You’ve watched other classmates sweating over their dissertation topics, poring over the literature, agonizing over their research design, writing and editing. Now, it’s your turn. But, when and how do you begin? Ideally, dissertation advisers say, students identify a research interest in the first or second year of their program and then use that general area as a theme throughout their coursework. But students don’t need to view that general area as a trajectory of their career. Instead, experts encourage students to view the dissertation as a teaching exercise, in which they learn how to conduct, design and analyze independent research. So first off, you need a topic. Melinda Stoops, PhD, a director of the counseling center at Framingham State College in Framingham, Mass., who has spoken at APA conferences on writing the dissertation. Experts offer the following advice on tackling these beginning stages of your dissertation-from getting organized to narrowing your topic to identifying your problem and research questions. Then, take it one chapter at a time, dissertation advisers say.

Ask a favorite professor, preferably one active in research, about possible topics. Read departmental information on the research interests of the faculty to find a topic a faculty member is interested in as well. Consider asking the faculty member to be a part of your dissertation committee, which will help guide you in your research. Read an empirical paper that interests you and see what future research is suggested in the discussion section. Think about term papers you enjoyed writing and choose a topic that reflects those interests. Sift through literature reviews in your areas of interest-such as in the Annual Review of Psychology, Psychological Bulletin and Clinical Psychology Review. Avoid topics in which you are overly emotionally involved-such as research on depression if you or a family member is depressed. Such emotional elements can interfere with your research, Cone says. To narrow your focus, identify what within your chosen topic area interests you, says Foster, a psychology professor at AIU. Bounce ideas off a mentor and consult the literature to determine what has been done before, she advises. Also, consider choosing a topic that you’ve already been exposed to, such as through your master’s thesis or a research project. That’s exactly what sixth-year doctoral student Jody Ernst did. Ernst-who is in the University of Texas at Austin’s individual differences and evolutionary psychology program-has spent her entire graduate career researching behavioral genetics. Ernst says. In particular, her dissertation investigates the genetic factors that influence problem behavior development over the life span. But, make sure you have passion for the topic. Nate Tomcik-a fifth-year doctoral student in the clinical psychology program at the University of Tennessee-has an interest in his research on therapists’ views of couples therapy because it allowed him to integrate research with his clinical work with couples.

The practical relevance is demonstrated. The most important scientific articles about the topic are summarized (not applicable to all theses). Feedback editor: You have conducted a literature review, but you have not summarized important articles. Given the nature of your topic, this seems to be an appropriate decision. The objective is formulated. The problem statement is formulated. The conceptual framework is determined. The research questions or hypotheses are formulated. Feedback editor: You have not mentioned your research questions in the “study objectives” section of the introduction (where they would normally be included). I have suggested an appropriate place to add them. The research design is described briefly. Feedback editor: You have not explained how your research is conducted. I have recommended a place in the “study objectives” section where you could add a brief explanation of your methodology. The thesis overview is added. The research questions have been answered. Feedback editor: As noted.

The main question or problem statement has been answered. The hypotheses have been confirmed or refused. The right verb tense has been used. No issues are interpreted. Feedback editor: I’d recommend avoiding any interpretation (including giving your own opinion or making a call for further research) in the early sections of this chapter. Instead, I’d stick to answering the research questions and addressing the hypotheses. I’ve left in-text comments where the text veered in this direction. Save these elements for a dedicated section later in the chapter. No new information has been given. Feedback editor: In one instance on page 181, you mention two cases that you did not reference in a previous chapter (the CBO and Doolittle’s Raid). Be sure not to mention new findings in the Conclusion. Either go back to an earlier chapter and make note of these instances, or else delete the reference from the Conclusion.

No examples are used. No extraneous information is provided. No passages from the results have been cut and pasted. Feedback editor: Much of this section takes sentences from previous sections, almost verbatim. The conclusion should use varied language and go beyond simply summarizing the main points. I have provided further comments on this in the document. The first person has not been used. The validity of the research is demonstrated. New insights are explained. Feedback editor: Rather than comparing, contrasting and synthesising the analyses, this section essentially summarises the reviews. Consider focusing more on the analysis piece here. The limitations of the research are discussed. Feedback editor: The research limitations are not discussed. Instead, the limitations of big data analytics are discussed. Consider this difference as you finalize your paper. It is indicated whether expectations were justified. Feedback editor: Consider elaborating on this in the discussion section. Possible causes and consequences of the results are discussed. Suggestions for possible follow-up research are made.

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