Saturday, February 18, 2006

Dissertation Advice

This post is basically a response that I posted on the David Allen discussion board. A reader asked for advice on preparing a dissertation. Following is what I found to be extremely beneficial and something I would recommend to anyone:

I made no notes on 3X5 cards nor did I ever have various sources scattered all over the floor. On my computer, I had a single file that I had named something like "Lit Review." It really amounted to electronic 3X5 cards.

I would read a particular source (article or book) from beginning to end and take notes on screen. I would putt a couple of line breaks between each entry I used. At the end of each entry, I referenced the page number. If I had quoted anything, I used quotations right then and there so that later on there would be no doubt about what had been taken word-for-word and what I had paraphrased. When I finished with that source, I put the bibliographical entry for that article or book. Then, I would begin reading and taking notes from the next source.

When I felt like I had read everything of value and was "done" researching, I started at the end of my notes and "copied" the last bibliographical entry. I then pasted that bibliographical entry at the end of every single citation from that particular source. I then continued that process throughout the entire set of notes. When I finished, every bit of information was tagged with a page number and complete bibliographical entry.

As I put together the review of literature, categories began to emerge. My next step was to begin cutting and pasting all of these bits of information so that like info was together. (This would be just like taking a set of 3X5 note cards and sorting them in the order you want to use them in your paper.)

When I finished with this process, I basically had my review of literature organized. From there, it was a matter and creating the wording that would link these ideas and help the whole thing flow. The process also entailed cutting the bibliographical entries and pasting them in the bibliography. That insured that I had not left anything out of the bibliography. It also ensured that I had not included anything in the bibliography that had not actually been used in the paper.

When people ask me how long it took me to write the dissertation, I always say 6 months, 2 years, or 4 year, depending on how you look at it. I had the original idea when I was working on a paper for an earlier degree (which is what I mean by the 4 year part).

When I started the doctoral program, I knew I was going to be writing a paper for every class, so I found some way to work my eventual dissertation topic into the requirements for every one of those papers, so that I was constantly feeding the dissertation. From the time I entered the program to the time I defending the dissertation was 2 years and 2 months. I would recommend to ANYBODY starting a doctorate to spend considerable time getting at least a general idea of what they want to write the dissertation on BEFORE you start classes. Otherwise, you find yourself up to your ears getting through one class after another and no time to step back, look at the whole program, all make all the parts work together.

I sat down with my chair on morning to hammer out a title, a hypothesis, how I would conduct the study, etc. One hour later, our meeting was done. Six months later, I defended the dissertation. The subject? Time management practices of Alabama principals.
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