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Tips on Writing the Dissertation

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Tips on writing the Literature Review
Dissertation Tips
Tip 1:
Statistical Significance versus
Significant Study

"If you want significance in your study, measure changes in attitude. If you want a significant study, measure changes in behavior.”

It is relatively easy to change people's attitudes (at least on paper). Do a pretest measuring attitude, then give an intervention and measure attitude again. It is very likely that you will discover some change in attitude. But did you find something truly significant? People can change their attitude, then change it back again relatively quickly. But did you change their BEHAVIOR?

If you can change someone's BEHAVIOR with an intervention, THAT is more likely to be a study that will have meaning. Think about this: if you changed someone's attitude but NOT their behavior, have you really accomplished anything?

Tip 2:
Text vs. Parentheses
Many students confuse when to cite in text, as in Jones (2014) noted that . . . rather than in parentheses (Jones, 2014).
This guideline will help: If you are citing the authors' empirical research - the authors conducted a study and you are citing their results and/or conclusions - use in-text citations. After reviewing numerous papers, Jones (2014) concluded that students do not understand the difference between in-text and parenthetical citations.
If it was NOT a study, or the authors are merely making a statement based on the literature or making general conclusions, then it is better to use parentheses (Jones, 2014).
Tip 3:
Use refereed journals
Get the majority of your references from refereed journals (peer reviewed), where the editor sends blind copies (without the author's name) of submitted articles for critical review by at least two experts in the field before accepting the article for publication.
Tip 4:
Reference list vs. Bibliography
A reference section is a list of the REFERENCES THAT YOU CITE in the document. Therefore,
If you are merely listing all the documents, books, etc. that you read or reviewed with or without citing them, then it is a bibliography. In APA style, authors rarely use bibliographies - use references.

Tip 5:
Are my research questions ok?

First, can you already answer your own question without research? Not based on personal experience, but using the research literature - if you can, then there is no point in conducting that study. After all, the purpose of educational research is to FURTHER the amount of knowledge in your field of interest.

Second, is it possible to answer your research questions with a reasonable study? If your questions are too vague then it will be difficult if not impossible to design a study to answer it.

Third, are your research questions related? If you are asking one question about students, and one question about teachers, then your research area may be too broad.

Tip 6:
Everything about my topic has already been answered in the literature. How do I find something new?
Look at the last section of recently published studies. Many of them end with "Implications for further research". See what is suggested. Can you do one of those studies or base your study on those recommendations? (Make sure 'recent' means in the last 6-9 months.)

Examine the subjects of published studies carefully. Are the populations very different from your students? For example, did they use all inner-city students? All ESL students? Is your student body different from theirs? It's always a good idea to repeat studies using different populations, to see if their results can be replicated using a different population.

Tip 7:
Methodology follows purpose

Do your study in order and all the pieces will fall into place:
1. Review the research to find out what is already known and what needs to be studied.
2. Identify a specific problem to be solved. (Don't confuse the problem with the purpose: the purpose is to SOLVE the problem)
3. State the purpose of the study
4. Write your research questions (use the SAME LANGUAGE in the research questions as you used in the purpose statement)
5. Define your methodology. Select an appropriate methodology to suit the research questions. There are no simple answers here - you'll have to read up on different methodologies to see what is appropriate. Consult with your chair.
Don't design a study around the methodology you are most comfortable with. That's like buying a dog house before you buy the dog. It might not fit!

Tip 8:
TALK to the students who are one or two semesters ahead of you
The students who are ahead of you in the program can help you navigate through the hurdles a little easier. Ask them what paperwork needs to be filled out, what problems did they encounter, can they recommend a good editor or good statistician?
Tip 9:
Outline your literature review.

Use headings to divide your chapter into meaningful sections
There are many different ways to break down your literature review. One common way is to divide it by key variables in your study. Create a major heading for each key variable. You may want to subdivide the heading by two or more subheadings if necessary. You can also include a major heading for the theoretical framework. This section might be subdivided by two or more theories. You might also include a section that describes the population and its key characteristics.

Use the headings as an outline for your introduction at the beginning and your summary at the end.

Tip 10:
Present complex data in tables
It's usually not necessary to repeat information in text AND tables. If the data are complex, it's usually best to include it in a table and then write (see Table 1) after the basic description.
Tip 11:
Findings vs. Analysis
Don't confuse your findings (usually presented in Chapter 4) with analysis (usually presented in Chapter 5). Findings are the raw data - just state your results without discussing what they mean. You CAN state whether or not the hypothesis was accepted/rejected, but don't go into any detail about what that means.
Tip 12:
Recommendations for future research

You'll need to include a recommendations for future research section. You'll probably get some ideas about what to recommend from your results, but always remember to suggest that YOUR study be repeated! Why? Several reasons:

First, the results for the sample you selected may in fact not be true of other samples, and more importantly, may not be generalizable to the population, so recommend that the study be replicated to validate the findings.

