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What is a Dissertation? Just Ask Any Doctoral Candidate!

May 10, 2015 - Posted to How to: Writing Dissertation

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Doctoral candidates may define dissertation with any number of subjective comments – “that terrible thing I have to complete before I get my degree,” “that culminating piece of research which is going to define me in my field,” or “that project that is going to consume the next 12-18 months of my life.” They all understand, however, that to define dissertation paper writing, they must include all of the components of the process – topic and research question refinement, proposal, and all of the chapters that are included in the work itself. So let’s define doctoral dissertation as that huge research project that will demonstrate your worthiness to be awarded a Ph.D. Perhaps the second most significant chapter of the dissertation (second only to the results and discussion chapter), is the methodology chapter, and there are certainly some pitfalls to avoid.

What the Methodology Chapter Must Contain

In the early stages of planning the dissertation, the candidate must devise a proposed methodology for dissertation work, and it must be contained in the proposal that is presented and, ultimately, accepted by one’s committee. And here is the “rub.” If a committee is to take issue with or make any suggestions for changes, it will be as it looks through this section of the proposal. They will have concerns about potential constraints or nuisance factors for which you must provide. If you have included a rough draft of your instruments, they may want some changes to them. In short, the dissertation methodology portion of your work will probably face the greatest scrutiny.

So, what is dissertation methodology, and what should be included? First, you should understand that it is perfectly okay in your proposal to state that the details of your methodology may change as you continue to pursue your literature review and continue to refine the research that you will be doing. Art of understanding what is a dissertation is to understand that it is always a work in progress, and that you will always be refining as you proceed with production. A committee expects this, too, so do not be too discouraged as they keep making suggestions – just smile and say “okay.” But, in general, here is what you must include in your methodology section.

You will want to be certain that you have the following in your methodology chapter of your work:

  • A clear design for your research – are you conducting original research? If so, will you have experimental and control groups? How will you determine those groups so that they are essentially the same prior to your treatment on your experimental group? You may want to consider, for example, matched pairs as you compose those groups. Exactly what data will you be collecting as your research moves forward. Are you conducting a case study? How do you intent to get the information and data you will need to support your hypothesis? If your case study involves a business organization, for example, what documents will you request from that organization and who will you interview? How will you provide for nuisance factors of subjectivity on the part of those you interview?
  • Your Instruments:  Designing your instruments is a critical part of the methodology section of dissertation production, because they must be precisely constructed to focus only on your research questions. One of the biggest mistakes dissertation writers make is adding superfluous detail to instruments which then can “muddy the waters” and impact the validity of the study.

It would be wise as you begin to construct your methodology chapter to consult a good dissertation methodology guide. Your department may already have one, but, if not, the Internet has numerous guides that will help you along the way. Another option is to get a professional consultant your field who can review your research question and design, analyze your instruments, and make some good suggestions for improvement. TrustedDissertations.com has trusted field experts who can provide this guidance to doctoral candidates.  

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