Note: Reprinted with the kind permission of Dr. Simon of Walden University



How to Do an Excellent Proposal


Marilyn K. Simon, Ph.D.


What is a Dissertation Proposal?


A dissertation proposal is a blue print for your research. It usually consists of three chapters, and it must contain sufficient detail to convince faculty readers that the proposed investigation: 1) has potential to contribute valuable knowledge to the field, 2) is sufficiently planned to assure that the project can be completed (answers research questions) as described in the proposal document, and 3) will possess the level of intellectual rigor commonly expected at the doctoral level. A Dissertation must pass the ROC bottom test- it must be Researchable (doable), Original, and Contributory. Proposals are written in the future tense - dissertations in past tense. A Table of Contents is a MUST!!! APA 5th edition format is required.

In the proposal you will discuss things that you ARE GOING to do, rather than things you have done.  According to Dr. Robert E. Hoye, “The most important aspect of writing a proposal is the need to ensure that all of the parts of the proposal fit together. You cannot change your methodology without adjusting the purpose and the significance” (personal communication, 2001).  The review of literature has to be related to the problem and the hypothesis.  Any time you change something in your proposal you must make sure than any other parts of the proposal with which it is associated are likewise changed. EVERYTHING MUST FIT AND MAKE SENSE; EVERYTHING IS RELATED.

Effective research of any kind requires an orderly and disciplined process. It follows a planned, systematic approach that takes full advantage of all resources and materials and makes the best use of the researcher's time. It eliminates the confusion and disappointment that result from a haphazard approach.

Choosing a Topic to Research


In a doctoral dissertation a research topic must meet three criteria defined above - it must pass the ROC bottom test! In order to sustain your attention it should also be a personal interest in this topic and, preferably, something that exudes a great passion from you.  You should also consider the audience (including the committee) who will read the document and pick a topic that can contribute towards your career goals and contribute to your profession and society at large.  Once you find the field you wish to plough, you will choose a piece of land to cultivate. Your dissertation topic should be an original contribution to scholarly research, which fills a serious void in the literature, or replicates a study in a different environment or time, extends prior knowledge, or develops a new theory.


One excellent way to find a topic is to network with other researchers around the globe. With the Internet this can be easily accomplished by joining listservs. Attending professional meetings is another excellent place to understand the current problems in your field. A review of the literature often reveals a topic worthy of researching. Creswell (2002) suggested asking three basic questions to determine if the topic is worthy of doing at the doctoral level:  Will the study of the issue contribute to knowledge and practice?  Can the participants and sites be studies?  Can the problem be researched given the researcher’s time, resources, and skills (p.83)? 


Title:  The title should indicate, succinctly, what the thrust of the research will be. It should be 15 words or less.

Chapter 1 – Introduction

Please note: The order that the information is presented does not necessarily reflect the order that these sections appear in the proposal or disseration.



            In about 1-5 paragraphs prepare the reader for your study. The introduction needs to capture your reader’s interest and attention and get the reader ready for the study that you propose. It puts your study into a context, and introduces the reader to the topic by citing recent studies. APA style says NOT to put the title “Introduction.” The purpose of this chapter is to frame the entire study and capture the attention of the reader. It is key to put the research study into perspective/context and establish, through a succinct problem statement, the need for the research. This is not a review of the literature, although some references could be included at this point. 

Background of Problem

The purpose of the background section is to provide information on how the problem evolved, what has been researched in previous studies, and what dimension of the problem (conceptual/theoretical framework) will be focused on the research. The most salient references that support the problem should be found in this chapter as opposed to chapter 2.

Problem Statement

This is the most important part of any study and where you need to begin your blueprint (Simon and Francis, 2002). After reading the problem statement, the reader will know why you are doing this study and be convinced of its importance. In 200 words or less you need to convince the reader that this study MUST be done! Society or one of its institutions has some pressing problem that needs closer examination. YOUR study will attempt to answer some part of this serious problem in a unique and clever way. The problem statement will also hint as to the nature of the study- correlation, evaluative, historical, experimental, etc. A problem might be defined as the issues that exist in the literature, theory or practice that leads to a need for the study. Begin to develop your problem statement by asking yourself: What is the rationale for my doing this study? Never stray too far away from your problem as you conduct your research. According to Meltzoff (1998) an appropriate problem statement suggests a question and initiates a systematic process to obtain valid answers to that question.

According to Merriam (1997) there are three basic types of research problems:

Conceptual problem - two juxtaposed elements that are conceptually or theoretically inconsistent. For example, despite the NCTM urging the use of calculators in the classroom, many teachers refuse to comply.

Action problem – arises when a conflict offers no clear choice of alternative course of action. For example students are required to use the Internet but are not being offered the access to computers.  A new business model is needed to improve business practices. According to Blaxter, Hughes,  & Tight, M. (2002) an action problem is educative; deals with individuals as members of social groups; is problem-focused, context-specific and future-oriented; involves a change intervention; aims at improvement and involvement; involves a cyclic process in which research, action and evaluation are interlinked; and is founded on a research relationship in which those involved are participants in the change process.

Value problem – comes from undesirable outcomes. For example the growing disparity between those who have computer access and those who do no., or the abuse of power by the position one holds.

According to Creswell (2002), a problem is appropriate for doctoral research if the solution of this problem “contributes to educational knowledge by advancing research or adding to the effectiveness of practice” ( p.70)

Creswell determined five ways to identify how a study of a problem contributes to knowledge (pgs. 70 – 71): 

1.      It fills a void or extends existing research.

2.      It replicates a study with new participants or at new sites.

3.      The problem has not been studied or is understudied.

4.      The study gives voice to people not heard, silenced, or rejected in society.

5.      It identifies new techniques or technologies or the necessity to change current practice.

6.      The problem is researchable if the researcher can gain access to literature, people, and data and have access where needed. The researcher also must have the “time, resources and … research skills” (p. 70). The researcher must conduct an exhaustive literature research in order to determine originality and depth of contribution.

You will be judged on the degree to which you find the answer to the problem you pose and thus, achieve your purpose.

According to Leedy (2002) "The problem statement is the axial center around which the whole research effort turns. The statement of the problem must be expressed with the utmost verbal precision." The identification process of a research problem is critical, once identified; it has to be examined to determine if it can be studied. Once these two elements are satisfied actually writing the problem statement in precise, clear language is the first requirement of the research process and therefore provides the foundation for the research.

     According to Meltzoff (2003) the problem statement elucidates a need to describe how things are in the real world; to determine whether a phenomenon or a relationship can exist under any circumstance; or to predict explain or test a theory(p.45). The reader should be able to decipher whether the researcher will be able to generalize and if so if generalizations are warranted.  The problem statement paints a broader picture of the study than the purpose which is  derived from the problem statement. 



Creswell (1994) explained that the purpose statement establishes the direction for the research. Remenyl (1998) explained that the ultimate role of doctoral research is to add something of value to the body of accumulated knowledge.  If the intent of the problem statement is to appeal to the heart, the intent of the purpose statement is to appeal to the brain.  The purpose statement is the compass; a change in the purpose statement, changes the direction, and in turns the focus of the study. The purpose of the study needs to be described in a logical, explicit manner. The purpose statement details the reason why the study is being conducted. According to Creswell (2003, p. 648)  the purpose statement is a declarative statement that advances the overall direction or focus for the study…describe the purpose in one or more succinctly formed sentences…both in quantitative and qualitative research and is typically found in the introduction or beginning section of research.  Thus, a purpose statement distills the study into one or two declarative sentences from which the entire study will emanate. Purpose statements can be supplemented with additional information for clarification, but a single, succinct sentence that captures the essence of the study should identify the (a) research method, (b) the problem the study will examine, (c) the audience to which the problem is significant, and (d) the setting of the study.

A sample purpose statement that illustrates the above elements follows: “The purpose of this (a) qualitative, descriptive research study is to analyze (b) personal value patterns/profiles of (c) first-level supervisors at a (d) manufacturing facility in the Pacific Northwest.” In the purpose section you will narrow in on how you, the researcher will:  approach finding the answer to the problem posed; test the hypothesis (if one is stated); answer the research questions; and convince the reader that your plan is sound and logical. Thus, the purpose must be stated in a clear and concise manner incorporating the major goals and objectives of the study. Note: The researcher does not "prove" or “disprove” a hypothesis; rather he/she gathers data to determine whether or not the hypothesis is supported. Hypotheses transform a problem statement into a testable framework. 


You will need to explain:

1.      What type of digging you will be doing and why.

2.       What you intend to find out in your study.

3.      How you will approach: solving the problem posed; testing your hypothesis; and answering your research questions.

