Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Beginners guide to dissertation writing: recommended resources

Today I decided to share ideas and resources to help you conceptualize your dissertation study.

One of the areas that I find students struggle with is the use of a conceptual framework. So far, I have found two great resources to help with this area. The first, which I am using in a dissertation proposal seminar for the first time this May, is a book by Upenn professor Sharon Ravitch and her co-author Matthew Riggan. As Ravitch and Riggan state in the preface, they, like me, have watched students struggle with articulating a rationale for choice of topics and methods, provide a theoretical or conceptual framework for studies, and or fail to connect conceptual frameworks to existing literature. Their book "presents conceptual frameworks as a mechanism - process and product - for resolving much of this confusion and lack of coherence". I highly recommend this text.

The trusty text that I was using prior to coming across Reason and Rigor is John Maxwell's Qualitative Research Design, now in its third edition. Maxwell provides an excellent overview of the process of conceptualizing qualitative studies in chapter 3 titled 'conceptual framework: what do you think is going on?" I highly recommend this book, even for folks using quantitative methods this chapter would be very useful.

The other area where students struggle is in setting up the research design for the dissertation studies. My favorite resource for this is Creswell's Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches. In this text, Creswell provides detailed instructions on how to write a research proposal using qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods. Chapters 2 and 3 are on literature review and using theory respectively, which both help with conceptualization of research and can be used along with the two resources discussed above. Creswell dedicates an entire chapter to how to construct a purpose statement, and provides excellent ten examples for studies using various research methods. I have used the 3rd edition shown below, though the 4th edition has just been published by Sage.

Another excellent resource that goes beyond proposal writing, to data analysis and interpretation for qualitative methods is also by Creswell, Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing amongst five approaches. In this text, now in the 3rd edition, Creswell provides indepth coverage of phenomenology, ethnography, grounded theory, case study and narrative approaches to qualitative inquiry. Students often struggle to understand and articulate the philosophical assumptions behind their research studies. In the chapter on 'philosophical assumptions and interpretive frameworks' Creswell makes difficult terms such as ontology, ephistemology, axiology and methodology understandable. The text goes into sufficient explanation for each of the approaches as to enable a researcher to determine the best choice for her research study. By showing how one study can be explored using each of the 5 approaches, Creswell helps to unpack both the comparisons and the uniqueness of each approach.

The first resource discussed here, Reason and Rigor, is excellent whether you are using qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods for undertaking your research. The other three are specific to qualitative methods. Next time, I will focus on recommending resources for quantitative methods.

What other resources would you recommend for social science dissertation writers? Do not hesitate to comment or email me.


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  2. Writing research and grant proposals is one of the most difficult -- and unavoidable -- requirements of graduate study in the


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