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Dissertation Help Using Action Research to Draft Your Methodology Chapter
Other articles have discussed the desirability for Doctoral students looking for dissertation help to set up work-study teams, and the benefit that these teams can find from using action research processes throughout their dissertation writing journey. For many doctoral students, writing chapter 3, their methodology chapter, is by far the hardest writing of the five chapter dissertation. I think this is because it demands so many new skills and has extra importance due to being key to your ability to defend your research proposal. People who are not researchers suddenly need to write as though they were. This article outlines a 10 week action research oriented program through which students can develop a solid draft of their methodology. The three steps of action research (discovery, measurable action, and reflection) will help you move through the design work necessary to write the check
Prior to the first work/study group meeting all participants should do a solid cycle of discovery. Things that are needed include: 1) a long list of all the questions you are asking about your topic, 2) examples of dissertations or research articles based upon a methodology you are considering, 3) a solid set of headings from your university, authors on books about dissertation writing, and websites for the methods chapter, and 4) any research books you have found helpful. I recommend Creswell (2009), Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches, third edition. His writing is direct, to the point, and generally doctoral students find it very helpful.
Week 1: The first group meeting should probably be a long one, at least two hours. During this time your group will go over those four things everyone brought to the meeting, one by one. You should analyze what you like or don’t like about each kind of example. For instance your questions lead the way, and therefore as you look at examples of dissertations or research articles you should be asking whether or not the methodology you find interesting could easily be applied to answering the questions you have listed. You also should compare the examples that you have, the headings that they use, the way they are writing out methodology, to the headings from your university and suggestions from the authors of the books or websites you are using for dissertation help. By the end of this meeting you need to have established the headings you will use. Be sure to keep good notes as a group and to continue talking until everyone can say that they have a pretty solid idea of what they would put under each heading.
The measurement of your study groups first weeks actions will be how easy it in for you to quickly outline, or draft some writing under each heading in the following week. Don’t allow yourself to get bogged down. When you don’t know what to say just move on to the next section.
Week 2: Everyone brings back their writing and discusses how it went. The work of this week is to identify the holes in understanding that prevent you from completing the chapter quickly. Generally the challenges you face, under one of several headings, you don’t understand: 1) the logic of the chapter or 2) how the parts are supposed to go together, or several types of methodology seem to fit any other which ones to choose, or 3) you know that you need to have a research question or prime hypothesis and it seems impossible to craft one thing have all the ideas that you have. There also may be other roadblocks that you face. This week’s work-study group discussion is directed at uncovering what those roadblocks are and then spending the week in the discovery cycle trying to find the answers you need. For example:
- For example if you need to have a greater understanding of the logic of the chapter you could: look on the web for articles and videos that discuss it, analyze your model dissertation, read Creswell, discuss the challenge with your university advisor, and read books on dissertation writing.
- If you don’t know what type of methodology to choose the discovery is twofold: first, dig deeper into the literature on the methodologies you are considering looking for authors who tell you what makes it different from other methods, why you would use them and how long they take to implement. Remember methodology is a tool, and just like you wouldn’t want to use a hammer on a screw you don’t want to use a more complicated tool than you need. Time is also a factor, some methodologies are time-consuming, more so than that doctoral student is aware of until it is too late to change. The second thing you can do, in fact should do, is to schedule an appointment with your advisor to discuss your ideas.
- As far as crafting your overarching research question, or hypothesis, it has been my experience that these things evolve with time. It may be helpful to look at the writing of this as an ongoing measurable action. Write the questions or hypotheses that you think may work and then show them to others for feedback and measurement. See what others think, show it to researchers and let them help you wordsmith it. The question is crucial because the way it is phrased is interwoven with methodological choices, the subtleties of which will make the whole issue seem vague and mysterious at first.
Your individual work between sessions is to dig deeper into the particular issues you face, and come back with resources and ideas that you think will help the others as well.
Weeks 3, 4 and 5: For the next three weeks every meeting will be a short example of the entire action research process. Since you ended the previous week with a discussion of what you have done, the challenges you’re facing, and where you would go to discover the answers you need, you start by sharing what you discovered in between times and where it is taking you. You then move into measurable action by acting as critical friends and helping each other work on specific sections of the writing. Your action is to outline what you think you want to say and your colleagues response is your measurement. Finally, you end the meeting by reflecting on what roadblocks you still face, where you think you can discover your answers, and what you will do over the next week.
It is likely that by the end of week five you will have a pretty solid draft of the chapter. If this is so, your group may decide that rather than to meet in Week 6 your time would be better spent showing the draft to other people, specifically your advisor, or researchers who have done this specific kind of research you think you want to do, for their feedback.
Week 6: This week is all measurable action — show your work to the strictest faculty members you know and receive that all the feedback you can. Remember peer review is always somewhat brutal, but it leads to work that is well-thought-out and easy to implement. Be sure to ask how long people think it will take for you to complete the work you have designed. You should know from the very beginning what will be required of your time so that you can build your schedule accordingly.
Week 7, 8, 9: When you’re work-study group come back together, it is likely that you will have a lot to discuss. Help each other sort out the important messages from the ones that can be addressed later. Also help each other define the work that will take what you have moved to a solid draft ready for review in the next three weeks. Weeks 7, 8 and 9 are mirror images of week 3, 4 and 5 in that you do small action research cycles each week. First you share your discoveries, then you decide what will be the best next actions and how you can elicit feedback as a measurement for those actions, and always before you go and reflect on how far you’ve come, and your goals for the next week.
Week 10: This week should be a celebration, and a solid reflection of what you have learned, the differences between each of your work, and where else you want to go before you feel your methodology is solid enough to be included in your dissertation proposal. I hope you decide to enjoy yourselves as you have completed a very hard task, one that builds for you a solid foundation of your work and your movement towards graduation.
Many authors have written that the doctoral journey is a lonely one, yet it doesn’t have to be. It is this authors hope that be revealing simple processes that small study groups can use, more will form them. The use of action research as a foundation for your work together will make all the difference in the groups ability to move forward quickly.
Author’s note: this article is written as part of my own measurable action cycle, and I look forward to having feedback, therefore to establish my own measurement, as to its strong points and weaknesses. I hope to hear that this weekly outline was adopted by a group of doctoral students, and to find out in what ways it went smoothly, and clear revisions may be needed.
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