What is an Ed.D. Dissertation?
Definition of an Ed.D. Dissertation
An Ed.D. dissertation is a 5-chapter scholarly document that brings together years of original research to address a problem of practice in education. To complete a dissertation, you will need to go through a number of scholarly steps, including a final defense to justify your findings.
Purpose of an Ed.D. Dissertation
In a Doctor of Education dissertation, you will be challenged to apply high-level research & creative problem-solving to real-world educational challenges. You may be asked to:
- Take a critical look at current educational & administrative practices
- Address urgent issues in the modern education system
- Propose original & practical solutions for improvements
- Expand the knowledge base for educational practitioners
Topics of Ed.D. Dissertations
An Ed.D. dissertation is “customizable.” You’re allowed to chose a topic that relates to your choice of specialty (e.g. elementary education), field of interest (e.g. curriculum development), and environment (e.g. urban schools).
Think about current problems of practice that need to be addressed in your field. You’ll notice that Ed.D. dissertation topics often address one of the following:
- Academic performance
- Teaching methods
- Access to resources
- Social challenges
- Legislative impacts
- System effectiveness
Wondering how others have done it? Browse through Examples of Ed.D. Dissertations and read the titles & abstracts. You’ll see how current educators are addressing their own problems of practice.
Ed.D. Dissertation Process
1. Propose a Dissertation Topic
Near the beginning of a Doctor of Education program, you’ll be expected to identify a dissertation topic that will require substantial research. This topic should revolve around a unique issue in education.
Universities will often ask you to provide an idea for your topic when you’re applying to the doctoral program. You don’t necessarily need to stick to this idea, but you should be prepared to explain why it interests you. If you need inspiration, see our section on Examples of Ed.D. Dissertations.
You’ll be expected to solidify your dissertation topic in the first few semesters. Talking to faculty and fellow Ed.D. students can help in this process. Better yet, your educational peers will often be able to provide unique perspectives on the topic (e.g. cultural differences in teaching methods).
2. Meet Your Dissertation Chair & Committee
You won’t be going through the Ed.D. dissertation process alone! Universities will help you to select a number of experienced mentors. These include:
- Dissertation Chair/Faculty Advisor: The Chair of the Dissertation Committee acts as your primary advisor. You’ll often see them referred to as the Supervising Professor, Faculty Advisor, or the like. You’ll rely on this “Obi Wan” for their knowledge of the field, research advice & guidance, editorial input on drafts, and more. They can also assist with shaping & refining your dissertation topic.
- Dissertation Committee: The Dissertation Committee is made up of ~3 faculty members, instructors and/or adjuncts with advanced expertise in your field of study. The Committee will offer advice, provide feedback on your research progress, and review your work & progress reports. When you defend your proposal and give your final defense, you’ll be addressing the Dissertation Committee.
3. Study for Ed.D. Courses
Doctor of Education coursework is designed to help you: a) learn how to conduct original research; and b) give you a broader perspective on your field of interest. If you take a look at the curriculum in any Ed.D. program, you’ll see that students have to complete credits in:
- Practical Research Methods (e.g. Quantitative Design & Analysis for Educational Leaders)
- Real-World Educational Issues (e.g. Educational Policy, Law & Practice)
When you’re evaluating possible Ed.D. programs, pay attention to the coursework in real-world educational issues. You’ll want to pick an education doctorate with courses that complement your dissertation topic.
4. Complete a Literature Review
A literature review is an evaluation of existing materials & research work that relate to your dissertation topic. It’s a written synthesis that:
- Grounds your project within the field
- Explains how your work relates to previous research & theoretical frameworks
- Helps to identify gaps in the existing research
Have a look at Literature Review Guides if you’d like to know more about the process. Our section on Resources for Ed.D. Dissertation Research also has useful links to journals & databases.
5. Craft a Dissertation Proposal
During the first two years of your Doctor of Education, you’ll use the knowledge you’ve learned from your coursework & discussions to write the opening chapters of your dissertation, including an:
- Introduction that defines your chosen topic
- Literature Review of existing research in the field
- Proposed Research Methodology for finding the answer to your problem
When you’re putting together these elements, think about the practicals. Is the topic too big to address in one dissertation? How much time will your research take and how will you conduct it? Will your dissertation be relevant to your current job? If in doubt, ask your faculty advisor.
6. Defend Your Dissertation Proposal
About midway through the Ed.D. program, you will need to present your proposal to your Dissertation Committee. They will review your work and offer feedback. For example, the Committee will want to see that:
- Your research topic is significant.
- Your research methodology & timeline make sense.
- Relevant works are included in the literature review.
After the Committee approves your proposal, you can get stuck into conducting original research and writing up your findings. These two important tasks will take up the final years of your doctorate.
7. Conduct Original Research into Your Topic
As a Doctor of Education student, you will be expected to conduct your own research. Ed.D. students often use a qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods (quantitative/qualitative) approach in this process.