In a qualitative design the researcher will generally seek to explain, explore, call attention to a problem, and determine why a phenomenon exists. In a quantitative design the researcher will generally seek to examine a relationship between two or more variables and/or test a theory. The variables (both independent and dependent) should be clearly defined in both the purpose and the problem statement.  It is also important to have an operational definition or a description of the way the researcher will observe and measure a variable. This includes the criteria used to identify a variable or condition. Operational definitions are essential. They make intersubjectivity (objectivity) possible because they can be replicated, but they are almost always imperfect. For example, the operational definition of an obese person could be one who weighs more than 120% of his or her ideal weight as defined by an insurance company chart. We also need to differentiate between conceptual and operational definitions. Conceptual (i.e., constitutive) definitions use words or concepts to define a variable  Operational definition is an indication of the meaning of a variable through the specification of the manner by which it is measured, categorized, or controlled.

In a proposal, the purpose is placed in the future tense. In the dissertation it is placed in the past tense. It is best to begin with: The purpose of this (type) study is/was….

Characteristics of a Purpose Statement

A.     Reflects the problem statement

B.     Defines the reason for or goal of the study

C.     Usually includes the population/sample studied

D.     Clarifies the type of knowledge to be generated in a specific study

E.      Needs to be stated objectively; without bias

F.      Helps to decide feasibility, as well as time and financial commitment

G.     Considers the researcher’s actual or potential expertise, and that needed from others

H.     Considers availability of subjects and other resources




About ¾ of a page explaining why this is such a unique approach and who will be thrilled that this study is done (beside your family and friends!) Here is where you tell us what type of contribution you will be making to your profession and the society at large. You can offer three or four reasons on how this will add to the scholarly literature in the field, how this research will help improve practice or policy, or what negative effects can be anticipated if this study were not conducted.

Thus the significance statement must provide evidence that:

·        You will make an original contribution

·        There are global reasons for doing this worthwhile study

·        Have a unique approach to solve the problem you are investigating

·        You will add to the scholarly literature in your field.


About 5-6 pages.  Take us back in time and enlighten us as to some of the roots of this problem as well as some of the more modern aspects of it. You can explain how you, the researcher, got involved with this problem and some key studies and pioneers in the area, which you are investigating. Make sure that you footnote all studies you quote and site studies that lead you to certain conclusions and recommendations.  Don’t make any strong statement that you cannot substantiate- if you say our schools are failing- quote studies or experts.

Nature of the Study

            About 2-3 pages. Place this study with similar types- case study, historical, Correlational, experimental, quasi-experimental - and elaborate on this methodology. Justify why this is such a great way to look at this problem. If you use qualitative research methods explain why. If you are planning to do a quantitative study it is important that the researcher be objective and independent of the research itself, and control for bias as much as possible. The qualitative researcher generally will interact with those in the study and try to minimize the distance between him/her and those being researched. The quantitative researcher will generally tests theories and hypotheses, with the intent of generalizing results, whereas the qualitative researcher will seek to determine patterns to help explain a phenomenon.

One’s historical position, one's class (which may or may not include changes over the course of a lifetime), one's race, one's gender, one's religion, and so on - interact and influence, limit and constrain production of knowledge. In other words, who I am determines, to a large extent, what I want to study. In addition to social and historical position, a researcher's evolving self in terms of his or her deliberate educational and professional choices that he or she makes throughout his or her academic career also influence selection of a research topic. Most times researchers decide to study a topic because they see a "personal connection" to it at some level - either as a practitioner in the field, or as an individual. Mehra (2002) advises that students achieve continuity with who they were, who they are, who they want to become, what they did in the past, what they do now, and what they want to do in future.  She further suggest that students be driven by what they want to know, not by what they already know about a topic or the field. Research begins when we start thinking like a researcher when we begin to question what we know and what we believe.


Research Questions/Hypotheses

Research questions frame studies by indicating the variables/concepts/theories that will be tested. They are interrogative statements that narrow the purpose statement to specific questions that researchers seek to answer in their studies (Creswell, 2002, p. 648).

 They serve as the funnel of study. Having clear, well-defined research questions helps guide and focus the investigation. It is a good idea to state these for quantitative studies both here and in chapter 3.


If you consider the problem statement to be the foundation of the study, like the foundation to build a home, then the research questions provide the framing as the framing of the house actually provides the structure of the house.  You can still make it look different depending on the materials you use to dry-in or finish the house (methods of data collection and analysis), but the basic structure will hold the house together.


Creswell (2002) described the research question as “. . . interrogative statements that narrow the purpose statement to specific questions . . .” (p. 127).

The wordings of the hypothesis or research questions of quantitative studies utilize terms that directly relate to, or imply a cause-and-affect relationship between the variables of the study.  Words may include, but are not limited to testing, determining a relationship, determining the differences and so on; that is a descriptor that has the purpose to tie two or more variables (independent and dependent) together.


On the other hand, the wordings of qualitative research questions may utilize terms which are interpretive, exploratory, descriptive, understanding, defining and so on. These are terms that leave the judgment to the researcher to expand, expound and to add emerging question, leaving the study with a potential open end, rather than a closed end as in quantitative.  The type of wording that illustrates and emphasizes the focus of a qualitative and quantitative study is very well defined by Creswell, p. 145, figure 5.8:

Figure 5.8

Basic Differences between Quantitative and Qualitative Purpose

Statements and Research Questions

Quantitative-more closed                                                     Qualitative –more open minded


1.  Probable cause and effect-                                               1.  Descriptive-

     What is the Relationship? What happened?

2.  Use of theories-                                                                2.  Interpretive-

  Why did it happen in view of                                               What was the meaning to people an explanation or theory?                                                        of what happened?        

 3.  Assessing differences and magnitude-                            3.  Process-oriented-                                                           

      What extent is this problem?                                                    What happened over time?

      How frequent is this phenomenon?                                          

      What were the differences among groups in what happened?                           


A research question may include several variables (constructs) and thus several research hypotheses may be needed to indicate all of the anticipated relationships (Cooper & Schindler, 2003).  Accordingly, the number of hypotheses is determined in explanation of relationships among variables (constructs) or comparisons to be studied.


Cone and Foster, (2002) explained the rational needed for making predictions (hypotheses) usually comes from two sources;

bullet previous empirical research--including applied and program evaluation research 
bullet theory research--the nature of hypothesized relationships will have been suggested by research and the specific hypotheses in a related situation.

Example: If a social psychologist theorized that racial prejudice is due to ignorance, and if  education reduced ignorance, a hypothesis to test this theory might be: The more highly educated a person, the less his/her  prejudice should be; or There is a relationship between education and prejudice. A survey that found an inverse relationship between education and prejudice levels (more education less prejudice --  would support this theory -- that prejudice is a function of ignorance).  It should be clear from the hypothesis and research questions:

-          What variables the researcher manipulating or the presumed cause, or predictor in a study? (These are the IV’s or Independent variables)
In the example: The IV is education level

-          What results are expected, or the presumed effect of the study, or the predicted result? (These are the DV’s  or Dependent variables)
In the example the DV is the level of ignorance with regard to prejudice.

When formulating your hypotheses the rationale for these expectations should be made explicit in the light of your review of the research and statement of theory. If a survey is used to measure the IV and DV, there should be consistency among the answers.



Scope (delimitations) and limitations of Study

About 2 paragraphs- 1 page delineating who or what the population is and any special characteristics of the population. The delimitations address how the study will be narrowed; or the boundaries of the study. For example, a study about education in California could not necessarily be applicable to any other geographic region.

 Limitations identify potential weaknesses of a study. If the population is a sample by convenience and not randomized then it cannot be generally applied to a larger population... only suggested. If you are looking at one aspect, say achievement tests, and then the information is only as good as the test itself. You can also give a philosophical framework to limit the study. The variables that are being tested will also set a limit on what the findings can ascertain. Another limitation is time. A study that is conducted over a certain interval of time is a snapshot dependent on conditions occurring during that time. The researcher must explain how they tend to deal with the limitations so as not to affect the outcome of the study. Comments from an astute student:  I'm having the most fun considering the Delimitations and the Limitations components of my prospectus/proposal, and how the limitations might be overcome, or at least accommodated. It can be humbling and empowering at the same time to realize we are critically limited in so many ways, if not in our faulty processes, at least in our human failings. The empowerment comes from recognizing our shortcomings, and somehow adjusting for those the best we can. That's what makes us such a heroic species, when we do it right.


