Of any dinner meal, the meat is always a highlight of the main course. And in a dissertation, the methodology is at the “heart of the matter.” Why? Because the dissertation methodology is the detailed description of what you did, how you did it, and what data you gathered.
Your goal for this chapter is singular. Can a future researcher study it, completely understand it in all of its detail, and then replicate your study if s/he wants to?
The Design. While you covered this in general terms in your introduction, first re-state whether your study is quantitative or qualitative. Then provide the detail. If your study is qualitative, provide the detail about how your selected your random sampling. If it is quantitative, how did you establish your experimental and control groups? Did you only use an experimental group? Did you used matched pairs? Identify the independent and dependent variables.
The other part of this section is the justification of the significance of this study to your field. What is the direct relationship between your study and your research question?
The Participants/Subjects and the Research Environment. For a Qualitative Study: You have participants for a sampling. How large is your sampling and why that number? You can justify the number in two ways. You can use alpha level power analysis, and thus ensure that you have at least an 80% certainty that the effect you are looking for will show up. The other thing you can do is to replicate sample size(s) of earlier researchers who conducted studies related to yours.
Be very careful about describing the setting in a qualitative study. When and where were subjects interviewed, for example? Were they interviewed as individuals alone? All of these details are very important.
For Quantitative Study: What is the setting of your research – a lab, a specific geographical environment? And who and/or what are the subjects – human, animals, plant life, etc. Provide extensive detail about those subjects and the environment in which the study occurs. In a lab, for example, what are the temperature and lighting conditions? Describe the treatment in detail including such things as amount, time, and formative testing. Remember, someone else needs to be able to replicate it exactly.
Your Instruments. Again, you will have two choices. You may use existing instruments, especially if you are replicating an earlier study. The beauty of this is that they have been validated and are thus easily accepted by your advisor and committee. In this case, you simply describe them and how they were validated. If you decide that there are no instruments that are a good fit, you will need to describe them in detail and justify each element of those instruments as they relate to your research question. Especially in qualitative studies, you want to avoid nuisance factors.
All instruments must be included in your appendix.
Your Procedure. This section describes in detail exactly how your gathered your data.
Quantitative Study: When, where and how was the data collected? If your study is in an area of hard science, the full description of the process involves keeping accurate records. Using animals and plants I pretty easy. However, if you are using people, you need to be very careful about gaining permission, in writing, and about how you are protecting their privacy. In the case of minors, obvious parent/guardian permission is required. Keep these forms long after you have published your dissertation.
Qualitative Study: Any instrument used must be delivered in exactly the same way and under the same conditions for all participants. Be mindful of permission forms and privacy procedures (in writing). Include mater copies of your forms in your appendix.
Reporting Your Data. Reporting the results of your study will be the final section of this chapter (you will analyze them in the next chapter). For now, you have to provide both a verbal and a graphical depiction of this data. You do have good tools to create graphs and charts. If you don’t feel skilled enough, get some professional help. These graphical depictions need to be well-done. If you have some results that are un-related to your research question, leave them out.
Pay attention to the detail as you implement your study. You don’t want to get to some point where you can’t remember something that you did not write down.
Writing dissertation methodology chapters do not have to be difficult. Keep your data organized as you collect it. Trying to do it all at the end will be monumental.
Be certain that you have protected the privacy of any human participants or subjects and have gathered the critical permission forms.
- Plan your implementation carefully. Allow extra time, because there will always be hiccups. Too tight a schedule may mean that you compromise the study.
- If you create your own instruments, get another opinion from an expert. You don’t want to gather irrelevant data that then become nuisance factors.
- Justify everything, at least in your head. You may need this stuff for your oral defense
- Be certain that you have the right environment for your own work. Find a place where you can be productive
- Keep to your timeline and schedule as much as possible
- Don’t leave your advisor out of the loop during your study. S/he may have valuable suggestions to make
- Don’t become an “island.” Get some support from others working on their dissertations too. You can keep each other motivated
- Don’t get sloppy about your charts and graphs they really need to look professional.
- Don’t ignore the writing – your committee expects scholarly and impeccable grammar. Get help if you need it.
- Don’t fail to inform your advisor and committee if you are delayed for any reason that will cause you to miss a timeline – “it’s easier to get permission than forgiveness.”
- Your biggest mistake will be procrastination. Your implementation may be right on schedule, but you need to organize your data as it comes in. Holding off to the end creates a mess.
- It’s easy to get so caught up in your work that you become too single-minded. You will not be productive if you do this. In your schedule, plan days off and do something fun.
- If you are really struggling with any part of your design or implementation, don’t make the mistake of trying to slug through it on your own. It is not shameful to admit you need help.