SUGGESTED DISSERTATION OUTLINE
NOTE: First three chapters are proposal outline
- A General Description of the Area of Concern [SET THE STAGE. It is suggested that this section be brief, three to four paragraphs maximum.].
The General Description should be a global treatment of proposed research. Remember, people best recall those things they read first and last. This section can make or break the dissertation. Draw ideas together to result in a purpose statement.
- Problem to be Studied/Purpose of the Proposed Research Project.
- State explicitly and succinctly.
- Introduction should lead up to and provide support for the problem statement.
- Formulation of the scientific problem is a creative endeavor.
- Merely replicating the identical procedure of an earlier research study (i.e., direct replication) is not sufficient for a doctoral dissertation. A replication involving substantive variation from previous work (i.e., systematic replication or replication "with cause") is appropriate as dissertation research (see Johnston & Pennypacker, 1993).
- Major Research Questions and/or Research Hypotheses.
- Some committee/chairs prefer either research questions or hypotheses. Some may wish for you to include both.
- Hypotheses and research questions should be written using constructs (not tests/measurements--indicators or definitions of variables [see Pedhazur & Schmelkin, 1991]).
- Hypothesis statements and research questions do not include reference to statistical significance. "A statistical test of significance is used for the purpose of determining whether or not to reject a null hypothesis at a given probability level, reference to the test does not belong in the hypothesis" (Pedhazur & Schmelkin, 1991, p. 195).
- Definition of Important Terms.
- May include theoretical as well as operational definitions of important terms. (Operational definitions may also appear in the methods section.) Operational definitions of all important variables must be provided.
- Always include definitions for terms or uses of terms not generally found in this type of research, as well as those for which confusion may arise.
- Significance of the Problem and Justification for Investigating It.
- This section will probably not be long, but should be very powerful!
- What theoretical/practical reasons are there for wanting to know the answers to your questions?
- Why is it important to conduct the study?
- Include explicit statement of significance specific to the topic studied.
- Basic Assumptions.
An assumption is something that is taken to be true even though the direct evidence of its truth is either absent or very limited (Pyrczak & Bruce, 1992). Include descriptions of information that are not available to you, but that are important in explaining the outcome of the study.
For example, must you assume that tests were administered in standardized fashion? If you are doing this yourself or have control over the examiners, then you DO NOT have to make this assumption. You write this into your procedure.
- Basic Limitations.
A limitation is either:
- A weakness or handicap that potentially limits the validity of the results.
- A boundary to which the study is confined (often called a delimitation) (Pyrczak & Bruce, 1992).
Often limitations include a statement about generalizability of results or other controls, etc., that may be impossible to meet. For example, if you must use intact groups rather than randomized selection, what impact is this likely to have on your results?
- Summary and Transition to Chapter II.
- REVIEW OF LITERATURE
- Historical Background.
Put things in perspective. More than just a chronology. What are the major issues, controversies, etc., that impact on your study? Include background on all relevant variables. This background can be brief or longer depending on your study and the wishes of your committee.
- Theory or Discipline Relevant to Research Questions and Hypotheses. What theory or discipline forms the basis for your problem?
- Current Literature Relevant to Research Questions and Hypotheses.
Include in this section:
1.1. Literature relating to specific variables.
1.2. Literature relating to your combination of variables.
This should be more than a listing of studies. What common thread holds them together? Use transitions to effectively tie one section with another.
Incorporate discussion of strengths/weaknesses of methodology in previous studies which you are building on/hoping to avoid in your study.
- Summary and Transition to Chapter III.
- Restatement of Purpose.
- Description of Participants. Human Subjects Consideration and Clearance From IRB.
- Subjects should be described in enough detail so that the reader can visualize the subjects.
- The method used to select the sample should be described in detail. If a sample of convenience is used, this should be explicitly stated.
- If there were attrition, state the number of subjects who dropped out, the reasons for the attrition, and information about the drop outs.
- If a survey is used, the rate of the return should be stated along with a description of procedures used to follow-up and a description of nonresponders.
- Description of Instrumentation/Measurement Procedures.