Theoretical Framework


This places the study in perspective among other relevant studies and describes the important issues, perspectives, and controversies in the field under investigation. Length: about 1-2 pages. As Merriam (1997, 53) pointed out, “How the investigator views the world affects the entire process—from conceptualizing a problem, to collecting and analyzing data, to interpreting the findings.”  Guba and Lincoln (1987) have articulated their views about the value of researchers disclosing their personal preferences: It is good medicine, we think, for researchers to make their preferences clear. To know how a researcher construes the shape of the social world and aims to give us a credible account of it is to know our conversational partner. If a critical realist, a critical theorist, and a social phenomenologist are competing for our attention, we need to know where each is coming from. Each will have diverse views of what is real, what can be known, and how these social facts can be faithfully rendered (Creswell, 2002). In a quantitative study theories are usually employed deductively and need to be placed in the beginning of the study. The researcher will generally present a theory (for example why calculators are not being used in a classroom) gather data to test the theory, and then return to the theory at the end of the study to confirm or disconfirm. Creswell further suggests that researchers can draw on a theoretical rationale to develop the variables used in research (p.138).


In a qualitative study an inductive mode of development tends to be used. Usually the qualitative researcher is more concerned with building a theory than testing it. It can be introduced in the beginning but will generally be modified an adjusted as the study proceeds. The theory or theories presented should be consistent with the type of qualitative design. It is generally something to develop rather than to test, which shapes the research process and creates a visual model of the theory as it emerges. It can also be compared and contrasted with existing theories at the completion of the research.


           For example, the “naturalistic” or “constructivist” paradigm is the belief that the number of realities in the world equals the number of individual humans on the planet, each of whom has constructed a personal reality. This belief is quite different from the traditional assumptions that a “true reality” exists and that this universal reality can be objectively uncovered through research.


Lincoln and Guba (1987) summarized the holistic approach to our social world.

It seems clear that whatever may be the state of affairs regarding paradigm fit in the so-called hard and life sciences; the naturalistic paradigm provides a better degree of fit with substantive paradigms in the areas of social/behavioral research. “We are like the world we see, and, more important, the world we see is like us. (p.87)"


According to Borgatti (1999), in a qualitative study, the theoretical framework is generally the set of assumptions or fundamental beliefs the researcher posses that affect the conclusions drawn.  The author states that an implicit framework (the assumptions and beliefs held) provides the reader with the tools to better judge the validity of the conclusions.

        Interpretive ( Christians & Carey, 1989; Jankowski & Wester, 1991; J. K. Smith, 1983; M. J. Smith, 1988);

        Humanism or humanistic studies ( Jankowski & Wester, 1991; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; M. J. Smith, 1988);

        Phenomenology ( Bogdan & Taylor, 1975; Jankowski & Wester, 1991; Lincoln & Guba, 1985);

        Naturalistic ( Jankowski & Wester, 1991; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Lindlof, 1991; Lindlof & Meyer, 1987; M. L. Smith, 1987);

        Hermeneutic ( Christians & Carey, 1989; Lincoln & Guba, 1985);

        Ethnography ( Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Lindlof, 1991; Lindlof & Meyer, 1987; M. L Smith, 1987);

        Ethnomethodology ( Lindlof, 1991);

        Critical theory and cultural science (Christians & Carey, 1989);

        Postpositivistic, subjective, and case study ( Lincoln & Guba, 1985);






        Interactionist ( Jankowski & Wester, 1991).




Potter, W. J. (1996). An Analysis of Thinking and Research about Qualitative Methods. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates


World View


Before undertaking research, it is a good idea to determine your worldview. A worldview is an explanation and interpretation of the world as well as an application of this view to life. A researcher employs a world view when s/he uses a well known theory to advance practice.  According to Owens: “Theory is the term that is used for systematically organized knowledge thought to explain observed phenomenon. The alternative to using theoretical knowledge is to scurry through the maze of professional practice mindlessly hoping to take the right actions but guessing all the way. There is nothing more practical than good theory, for it proves the foundation for taking appropriate action in a busy, complex world where few problems are truly wimple, where time is chronically short, and where any decision usually leads only to the need for further decisions” (p.68) To help distinguish epistemological assumptions of qualitative and quantitative research paradigms that are part of the researcher’s worldview,  the following list of questions found at could help:

bullet What is Research? (A tip: Try to find some definition(s) that match your interpretation of the word, compare that with other definitions you may find in research methodology books).
bullet What are the different ways of conducting research?
bullet What are the different possible outcomes of research?
bullet What kind of knowledge will my research generate?
bullet How will my research inform my practice, others' practice, theory in the field? Will I have any generalizable/transferable findings from my research?  [Generalizability is enhanced when multiple observers or interviewers are used across treatments, and the effects can be measured directly (LaCoursiere, 2003, p. 264)].
bullet How will I connect my different "selves" - individual, practitioner and researcher? 
bullet What will I as an individual learn from my research - as a process and as a product?
bullet How will my research affect my clients, peers, and supervisors?

Example:  Some have argued that the Web is essentially anarchistic and materialistic while others have labeled it democratic and enabling. Clearly one's perceptions will be colored by one's perspective and world-view.


Poggenpoel, Myburgh, and Van der Linde (2001) view qualitative and quantitative research as complementary undertakings. They claim


The problem statement and the aims of a specific research project should determine the research strategy that is to be followed. If this approach is followed in conducting research it can promote interdisciplinary research, multi-disciplinary team research and respect for each other as researchers. There will no in fights, polarization or any other superficial debates, only a quest for knowledge. Researchers are challenged to work together, support or facilitate the development of novice researchers and prevent poor quality research.


In regards to a preference for a particular research strategy, the value of both research design strategies, depending upon the phenomenon and problem, implies that qualitative research can also serve as a springboard for quantitative research. 






These are usually things that are somewhat out of your control, but if they disappear your study would become irrelevant. For example if you are doing a study on the utilization of technology, there is an underlying assumption that technology will continue to be important in the future.  If you are conducting a survey you need to assume that people will answer truthfully. If you are choosing a sample you need to assume that this sample is representative of the population you wish to make inferences to. You must justify that each assumption is “probably” true, otherwise the study cannot progress. To assume, for example that participants will answer honestly you can explain how anonymity will be preserved and that the participants are volunteers.

Gay and Airasian (2000) admonished that the best defense to non-responders to individual items on the questionnaire, is the careful examination of the questionnaire during the pre-test activities. They argued that this is the time that problems with items are most likely to show up. Subjecting the survey questionnaire to rigorous examination will reduce item non-response and this will pose no significant problem to data and research analysis (p.290).


Gay, L.R., & Airasian, P. (2000). Educational research: Competencies for Analysis and

Application (6th ed.). Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.


Chapter 2 - Review of the Literature

Literature Review

About 30 pages in the proposal and at least twice that in the dissertation. Find studies that have tried to answer the questions that you are asking. Summarize these studies, compare them, contrast them, organize them, and lump similar ones together. Make sure that you give references and properly footnote each quote. Report on the samples that they used and how they were selected, what instruments they used to obtain data and their conclusions. Primary sources are preferred over secondary sources. Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually and reflects the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer.  A secondary source is a work that interprets or analyzes an historical event or phenomenon. It is generally at least one step removed from the event.

If there is a small amount of literature on your topic, then place your topic in a larger set or sets, and describe the lit review in these areas. For example, a study on the effectiveness of employee leasing could look at leasing machinery and new ideas in business. In the past, a literature review was expected to be exhaustive but this is no longer possible. .  According to Dr. Hoye: “The review should be extensive, and the reader must be able to fit your purpose into existing literature.   Most dissertations have about 100-200 sources. The proposal can have about ¾ of this. Make certain that most references are from current peer-reviewed and refereed journals. Your job is to tie this literature into a cogent whole.  Your approach should be analytical as well as descriptive.” 

Conducting a thorough and extensive literature review is one of the most important early steps in a research project. This is also one of the most humbling experiences you're likely to have. Because you're likely to find out that just about any worthwhile idea you will have has been thought of before, at least to some degree. Every time I teach a research methods course, I have at least one student come to me complaining that s/he couldn't find anything in the literature that was related to her/his topic. And virtually every time I was able to determine that s/he only looked for articles that were exactly the same as the research topic posed. A literature review is designed to identify related research, to set the current research project within a conceptual and theoretical context. When looked at that way, there is almost no topic that is so new or unique that we can't locate relevant and informative related research.


Knowledge and Use of Related Literature


The chapter should begin with a paragraph that clearly outlines the organization of the literature presented and its organization in the chapter.  The need for the study is established through the literature, and the historical and philosophical development of the field is described such that the proposal reflects an adequate knowledge of other research related to the problem.  Unsolved problems and unresolved issues are identified, and gaps in the literature explained.   The literature review explicates the study’s theoretical framework and variables.  Quotations are used appropriately.  Related and generic fields are covered, and the review is comprehensive in coverage of major points of view drawn from primary, peer-reviewed / referred scholarly / professional journal-based articles from the last three years.  Appropriate literature is cited to provide a rationale for the study’s methodologies (research design, instruments, methods of data collection and data analysis).  The chapter reveals (a) the relationship of the proposed study to past and current research, (b) the extension of the body of knowledge that the proposed research will provide, (c) the distinctiveness of the proposed research compared with previous research, and (d) social change implications.


