Exams & Dissertations

Doctoral Comprehensive Examination Procedure

The Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Evaluation (IDPE) program comprehensive examination procedure requires (successful) completion of the following (as determined by the Director of the IDPE and one other WMU faculty appointed by the IDPE Director and/or the student in cooperation with the IDPE Director):

  1. Successful completion of an approved program plan of study
  2. Successful completion of a portfolio documenting competency
  3. Successful presentation of a poster demonstrating competency
  4. Successful completion of an oral examination demonstrating competency

Details regarding the program plan of study are available from the IDPE Director or Program Coordinator upon request. A committee of three WMU faculty (or, approved non-WMU faculty or advisors) is required for approving the program plan of study. Details regarding the expected competencies can be found in the IDPE competency self-assessment instrument (available from the IDPE Director or Program Coordinator upon request).

Program Plan of Study

A minimum of 90 graduate credit hours is required for completing the IDPE, including credits within the following domains:

  • Cognate (18-21 credit hours)
  • Research methods (12-18 credit hours)
  • Evaluation (35-39 credit hours)
  • Professional field experience (9 credit hours)
  • Doctoral dissertation (12-15 credit hours; not competed at time of comprehensive examination)


The portfolio should represent the student’s mastery of field specialization, breadth of field specialization, research productivity, and practical experience. The three domains (i.e., cognate, research methods, evaluation) should be supported with documentation, including, but not limited to the following:

      1. Curriculum vitae
      2. Autobiographical statement of career and/or professional goals
      3. Personal statement of professional evaluation qualifications and competencies
      4. Program plan of study (approved and signed by all relevant parties)
      5. Artifacts from coursework
      6. Student initial self-assessment of IDPE required competencies (i.e., prior to beginning the program)
      7. Student final self-assessment of IDPE required competencies (i.e., upon completion of the program of study); For each competency, students will provide evidence of meeting the required competencies and provide a plan, if a competency is not fully met, for attaining mastery of the required competency
      8. Evidence of evaluation/research productivity (e.g., publications, presentations, technical reports)

Poster Presentation

Each student will demonstrate meeting IDPE competencies through a display of a sample of his or her work (this may include work completed with others; however, the student should have  played a major role in the work). The poster presentation should communicate the student’s readiness to advance to the dissertation stage. The poster will be displayed in a public location (determined by the IDPE Director) where faculty, staff, and students will be encouraged to ask questions and engage the student in conversations. It is expected that the student will accompany his or her poster display and answer questions for approximately two hours. Faculty, staff, and students will be asked to complete a brief rubric regarding the candidate’s poster presentation and the candidate’s competency. Poster presentations and oral examinations (see below) will be scheduled in each spring semester. All students who wish to proceed to dissertation stage are expected to present their poster and participate in the oral examination on the selected dates (which vary from year to year).

Oral Examination

Upon successful completion of the student’s program plan of study, portfolio, and poster presentation, each student will participate in a 1½ to 2 hour oral examination with the Director of the IDPE and a committee of one other WMU faculty appointed by the IDPE Director and/or the candidate in conjunction with the IDPE Director. The examination will generally cover the student’s knowledge of evaluation, not methods or cognate (though these may arise as part of the examination process related to evaluation), with an emphasis on the student’s theoretical and practical knowledge of evaluation. The oral examination also will be used to discuss the student’s dissertation plan. The oral examination committee will consider all evidence (i.e., the student’s program plan of study, portfolio, poster presentation, oral examination) in adjudicating whether or not the student meets the minimum standards for successful completion of the comprehensive examination for the IDPE.

Comprehensive Examination Policy

Each element of the examination procedure described above (i.e., portfolio, poster presentation, and oral examination) will be scored/graded as “exceeds standards,” “meets standards,” “approaches standards,” or “fail” by the examiners. A single examiner’s score/grade of “fail” constitutes a failure of the examination. Students receiving a score/grade of “fail” on any element of the examination will be dismissed from the program. Students receiving a “approaches standards” on any element of the examination will be required to retake the entire examination at the next available date. Students receiving a “fail” or “approaches standards” on the portfolio or poster presentation will not advance to the oral examination.

Students who wish to dispute or appeal an examination score/grade will need to contact the Western Michigan University Ombudsman.

Doctoral Dissertation


The dissertation prospectus is a short, 8-10 page, description of the problem statement, method, and contribution to evaluation theory, method, or practice that precedes a formal dissertation proposal (see below). Essentially, the dissertation prospectus should provide the committee chair and other committee members a general understanding of the scope and nature of the problem to be investigated.


The dissertation proposal includes Chapters I and III if using the traditional five-chapter dissertation or, if using the three-paper dissertation, a clear presentation of the three proposed papers. Unlike the dissertation prospectus, the dissertation proposal is more well-developed and should be approved by the dissertation chair prior to defense. Dissertation proposals are publicly presented and defended. The dissertation committee then determines whether the proposal is adequate (or not) and whether the proposed dissertation research may proceed (or not) and whether modifications to the proposal are necessary.

Five-Chapter Dissertation

The following is a checklist of items which are typically included in a traditional five-chapter dissertation. Not all of the suggested categories are necessary or appropriate, and the items within chapters may vary somewhat. They are intended to serve as a guide. As a point of reference when using this checklist, the overarching standard for an Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Evaluation (IDPE) dissertation is that it should be “An original, significant contribution to evaluation theory, methodology, or practice.”

