It’s a wrap! I recently completed my dissertation and I will not pretend that it was a breeze. There was much anxiety, many sleepless nights and a few (okay many) chocolate overloads. With caring for my children, grading papers for work and the other responsibilities that come with being a wife and mom, there were some things that made the process easier for me. Staying a step ahead is one factor that helped me move along rather swiftly through the process. Remember, while you want this dissertation to be done well, you don’t want to lose your mind in the process. Like the other assignments you have written while in school, this is a paper; a requirement. Give it the best you can while also considering your current lifestyle requirements. Here are some specific steps to help you along the way. The year before you enter the dissertation phase start considering topics. Select a chair and brainstorm some potential topics with him or her.
- Choose your chair carefully (if you have that option). Your chair should be someone who believes in you and can pull out the very best from you. Think about the professors you have had throughout the academic portion of your studies. Who was most helpful? Who was most understanding? Whose feedback did you look forward to?
- Pick a topic that you actually care about. What will propel your research if you choose a topic that does not
matter to you? What are you passionate about? What do you want to add to the research that exists?
- Become a pro at skimming articles. You will need to read article after article to find gaps in research. Remember your topic should add to the research, to do that you must demonstrate gaps in the research that exists. Thus, reading is necessary. Instead of reading the entire article, skim through it. Read the abstract, skim for keywords, skim the methods section looking for information of the sample population, skim the results section and read the future research section (this section will help you frame ideas for your study).
- Get a cheerleader or two!
Find one or two people who have recently completed the dissertation process. Their feedback will be tremendously beneficial to you.
- Determine your research method. Will you select a qualitative or a quantitative method? Consider the frame of the research study, but also consider your personal situation. While I prefer qualitative research, it was not a feasible option considering the fact that I recently had a baby. A quantitative study met my personal needs and the needs of the study. (I selected quantitative so some of the advice I give will be specific to a quantitative study).
- Once you have selected a topic, begin writing. Commit to writing every day for at least an hour. It doesn’t have to be an hour straight, 15 minutes here or there will suffice. Make this time a priority for the first portion of your dissertation (Chapter 1).
- As you move forward into Chapter 2, which is the literature review, you will need to commit more time to writing. My goal each day was to review five articles a day. I would do two in the morning, one mid-day and two at night. Chapter 2 can be daunting and overwhelming, just as much of the dissertation process can be, but the key is biting off one piece at a time. Remember, five a day!
- There will be days or maybe even weeks where you are waiting to hear back from your chair as you submit each chapter for review. Use this time to do the following:
- Fill out any paperwork needed (IRB or HSRB forms)
- Complete any ethics training needed.
- Send emails to the creators of the instruments you will use to get their approval for instrument use.
Remember, get a head start on the next step as you wait to hear back from your chair.
Once you have completed Chapter 3, usually you will have to defend your proposal (what you plan to do). Don’t fret! The proposal defense is a time to discuss what you are interested in, how you will conduct the study, why you want to conduct the study and how the study will be beneficial to research theory and your specific field. After the proposal defense, it’s data collection time. Go ahead and purchase any software needed for data analysis. Here are some additional tips on that phase.
- If you are conducting an online study, select a survey system that has the functions you need. For me, that was Survey Monkey. While I was under the impression that Survey Monkey was free, there are limitations to the free service in terms of number of responses allowed. If you need over 100 responses and have over 10 questions, there will be a cost to this service. Be aware of the costs associated with your study.
- Do a little digging on the website of whichever survey service you decide to use. It is very important that you create your survey correctly to avoid problems in data collection. Here are some mistakes that I made that you should avoid:
- Overlapping – when designing questions on age, tenure, etc., make sure that the dates, ages, etc. do not overlap.
- Make all questions required. If you don’t do this people will skip questions. Trust me they will.
- More than likely you will be using a Likert scale, to make the transfer to data analysis software easier, be sure to add weight to each question and use reverse scores where necessary.
- Another option is to conduct a pilot test. Get a few family members to take your survey so that you can catch any discrepancies before you conduct your actual study.
- How will you gain participants? Email or social media? I chose social media, and if that’s your choice here is my advice…Practice your pitch. I assumed that it would be easy to get people to take a five-minute survey. Wrong! It was like trying to sell a worn handbag with holes in it. The biggest help was posting in specific groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. Also, ask friends and family to share the link to your survey on their social media pages.
- After data collection has commenced, begin the analysis process. If you need help at any point, ask your chair. Generally, he or she will walk you through the analysis process.
- Once analysis is completed…. write. Get back to writing for an hour a day, every day. Let no day go by without you committing time and energy into your dissertation.
Once you have completed the writing portion you will have to defend your dissertation. This can be pretty nerve wrecking, but relax. Your chair would not set you up to fail. By scheduling your defense, he or she is confident in your ability to share your findings. That’s what the defense is…sharing what you discovered. Did you stick to the proposal? What were your results? Was your hypothesis proven? What are the theoretical and practical implications? What do you suggest to future researchers? These are questions you will address in your defense. But you know this stuff because you’ve been living and breathing this research every day. You know it inside out.
Being a step ahead of the process is what helped me finish my dissertation in record time. I set a goal, expressed that goal to my chair and he helped me reach that goal. As a mom, that means that I wrote while they slept, I wrote while they played in the backyard and I wrote at every free moment. Writing a dissertation is really like writing a book. You need a clear head for the words to be able to flow. With that said, you will need to create space in your life and in your house for this process. It can be done! I am proof!
Grammarly – This app will catch grammatical errors and makes suggestions to enhance the paper.
PerfectIt – This website will help find consistent errors such as missing hyphens or inconsistencies in the use of hyphens.
Reciteworks – This website matches your in-text citations to your reference page and checks APA adherence.