Writing a dissertation is as deadly for a doctoral candidate as making attempt to commit suicide for the first time. For PhD scholars writing a dissertation is akin to going in a battle field with all the arms and ammunitions but not knowing how to use them on the enemy to win the battle. This leads to a situation where scholars find themselves stuck in the deadlock with no way to escape. On the top of it, the deadlines act as a sword of Damocles hanging on their head. The pain does not cease here, to their plight, the dreadful comments of the supervisor makes the situation worse for them. At this stage life becomes melancholy and they look up for clouds having silver lining.
As a dissertation chair member, I have met many Doctoral candidates who have a knack for research and they even choose the right stuff which has a great potential. But, at the end of the day when they are up for writing their dissertation, they fail to articulate their ideas in a concrete manner. There are some flaws which are peculiar to every dissertation, depending on the topic chosen by the researchers. But, in this section I would talk about those errors which I frequently encounter in the dissertations presented in front of me. Thus, I would like to share a list of mistakes which are common and can be avoided if little more effort is put in the work.
Difficulty 1: Topic Selection
Disagreement of the Chair: The first and foremost mistake which doctoral candidates do is to choose a topic this is too broad to handle. By choosing a topic which is too broad, leads to zero contribution in the existing field of academia. In addition, some Ph.D. scholars end-up choosing those topics on which extensive literature is already available.
Advise: Researchers should understand that the objective of conducting the research is to tackle those research questions which have never been explored in the past. In addition to it, they must also keep in mind that before undertaking a theme which has already been researched, they should look out for the literature which acts as an extension to the existing research.
Difficulty 2: Developing Research Questions
Disagreement of the Chair: After the researchers finalize their topic, the critical part of the dissertation is developing apt research questions. It should be noticed that the research question should also fit in the framework of the research topic. 70% of the scholars whose dissertations I review lacks in this aspect. Students usually frame questions such as: “what is the cause of air pollution in USA?”. This research question is board and does not define the segments of the research study which will be analyzed in the later stages. The research question should have been framed as “what are the factors leading to air pollution at construction sites of Ohio state in USA?”.
Advise: Before you frame a research question, keep in mind the following parameters.
- The RQ should be able to define or measure a specific fact or it should focus on gathering facts about a specific phenomenon.
- The research question should be researchable within the given time frame of the study.
Most importantly, rather than being theoretical in nature, the primary aim of formulating a research question is to solve an existing problem.
- The research question should be devoid of assumptions
- The RQ should not be loaded with more than one variable in one question (for example: which factors lead to air and water pollution in Ohio and Wisconsin in USA). Here, in one question we have mentioned too many variables such as: air pollution and water pollution; Pollution in Ohio and Wisconsin.
If researchers keep these parameters in mind then no supervisor would challenge the credibility of the RQs.
Difficulty 3: Research problem is seldom well-defined
Disagreement of the Chair: When the supervisor begins reading a dissertation, this is one aspect which highlights the relevance of a research. In 75% cases the research problem framed by the researchers often fails to define the problem, concern, doubts and difficulties which will be eliminated and addressed in the research. In the remaining cases doctoral candidates become casual in identifying what needs to be done to correct a situation.
Advise: The groundwork of defining the research problem begins when the scholars conduct review of literature for selecting the topic of research. The scholars should search for those previous researchers which generated some interesting results, but never followed up. There might be some researchers in which the researches would have mentioned that “results of the study could not be generalized due to presence of culture specific variables in those countries”. All these factors show the gap in the existing research and they can become the foundation of defining the “research problem” of your study. The researchers should also concentrate on answering the members of W family i.e. (who, what, when, where and why) to define every dimension of the research problem.
Difficulty 4: Research problem, aims and objectives are not aligned
Disagreement of the Chair: As a reviewer, one of the most disappointing stages is that the pillars of the research i.e. the Research problem, aims and objectives are established without integrating them logically with each other. In 80% cases, just because the research problem is not well-defined, so the objectives of the research also seem inconsistent.
Advise: My personal advice to the scholars is that they should work on defining a crisp and clear research problem so that the research questions and the objectives can be linked with it.
Difficulty 5: Literature Review appears as a Report
Disagreement of the Chair: In most of the dissertation which we receive, majority of my time goes in reading a chapter which is a collection of ideas; with no association with the research topic; without critical analysis of the existing literature. Researchers provide substantial theoretical context in this chapter but they do not conduct an in-depth study of the topics which are related with the research. The main aim of this section is to analyze the previous researches on similar theme/topic and how these studies were insufficient in themselves. After, this framework is established then the researcher also needs to develop a conceptual framework which defines the interaction between the dependent, independent and moderating/control variables of the study. These variables can be identified once the researcher identifies that there are variables which have not been studied by anyone.
Advise: The LR should be written in stages to make the work easy. In fact, this should be the first chapter with which the dissertation writing should begin. The whole chapter can be divided in four stages.
- In first stage the researcher should describe the current state of research (i.e. what other researches have been done in this topic) and demonstrate an understanding of your field;
- In second stage the researcher should consider whether the previous researchers have any association with their research topic by summarizing and evaluating past research.
- In the third stage you should identify a gap where you can present your argument regarding the scope research in this area. This can be done by presenting an overview of controversies in past research.
- Finally, they should begin writing the chapter once they are clear with the complete framework of the research. The chapter should be concise yet comprehensive (i.e. the number of topics should be limited with in-depth studies supporting or refuting them).
These were some of the prominent mistakes which not only make the life of the Doctoral candidates thought but they also irk the dissertation chair. As a member of supervisory team, I wish to make the life of the researches easy. I will update some more details on the Dreadful Comments furnished by us on their Dear Dissertations of the Doctoral Candidates. Stay calm and careful with what lies with you and wait for more insights from the Dissertation Chair.