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Five Steps to Dissertation Completion
Most doctoral students look forward to completing coursework, finishing up dissertations, and finally graduating with the title of Doctor. For some, the dissertation is not completed and the title of Doctor is replaced with a title of All But Dissertation, or ABD. After conducting two interviews with past doctoral students, and attending Residency 1, I have developed a schedule for writing to ensure that I will earn the title of Doctor, and not the less significant title of ABD. The first goal is to have a rough proposal completed by the time my course work is done. Once I receive approval of my proposal I can begin my other chapters of the dissertation. To complete the proposal, I will first follow four specific steps. The four steps will break down a monumental and overwhelming task into smaller sections that are manageable. Once the proposal has been approved, I will move to step five which is to collect my data and write a conclusion.
Step One: Read and Summarize Journal Articles
At Residency 1, I learned that while doing coursework, it is a superb time to focus writing assignments on one’s dissertation topic. From the interviews with others who have completed research, I learned the importance of reading and synthesizing articles. Focusing on and reading material relevant to the topic each week keeps one immersed in the research and on schedule. For the months of May through September, 2015, each week, I will read journal articles that I have collected pertaining to the topic and summarize two. During this time, I will also have to study for my state Marriage and Family Therapist licensure exam that is scheduled for the middle of September. Once the exam is passed, I will use the extra time to add a third summary into my weekly schedule. The summaries will be filed according to the themes of the literature. By the end of December, 2014, I will have a strong assortment of support for my literature review that will contain approximately 75 articles. Dr. Bedore, at the Residency 1 conference, shared that a literature review should have at least 75 sources (G. Bedore, personal communication, May 4, 2014). Once the articles are summarized, the next step is to begin the introduction.
Step Two: Write the Introduction
A proposal for approval of a dissertation topic contains three chapters consisting of the introduction, the literature review, and the methodology. Step two will be the development of a seven to ten page introduction that states the problem, the purpose, the significance, limitations, and delimitations of the study (G. Bedore, personal communication May 4, 2014). For the month of January, 2015, I will write two pages each week of the introduction. One of the biggest obstacles for the individuals interviewed about completing the dissertation is designating specific times for writing. Family, work, and other life situations arise that challenge the goal of writing each week. By starting early, two to three pages of writing a week is productive, manageable, and keeps the researchers mind focused on the study.
Step Three: Write the Literature Review
The articles have been summarized and organized by theme. The introduction paves the way for the “what” of the study, and the literature review describes the “why” of the study (G. Bedore, personal communication, May 4, 2014). The literature review is typically chapter two of the dissertation and is approximately 30 pages in length (Creswell, 2013). Depending on the methodology of the study, the literature review can be found in other areas. For example, in a qualitative study the literature review could appear in the introduction or at the end (Creswell, 2013). The key features of the literature gathered are to support the study and build upon past research. The literature justifies the importance of the study and advances previous studies (Kucan, 2011). From February, 2015 through July, 2015, I will write three pages each week of the literature review. By the end of July, I will have ample pages to work through, edit, and refine.
Step Four: The Methodology
The study will be qualitative and focus on individual experiences rather than quantitative that would focus on a quantity of behaviors. Both of the doctors interviewed about their dissertation process conducted qualitative studies. Bob shared that his study was a hermeneutic phenomenological analysis based on human experiences (personal communication, May, 7, 2014). Sam shared that he believes in the field of counseling a qualitative study is effective as it focuses on “essence” rather than “frequency” (personal communication, May, 7, 2014). Data will be gathered through face-to-face interviews and questionnaires. Each participant will be asked the same questions that have been approved by the IRB board and based on questions that have been used and approved in past research studies. Questions should be high in validity, reliability, and homogeneity to ensure consistency (Fink, 2009). From August, 2015 through September, 2015, I will write two pages each week of the methodology section. The methodology section consists of six to ten pages and outlines how data will be gathered.
Step Five: Collect Data and Write Conclusion
Once the proposal has been submitted and approved, I can begin to collect data. I have already done most of the dissertation work in the first three chapters so a large section is completed. The qualitative data gathered through interviews can be transcribed and my data can be processed through Nvivo, a computer program for “crunching data” (Sam, personal communication, May 7, 2014). Once the data is assessed, only a conclusion remains. The conclusion consists of about seven to 20 pages which I can complete during the spring of 2016. Finishing the majority of the work at the start, supplies ample time left to proofread and finalize the paper.