- If an unpublished instrument or new measurement technique is used, describe it in detail.
- Published instruments or techniques that have been used before should be referenced appropriately.
- Briefly describe the traits measured, the format, scores, direct observation technique, etc., employed.
- Evidence of reliability and for indirect measures, validity should be stated explicitly. For direct measures, describe the reliability and accuracy of the measurements. If this information is not available from prior studies, piloting of the instrument/procedure should be conducted.
- Research Design.
- Include general description, along with possible threats to internal/external validity.
- Include operational definitions of all variables -- independent and dependent.
- It is often useful to include a diagram/figure of the design (especially for experimental studies).
- Description of Procedures.
- Procedures should be described in complete detail so they may be replicated by any future researcher.
- Data Analysis and Display Procedure, Including (where appropriate) Choice of Analysis and Computer Program(s).
This section should be complete in both proposal and dissertation. Rationale should be provided for choice of statistical/other analysis. State alpha level(s) chosen for statistical comparisons.
- RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
- Restatement of research questions (hypotheses).
- Use of an outline to organize results.
- Each question/hypothesis is restated in BOLD followed by the results of the data analysis(es) which provide(s) answers to that question/hypothesis.
- Suggested order of presentation of results (may vary depending on nature of analyses):
- Descriptive statistics (includes means, standard deviations, etc.)
- Where appropriate primary statistical analyses (includes correlation matrix, t tests, Summary of ANOVA, MANOVA, results of factor analyses, etc., see specific technique for examples).
- Post hoc and other secondary analyses.
- Organize data into tables or graphs (see Johnston & Pennypacker, 1993) where appropriate. Each table/graph must be referenced in the text. All tables should be complete, that is, self-explanatory.
- Discussion (May be done as separate section or for each question/hypothesis).
- Summarize results briefly.
- Discuss the results in non-statistical terms. Answer the question. If a hypothesis was stated, was the hypothesis rejected?
- Integrate your results with the literature reviewed in chapter 2.
HINT: Use APA Style Manual as a guide for reporting of results. Judicious use of tables and figures proves the saying that a "picture is worth..." However, these must be complete. See guidelines given in manual - please pay close attention, not only to format, but to the necessary information to include. Tables/figures should stand alone without help from the text. Therefore, all abbreviations, etc., must be defined in the table or figure.
- SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
- Summary -- summarize the study succinctly.
- Conclusions -- report the results briefly. Explicitly discuss the implications for the results.
- Relate to literature review -- point out consistencies and inconsistencies with those reported in the literature cited earlier.
- It is appropriate to speculate on the meaning of the results; however, care must be taken not to go outside the parameters established in the first four chapters.
- Recommendations for future research.
Provide specific guidance - Why is the proposed research needed and what form should such research take?
HINT: If correctly written, chapter 5 can form the basis for your article which can be submitted for publication. The only addition will be of tables, etc., from chapter 4.
The APA style manual calls for use of a list of references cited with the pages rather than a complete bibliography. Check with your committee chair or dissertation advisor for the format used within your department.
a. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association or other appropriate style manuals should be used to provide guidance. Remember, manuals are not only for reference citation form, but provide suggestions for format, style, etc. For disagreements, manuals will be used as the final authority.
b. General Suggestions -- Make generous use of division and headings to help organize your writing. Students seem to have the greatest difficulty with transitions from one idea to another. Have someone else read your work and provide feedback as to "flow" of ideas. Proof for ideas as well as mechanics.
Pedhazur, E. J., & Schmelkin, L. P. (1991). Measurement, design and analysis: An integrated approach. Hillside, NJ: Erlbaum.
Pyrczak, F., & Bruce, R. R. (1992). Writing empirical research reports. Los Angeles, CA: Pyrczak.
Campbell, W. G., Ballou, S. V., & Slade, C. (1990). Form and style: Theses, reports, term papers. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Johnston, J. M., & Pennypacker, H. S. (1993). Strategies and tactics of behavioral resources (2nd ed.). Hillside, NJ: Erlbaum.
Dr. Tom S. Schroeder
Revised July 2001