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Dissertation Help Using Action Research to Draft Your Methodology Chapter
Other articles have discussed the desirability of doctoral students seeking dissertation assistance establishing study and work teams and the benefits these teams may find in using the action research process during their dissertation writing. For many PhD students, writing the third chapter, their methodology chapter, is by far the most difficult of the five chapter dissertations to write. I think this is because it requires so many new skills and has the added importance of being critical to your ability to defend your research proposal. People who are not researchers suddenly feel the need to write as if they are. This article describes a 10-week program focused on action research through which students can develop a solid outline of their methodology. The three steps of action research (discovery, measurable action, and reflection) will help you get through the design work necessary to write a check
Before the first working/study group meeting, all participants should do a solid discovery cycle. Things that are needed include: 1) a long list of all the questions you are asking about your topic, 2) examples of dissertations or research papers based on the methodology you are considering, 3) a solid collection of titles from your university, authors on dissertation writing books, and the web -spaces for the methods chapter and 4) any research books you found useful. I recommend Creswell (2009), Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches, Third Edition. His writing is direct, precise, and PhD students generally find it very helpful.
1st week: The first group meeting should probably be long, at least two hours. During this time, your group will review those four things that everyone brought to the meeting, one by one. You should analyze what you like or dislike about each type of example. For example, your questions lead the way and so as you look at sample dissertations or research papers you should ask yourself if the methodology you find interesting can easily be applied to answering the questions you have stated. You should also compare the examples you have, the titles they use, the way they write the methodology, with your university’s titles and suggestions from the authors of the books or websites you use for dissertation help. By the end of this meeting, you should determine the headings you will use. Be sure to take good notes as a group and keep talking until everyone can say they have a pretty solid idea of what they would put under each heading.
The measure of the actions of your study groups in the first weeks will be how easy it is for you to quickly outline or draw some text under each heading in the following week. Don’t let yourself get stuck. When you don’t know what to say, just move on to the next section.
2nd week: Everyone brings their writing and discusses how it went. This week’s work is to identify gaps in understanding that are preventing you from completing the chapter quickly. Generally, the challenges you face, under one of several headings, you don’t understand: 1) the logic of the chapter, or 2) how the pieces are supposed to go together, or several types of methodology seem to fit any other you’d choose, or 3) you know that you need to have a research question or main hypothesis and it seems impossible to create one thing and have all the ideas you have. There may be other obstacles you face. This week’s work-study group discussion is about figuring out what those barriers are, and then spending the week in a cycle of discovery trying to find the answers you need. For example:
- For example, if you need to better understand the logic of the chapter, you could: search the web for articles and videos that discuss it, analyze your model dissertation, read Creswell, discuss the challenge with your university mentor, and read books on dissertation writing.
- If you don’t know what type of methodology to choose, the revelation is twofold: first, dig deeper into the literature on the methodologies you’re considering, looking for authors who can tell you how it differs from other methods, why you should use them, and how long they take to implement. Remember that a methodology is a tool and just like you wouldn’t want to use a hammer on a screw, you don’t want to use a more complicated tool than you need. Time is also a factor, some methodologies are time consuming, more than the PhD student is aware of until it is too late to change. Another thing you can do, in fact you should do, is make an appointment with your advisor to discuss your ideas.
- As for coming up with your overarching research question or hypothesis, it’s been my experience that these things evolve over time. It may be helpful to view writing this as an ongoing measurable action. Write questions or hypotheses that you think might work and then show them to others for feedback and measurement. See what others think, show it to researchers and let them help you write your words. The question is crucial because the way it is formulated is laced with methodological choices, the subtlety of which will make the whole topic seem vague and mysterious at first.
Your individual work between sessions is to dig deeper into specific issues you are facing and come back with resources and ideas that you think will help others.
3rd, 4th and 5th week: For the next three weeks, each meeting will be a short example of the entire action research process. Since you ended last week discussing what you’ve done, the challenges you face, and where you’d go to discover the answers you need, you begin by sharing what you’ve discovered between time and where it’s taking you. Then you take measurable action by acting as critical friends and helping each other work on specific parts of the letter. Your action is to outline what you think you want to say, and the response of your colleagues is your measure. Finally, you end the meeting by reflecting on roadblocks you still face, where you think you can find your answers, and what you will do over the next week.
You’ll probably have a pretty solid chapter outline by the end of week five. If this is the case, your group may decide that it would be better to spend time showing the outline to other people, especially your adviser or researchers who have done this specific type of research you think you want, rather than meeting in week 6 for their feedback.
6th week: This week is all measurable action — show your work to the most rigorous faculty members you know and get all the feedback you can. Keep in mind that peer review is always somewhat brutal, but leads to well-thought-out and easy-to-implement work. Be sure to ask how long people think it will take you to complete the work you’ve designed. You should know from the start what your time requirements will be so that you can build your schedule accordingly.
7th, 8th, 9th week: When your work-study group gets back together, you’ll likely have a lot to talk about. Help each other separate important messages from those you can deal with later. Also help each other define the work that will turn what you’ve moved into a solid draft ready for review in the next three weeks. Weeks 7, 8 and 9 are mirror images of weeks 3, 4 and 5 where you do small action research cycles each week. First you share your findings, then you decide what the best next actions will be and how you can get feedback to measure those actions, and always before you go think about how far you’ve come and your goals for the next week.
10th week: This week should be a celebration and solid reflection of what you’ve learned, the difference between each of your papers, and where you still want to go before you feel your methodology is solid enough to be included in your dissertation proposal. I hope you decide to enjoy it because you have completed a very difficult task, which builds a solid foundation for your work and your progress towards graduation.
Many authors have written that the doctoral path is lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. The authors hope that uncovering simple processes that small study groups can use will form more. Using action research as a foundation for your collaborative work will significantly impact the ability of groups to make rapid progress.
Author’s Note: This article was written as part of my own measurable action cycle and I look forward to your feedback so I can determine my own measurement of its strengths and weaknesses. I hope to hear that this weekly review has been adopted by a group of PhD students and find out how it went smoothly, and maybe clear revisions are needed.
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