I've started narrowing down the scope of my dissertation, and I have one year before I need to defend my proposal. I'm curious to know what is expected from a dissertation proposal. What are the key elements that I should include / exclude? What criteria typically used to judge whether the proposal defense is successful? Are the committee's feedback of the proposal typically used as a criteria for the full fledged dissertation defense?
What are the key elements that I should include / exclude?
Your university should have clear regulations about that. Also, ask your supervisor/advisor.
What criteria typically used to judge whether the proposal defense is successful?
So, I'll list a few that should be generally applicable, but if your supervisor feels confident to have you submit your proposal, it's likely you've already met the criteria or close enough to doing so. While the committee can reject your proposal, this isn't like an exam at the end of a course; if you do your work seriously up to the proposal you should pass without surprises. In fact, the defense of the proposal is an opportunity to get useful feedback and guidance.
A few general criteria I believe are always applicable:
- Novelty - It must be something that hasn't done before, more than a rehash of existing work. This could be in terms of the results (discovering something we didn't know, creating/manufacturing something which had not previously been attainable) or the methods (e.g. using a novel technique to prove an important mathematical theorem).
- Relevance - Your work on efficient separation of mud cakes by the time spent in the sun might not be useful to anyone even if it's novel. This criterion may degenerate into "fashionability" - hopefully not.
- Expected breadth of work - The research should involve enough work to be significant but not too much as to risk you not concluding it even with reasonable diligence. Of course, you might eventually be able to get it all done in a week if you're a genius and it's theory rather than experiments; but that's not likely.
- Your background - Is it reasonable to assume you personally will be able to carry out this kind of research?
- Means and environment - are your supervisor, research group, faculty, university and related facilities and resources likely to be sufficient support for you to pursue your line of research effectively?
Are the committee's feedback of the proposal typically used as a criteria for the full fledged dissertation defense?
So that really depends on your field and on the composition of the committee. Very often the answer is "no" (from my own personal experience it was "not at all"), but it's certainly possible.
Note, however, that if your results get published in journals and conferences, the final dissertation is, again, unlikely to be rejected - since the community will already have recognized your contribution.