertation Option

The Faculty of Social Work acknowledges the individual preferences and strengths of its doctoral students. To recognize such strengths, we offer the Multiple Manuscript Dissertation (MMD) option for SK899: Dissertation. Under this option, the dissertation is a coherent body of work; however, the student writes a minimum of three articles suitable for publication in peer-reviewed journals, and these articles become components of the findings, methods and/or literature review sections of the dissertation.

Please note that when a student, prior to the dissertation defense, submits a manuscript for publication that will be included in the dissertation, he/she should be advised that acceptance of a manuscript from a journal is separate from and does not constitute acceptance or approval by the advisory committee. It is the responsibility of the examining committee to determine if the dissertation fully meets degree requirements.

MMD Approval

Students wishing to pursue this option should discuss the feasibility and appropriateness of this option with their advisor. All students who wish to select the MMD option require prior approval of their advisor and DAC. Faculty members who prefer not to work with students choosing this option should communicate this to students who inquire about it.

Organization of the MMD

  • Introduction (as in traditional dissertation):
    • Issue/problem to be investigated is clearly articulated, identifies central concerns.
    • Context of the issue/problem is presented.
    • Theoretical or conceptual framework guiding the dissertation is identified as appropriate.
    • A rationale for the dissertation as a whole is provided.
    • An overview of the dissertation as a whole is presented.
    • Objectives for the dissertation as a whole are identified.
  • Review of literature:
    • Presented in a logical sequence.
    • Provides a summary of the current state of knowledge on the problem.
    • Identifies consistencies and contradictions in the literature.
    • Notes gaps or areas with little research.
    • Lays a foundation for the dissertation study.
    • A manuscript that reviews all or parts of relevant literature and is a self-contained article prepared for, submitted to, or already published in a peer-reviewed journal may form a part of this section.
  • Method:
    • Research questions and/or hypotheses are clearly stated.
    • Research design, sampling, data collection and analysis.
    • Rationale for these choices is provided.
    • A manuscript that describes all or part of the methodology employed and is a self-contained article prepared for, submitted to, or already published in a peer-reviewed journal may form a part of this section.
  • Findings:
    • Findings are presented in the form of one or more manuscripts that are self-contained articles prepared for, submitted to, or already published in a peer-reviewed journal.
    • Findings from the research that are not reported in the manuscripts should be reported in a separate chapter in this section.
  • Discussion:
    • Provides a synthesis of the main findings of the full dissertation including the findings reported in the manuscripts.
    • Strengths and limitations of the dissertation are provided.
    • General conclusions and implications for practice and future research are provided.
  • References.

Style Requirements

Articles are submitted to journals following the style requirements of those particular journals. 

The dissertation will be formatted and bound consistent with Laurier guidelines.

Dissertation Proposal and Defense Procedures

Dissertations prepared under the MMD option are subject to dissertation defense procedures as specified by the policies and procedures set out by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Authorship of a Manuscripts Included in the MMD

Normally all manuscripts that are included in the MMD Dissertation are authored by the doctoral student only. Any exceptions to this practice must be approved by the PhD Admissions, Curriculum and Student Affairs Committee.