McNabb (2002, p. 57) offers the following list of data sources:


A. Existing documents

1. Books, periodicals, published reports, domestic and foreign

2. Local, state, and federal government documents

3. Trade and professional association reports

4. College and university documents

5. Minutes of meetings

6. Commercial databases

7. Other

B. Primary sources

1. Interviews

2. Life histories

3. Case analyses

C. Internal sources

1. E-mail

2. Memorandums

3. Reports and other documents

                        D. Surveys (in-person, mail, telephone, interactive)

1. Questionnaires

2. Attitude and lifestyle surveys, psychographics

E. Experiments and field studies

1. Laboratory experiments

2. Field experiments

3. Observation studies

4. Interviews

5. Videotaping and audio recordings


 Three major factors to consider when evaluating the scientific merit of quantitative studies are:

§       The instruments developed should explain the relationship among the variables

§       The statistics used to analyze the data are correct

§       Data interpretation occurs using prior predictions and research studies. (Creswell, 2002). 


Chapter 3 - Methodology


About 5-10 pages. OK, now give us step-by-step description on what you plan to do.  Start with your research questions and/or hypotheses - what are you trying to substantiate? (Write this both in lay terms and in symbolic form). Hypotheses are educated guesses and thus take a stand. If the study is quantitative then the researcher will also state the null hypothesis (no change) that will be tested statistically.  In a qualitative study research questions should begin with words that tell what or how the study will: discover, explain, explore, understand, describe, etc.  Research questions will generally evolve and change as the study proceeds.  In quantitative studies the research questions will remain constant.

The RESEARCH DESIGN must be clearly stated and justify the use of a specific quantitative or qualitative paradigm, and with the latter, the inductive or a quasi-deductive approach.  The rejected paradigm / approach is justified with a clear rationale.  The research design derives logically from problem or issue statement; encompasses all problem or issue elements; establishes relationships and sequencing among elements and, within the theoretical framework, the study variables -- independent, dependent, confounding, and the measurement scale of each variable (nominal, ordinal, interval, ratio).  The relationship between the hypotheses or research questions and the problem is established.  The type of research design is justified and is appropriate for the desired outcomes.  


The sample must be well described and appropriate. There are a variety of ways to obtain a sample:


Probability Sampling – each part of the population will be a sample of the population

1.      Simple Random Sampling – each member of the population has an equal chance of selection.

2.      Stratified Random Sampling – the population is layered (age, grade levels) and an equal number of participants are randomly selected from each layer.  For example, a  region or site could be divided into natural zones or strata such as ethnicity or age; units are then chosen by a random number procedure so as to give each unit a given percentage equivalent to the population, thus overcoming the inherent bias in simple random sampling.

3.      Proportional Stratified Sampling – if the strata are not in equal proportion, the proportion each stratum of the total population is computed and the amount of each stratum is selected to be representative of the population.

4.      Cluster Sampling – if the population is spread over a large area it may be subdivided into smaller areas, then a random sample of areas is selected for the study.

5.      Systematic Sampling – selecting clusters or people according to a predetermined sequence such as all even numbers, every 8th one, etc.


Nonprobability Sampling – researcher has no guarantee that the segment of people selected will represent the population.

6.      Convenience Sampling – people who volunteer for the sample or are readily available to take part in the study.

7.      Quota Sampling – selects people in the representative proportion of the population but not randomly.

8.      Purposive Sampling – selects people for a particular purpose, not randomly.


 A research hypothesis is a statement of (or conjecture about) the relationships among the variables that a researcher intends to study. Hypotheses should be testable statements about a relationship between variables.  If confirmed, then the hypothesis will support a theory.  A null hypothesis is the core idea of statistical hypothesis testing. This type of hypothesis states that two or more variables are not related or that two or more statistics are not the same. If there is evidence that the null hypothesis is false than the researcher indirectly demonstrates the variables are related. A null hypothesis must include an “=” sign when written in symbolic form.

Example: If a social psychologist theorized that racial prejudice is due to ignorance, a hypothesis to test this theory might be: If education reduced ignorance then the more highly educated a person, the less their prejudice should be, or education decreases prejudice. The null hypothesis would be that education has no effect on prejudice.   A survey that found an inverse relationship between education and prejudice levels (more education less prejudice -- would support this theory that prejudice is a function of ignorance).  It should be clear from the hypothesis and research questions:

-    What variables the researcher is manipulating or the presumed cause, or predictor in a study? (These are the IV’s or Independent variables) In the example: The IV is education level

-     What results are expected, or what is the presumed effect of the study, or what is the predicted result? (These are the DV’s or Dependent variables) In the example the DV is the level of ignorance.

Defining Independent and Dependent variables (Cooper & Schindler, 2002, pg. 47.)


Independent Variable                 Dependent Variable

Presumed cause                          Presumed effect

Stimulus                                     Response

Predicted from...                          Predicted to...

Antecedent                                  Consequence

Manipulated                                Measured outcome

Predictor                                     Criterion


When formulating your hypotheses the rationale for these expectations should be made explicit in the light of your review of the research and statement of theory. If a survey is used to measure the IV and DV, there should be consistency among the answers.

Make sure you describe your population and how you plan to select your sample (a description of the participants to be included in your study) from the population.

In a quantitative study you need to explain what instruments you will use to obtain data - validation and reliability information please- how will any tests be administered, any pilot programs that you will conduct, any panel of experts you plan to consult, how the data will be described, evaluated, (what statistical tests will be used if any?) possible outcomes, what the data mean, how this supports your research questions, how this could help solve, or provide knowledge to solve the problem. You need to insure both internal and external validity.  Internal validity is the "extent to which effect on dependent variable is the result from application of the treatment variable".  “While internal validity looks in on factors impacting the estimation of truth, external validity looks outward, to assess the potential conclusions that may be drawn from the research and their application within a population. With internal validity, the main effect is of primary interest, whereas with external validity, the interaction with the exposure is of primary concern. This has implications for selecting a research design…Campbell and Stanley distinguish internal validity as the "basic minimum without which any experiment is uninterpretable: Did in fact the experimental treatments make a difference in this specific experimental instance?  (p5).  In contrast, external validity "asks the question of generalizability: To what populations, settings, treatment variables, and measurement variables can this effect be generalized?  (LaCoursiere, 2003, p. 258). 



You must also make certain that if you are planning to use hypothesis testing that you have met all the assumptions necessary to use the test.  Each sub-section should be highlighted in some way. You want to convince the reader that you have a well thought out plan to collect, organize, analyze, and interpret data and can make some type of prediction based on your interpretation of the results. You must convince the reader that you can achieve the purpose of your study.

Owll (2002) gives a hypotheses checklist:

bullet Do your hypotheses suggest the relationship between two or more variables?
bullet Do your hypotheses specify the nature of the relationship?
bullet Do your hypotheses imply the research design to be used to study the relationship?
bullet Do your hypotheses indicate the population to be studied?
bullet Are they free of the mention of specific measures?
bullet Are they free of the mention of specific statistical tests?
bullet Are they free of other unnecessary methodological detail?
bullet Have they been kept to a manageable number (i.e., 5 to 6 or fewer?)


 If you are using someone else’s instrument, or modifying someone else’s instrument you must obtain permission from the author. This permission must be obtained prior to going to the Internal Review Board (IRB).


If the study is qualitative explain the intent of the research (to understand, explore, develop a theory, etc.) what instruments will be used to gather data (generally the researcher is the primary instrument of data collection) how interviews will be conducted, how tacit knowledge (intuitive) will be utilized, how the researcher will seek believeability based on coherence, insight, and instrumental utility, and trustworthiness through a process of verification.

 It is important to indicate how the process of qualitative analysis will be based on data reduction and interpretation. The researcher will take a voluminous amount of information and reduce it to certain patterns, categories, and themes and interpret this information using some type of schema. A plan to using matrices is often helpful.

Researcher as a tool


The qualitative researcher is the one who collects the data through observations, recollections, or recording of interviews. The data are then influenced by the researcher through characteristics within the researchers mind. All data come through the researcher's biases. A good researcher must be aware of those biases and consult with others in order to make sure the results are as bias-free as possible.  The researcher also determines the importance and the implications of the data and what to include and exclude from the study.