Dividing each section of the proposal into steps spread out over the next one and a half years is less problematic than waiting until all coursework is done and then beginning to summarize articles. I do not intend to waste any of the valuable time allotted to me as I do coursework. The five steps break down the first three chapter of the dissertation into a more manageable undertaking. The helpful advice and suggestions I learned from the Residency 1 seminar and from the doctors I interviewed have instilled motivation, determination, and commitment to completing a rough proposal by the end of coursework.
Creswell, J. (2013). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches [VitalSource bookshelf version]. Retrieved from http://digitalbookshelf.argosy.edu/books/9781483345840/2/3
Fink, A. (2009). Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper [VitalSource bookshelf version]. Retrieved from http://digitalbookshelf.argosy.edu/books/9781412995016/3/29
Kucan, L. (2011). Approximating the practice of writing the dissertation literature review. Literacy Research and Instruction, 50(3), 229-240. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/878894205?accountid=34899
I have identified five steps that will assist me in completing my dissertation. I learned these steps from both the doctoral interviews and attending the residency, and they are crucial towards my overall success in the doctoral program. The first stage is to organize work, continuing to step two, which is to motivate myself to do the work and myself. The third phase requires me to be persistent, followed up by the fourth step; utilize all my resources. The final step is to improve my literacy skills.
During the interview process with the two doctors, they both stated the importance of organizing my work. One suggested that I have a section in my home reserved for research articles, and materials to write. This designated section in my house, would be the place where I would write. He mentioned that having a special area would force me to focus on my writing. The other doctor suggested that I organize articles through the online library, and keep the articles that pertain to my research topic. In mentioning how to store the articles, he suggested using Refworks, because it is a tool available through the online library, and it allows me to store my articles and retrieve them later. I learned at the residency that Refworks is also helpful when you are trying to remember where you obtained some information. One of the other doctors mentioned, going through the paper and labeling everything with sub-headings, as you receive the information then insert it in the paper. Learning to be more organized will be helpful, because it saves time, and will motivate me to completing the process.
At residency, I heard plenty of stories of people that overcame hardship while working on their dissertation. One woman was homeless, and she managed to go the library and complete her dissertation. If a homeless person can complete this work, then I am capable of completing this work. Another story was a woman that was dying of cancer, and she wanted to leave a legacy for her family. I am sure her family was proud of her. One of the doctors mentioned that his father died, while he was working on his dissertation. He managed to finish his dissertation, and graduate. Motivation is a good, because it will assist you in being persistent.
One of the doctors pointed out that a committee member was taking too long to read a chapter. When someone appears to be taking too long to complete things, then find a better way. A suggestion would be to continue working on the additional chapters. Persistence is important, because you can find ways to employ additional resources.
One of the doctors brought up the idea of locating dissertations that are similar to your topic, and consider extending their research. By extending the research, you are able to use some of the literature review. The experts at residency stated that we would use existing surveys. I was considering researching some of the studies that share similarities to my topic, and the types of tools employed in those studies. It is possible that I could utilize those tools from previous studies. The professionals at residency endorsed the use of the online librarian as an additional source of assistance. I learned how to use the calendar, and located days in which the librarian would be able to help with research. Another suggestion made at residency, utilize the online tutoring lab. The tutoring lab is a great resource, if you would like to have someone read your paper, and make recommendations. One of the doctors mentioned having someone read your paper and offer suggestions. Utilizing all the skills will help improve my literacy skills.
At residency one of the doctors mentioned locating an article a day, and being able to summarize what you read. Another suggestion from residency was to read articles about your topic, so that you become an expert in the field. It was suggested that you locate an area of interest, and narrow the topic, so that you complete it. At both residency and interviews it was suggested to sacrifice other things to spend more time reading and writing. It was mentioned that this is going to be the hardest thing to do, but you have to work on it daily. At residency it was mentioned to write at least two pages a day.
I feel that the information that I acquired will be helpful in me completing my dissertation. I will use all the advice and consider learning more steps as time progress. I feel that obtaining this information is important, because it will guide me through the process. I feel more prepared to travel this journey, and more eager to get started. I am committed and dedicated to complete this lonely journey.
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