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Dissertation and Thesis Tips

Writing tips

1.When writing a dissertation, it is important to maintain a formal style. Formal style differs from consultative style where the writer presupposes a degree of familiarity with the reader. Unfortunately, the "friendliness" inherent in the consultative style sounds unprofessional in an academic context. Avoiding a casual tone in your dissertation will help maintain formality.

2. Transitional conjunctions are keys to paragraph continuity and coherence  in any dissertation. They connect one sentence to another and help the reader to understand explicitly what the relationship is between sentences. In academic writing, the most common transitional conjunctions indicate addition, contrast, and reason. Conjunctions of addition, such as further, alternatively, in addition, moreover, and similarly, signal that more of the same type of information is coming. Conjunctions of contrast, such as however and conversely, let the reader know something very different follows. Finally, conjunctions of reason make the reader aware that the sentence that comes before the conjunction is a reason for the next sentence. Popular words in this category include therefore, for this reason, and consequently.

3. "A classic 'thesis paranoia' symptom is inserting supporting literature for every point," remarks Patrick Dunleavy in his book Authoring a PhD. The most visible symptom of "citation paranoia" is when authors are acknowledged in connection with common knowledge. Dunleavy's example: "The United Kingdom is a country with a long and chequered history” (Davies, 1999; Trevelyan, 1966; Chesterton, 1923). Obviously no one is going to dispute such an observation. Nor is the observation unique to these authors. Authors should be cited in reference to unique information.

Formatting tips

1.  Did you know according to APA (2010), the ampersands (&) and the word "and" are used differently depending on how the author is cited in the text? If you are citing two or more authors within a set of parentheses in your dissertation, use the ampersand. For example:

The use of positive feedback on the part of managers has been found to be positively correlated with levels of follower motivation (Morten & Johnson, 2009).

Outside a set of parentheses, however, use "and," as in this example:

Morten and Johnson (2009) found the use of positive feedback on the part of managers to increase follower motivation.

2.  In an APA reference, capitalization is applied differently depending on whether one is referencing a title of an article, journal, or book.

For an article title, only capitalize the first letter of the title:
Hardin, A. (2010). Leadership styles in transition […]

For the title of a book, only capitalize the first letter and italicize the complete title:
Fernandez, A. (2010). Tranformational Leadership […
]

However, each word in the journal title should be capitalized and italicized:
Hardin, A. (2010). Leadership styles in transition. Organizational Social Psychology […]

In the case where the article title, the title of book, or the journal title has a colon indicating a subtitle, be sure to capitalize the first word after the colon:
Hardin, A. (2010). Leadership styles in transition: Modern workplace constraints […]

 3.  When referring to a multi-word technical term or an organization, first indicate the full term or organization followed by the acronym in parenthesis. For all other subsequent references in the remainder of the document, use only the acronym.

For example:

The style manual published by the Modern Language Association (MLA) is used primarily in the humanities [...] The MLA provides detailed explanations about how to appropriately reference and cite a variety of sources, including journals, books, magazines, and online publications.

When the first indication is within a parenthetical citation, use brackets.

For example:

As of 2006, approximately six million Americans living with type 2 diabetes remain undiagnosed (Center for Disease Control [CDC], 2007) […] According to the CDC (2009), other diseases and complications associated with diabetes include cardiovascular disease, hypertension, blindness, amputation, and kidney damage.

 

Off-the-page tips

1. Brainstorming is an effective way of getting your mind out of a rut and generating ideas during the proposal stage of the dissertation writing process. The main rule of brainstorming is that there are no rules. That’s right. Shoo your inner-editor out of the room while you get busy diagramming any thoughts, words, or concepts that rise to the surface. By silencing critical thoughts, you can free your mind to come up with a large number of ideas. Only after the storm has passed and lightening has struck, do you let the editor back through the door.

Think of as many ideas as you can without censoring them through visual mapping. Circle concepts and connect them to other concepts. Create lists of information (it doesn’t matter whether they are important or marginal), jot notes on the side, write down questions. Draw a few “thought clouds.” Connect ideas, pictures, and phrases with sweeping lines and bold arrows. Brainstorming is an important tool in overcoming writer’s block and relating important concepts and details to each other.

2. Let’s face it: Dissertation writing is mentally taxing. And something that is mentally draining is probably going to be physically draining, as well. You’re ready for a break, ready to sit back and watch television or chat with a friend. Often, before you know it, you find that you simply can’t bring yourself back to the computer or take one more look at that literature review.Instead of inviting this type of burnout, give yourself an achievable goal for the day, broken up by smaller goals. Take short, frequent breaks: at least one an hour. Try to make the break not too much of a temptation. If television or food is your weakness, take a walk around the block, or go for a drive. Just be sure to come back in time to finish your daily goal.

3. Writing a dissertation can be a lonely process. In order to help alleviate "dissertation loneliness," it's a good idea to find other graduate students who are in the same boat. It's important to have a strong network of other students with whom you can discuss your project and share your highs and lows. Also, it is important to connect with family and friends and to do activities outside of the dissertation. Remembering to connect with friends and family will help alleviate the loneliness you might feel with the process.

Research Design tips

1. Because qualitative research is exploratory and not predictive, a qualitative-based thesis should not contain hypotheses. Instead, research questions provide the focus. Research questions in qualitative research are exploratory rather than confirmatory. Conversely, testable hypotheses are central vehicles in quantitative research. Although a quantitative-based thesis may have research questions, they will typically be of secondary importance.

2. The relationship between a sample and its population is analogous to a food sample and the product from which the sample comes. When someone decides to pick up one of those morsels on a toothpick at the end of a supermarket food aisle, they are gathering information about the taste and quality of the product offered. The sample is supposed to be an accurate representation of the product because it was taken from that product. If that person likes the sample, they will almost certainly like the product.

In the same way, a good sample represents a population. In order for the sample to be an accurate representation of that population, it should be random and large enough in proportion to the population. Just as a crumb may not be enough to tell someone about the taste and texture of a slice of cheesecake, a sample that has too few participants won’t tell you about the parent population from which it was drawn. Further, a sample that is not random won’t have “all the ingredients” of the population, and therefore it will be difficult to make inferences in the dissertation about the population.

3. When weighing whether or not to approach a dissertation topic using a specific quantitative or qualitative method, an important consideration is the number of subjects to whom the researcher has access. If one is conducting qualitative research or a quantitative experiment, a large number of participants is usually not required. Anywhere from 20 to 50 participants will often suffice. If one is conducting quantitative survey-based research, the researcher may need more than a hundred participants and may need to contact several different organizations or businesses to adequately address the demands for an adequate sampling frame. This particular issue falls under the general problem of subject access.

4. Did you know the concept of instrument reliability is crucial in quantitative research but irrelevant in qualitative research? In quantitative research, instruments need to be reliable.That is, repeated use or application of the instrument must be consistent. If the instrument is inconsistent, then the results will unfortunately suffer from random variation. Regarding qualitative research, this is not an issue because the researcher is the instrument. The researcher observes, participates, and interviews, and it is through these actions, rather than an external instrument, that qualitative data is obtained. Typically, you will find no discussion of the reliability of the researcher in a qualitative-based dissertation.