Mehrotra (2000) noted that the decisions we make are not always strictly ‘rational’. We are subject to certain biases and irrational behaviors like avoidance of ambiguity, letting the past influence decisions about the future, over-confidence, over-valuation of commodities, underestimation of task completion times and over-optimistic forecasts. We use various heuristics or general rules to make decisions, like availability, representativeness, adjustment and anchoring

It is crucial that you obtain several scholarly books, which can serve as a guide for the type of methodology (or methodologies) you choose. [See choosing a research method]. An example of a quantitative and qualitative methodology follows:

Qualitative – Phenomenological study:  Here human experiences are examined through the detailed description of the people being studied. Some of the pioneers in this methodology include: Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merlau-Ponty, Niewiadomy, Dukes, and Oiler.   Usually the researcher will study a small number of participants through extensive and prolonged engagement to develop patterns and relationships of meaning. The researcher will bracket his or her own experiences in order to understand those of the informants.

Quantitative – Quasi-Experimental – In this type of research control and experimental groups are selected (as in experimental) but participants are not randomly assigned to the groups.  Some type of “treatment” is given to the experimental group and statistical analyses are conducted to determine if a difference exists between the two groups. Some authors who explore this methodology include: Borg and Gall, Leedy, Enns and Hackett, Campbell and Stanley, Rosenthal and Rosnow.

For data analysis in quantitative studies you should reiterate your research questions/hypotheses and specify the type of analysis for each.  This needs to be in some detail.  According to Dr. Hoye: “You should say what statistical tests, if any, (t-test, chi-squared, Spearman ran correlation coefficient, etc.) you plan to use and what statistical package you plan to employ (STATVIEW, GBSTAT, SPSS, etc.). The more conventional your analysis, the less detail you may need because the meaning of what you are doing will be obvious.  On the other hand, if you are doing something unusual you should build the case for its legitimacy here.”

It is usually best to use an instrument (with permission) that has an established record rather than to create your own, if possible.   However, if you do decide to create your own then you must describe what you have done to see that it is valid (does what it purports to do) and is reliable (AKA consistent). Panels of experts, pilot studies, and content analysis can help in this respect.

In summary, the methods of data collection and data analysis must be appropriate for the chosen type of quantitative or qualitative research (e.g., experimental, quasi-experimental, non-experimental, predictive, methodological, historical, inductive qualitative, quasi-deductive qualitative, case study, longitudinal, correlational, Delphi) and a justification is offered.  The presentation of the research design and the study’s implementation must be sufficiently thorough as to enable replication of the proposed study in all its essential aspects.

Note: The ethical code of naturalist ethnography, considers all participants be treated as members in the research, not as participants. This is done through the process of “member checking,” which is a term for when the researcher gives the interviewees a chance to read interview transcripts and the draft of any results before publication. Interviewees can modify their comments and they have the option at any time to drop out of the research. The goal of member-checking is to treat participants as people involved in the knowledge creation that goes on in research, not as objects to be mined for information.

Social Impact: (About 2-3 pages) discuss how your finding could be put to use.  What insights you think other researchers will gain by your doing this study.  How will these insights affect the problem?  What could be done after the study to ameliorate certain conditions?  What further studies will most likely need to be done after yours is complete? Who would need to pay attention to the results of this study and how will that information be given to them?  How will the information you obtained affect your sample? Population? Society?

Pilot Study

The term pilot study is used in two different ways in social science research. It can refer to so-called feasibility studies which are "small scale version[s], or trial run[s], done in preparation for the major study" (Polit et al., 2001, p. 467). However, a pilot study can also be the pre-testing or 'trying out' of a particular research instrument (Baker 1994, pp. 182-3). One of the advantages of conducting a pilot study is that it might give advance warning about where the main research project could fail, where research protocols may not be followed, or whether proposed methods or instruments are inappropriate or too complicated. In the words of De Vaus (1993, p. 54) "Do not take the risk. Pilot test first." These are important reasons for undertaking a pilot study, but there are additional reasons, for example convincing funding bodies that your research proposal for the main study is worth funding. Thus pilot studies are conducted for a range of different reasons including:

bullet Developing and testing adequacy of research instruments
bullet Assessing the feasibility of a (full-scale) study/survey
bullet Designing a research protocol
bullet Assessing whether the research protocol is realistic and workable
bullet Establishing whether the sampling frame and technique are effective
bullet Assessing the likely success of proposed recruitment approaches
bullet Identifying logistical problems which might occur using proposed methods
bullet Estimating variability in outcomes to help determining sample size
bullet Collecting preliminary data
bullet Determining what resources (finance, staff) are needed for a planned study
bullet Assessing the proposed data analysis techniques to uncover potential problems
bullet Developing a research question and research plan
bullet Training a researcher in as many elements of the research process as possible
bullet Convincing funding bodies that the research team is competent and knowledgeable
bullet Convincing funding bodies that the main study is feasible and worth funding
bullet Convincing other stakeholders that the main study is worth supporting

Pilot studies can be based on quantitative and/or qualitative methods and large-scale studies might employ a number of pilot studies before the main survey is conducted. Thus researchers may start with "qualitative data collection and analysis on a relatively unexplored topic, using the results to design a subsequent quantitative phase of the study" (Tashakkori and Teddlie 1998, p. 47). The first phase of a pilot might involve using in-depth interviews or focus groups to establish the issues to be addressed in a large-scale questionnaire survey. Next the questionnaire, e.g. the wording and the order of the questions, or the range of answers on multiple-choice questions, might be piloted. A final pilot could be conducted to test the research process, e.g. the different ways of distributing and collecting the questionnaires. Pilot studies may also try to identify potential practical problems in following the research procedure. For example, in a recent Scottish study of maternity care the pilot phase demonstrated that the proposed means of distributing the questionnaires would not be adhered to (van Teijlingen et al. 2001). Without consulting the research team, the person responsible for distributing the questionnaires from the hospital records department decided that it was better to distribute them through the community midwives. This was despite the fact that the hospital itself had suggested the records department as a means of distribution. Other problems such as poor recording and response rates can also be identified and precautionary procedures or safety nets can be devised.


Internal Review Board

Although there are general ethical standards that exist, there are always times when the need to do accurate research runs up against the rights of potential participants. No set of standards can possibly anticipate every ethical circumstance. To address such needs most institutions and organizations have formulated an Institutional Review Board (IRB), a panel of persons who reviews grant proposals with respect to ethical implications and decides whether additional actions need to be taken to assure the safety and rights of participants. By reviewing proposals for research, IRBs also help to protect both the organization and the researcher against potential legal implications of neglecting to address important ethical issues of participants (Trochim, n.d.)


With one exception research involving *human participants that is done under the auspices of an institution that receives federal funding of any kind requires approval by the Institutional Review Board (IRB). The one significant area of exception is that research utilizing previously collected data. Data include research that has obtained prior approval, survey data from an archived data set, data collected for non-research purposes (i.e. teaching evaluations, clinical research, program evaluation), and research utilizing data from historical records, or other public sources like newspapers or movies.

            Research reviewed by this board is classified as being exempt, or as research requiring an expedited or full board review.

* Please note: The term “human participants” or “participants in a study” is no longer accepted. The term “participants” should be used instead.

Determining Level of Review







Less than minimal


Expedited or Full board



Full Board

Greater than minimal

Full Board

Full Board

            Vulnerable participants are participants like children under the age of 19, mentally incompetent participants, pregnant women and fetuses, prisoners, and others with conditions that might compromise their well being.

            When audio taping or video taping, the research can not qualify for exempt status.
  Exempt Research Studies

Exempt studies are common in education when researcher solicit information from professional adults in a working setting .More detailed review processes are involved when participants are 19 years old or younger and if there is risk associated with participating in a study.

All informed consent procedures require that your letter informing potential participants of the work and requesting their consent must be on official letterhead of the university. The example below would be insufficient for an application if you were applying for permission to conduct a study that involved participants 19 or under and/or posed potential risk to participants.

The usual format of the application requires answers to the following:

1) Describe the project and its significance (briefly)

2) Describe the research methods and procedures

3) Describe the participants

4) Justify the exempt status of the research

5) Provide a Copy of the informed consent (example below)

6) State how informed consent will be obtained

7) Copy of questionnaire, survey, or testing instrument

8) Copies of institutional or organizational approvals

9) Copy of funding proposal if appropriate

For an Expedited or Full Board Review

            The application form for an expedited or full board review is much like the one above .In addition, you need to include a description of the benefits and risks associated with participation in the study and a description of the recruiting procedures you plan to use to obtain participants.


Plagiarism – This is one of the most serious crimes that an academician can commit.


To learn how not to plagiarize visit:


From the Code of Behavior on Academic Matters:

It shall be an offence for a student knowingly:

(d) to represent as one's own any idea or expression of an idea or work of another in any academic examination or term test or in connection with any other form of academic work, i.e. to commit plagiarism.

Wherever in the Code an offence is described as depending on "knowing", the offence shall likewise be deemed to have been committed if the person ought reasonably to have known.