Chapter I: Problem Statement


  • Background of the problem (e.g., educational trends related to the problem, unresolved issues, social concerns)
  • Statement of the problem situation (basic difficulty—area of concern, felt need)
  • Purpose of the study (goal oriented)—emphasizing practical outcomes or products
  • Questions to be answered or objectives to be investigated
  • Conceptual or substantive assumptions (postulates)
  • Rationale and theoretical framework (when appropriate)
  • Delineation of the research problem (explication of relationships among variables or comparisons to be considered)
  • Statement of hypotheses (conceptual rendition subsequently followed by operational statements in Chapter I or Chapter III)
  • Importance of the study—may overlap with statement of the problem situation
  • Definition of terms (largely conceptual; operational definitions may follow in Chapter III)
  • Scope and delimitations of the study (narrowing of focus)
  • Outline of the remainder of the thesis, dissertation, or prospectus or proposal

Chapter II: Review of the Related Literature

  • Organization of the chapter—overview
  • Historical background (if necessary)

Purposes to be Served by Review of Research Literature

  • Acquaint reader with existing studies relative to what has been found, who has done work, when and where latest research studies were completed, and what approaches involving research methodology, instrumentation, and statistical analyses were followed (literature review of methodology sometimes saved for chapter on methodology
  • Establish possible need for study and likelihood of obtaining meaningful, relevant, and significant results
  • Furnish from delineation of various theoretical propositions a conceptual framework affording bases for generation of hypotheses and statement of their rationale (when appropriate)

Note: In some highly theoretical studies, the chapter “Review of the Literature” may need to precede “The Problem” chapter so that the theoretical framework is established for a succinct statement of the research problem and hypotheses. In such a case, the advance organizer in the form of a brief general statement of the purpose of the entire investigation should come right at the beginning of the “Review of Related Literature” chapter.

Sources for Literature Review

  • General integrative reviews that relate to the problem situation or research problem
  • Specific books, monographs, bulletins, reports, and research articles—preference shown in most instances for literature of the last ten years
  • Unpublished materials (e.g., dissertations, theses, papers presented at professional meetings)
  • Selection and arrangement of literature review often in terms of questions to be considered, hypotheses set forth, or objectives of specific purposes delineated in the problem chapter

Summary of Literature Reviewed

Chapter III: Method

  • Overview (optional)
  • Description of research methodology or approach (e.g., experimental, quasi-experimental, nonexperimental)
  • Research design (if relevant, describe independent, dependent, and classificatory variables and sometimes formulate an operational statement of the research hypotheses in null form so as to set the stage for an appropriate research design permitting statistical inferences)
  • Pilot studies or pretesting (as they apply to the research design, instruments, data collection techniques, and characteristics of the sample)
  • Selection of subjects (this is concerned with sample and population)
  • Instrumentation (tests, measures, observations, scales, and questionnaires)
  • Procedures (e.g., instructions to subjects or distribution of materials)
  • Data collection and recording
  • Data processing and analysis
  • Methodological assumptions
  • Limitations
  • Possible restatement of conceptual hypotheses from problem chapter in operational form relative to instrumentation and experimental procedure or design followed (operationally stated hypotheses can also be put in null form to furnish an optional third set of hypotheses amenable to statistical testing)—if not done elsewhere
  • Summary (optional)

Chapter IV: Results (or Findings)

  • Findings are presented in tables or charts when appropriate
  • Findings reported with respect to furnishing evidence for each question asked or each hypothesis posed in problem statement
  • Appropriate headings are established to correspond to each main question or hypothesis considered
  • Factual information kept separate from interpretation, inference, and evaluation (one section for findings and one section for interpretation or discussion)

Note: In certain historical, case study and anthropological investigations, factual and interpretive material may need to be interwoven to sustain interest level, although the text should clearly reveal what is fact and what is interpretation.

  • Separate section often titled “Discussion,” “Interpretation,” or “Evaluation” ties together findings in relation to theory, review of literature, or problem statement

Chapter V: Summary, Conclusions, and Recommendations

  • Brief summary of everything covered in first three chapters and in findings portion of Chapter IV
  • Conclusions (“so what” of findings; often the hypotheses restated as inferences with some degree of definitive commitment and generalizability)

Three-Paper Dissertation


  • The three-article dissertation incorporates three or more stand-alone articles and an abstract that synthesizes the articles, as well as an introduction (Chapter I) and a conclusion (Chapter V, assuming 3 articles are presented)
  • The articles must describe original research
  • The committee must deem the articles of “publishable quality”
  • At least one of the three papers must be submitted for publication prior to the student’s defense
  • Only one paper of the three papers can be published at the time of the student’s defense
  • The student must be first author on all articles. As first authors, students are responsible for development and articulation of a concept or idea for research, development of a proposal to pursue this idea, development of a research design, conducting research and analysis, writing the manuscript, designing an intervention or assessment (if relevant), and interpreting results. The role of the coauthors must be presented and approved by all members of the dissertation committee
  • Students will need to research and consider possible copyright issues that may arise when trying to publish from their dissertation. Possible steps that may need to be taken to ensure that the articles can be published include opting to not make your dissertation available to the public or securing copyright permission before submitting your dissertation to WMU’s Graduate College
  • Please note that a certain amount of overlap is acceptable among the three articles. For example, portions of the literature review may need to be cited in the various articles because they are central to the historical background of the study (Redundancy can be reduced by citing one’s own work and it should be noted that self-plagiarism (i.e., the failure to cite one’s own previously written work or data in a ‘new’ written product) is prohibited)

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