Significance of Your Study Answers “Who Cares?”

With Walden’s positive social change mission, your dissertation research study must be more than simply a study of an interesting topic. It must make a difference. While it doesn’t have to change the world, you will need to carefully and accurately describe how your study will make an impact. Essentially you’re answering the question, “Who Cares?’

You will write an APA level 1 heading titled “Significance” in the prospectus and in Chapter 1 of your dissertation. If you follow the Walden dissertation checklist while writing the prospectus, once it is approved you’ll be able to copy and paste it into the dissertation template and confidently say, you’ve begun your dissertation!

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According to the Walden Dissertation checklist, under Chapter 1, you must address three areas related to significance.

  • Identify potential contributions of the study that advance knowledge in the discipline. This is an elaboration of what the problem addresses.
  • Identify potential contributions of the study that advance practice and/or policy (as applicable).
  • Describe potential implications for positive social change that are consistent with and bounded by the scope of the study.

Here is an exemplar of significance statement from a published article.

“Discerning with more precision the types of experiences and knowledge that faculty actually draw upon when teaching and moving beyond the meme that faculty ‘teach the way they were taught’ will not only contribute to the field of higher education’s basic knowledge about faculty identity and work, but also promises to provide important insights into educational reform” (Oleson & Hora, 2014; p. 30).

Oleson, A., & Hora, M. (2014). Teaching the way they were taught? Revisiting the sources of teaching knowledge and the role of prior experience in shaping faculty teaching practices. Higher Education, 68(1), 29-45. doi: 10.1007/s10734-013-9678-9

I’ve color-coded text to highlight the elements of significance being addressed. Notice that the green text in the sentence aligns with green words in the article title. Using the same words, rather than varying the words helps show alignment of the study. The red text in the sentence is almost the exact phrase in first row of the significance section of the Walden dissertation checklist. You’ve got to show your reader how the results of the study will contribute knowledge to your field. The purple text explains how the data of the study will highlight faculty perceptions and practice. The blue text in the sentence from the article, addresses the larger social change issue related to the topic. The study is looking at faculty practices and with that knowledge there is a potential for increasing understanding in a way that may provide practical solutions to the problem. Know that this exemplar sentence was the topic sentence of a paragraph and the ideas are expounded on with examples and evidence from the literature in the sentences that follow.

Writing a Significance Section

As for any section you write in your dissertation, refer to the checklist and align your writing, particularly the topic sentence to what is required. In this case, the first sentence in the significance section should show the reader how you will be defining significance, which is defined for you in the checklist. Here is an example:

The significance of a study is determined in relation to advancing knowledge in the field, and to improving practice in the field, to contributing to positive social change. 

(Note: The significance should be linked to your specialization. Students in the Learning, Instruction, and Innovation specialization show how their study contributes to Innovation.  Educational technology students must show how their study matters to that field. Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment students must link their study to how it will further the field in one of those three areas.)

How you organize your writing from here will vary. Some students are able to fit all of this in one paragraph. Others choose to write on each of the elements of significance in its own paragraph. Do what seems right for your writing style and for your topic. No matter how many paragraphs you write for this section, you need organizational and transitional sentences to guide your reader. Whatever order you list the elements in the topic sentence, please address those elements in the same order in the sentences that follow. Here are some examples of transitional sentences.

In relation to advancing knowledge to the [SPECIALIZATION] discipline researchers and educators may ….

In relation to improving practice, this study may encourage…

In relation to contributing to innovative practices, this study may…

In relation to potential positive social change, this study may…

Notice the use of the word “may” instead of “will.” You need to leave a little wiggle room in this area, and the word “may” accomplishes this well. As you write this section consider what journals would publish the results of your study? Who would want to read about this and how would it help them? Essentially in this significance section you are answering the questions, Who Cares?, Why should this study be done?, and Why is this study important?

Now, if you are at the prospectus stage, or even proposal stage, writing chapter 5 may seem like a long way off. However, it may help you to keep in mind that the significance section you are now writing will likely connect to the Implications heading you will write in chapter 5. Next week I’ll share with you how to write the implication section. [Writing the Implications Section]

Important Links

Walden PhD Dissertation Checklist

Align, Align, Align



3 thoughts on “Significance of Your Study Answers “Who Cares?”

  1. Keitha says:

    Thank you Dr. Harland for referring me to this page! I am so glad I met you during residency and you continue to guide me in this process.

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