Some red flags:

1.      Do not use hyperbole—“everyone knows”  “it is obvious” “this must be the case.”

2.      Some words and phrases to avoid:

a.       “prove”  - social science research cannot prove, it can test, analyze, synthesize, explore, …

b.      “research shows” - state the name of the researcher or research studies that indicate what you are addressing.

c.       “obviously” – what is obvious to one person is not to another.  Same goes for “clearly.”

3.      Do not use clichés - “in this ever changing world”

4.      Do not use gender specific terms “For a person to be successful, HE must.....”

5.      Do not over cite any source or sources. This is YOUR study!

6.      Do not present only ONE view of a problem…yours. Be fair and balanced.

7.      Make certain that you pilot a survey or study component with a sample from the population it is intended for.

8.      Do not use a pronoun unless it is crystal clear whom the pronoun is referring to -- “In their study they found”... who is they?

9.      Do not assume what you are trying to prove. If you are trying  to determine if technology can help learning do not assume that it does help learning

10.  Make certain that the headings always match the content. APA has 5 specific levels of headings. None have bold or underlining formats.

11.  Do not write in an informal voice... this is a scholarly paper.

12.  Be consistent!

Sample Blue Print for a Proposal

The application of the 12 step programs by alcoholics who have been successful in after care.

Problem Statement:  Alcohol abuse is one of the most critical problems facing society today. The 12-step program has been purported to be the primary model for treatment of alcoholism.   Yet, to date, there has been little, if any, formal evaluation as to the actual use and application of this program for those who are able to maintain abstinence.  In order to provide the most effective and expeditious treatment for alcoholics, it is imperative that a study be done to determine to what extent those who have been successful in after care have utilized the 12-step program. [1 paragraph].

Introduction. Quote from Kaminer; I’m Dysfunctional Your Dysfunctional, questioning the efficacy, and discussion of the overuse, of the 12-step program. 

Purpose: The purpose of this study will be to evaluate a group of successful participants in alcoholics anonymous with respect to their degree of use of the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous.  Since the 12-step program is hailed as the paramount means of successfully treating those suffering from chemical dependency, it is imperative that a study be conducted to ascertain the actual use of the program by those who have been successful in care. 

Significance:  This study will be able to reach people that have not been reached before.  The researcher will elaborate on his personal qualifications to obtain the desired information.  If the study reveals that successful patients only practice part of the program then this information could aid counselors into seeking a more concentrated and abridged treatment regime, thus saving the patient, their family, and society, time and money.

Background: 12-step program development; alcoholism as a disease.

Nature of the study: Case study, evaluative study.

Lit review; after- care, alcoholism, (5 yr. max.). 12 step program, Alcohol as a disease, other programs for recovery and treatment of substance abuse; [Proposal- 10-20 pages Dissertation- 50-70 Pages]

Scope and Limitation:  The participants in this study are graduates of an alcoholic treatment center in Southern California and all reside in the Southern California area. The social conditions and anti-alcohol campaigns that are prevalent in this geographic region might not exist in other areas of the nation.

Methodology: The researcher is trying to determine how the 12-step program is actually being utilized. The population to be studied is alcoholics who have maintained sobriety for at least one year.  The sample will come from graduates of an outpatient alcohol treatment center in Southern California. It will include approximately 25 men and 25 women, ages 20 - 60. Participants will be selected with the help of personnel from the center and the willingness of patients to participate in the study.  The researcher will use a questionnaire designed by experts in the area, and also conduct personal interviews.  Questionnaire will make use of visual analog scale with multiple means of assessing the utilization of each step of the 12-step program. The instruments will be validated by a panel of experts in the field.  Permission to do study will be obtained. The research will determine which of the 12 steps is most likely to be utilized by all and by gender, and by age.   Using descriptive statistics, the researcher will report on the step(s) that are most utilized by the group as a whole and by other criteria such as age and gender.  The researcher will attempt to determine if their is a linear correlation between gender, ethnic group, age, occupation, and other factors  and rankings of the 12 steps by the frequency of their use,  using non-Parametric statistics, and multiple Correlational hypothesis testing.

Social impact of Study- Perhaps crime, caused by alcoholism could be curtailed if there was an effective treatment for alcoholics.  In this day of instant everything, there is a constant search to condense and distill effective programs for most expeditious implementation. If this study shows that certain steps in the 12-step program are not utilized by successful patients, then an investigation of those steps might be studied in greater detail to determine their fruitfulness.



Proposal Outline   Study Title: __________________________________

Problem Statement: (Write in full)

Introduction: (sketch)


Purpose: (sketch) The purpose of this study is to:

Significance: (sketch)


Background: (sketch)


Nature of the Study: (select type(s))


Scope and Limitations of Study




Theoretical Frameworks




Literature Review: (areas to investigate)



       Type of study (correlational, evaluative, Delphi, historical, experimental…)

Research questions and/or hypotheses.

Population,/ sample/selection

Instrument(s) How to validate? How to test for reliability?

Types of data level of measurement:


How will you:












Interviews? How will they be conducted?


Social Impact:  (give details)


Some red flags

As you put your proposal together, keep in mind some things you do not want to include and things to be aware of.

1.      Do not use hyperbole—“everyone knows”  “it is obvious” “this must be the case” “clearly.

2.      Do not use clichés -- “in this ever changing world.”

3.      Do not use gender specific terms “For a person to be successful, HE must...”

4.      Do not use a pronoun unless it is crystal clear whom the pronoun is referring to --  “in their study they found.”

5.      Do not assume what you are trying to prove. If you are trying to determine: Does technology help learning? Do not start by assuming that technology helps learning.

6.      Make sure Headings  match content..

7.      Use articles from peer-reviewed journals. If you need to use a reference NOT from a peer-reviewed journal, or germinal work,  make sure you obtain permission from your committee.

8.      Do  not use statements with “I” or “me” or “we” or  “our” in it. Most dissertations and formal research papers require the use of the third person voice.

9.      Do not refer to other people’s research in the present or future tense. Since this has been written, past tense is preferred , unless your are citing an existing theory.

10.  Do not have paragraphs that are less than 3 sentences – 5 is the preferred number. Transitions between paragraphs and sections is necessary.

11.  Do not have paragraphs that contain more than one topic sentence.

12.  Do not include literature review that is irrelevant to your study.


  1. Dissertations, generally,  require the use of surveys and not questionnaires. A questionnaire means a small sample where a “fill-in” type response is required. A survey is a research design in which participants from a population are studied to make inferences about a population).


  1. Do not overly cite a reference.


  1. Do present a well-rounded view.





(Copy as needed for your number of research questions/hypotheses.) Also check out:

What is the title of the study? _____________________________________________________

To help you know your study is focused, in one sentence, answer the question:  What is the intent of the study?__________________________________________________________________

What is your problem statement?_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

How are you operationalizing your variables? Give a description of the way you will observe and measure each variable. This makes intersubjectivity (objectivity) possible because they can be replicated. For example the operational definition of an obese person could be one who weighs more than 120% of his or her "ideal weight" as defined by an insurance company chart.  "Effective" program could be one that meets the missions and goals established by the company or organization.


       What are your  research questions hypotheses?  Write each one in a separate box.

     [Identify the Independent  (IV) and dependent variables (DV)].

For example: What is the relationship between Math anxiety and technology use?

IV = Math Anxiety

DV = Use of Technology

What data collection strategies and measurement tools (instruments) will you use to measure each variables to answer each question?

What procedures will you use to analyze these data?  (Examples:  specific statistical technique, content analysis coding)

How will you present results of this analysis?  (Examples:  Tables, figures, text)

Evaluate your plan:

1. Is the question relevant to the point

 of your study?

2. Will you be able to collect relevant and

 sufficient data?

3. Will your analysis procedures be

appropriate for the data? (do you

meet the assumptions to use a test?)

4. If you are using a test of hypothesis,

 will you be able to comply with the

assumptions needed to conduct the test?

5.  Will your presentation of the

results be accurately conveyed to the































Linda Crawford, 2000                                                       Marilyn K. Simon, 2002 - revised

Writing A Dissertation

Academic writing

In academic or scholarly writing, a specialized form of discourse develops. At times this rarefied language is necessary to capture the complexity and distinctiveness of processes that cannot easily be described in informal or colloquial terms. At other times it may appear that researchers use jargon that is understood only by an 'in' group of ideologically sympathetic theorists. Nonetheless, academic writing requires a formal type of discourse.

This style of scholarship requires that you use only complete sentences, and those sentences are often more complex (and sometimes more balanced) than in the informal or colloquial styles. When writing in the scholars’ voice you need to be aware of your audience. The audience includes other professionals in your field as well as a team of scholars or faculty members who will assess the quality and value of your writing.


