Rubrics for Dissertations


Rubrics used to evaluate research-based dissertation most often rate each section or chapter as well as the overall document. The section ratings may be holistic or broken down into components. There are examples of rubrics for the proposal and the final dissertation, as well as for the oral defense. These rubrics focus on many of the same dimensions used to rate papers (e.g., organization, thoroughness, mechanics, format).
​​​​​​​Rubrics for Written Assignments

Lovitts (2005) argued that faculty have implicit standards for evaluating dissertations and that making them explicit in a rubric makes evaluation of dissertations more valid, reliable, and consistent. In a study of faculty members in a sample of universities and disciplines, she asked participants to characterize dissertations and their components (i.e., problem statement, literature review, theory, methods, analysis, and discussion) at four levels of quality (i.e., Outstanding, Very Good, Acceptable, and Unacceptable).


Based on her data, she developed a table of the characteristics of dissertations of differing quality. For example, outstanding dissertations were described as

  • Original, significant, compelling, creative, engaging, interesting, and thoughtful
  • Very well written and organized
  • Synthesizing information and connecting components seamlessly
  • Exhibiting mature, independent thinking
  • Having a point of view and authoritative voice
  • Asking a new question or addressing an important problem
  • Displaying deep understanding of massive amount of complicated literature
  • Making focused, logical, rigorous, and sustained argument
  • Theoretically sophisticated
  • Using or developing new tools, methods, approaches, or types of analyses
  • Having rich data
  • Using analysis that is comprehensive, complete, and convincing
  • Showing significant results
  • Creating a conclusion that ties the whole thing together
  • Of interest to a larger community ​​​​​​​


On the other hand, unacceptable dissertations were described as

  • Poorly written, having grammatical and spelling errors,
  • Having a sloppy presentation
  • Plagiarized or deliberately misread or misused sources
  • Lacking in understanding of basic concepts, processes, or conventions of discipline
  • Lacking careful thought
  • Looking at a problem that is trivial, weak, unoriginal, or already solved
  • Misunderstanding or missing relevant literature
  • Making a weak, inconsistent, self-contradictory, unconvincing, or invalid argument
  • Not handling theory well, neglecting theory, or missing theory
  • Relying on inappropriate of incorrect methods
  • Presenting data that are flawed, wrong, false, or misrepresented
  • Using wrong, inappropriate, incoherent, or confused analysis
  • Including results that are obvious, already known, unexplained, or misinterpreted
  • Having unsupported or exaggerated interpretation
  • Failing to make a contribution

These descriptions could be used as a basis for a rubric to rate dissertations. Lovitts concluded that such a rubric could be used as a teaching tool during the dissertation process. Distributing it to students would set clear expectations at the outset and filling it out periodically would allow the advisor and student to evaluate progress and areas for improvement. Thus, the rubric can be a tool for faculty to provide feedback and establish benchmarks against which students can subsequently evaluate their own work. It can also be used in peer review, with students evaluating the work of their peers to provide an additional source of feedback.
How to Grade a Dissertation

These are example of dissertation-related rubrics developed by Alliant schools and programs.

ELM and Ed Psych CSOE dissertation

LA Clinical PsyD proposal

LA Clinical PsyD dissertation and defense

CSPP Organizational Psychology dissertation

Examples of Rubrics for Rating Dissertation Proposals

Rubrics for Assessing Dissertations
Texas A&M/Commerce Thesis and Dissertation Services

Dissertation Proposal Rubric
Syracuse University Graduate School of Education

Thesis/Dissertation Proposal Rubric
Fresno State Academics

Examples of Rubrics for Rating Dissertations

Rubric for Evaluating Dissertations
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

Dissertation Rubric
California State University/Northridge Michael D. Eisner School of Education

Dissertation Manuscript Evaluation Rubric
Northcentral University Dissertation Center

Rubrics for evaluation proposal and final orals focus not only on the research itself, but also on the presentation, including how clear and organized the presentation is, how knowledgeable the student is, and how well the student answered questions.

Examples of Rubrics for Rating Oral Defense

Dissertation Defense Oral
University of Mississippi Medical Center

Dissertation Defense Rubric
Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine

University of Rhode Island Graduate Council
Thesis/Dissertation Defense Evaluation