- Quantitative Research: Collection & analysis of numerical data to identify characteristics, discover correlations, and/or test hypotheses.
- Qualitative Research: Collection & analysis of non-numerical data to understand & explain phenomena (e.g. questionnaires, in-depth interviews, focus groups, video artifacts, etc.).
Your Ed.D. coursework will ground you in research methods & tools, so you’ll be prepared to design your own project and seek IRB approval for any work involving human subjects.
Note: Occasionally, universities can get creative. For example, the Ed.D. program at San Jose State University asks students to produce a documentary film instead of conducting traditional research.
8. Write the Rest of Your Dissertation
Once you have written up the first few chapters of your dissertation (Intro, Literature Review & Proposed Methodology) and completed your research work, you’ll be able to complete the final chapters of your dissertation.
- Chapter 4 will detail your research findings.
- Chapter 5 is a conclusion that summarizes solutions to your problem of practice/topic.
This is where you and your faculty advisor will often have a lot of interaction! For example, you may need to rework the first few chapters of your dissertation after you’ve drafted the final chapters. Faculty advisors are extremely busy people, so be sure to budget in ample time for revisions and final edits.
9. Defend Your Dissertation
The final defense/candidacy exam is a formal presentation of your work to the Dissertation Committee. In many cases, the defense is an oral presentation with visual aides. You’ll be able to explain your research findings, go through your conclusions, and highlight new ideas & solutions.
At any time, the Committee can challenge you with questions, so you should be prepared to defend your conclusions. But this process is not as frightening as it sounds!
- If you’ve been in close contact with the Committee throughout the dissertation, they will be aware of your work.
- Your faculty advisor will help you decide when you’re ready for the final defense.
- You can also attend the defenses of other Ed.D. students to learn what questions may be asked.
Be aware that the Committee has the option to ask for changes before they approve your dissertation. After you have incorporated any notes from the Committee and addressed their concerns, you will finalize the draft, submit your dissertation for a formal review, and graduate.
Ed.D. Dissertation Format: 5 Chapters
Chapter 1: Introduction
Your Doctor of Education dissertation will begin with an introduction. In it, you’ll be expected to:
- Provide an overview of your educational landscape
- Explain important definitions & key concepts
- Define a real-world topic/problem of practice
- Outline the need for new studies on this topic
Chapter 2: Literature Review
The literature review is a summary of existing research in the field. However, it is not an annotated bibliography. Instead, it’s a critical analysis of current research (e.g. trends, themes, debates & current practices). While you’re evaluating the literature, you’re also looking for the gaps where you can conduct original research.
Sources for a literature review can include books, articles, reports, websites, dissertations, and more. Our section on Resources for Ed.D. Dissertation Research has plenty of places to start.
Chapter 3: Research Methodology
In the research methodology, you’ll be expected to explain:
- The purpose of your research
- What tools & methods you plan to use to research your topic/problem of practice
- The design of the study
- Your timeline for gathering quantitative & qualitative data
- How you plan to analyze that data
- Any limitations you foresee
Chapter 4: Results & Analysis
Chapter 4 is the place where you can share the results of your original research and present key findings from the data. In your analysis, you may also be highlighting new patterns, relationships, and themes that other scholars have failed to discover. Have a look at real-life Examples of Ed.D. Dissertations to see how this section is structured.
Chapter 5: Discussions & Conclusions
The final chapter of your Ed.D. dissertation brings all of your work together in a detailed summary. You’ll be expected to:
- Reiterate the objectives of your dissertation
- Explain the significance of your research findings
- Outline the implications of your ideas on existing practices
- Propose solutions for a problem of practice
- Make suggestions & recommendations for future improvements
Ed.D. Dissertation FAQs
What’s the Difference Between a Dissertation and a Thesis?
- Dissertation: A dissertation is a 5-chapter written work that must be completed in order to earn a doctoral degree (e.g. Ph.D., Ed.D., etc.). It’s often focused on original research.
- Thesis: A thesis is a written work that must be completed in order to earn a master’s degree. It’s typically shorter than a dissertation and based on existing research.
How Long is a Ed.D. Dissertation?
It depends. Most Ed.D. dissertations end up being between 80-200 pages. The length will depend on a number of factors, including the depth of your literature review, the way you collect & present your research data, and any appendices you might need to include.
How Long Does it Take to Finish an Ed.D. Dissertation?
It depends. If you’re in an accelerated program, you may be able to finish your dissertation in 2-3 years. If you’re in a part-time program and need to conduct a lot of complex research work, your timeline will be much longer.
What’s a Strong Ed.D. Dissertation Topic?
Experts always say that Doctor of Education students should be passionate about their dissertation topic and eager to explore uncharted territory. When you’re crafting your Ed.D. dissertation topic, find one that will be:
See the section on Examples of Ed.D. Dissertations for inspiration.
Do I Have to Complete a Traditional Dissertation for an Ed.D.?