Academic writing is similar to expository writing, which means that its purpose is to explain. It may make use of argumentation, or description, or even narration on occasion, but its principal purpose is to explain. In this way scholarly writing is different from a newspaper editorial, a debate, or a political speech, which are intended to persuade. It is different from a travel book, which seeks to describe, and it is different from a personal journal or chronological account of a series of events, which seek to narrate.



·                 They create as well as mirror reality.

·        They serve to advance certain ideals, images, stereotypes, paradigms and sets of assumptions.

·        They play an important role in creating the conditions for discourse.

·        They frame what is considered to be the limits of acceptable practices, philosophies, and purposes.

·        It is important that you choose your words wisely.

·        You  need to learn the language of the scholar.

Writing as a scholar

When you write as a scholar, you are expected to critically analyze and synthesize rather than summarize. If your topic is the causes of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, it is not good enough for you to summarize the movement. Rather, you are expected to examine closely all the reasons--practical, moral, psychological, social, economical, and dramatic that lead to the Civil Rights Movement. By analyzing and synthesizing, you get at the essence of the subject, which is often a considerable distance beneath the surface.

Position Papers

A dissertation or research paper is different than a position paper.  A position paper presents an arguable opinion about an issue. The goal of a position paper is to convince the audience that your opinion is valid and worth listening to. When you write a position paper your job is to take one side of the argument and persuade your audience that you have well-founded knowledge of the topic being presented. Although you will likely be using some of these techniques in doctoral writing, there are important differences.

Doctoral Writing

Doctoral writing is the highest level of scholarly writing. It needs to be both objective and credible.  It is important to support statements you make with evidence to ensure the validity of your claims, as well as to address counter statements to show that you are well informed about the topic. Primary sources and recent (not past 3 years if possible) peer-reviewed, refereed journals should make up the overwhelming majority of references. Seminal or germinal works also need to be included in your writing.

The purpose of doctoral writing is to show that you know what you are talking about, that what you are writing is true, and that what you are writing matters with doctoral level evidence that will pass the critical read of your audience in an authoritative style and voice of a scholarly writer.

Your writing needs to:

·        Indicate you know what you are talking about.

·        Present evidence to support what you say.

·        Present evidence that what you say is important to a wide audience and to other scholars. 

Example: Simon (2002) suggested that there may be a positive relationship between gun access and use by teenagers; her landmark research indicated that children who come from homes with firearms are more likely to use them than teenagers with no access, while Smith (2001) found some evidence to suggest that issues related to television violence had the greatest impact on gun use.

Show the truth rather than tell the truth

Telling your reader something is true leaves open the “Says Who?” question.


Example: Students in private schools outperform those in public schools. [This is telling]


Better to write: A comparison of scores among high school students enrolled in a cross-section of 25 middle schools in Chicago’s public and private schools indicated that private school students performed better on standardized tests in readings and mathematics (Doe, 2000). [This is showing].


Your paragraphs need to be unified. Each paragraph must develop a main idea and at the same time provide transitions from the preceding paragraph and to the one following. Blocks of paragraphs must be organized in such a way as to help your process of reasoning proceed convincingly, and the structure of your document as a whole must be organized in such a way that your reader is led, inevitably, from the problem you are investigating, on through the relevant considerations to your conclusions.

Present information objectively

Scholarly writing needs to be specific and objective. It is very important to present a variety of opinions on controversial issues. It is also important to check for possible biases and use primary sources whenever possible.


It is not permissible to select only that evidence which will support your argument. If there is evidence that appears to refute your argument, you are expected to address that, too, and to show how it does not really refute what you say.


In scholarly writing you need to acknowledge all the sources you have used, whether you have quoted from them, paraphrased them, or simply incorporated ideas from them into your own document. You need to refer to the precise location (page or URL) in those sources where the ideas you borrowed may be found. Check out the plagiarism URL.

The Lard Factor

It is important that you edit your work so that no unnecessary words are used. Lanham (1987) gave a formula to see how much “lard” is in a paragraph.

To compute the Lard factor:

(Word Count of Original – Word Count of Revision)/ Word Count of Original


Example: In the event of the case occurring where a social services worker is unable to find the location of the domicile of the applicant who has been involved in the initiation of the request for exemption request (RER) form, he/she shall make a note of the incident of the Unsuccessfully Attempted (UA) files. [50 words]


Revision: Social workers who cannot find where an RER applicant lives should write a note in the UA file. [18 words]


Lard Factor = (50-18)/50 = 64%

Scholarly Voice

Active Voice is preferred in scholarly writing. In sentences written in active voice, the subject performs the action expressed in the verb; the subject acts.

In sentences written in passive voice, the subject receives the action expressed in the verb; the subject is acted upon. The agent performing the action may appear in a "by the . . ." phrase or may be omitted.

Who did what to whom? Sentences in active voice are more concise than those in passive voice because fewer words are required to express action in active voice than in passive.

Passive: Action on the bill is being considered by the committee.

Active: The committee is considering action on the bill.


Past Tense


Report the literature in past tense: Freud (1919) believed; Simon (2001) wrote; Brown (1999) found….It already happened and it might not be how they see things today… especially if they are deceasedJ


Gender Neutral


You need to be gender neutral in your writing. Instead of: For a child to succeed on standardized tests he must know the content and context of the questions: Use this: For children to succeed on standardized tests they must know the content and context of the questions.


Multiple Sources


If you claim that “studies” have found – list at least 2 studies to support this statement.


Some red flags – What NOT to do


bullet Do not use hyperbole—“everyone knows”  “it is obvious” “this must be the case” “clearly.”
bullet Do not use clichés -- “in this ever changing world.”
bullet Do not use slang – This was a “cool” conference.
bullet Do not use gender specific terms “For a person to be successful, HE must...”
bullet Do not use a pronoun unless it is crystal clear whom the pronoun is referring to -- “in their study they found.”
bullet Do not assume what you are trying to prove. If you are trying to determine: Does technology help learning? Do not start by assuming that technology helps learning.
bullet Do not use statements with “I” or “me” or “we” or “our” in it. Most dissertations and formal research papers require the use of the third person voice.
bullet Do not have paragraphs that contain more than one topic sentence.


What you should do
bullet Include literature that is relevant to your study, and discard the rest.
bullet Make sure headings match content.
bullet Use APA 5th edition formatting. Note: Underlining and Bolding are out!
bullet Make sure all paragraphs are fully developed
bullet Make sure that all facts are backed with proper citations.


The rules for the correct verb tense are tricky. Here are three maxims:

No. 1: The verb tense must make sense. There is a health care crisis. There is a shortage of clean drinking water. The earth will someday run out of petroleum.
No. 2: Reflecting APA, report what has been found, what someone has stated, what someone has written, in past tense.  Watson (1919) argued. Maslow (1954) described.  Lemieux and Jagr (1991) discussed.  Pierzynski and Mantkiewicz (2001) stated. Bettis and Maddox (2002) found that bowlers were more likely than nonbowlers to read Chaucer. [Here we're describing only a limited sample in a limited time period.]

 No. 3: But report ongoing realities, generalizations about how the world works, in present tense.  Recent research by Bettis and Maddox (2002) suggests that lefthanded kindergartners who fail to learn to use scissors tend to do poorly in algebra in later years. [Here we're making a generalization about the way the world works.] Copyright

Copyright ã 2002, Marilyn K. Simon, Ph.D., Jeffrey Zuckerman


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Choosing Your Research Method - a Glossary


There are many types of research methods and designs. The list below can be helpful in choosing a research method that can solve the problem you are investigating and answer your research questions.  It is by no means exhaustive, but it can be helpful to understand a variety of research methods.   If you have any questions about or need further information about any of these very basic descriptions of research, please do a web search and learn more about the method. Once you select a methodology you need to obtain a germinal text on the method.*


·        Action research: Here research is based on a grass-roots problem negotiated between the researcher and the researched.

·        Case study research: Here the background, programs, current conditions, and environmental interactions of one or more classrooms, communities, schools, or institutions are observed, recorded, and analyzed -- all attempting to find patterns of internal and external influences. Case study research generally answers one or more questions which begin with "how" or "why." The questions are targeted to a limited number of events or conditions and their inter-relationships. Because case study research generates a large amount of data from multiple sources, systematic organization of the data is important to prevent the researcher from becoming overwhelmed by the amount of data and to prevent the researcher from losing sight of the original research purpose and questions. The case study method can be used to build upon theory, to produce new theory, to dispute or challenge theory, to explain a situation, to provide a basis to apply solutions to situations, to explore, or to describe an object or phenomenon. The advantages of the case study method are its applicability to real-life, contemporary, human situations and its public accessibility through written reports. Case study results relate directly to the common reader’s everyday experience and can facilitate an understanding of complex real-life situations.

