The Expose

Timetable for the doctoral thesis

Most know it from their bachelor’s and master’s studies and also for a successful dissertation the exposé is the first step. In general and especially in a dissertation the exposé fulfills two functions: on the one hand it represents the “roadmap” for the own project On the other hand, it serves to explain the supervisor’s thoughts to the supervisor and to convince him.

Objective of an exposé

An exposé is the central document of a scientific project and proof that the chosen topic is “research-suitable”. The exposé presents the scientific relevance and also the feasibility of the planned doctoral thesis (dissertation).

In most cases, the expose is even a mandatory prerequisite for the acceptance of the planned dissertation. It usually comprises 5-20 pages plus a short summary of 1-2 pages. Often, certain formal prerequisites must be observed, which are prescribed by the chair.

The expose as an “application” for the doctoral thesis

Especially for external doctoral students, it is a kind of “application” of the project “doctoral thesis”, with which the potential doctoral supervisor (doctoral mother) should be convinced of the supervision of the research project. However, a corresponding assessment by the doctoral supervisor is only possible if the exposé describes the planned doctoral project fully and comprehensively.

An exposé is absolutely necessary if a scholarship application is made, for example to gifted funds such as the Studienstiftung. Here a panel of experts decides whether or not funding of the dissertation is granted or financed in comparison to other projects due to the originality, feasibility and necessity of the own project.

Which questions should the expose answer?

So to give information about the scientific cognitive value and the feasibility of the doctorate, the expose should answer the following questions:

  • what should be investigated
  • why it should be investigated
  • how it should be investigated.
  • The first question after the “what” aims at the fact that the Exposé should first justify why the project seems important, interesting and relevant in the academic sense. In other words, what do I want to investigate? In doing so, the doctoral student must explain whether a hypothesis quoted in the literature has already been systematically tested on the “reality” or may be inaccurate. Or whether an important connection has been overlooked in previous research. It is therefore a matter of classifying one’s own project into the progress of knowledge in the academic discussion. This can e.g. Based on an analysis of what controversies and which methods have been in the foreground or which are the most important scientific positions within the topic and how their own work is classified.

On the one hand, the relevance of the research question is linked with the “why”, on the other hand the question itself. This should be clearly demarcated within the subject of research and, on the other hand, have an originality (eg the closure of an identified research gap on the basis of scientific research Literature). At the same time, such required originality often also represents the entry barrier when writing the exposé.

It must be defined as precisely as possible which research gap one wants to close with the doctoral project. The challenge here is usually to select and evaluate the sometimes extensive literature on the basis of comprehensible criteria.

When formulating the research question (s), besides the relevance criteria, further factors must be considered, especially if the dissertation is to be carried out as an external doctoral student. Often the doctoral thesis is seen as an essential step for further career development. In this respect, the topic and question should aim to provide links to one’s own work and activity.

This not least serves to maintain motivation over a (longer) period of the doctorate. Experience has shown that supervision by the doctoral supervisor is more intensive and better if these points of contact are clearly defined. The detailed reflection on one’s own motivation is therefore quite reasonable.

There remains the question of the “how”. The question of the “how” is closely related to the “what” because the formulated question (s) and their answering also depend on the methodology of the work. Thus, in each empirical study, the problem of choosing a suitable data collection method, because there is no patent remedy for this.

In addition to the theoretical orientation and the question, the availability of data is decisive for the selection of a method. It also depends on whether and with what hypotheses can be worked. There is always a qualitative and a quantitative approach available.


In a quantitative empirical doctoral thesis, which examines one or more theories based on a particular available data material (country, actor group, period, state of discussion), a number of predefined criteria, factors, etc. are usually analyzed to determine whether the hypothesis (hypothesis) applies or not. So cause-effect relationships are to be identified.

In contrast, the qualitative methodology is characterized by a greater subject-relatedness and is appropriate when the subject of the study has to be approached flexibly, since certain theoretical assumptions and survey instruments are still rather unclear or a differentiated description of individual opinions is necessary.

The selection of the methodology and the corresponding instruments must be made after a thorough examination of the specific research topic and the research question and should fit in as well as possible.

Components of an exposé

The following structural elements have proven to be useful for the preparation of an exposé in a doctoral thesis:

  • Question (rather aptly than too many): which question (s) are suitable for achieving the goal of the work?
  • Theoretical approach (which theory suits the investigation): which approach is used and why?
  • Method (annoying but necessary): which qualitative or quantitative method is suitable for which reason? How did other researchers go?
  • Structure (always provisional): a well-considered structure clarifies the structure and process of the work, but is preliminary for now.
  • Timetable (as realistic as possible): which work steps and milestones should be achieved in which time periods?
  • Bibliography: which literature is relevant for the dissertation? The bibliography in the expose is also preliminary, but should nevertheless be carefully researched and selected. Only the relevant literature that was actually used should be listed.

Temporal planning of the doctoral thesis

In order to structure the course of the doctoral thesis in its step by step, a time and work plan should be created. This serves to explain all essential work steps and the planned duration. The plan is intended to promote discipline, but also to inform the supervisor and, above all, in case of project funding, about the (temporal) feasibility of the project.

A realistic timetable with milestones (partial results that are achieved at defined times) should convince you that the research project is well planned and that you are able to successfully carry it out over the period.

In the rarest cases, a work schedule and schedule should remain unchanged during the writing, but it still provides an important orientation at the beginning of the doctoral thesis. Monthly or quarterly periods of time have proven effective. The individual intervals can thus be assigned to research questions, methods and (intermediate) results.

In summary: the expose represents a first and very important step for a successful doctorate. Although the dissertation for a dissertation contains comparatively few pages, a lot of conceptual work is in a good synopsis, since it must represent the work of the coming years, namely In such a comprehensible and convincing way that the (future) Ph.D. supervisor or doctoral mother is behind the research project.

We are happy to assist you in developing an expose for a doctoral thesis. Contact us.

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