At the Walden residencies one of the themes you hear over and over again is Align, Align, Align. But what does that really mean? Alignment refers to the elements of a research study building on one another in a logical manner.
At residency 3 you work on the historic alignment tool, or the HAT. This tool helps you accomplish the alignment of the main elements of a research study. One element leads to the next, which leads to the next. If you answer “no” to any of the following questions, the study is not aligned.
- Does the background research show evidence of a problem?
- Is there a gap in understanding of the problem?
- Does the problem align to the purpose?
- Does the purpose align to the research question?
- Does the theoretical or conceptual framework logically help answer the research questions?
- Does the research question drive the methodology?
These are the exact questions your mentor, methodologist, and the URR will be asking when reviewing your premise, prospectus, proposal, and final dissertation. So, how do you keep alignment in the forefront of your mind when entertaining potential ideas for a research study? An important step is to realize that the central research question will determine the wording of both the purpose statement and the dissertation title.
The purpose statement, the central research question, and the dissertation title should all be parallel, and quite possibly word for word the same.
Purpose = Central Research Question = Dissertation Title
Showing misalignment may help in understanding what alignment is. For example can you spot the misalignment of the following statements?
The purpose of this study is to explore how undergraduate students’ feelings of social presence are related to observed and perceived feedback.
Research Question: Is there are relationship between feelings of social presence and observed and perceived feedback?
Dissertation title: The Impact of Social Presence on Observed and Perceived Feedback.
The three statements above are not in alignment. The purpose makes us think the study will be qualitative as the phenomenon is being explored. However the research question is stated in a quantitative manner that seeks a quantifiable connection between several variables. And the dissertation title also leans to a quantitative study looking at how one variable influences another. Each of the three by themselves would be descent studies, but they certainly do not align as part of the same study.
Here are some aligned examples from my mentees.
|Purpose Statement||Central Research Question||Dissertation Title||Inferences I can make based on these 3|
|The purpose of this qualitative study is to explore how community college students perceive project based learning influencing their motivation to learn in a college and grammar class.||How do community college students perceive project-based learning influencing their motivation to learn in a college and grammar class?||Exploration of the perceptions of community college grammar class students on their motivation to learn using project based learning.||The use of the word “perception” makes me expect to see a qualitative study, most likely phenomenology.|
|The purpose of this qualitative study is to explore how biology teachers promote inquiry learning with ELL students using online simulations.||How do biology teachers support ELL students when using Gizmo biology simulations to promote inquiry learning?||How Biology Teachers Support English Language Learners in the Use of Online Simulations to Promote Inquiry||Notice the name of the specific online program is only included in the central RQ, not the purpose and title.|
|The purpose of this study is to explore how digital tools can be used to provide virtual mentoring for novice rural teachers.||How does virtual mentoring of novice rural teachers through digital tools reflect Hudson’s (2004) Five-Factor Model of Mentoring?||How Digital Tools Are Used to Provide Virtual Mentoring for Novice Rural Teachers||The conceptual framework is included in the central RQ. I can see that the researcher is using an established verified “norm” of what quality mentoring should look like and see if these digital mentoring experiences reflect the same elements of quality f2f mentoring.|
|The purpose of this study is to explore if and how self-awareness, motivation, and empathy competencies are being embedded and modeled in community college preservice early educator online courses||How are self-awareness, motivation, and empathy competencies embedded and modeled in community college preservice early educator online courses?
|A Case Study of How Self-Awareness, Motivation, and Empathy are Embedded and Modeled in Community College Preservice Early Educator Online Courses
|The title of this one shares the methodology. The words embedded and modeled let us know that data will likely come from instructors of these courses as well as a look at the course themselves.|
While it is likely you want to vary how you describe the purpose in an effort not to bore your reader, DON’T. Do not rephrase any of these three elements once you and your dissertation chair have agreed upon them. Every single time you write any of these three phrases anywhere in chapters 1-5, it should be worded EXACTLY the same.
While these don’t have to include everything about your study into one question or statement, each does need to infer additional elements about the study that are not directly mentioned. I gave you examples of this in the last column of the table. For example if I see the word “perceptions,” or “explore” I am confident I am looking at a qualitative study. If I see words such as “relationship,” “effect,” or “impact” I know I am looking at a quantitative study. Research questions that start with “How” are likely qualitative and “what” questions are more likely quantitative. In the same manner, a mismatch in wording of these sentences with the methodology is the biggest reason why a prospectus or proposal is sent back for revisions.
Alignment comes down to the details. The words you choose are important. The order in which you put the words is important. Using the same phrasing every time ensures your reader that your study is aligned.
So let me ask you, is your study aligned? What issues do you have in the alignment of your own study?
Walden Academic Guide: PhD Getting Started (includes a link to the HAT Tool)
Walden Academic Guide: Doctoral Capstone Developing Skills