No. If you’re struggling with the idea of a traditional dissertation, check out this guide to Online Ed.D. Programs with No Dissertation. Some Schools of Education give Ed.D. students the opportunity to complete a Capstone Project or Dissertation in Practice (DiP) instead of a 5-chapter written work.
These alternatives aren’t easy! You’ll still be challenged at the same level as you would be for a dissertation. However, Capstone Projects & DiPs often involve more group work and an emphasis on applied theory & research.
What’s the Difference Between a Ph.D. Dissertation and Ed.D. Dissertation?
Have a look at our Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. Guide to get a sense of the differences between the two degrees. In a nutshell:
- Ed.D. dissertations tend to focus on addressing current & real-world topics/problems of practice in the workplace.
- Ph.D. dissertations usually put more emphasis on creating new theories & concepts and even completely rethinking educational practices.
How Can I Learn More About Ed.D. Dissertations?
Start with the section on Examples of Ed.D. Dissertations. You can browse through titles, abstracts, and even complete dissertations from a large number of universities.
If you have a few Doctor of Education programs on your shortlist, we also recommend that you skim through the program’s Dissertation Handbook. It can usually be found on the School of Education’s website. You’ll be able to see how the School likes to structure the dissertation process from start to finish.
Ed.D. Dissertation Support
University & Campus Resources
Dissertation Chair & Committee
The first port of call for any questions about the Ed.D. dissertation is your Dissertation Chair. If you get stuck with a terrible faculty advisor, talk to members of the Dissertation Committee. They are there to support your journey.
An Ed.D. dissertation is a massive research project. So before you choose a Doctor of Education program, ask the School of Education about its libraries & library resources (e.g. free online access to subscription-based journals).
Many universities have a Writing Center. If you’re struggling with any elements of your dissertation (e.g. editing), you can ask the staff about:
- Individual tutoring
- Editorial assistance
- Outside resources
Mental Health Support
It’s well-known that doctoral students often face a lot of stress & isolation during their studies. Ask your faculty advisor about mental health services at the university. Staff in the School of Education and the Graduate School will also have information about on-campus counselors, free or discounted therapy sessions, and more.
Independent Dissertation Services
Dissertation Editing Services: Potentially Helpful
There are scores of independent providers who offer dissertation editing services. But they can be expensive. And many of these editors have zero expertise in educational fields.
If you need help with editing & proofreading, proceed with caution:
- Start by asking your Dissertation Chair about what’s permitted for third party involvement (e.g. you may need to note any editor’s contribution in your dissertation acknowledgments) and whether they have any suggestions.
- The Graduate School is another useful resource. For example, Cornell’s Graduate School maintains a list of Editing, Typing, and Proofreading Services for graduate students.
Dissertation Coaches: Not Worth It
Dissertation coaches are defined as people who offer academic & mental support, guidance, and editorial input.
- That means the person who should be your coach is your Dissertation Chair/Faculty Advisor. Remember that faculty members on the Dissertation Committee can also provide assistance.
- If you’re looking for extra support, you might consider consulting a mentor in your line of work and collaborating with fellow Ed.D. students.
But hiring an independent Ed.D. dissertation coach is going to be an absolute waste of money.
Dissertation Writing Services: Just Don’t!
Universities take the dissertation process very seriously. An Ed.D. dissertation is supposed to be the culmination of years of original thought and research. You’re going to be responsible for the final product. You’re going to be defending your written work in front of a phalanx of experienced faculty members. You’re going to be putting this credential on your résumé for everyone to see.
If you cheat the process by having someone else write up your work, you will get caught.
Ed.D. Dissertation Resources
Examples of Ed.D. Dissertations
- USF Scholarship Repository: Ed.D. Dissertations
- George Fox University: Doctor of Education
- UW Tacoma: Ed.D. Dissertations in Practice
- Liberty University: School of Education Doctoral Dissertations
- University of Mary Hardin-Baylor: Dissertation Collection
Ed.D. Dissertation Abstracts
Ed.D. Dissertation Guides & Tools
General Ed.D. Guides
Dissertation Style Manuals
Style manuals are designed to ensure that every Ed.D. student follows the same set of writing guidelines for their dissertation (e.g. grammatical rules, footnote & quotation formats, abbreviation conventions, etc.). Check with the School of Education to learn which style manual they use.
Examples of Ed.D. Dissertation Templates
Each School of Education has a standard dissertation template. We’ve highlighted a couple of examples so you can see how they’re formatted, but you will need to acquire the template from your own university.
Literature Review Guides
- UNC Chapel Hill: Writing Guide for Literature Reviews
- University of Alabama: How to Conduct a Literature Review
Resources for Ed.D. Dissertation Research
- EBSCO Education Research Databases
- Education Resources Information Center (ERIC)
- Emerald Education eJournal Collection
- Gale OneFile: Educator’s Reference Complete
- Google Scholar
- NCES Bibliography Search Tool
- ProQuest Education Database
- SAGE Journals: Education