·        Causal-Comparative research: Here the objective is to identify causal relationships among variables that cannot be manipulated. Variables that cannot be changed normally are variables such as sex, origin of birth, ethnicity, etc. Causal research is used to determine whether variables cause or affect one or more outcome variables. This study involves no direct manipulation.

·        Comparison research: Here two or more existing situations are studied to determine their similarities and differences. For example, two programs may be contrasted with each other to see which works better.

·        Content analysis : Here the Researcher quantifies and analyzes the presence, meanings and relationships of such words and concepts, then make inferences about the messages within the texts, the writer(s), the audience, and even the culture and time of which these are a part.

·        Correlational Research: Here the researcher collects data in order to determine whether, and to what degree, a relationship exists between two or more quantifiable variables. According to Davis. (Correlational Research Methods,, “The designs for this kind of a research are founded on the assumption that reality is best described as a network of interacting and mutually-causal relationships. Everything affects--and is affected by--everything else. This web of relationships in not necessarily linear, as assumed in experimental research.”

·        Correlation-prediction research: Here statistically significant correlations are sought and interpreted between and among a number of organizational "causes."

·        Critical incident technique (CIT).  CIT had its origins in the 1950's when researchers started to focus studies on human behavior and quantifying it.  Founded by John C. Flanagan in 1954. There must be a clearly demarcated event for it to be considered a critical incident and if a detailed account of what happened cannot be obtained the incident is thrown out because the incident itself is the basic unit of analysis.

·        Descriptive research:  This does not fit neatly into the definition of either quantitative or qualitative research methodologies, but instead it can utilize elements of both, often within the same study. Descriptive research involves gathering data that describe events and then organizes, tabulates, depicts, and describes the data collection.  Here the researcher will describe, systematically, the facts and characteristics of a given population or area of interest accurately and within a contextual framework. A descriptive study tries to discover answers to the questions who, what, when, where, and sometimes how.

·        Design based research or Decision analysis: (see**) Here the practitioner and researcher models merge to produce meaningful change in context of practices. It is a way to link process to outcomes in a particular setting. The decision analysis field has often encountered difficulties in transforming theoretical ideas into practical decision support tools.

·        Delphi research: Here the focus is future-oriented. The Delphi technique was originally used to target future problems and foresee solutions. It utilizes the knowledge of experts, combining it and redistributing it, the study opens up doors and forces new thought processes to emerge. It also allows for respondents to see how closely they responded to the rest of the field of experts and to justify their train of thought (McKillip, 1987).

·        Evaluation research: Here research is undertaken to determine whether a program or curriculum followed the prescribed procedures and achieved the stated outcomes.

·         Ethnographic: Here the researcher looks at an entire group -- more specifically, a group that shares a common culture -- in depth.  The researcher studies the group in its natural setting for a lengthy period of time, often several months or even several years.  The focus of investigation is on the everyday behaviors (e.g., interactions, language, rituals) of the people in the group, with intent to identify cultural norms, beliefs, social structures, and other cultural patterns.

·        Experimental research: Here one or more variables are manipulated and the results analyzed in, hopefully, a scientific manner.

·        Factor analyses: Here the researcher analyzes interrelationships within a set of variables or objects to construct a few hypothetical variables (or objects), called factors, that are supposed to contain the essential information in a larger set of observed variables to obtain a small number of factors will usually account for approximately the same amount of information as do the much larger set of original observations.

·        Grounded Theory – Here the researcher seeks to generate a theory that explains a process or action. The researcher would use this design for developing theories through primary interviewing, developing patterns or themes, and composing a visual that describe this theory. Creswell (2002) says in this way, the theory is “grounded” in the data from the subjects. The researching can then develop hypothesis and predictions about the experiences of individuals.  Creswell (2002) identifies the following for strengths and weakness; Emphasis on comparative methods and the researcher stays close to the data. The researcher must be careful about making a premature commitment to a set of analytical categories, or a lack of conceptual depth.   

·        Hermeneutic research: Here activities and things are seen as a text, and studied for what they mean, what they mean to those involved in them, and what they mean to others.

·        Historical research: Here the life activities of an organization or person are related, with insights about their significance and meanings being explicated. Both quantitative and qualitative variables can be used in the collection of historical information.

·        Meta-Analysis research: Here data are collected from several studies on a similar area to find patterns and formulate principles whose goal is to guide future organizational decisions and actions.

·        Narrative research – Here the researcher focuses on the study of a single person, gathering data through the collection of stories, reporting individual experiences. The researcher retells stories reported by individuals and focuses on events or activities so they can be analyzed for categories or themes. Creswell (2002) identifies the following for strengths and weakness Strengths – Establish a close bond with the subjects. Can capture an everyday, normal for of data that is familiar to the audiences. Weakness – Might tell researcher story and not the participants.  The gain the researcher might get could be at the expense of the participant.


·        Needs Assessment: A needs assessment is the first step for any institution or organization considering the development of a new program. Institutions must establish the existence of a market demand for their program. If one exists, they must determine the market demography and the potential audience's specific academic needs.

·        Organizational design research: Here new systems or programs are constructed, demonstrated, tested, and evaluated.

·        Phenomenography:  is an empirical research tradition that was designed to answer questions about thinking and learning, especially in the context of educational research (Marton, 1986).  It is concerned with the relationships that people have with the world around them.  The word “phenomenography” has Greek etymological roots.  It is derived from the words   “phainonmenon” (appearance) and “graphein” (description).  Thus, “phenomenography” is a “description of appearances” (Hassselgren & Beach, 1997).

·        Phenomenology: Here the meaning of an experience is narrated using story and description. The research is very personal -- and the results are written more as stories than as principles, yet the research stays somewhat detached. In Heuristic Research:  the researcher remains intimately connected.

·        Repertory grid analysis: This is based on the theory of personal constructs which posits that individuals interpret the world in terms of their own personal set of constructs – bipolar abstractions that a given individual uses to distinguish between similar and different elements in the world. The extent to which two individuals share a similar set of constructs indicates the extent to which they experience and understand the world in similar ways. The repertory grid technique is a method for exploring an individual's personal construct system and its organization in order to understand the world of meaning in which that individual lives.

·        Semiotics: Here language and activities of organizations are studied for their symbolic meanings.

·        Survey-questionnaire research: Here behaviors, beliefs, perceptions, attitudes, and opinions of specific groups are identified, reported, and interpreted.

·        Theory construction research: Here the researcher attempts to describe and explain how things work the way they work that way.

·        Trend analysis research: Here the researcher attempts to predict or forecast the future direction of organizational activities.


Mixed Methods

 This is the notion of using multiple methods to generate and analyze different kinds of data in the same study-- for example, combing a narrative analysis of in-depth interviews with a content analysis of questionnaire response or conducting an ethnographic study simultaneously with a quasi-experimental study of the same social phenomenon.


Green and Caracelli (1997) claim that  underlying the notion of a mixed methods approach, appears to be the pragmatic assumption that to judge the value of an educational or social program or policy, an evaluator should employ whatever methods will best generate evidence of the warranted assertability of the program or policy. However, not all methodologies are compatible. Perhaps it is best to accept that different ways of framing and studying social phenomena yield different kinds of understandings, and a researcher might be better served using one method, but then triangulates the findings.


It is important that you distinguish between mixed methods at the technical level (generating different data from different procedures) and at the philosophical and paradigmatic levels (using say a quasi-experimental design along with an ethnographic one). If the later is used a clear explanation is needed to discern just what is being mixed when applying different philosophical frameworks.


According to Crane (2004)<> There are 4 major Types of Triangulation:


1.      data triangulation - involves time, space, and persons

2.      investigator triangulation – uses multiple, rather than single observers; theory triangulation - uses more than one theoretical scheme in the interpretation of the phenomenon;

3.      methodological triangulation - uses more than one method and may consist of within-method or between-method strategies.

4.      multiple triangulation - combines in one investigation multiple observers, theoretical perspectives, sources of data, and methodologies.




Replication is the key to the support of any worthwhile theory.  Replication involves the process of repeating a study using the same methods, different participants, and different researchers.  It can also involve applying the theory to new situations in an attempt to determine the generalizability to different age groups, locations, races, or cultures.  For example, our study of non-traditional students may be completed using students from another college or from another state.  It may be changed slightly to add additional variables such as age, sex, or race to determine if these variables play any role in our results. 

Replication, therefore, is important for a number of reasons, including (1) assurance that results are valid and reliable; (2) determination of generalizability or the role of extraneous variables; (3) application of results to real world situations; and (4) inspiration of new research combining previous findings from related studies.


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Throughout the design construction task, it is important to have in mind some endpoint, some criteria which you wish to achieve before finally accepting a design strategy. It is worth noting that you may need to individually tailor research designs rather than accepting standard textbook strategies as is.

Research Tutorial Flowchart





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