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Starting a Dissertation Correctly

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Why Can't I Get Started?


What is the single biggest mistake made by doctoral candidates who are having trouble planning or starting a dissertation? One of the most common mistake is, without a doubt, trying to formulate a Statement of the Problem, and list an hypotheses, without FIRST completing the Review of Literature. Why is this? Read on...

Many Ph.D. candidates have trouble formulating a good thesis. A thorough literature review will identify documents that literally provide a list of potentially very good ideas. Many previously completed research studies, dissertations, and similar works performed in the same or similar areas of study as yours provide a paragraph at the end listing things such as:

  • "future research areas"
  • "more research is needed in the areas of..."
  • "research groups or areas not covered"

All of the above are fertile areas for obtaining potentially very good research and thesis ideas, which makes starting your dissertation much easier!

The two words heard most often when people are asked to define a a dissertation are "original" and "substantial". A dissertation thesis and the research needed to support that thesis must be both, and the dissertation must show that it is indeed true. Many dissertation writers jump right in trying to maintain the topic idea they have in mind, but quickly discover that converting a high-level idea into a scholarly concept, and formulating an acceptable proposal, involves much more than coming up with the right "idea".

Problems quickly arise about how "substantial" the idea is, or whether anybody else has done the same thing, or how do-able the required research is. Since the information needed to maintain the thesis must be unique and original, even the variables needed can be an unknown. A great deal of time ends up being wasted because of false starts, research dead-ends, and do-overs caused by missing data, incomplete project scope, and similar planning issues. A detailed review of literature will reduce these dissertation planning problems significantly.

The only way to obtain the information needed to establish how "original" and "substantial" your dissertation is, is by conducting a thorough Review of Literature.

For example, a dissertation must make an "original" contribution to the body of knowledge in a specific area of study, and must prove that to be so. The only way a Ph.D. candidate (the author) can prove that is to read, analyze, and list what has already been done in the past, thus illustrating the need for new research. This is one of the most important things to do when planning and starting a dissertation.

The term "substantial" indicates the dissertation thesis requires new information available only through new research, i.e., information that cannot be obtained by simply reviewing previous research. Again, the only way to identify and collect this type of information is to do a thorough literature review. Again, this is where the keys to starting a dissertation are to be found.

Once you have read and analyzed all of the source documents you have retrieved you can then draft your Review of Literature, which will become the core of your dissertation, usually as Chapter II.


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