Second, most studies should be replicated with OTHER populations - varied by gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, etc., as appropriate - to determine if the findings will vary based on these population characteristics.

Tip 13:
Literature review: Supporting the need for your study

It is not enough for you to think your study is important.

You must support the need for your study from the literature, especially if you are planning a quantitative study. And you cannot use a single research article that is 5 years old that says your study is needed! Provide citations from the literature, no more than 1-2 years old, that recommends a study like yours.

Tip 14:
Literature review: Include a brief documentation section

If you find a very limited number of articles on one or more variables in your study, it is not enough to say that no one has yet published much about this topic! In this case, it is important to document that you completed a thorough search. Explain what databases and indexes were searched and list fruitful search terms and search strings.

Include a section titled "Documentation". In this section, detail your search parameters. For example,

I searched ProQuest and EBSCOhost databases using the following search parameters: (a) from 2005 to present; (b) key words _, _, and _; and (c) all sources, both refereed and nonrefereed journals.

Tip 15:
Literature review: documentation
While not all literature reviews have a separate ‘Documentation’ section, it is particularly important to include if you have difficulty finding research on your topic or a key variable. In this case, it is important to document that you completed a thorough search. Explain what databases and indexes were searched and list fruitful search terms and search strings.

Tip 16:
Literature review:

When is 'enough' enough?

While there is no exact answer to this question, here are some guidelines:

1. Be sure you include literature on each of the variables in your study
2. Include research articles that examine interactions between/among the variables in your study
3. Be sure you have reviewed recent articles (within 1-2 years of your writing) in refereed (peer reviewed) journals
4. Be sure the majority of your references are within 10 years
5. Include articles older than 10 years only if they represent a 'turning point' in the study of your topic
6. Identify gaps in the literature

Tip 17:
Literature review:
key articles
You have probably identified a key article if you see the same author/article references in many other articles
Tip 18:
Literature review:
gaps in the literature
Just because you SAY there is a gap in the literature, doesn't mean there IS one! Support your contention that there is a gap in the literature by explaining your key word searches. Cite authors who have also identified a gap in the literature
Tip 19:
Literature review:
its purpose
The literature review functions as a means of conceptualizing, justifying, implementing, and interpreting the problem to be investigated. Describe the historical and philosophical development of the field to reflect an adequate knowledge of other research related to the problem.
Tip 20:
Literature review:
Maintain a logical flow

Maintain the logical flow of your literature review:

1. It may be appropriate to present an historical overview of your topic.
2. Present current findings from general to specific.
3. Be sure all discussion in your literature review relates directly to the research questions and hypotheses.

Tip 21:
Literature review:
Quote or paraphrase?
As a general rule, avoid quotes - paraphrase! The only REAL reason to quote is if there is just no better way to say it.
Tip 22:
Literature review:
Alternate points of view
It is not enough to just report what is in the literature. Pay particular attention to authors who present different opinions. Report opposing points of view.
Tip 23:
Be sure you have a clear understanding of Internal Validity
Internal validity is designed to evaluate causal relationships. If you are conducting a correlational study, you need not discuss threats to internal validity.
This page has an excellent tutorial on internal validity.
Tip 24:
Do I need permission to reproduce text or figures from an article?

There are certain kinds of APA material for which permission is “free and automatic.” The categories for which formal permission is not required include the following:

• a maximum of three “simple” figures or tables from a single journal article or book chapter. (Note: Scales, questionnaires, or instruments are excluded from this policy.)
• single text extracts of fewer than 400 words
• series of text extracts that total under 800 words

However, even though you need not apply for formal permission in such cases, you are required to provide an appropriate citation giving full credit to the author(s) and to APA for the content used.

Full details on the APA Permissions Policy can be found at Please evaluate the item you wish to use against the parameters of this policy. It will be your responsibility to determine whether or not your intended use qualifies for “free and automatic” permission under the policy.

Please note that the policy does not include permission to use material that is credited to a different copyright holder. Some figures and tables in APA publications are credited to earlier sources. In those cases, you need to contact the original publisher(s).

Copyright BOLD Educational Software 2014
by Diane M. Dusick, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved