Problem and Purpose Statements

Dissertation Problem Statements

Problem Statement

Problem statements for prospectus writing and for chapter 1 should be two paragraphs long.  You are establishing two justifications in these paragraphs: (a) that your study is needed by identifying a social-educational problem and reporting the findings of three or more current research studies on that problem and (b) that three to five (3–5) experts agree this is a question or issue that is relevant to your field (EDPD 8910).

First Paragraph of a Problem Statement

1st Paragraph in Problem Statement

The first paragraph of a problem statement is a description of the problem funneled down to a gap in understanding related to the problem.

From Prospectus Document: In this paragraph provide a logical argument for the need to address an identified gap in the research literature that has current relevance to your discipline and area of practice. Keep in mind that a gap in the research is not, in and of itself, a reason to conduct research. Make sure to clarify the problem that led you to the gap (p. 3).

Imagine this paragraph as a funnel. You start by establishing the problem, building ideas logically, starting with a broad problem in your discipline and further narrowing it to your specific specialization and then even more narrow to a single problem statement.

This paragraph should be heavily cited. You will need to cite a minimum of three current research studies to frame and narrow the problem. Some of these sentences might be densely cited with evidence to provide a landscape view of how the problem has been studied in the literature. For help writing these types of sentences, see my blog post titled Tips for Strong Evidence Writing.   In one of our college of education colloquial sessions at residency, we use the analogy of a baseball stadium as a way to think about your dissertation topic. If the baseball field is the problem you plan to study, you’ve got to situate your reader to where in the stands you’re sitting. You’re saying, people sitting in section A approach the problem this way, people in section B approach it slightly different. Then you can narrow a bit and share how some in the section in which you’re sitting approach the problem. You’ll narrow to the point where you can transition to a statement, that may say, “Although some have studied it [THIS WAY], and [THAT WAY], what is still not understood is [THIS].” Then you’ve primed your reader for the last sentence in this paragraph which will explain the view of the problem/field from your specific seat in the stadium.

Write a Single Sentence Problem Statement at the end of the first paragraph in the problem statement section. From noABDforme.wordpress.com

Single Sentence Problem Statement

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Tips for Strong Evidence Writing

In past blog posts, I’ve talked about the MEAL plan, and the importance of using evidence (the e from MEAL) from empirical research; However, in literature reviews there are specific skills related to presenting that evidence that you need to add to your writing tool belt. These include writing sentences that show rather than tell, and writing densely cited sentences to show the larger landscape of a topic.

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Show Versus Tell

In courses, you likely cited studies very generally to help you make a point. However, when you write about studies in the background section of your prospectus or within the literature review, you should avoid generalized references that tell about studies and instead show the evidence by sharing details about the study and specific results. Therefore, the following phrases should not be used in a literature review.

  • Researchers have found….
  • Research states….

In a previous post I shared this formula:

In this (methodology) study + data collection methods/participants = results.

Here are some ways this formula can be used.

Telling: Researchers found that boys were more likely to fail geometry than were girls (Smith & Wesson, 2015).

Allow Data to Show (Better): In a quantitative study of urban high school sophomores, Smith and Wesson (2015) found that girls (n = 135) were nearly twice as likely as boys (n = 110) to fail geometry (p < .05). Continue reading

Slicing the Donut: Writing a level 1 heading of the literature review

The literature review is where students spend most of the “proposal lives” working. In previous posts, I’ve shared with you how a literature review is like hosting a dinner party, how to define and declare the gap, how to use scholarly argument, how to write sticky sentences, and choosing articles for a literature review. In this post, I’d like to extend my post on developing an APA level 1 outline to help you organize your proposal writing. Let’s talk about how you get started in organizing, note taking, and finally writing your first level 1 heading of your literature review.

In one of my all-time-favorite WU Writing center blog posts, Tim talks about how to “prove the presence of an absence” by using an analogy of a donut and donut hole. I’d like to operationalize the analogy even more by expanding on his idea and showing you how the level headings within your literature review fit together to establish the gap and therefore the justification for your study.

Donut_01_LitReview

The way to show what isn’t known (the gap/donut hole) is to share what is. That’s your job in the literature review. You must “talk around the donut hole.” It’s a big job, but you can do it, if you take it one “bite” at a time.

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So, once you and your chair have determined the level 1 headings (general topics) you need to address in your literature review, visualize each of those heading as a different slice of your donut. (Anyone getting hungry yet? Sugar rush? ) Continue reading

Using the APA Level Heading Outline

Most dissertation students at one point or another become overwhelmed during research process. For many this happens during the review of the literature. There are so many articles to identify, obtain, and then organize. Therefore, it is important to have a system that builds your confidence that the articles you find you’ll be able to locate when it comes time to read and write. May I suggest a system that starts with the development of what I call the APA level heading outline?

APA Level Heading Outline

When organizing to write your dissertation proposal, I recommend you use an outline. The outline should align with the appropriate Walden checklist for your methodology and the headings in the outline should be formatted as they are in the dissertation template; level 1 headings (centered, bold, and title case) and level two headings when necessary (left justified, bold and title case). All of the headings are predetermined for you except for the ones in the literature review. Work with your chair to determine your level 1 literature review headings. The headings should provide a full description of the topics covered by your research questions. Here is the template version I give my mentees to individualize for their own study.

OutlineAPAProposal

Outline3Pages

Using the outline provides several benefits. First, it helps you to know all the elements that required for the final product. If you consider each level 1 heading as its own mini-paper, the whole process seems less daunting. You can also use the outline as a task-list, and “check” headings off as you write them. I keep an outline for each of my mentees and I change the text color of the completed heading and insert a comment bubble with the date I approved that heading. This provides us with a bird’s-eye-view of what’s been done, and what still needs to be done. Last, I suggest the outline be used to help you tag articles for where in the paper you’re likely to need it.

For example, if a study has the research question:

How effective is technology-enhanced feedback given to doctoral students during the dissertation writing process?

the following APA level 1 headings might be used to organize the Literature review.

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Chapter 5: Interpretation of the Findings

Goal of the Interpretation of the Findings section:
Situating Your Results in Context of What is Already Known 

Up until now, your role in dissertation writing has been to describe, explain, frame, and analyze what others have done. While your critical analysis was imperative in chapter 2 you never shared your personal opinion. In Chapter 4 you objectively presented the results of your study with no comment on what the results may mean. However, in this section of chapter 5, you get to comment directly about the results of your study. The Interpretation of the Findings section is a critical section—and in my opinion—the most fun to write. Very few people read dissertations from cover to cover, but this is a section that will likely be read more than any other.

Writing the Interpretations of the Findings,

Remember the gaps you worked to carefully to frame back in chapter 2?  Now its time to situate your study results in with the current literature. What insight does your study bring? How does your study confirm, disconfirm, or extend the knowledge of what’s in the literature?

Preparing to write Interpretations of the Findings.

  • Make a list of the major findings of the study; per research question (or data source depending on how you want to discuss the findings) from chapter 4
  • Review the gaps you described in chapter 2

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Identifying the Gap: Conclusion Paragraph of Level 1 Heading

What’s the Gap?

There are several jobs of the literature review of your dissertation. The first is to show that there is a need for your study, therefore it is justified. Another important job is to identify what literature has not been done on the topic or in other words, what is still not fully understood.  You need to have read A LOT of research to figure this out. You will not cite everything you read, but ALL of your reading is what helps you to be able to stand up in the end, and declare the gap.

You have a gap if the research related to the level 1 topic heading:

  • has not been studied with a certain population
  • has been studied in some content areas but not “yours”
  • has been primarily studied using a single methodology
  • there is research on two sides of an issue and more research is still needed to help further understanding
  • includes poor quality research (usually research design or implementation)
  • is built on an incorrect assumption
  • consistently uses the same conceptual framework and therefore lacks multiple views of the issues (you will propose an innovative way)

But what if you didn’t find a gap for a certain level 1 heading? That’s fine! In that case you will review the consensus on the topic and how reliable that consensus is.

While you are likely to be discussing the gap and consensus as it comes up in the body paragraphs of the level 1 writing, I am suggesting that you dedicate one full paragraph at the end of each APA level 1 heading of your literature review to stand up on a rock, fist pump in the air, and boldly identify and declare the gap!

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Last Paragraph in Each Lit Review APA Level 1 Heading

Let’s talk about the last paragraph of an APA Level 1 Heading in your literature review. This paragraph is not really a summary of what was in the section; rather, it is a well thought out synthesis of the topic and related to your proposed study. Note: This applies only to the literature review, section of chapter 2, not all sections in chapters 1-3.

The purposes of this paragraph may differ slightly depending on what you’ve found in the literature, but may include any or all of the following:

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Twitter as Teacher PD Part 2

In part 1 of my series titled “Twitter for Innovative Thinkers,” I shared a tutorial titled Educator’s Guide to Twitter: The Profile Page. In that video I provide an explanation of how Twitter is used by the movers and shakers in education, and did my best to convince you that Twitter is really a gold mine of professional development. I’m now introducing Part 2 of the series, and I’ve titled this one “Hashtags and other Twitter Terms I don’t know.”

In this tutorial, I walk you through the elements of a tweet, so that you can be an intelligent consumer of information you come across on Twitter. I also provide tips for when you’re ready to move into the contributing phase of social media and show you how to engage with tweets responsibly. By the end of this tutorial, You’ll be able to use hashtags to find new people to follow, and have a strategic plan in how to connect with some amazing people on Twitter.

I will also take this time to share my favorite people to follow.

@alicekeeler = Alice Keeler Google Certified Teacher

@gcouros = George Couros author of “The Innovator’s Mindset”

@cultofpedagogy = Jennifer Gonzalez co-author of “Hacking Education”

And my favorite Hashtags

#WUInnCurr – our EDPD 8012 course hashtag. As you find resources that align with topics of our course related to Innovative Curriculum, share them with us by using this tag.

#innovatorsmindset – George Couros’ book title and all things innovative

#TTOG – teachers throwing out grades

#21stedchat – 21st century education discussion

#edsocialmedia – using social media in the classroom

#hacklearning – great innovative ideas and I LOVE their Twitter chats

#TEDedChat – Discussion about Ted Ed topics

#globaled – globally connected educators

#edumatch – connecting educators to educators

If my tutorials have helped motivate you to spread your wings and reach out on Twitter, let me know. My Twitter handle is @djSTEMmom. I’ll see you soon!

Twitter as Professional Development

As a PhD candidate, maybe you think you’re above Twitter. Maybe you’ve only seen it used for egotistical self promotion, or worse just to share with the world what someone ate for lunch. However, I’m here to say that Twitter is actually the best way to connect quickly with teachers of like-mindedness, as well as with teachers who will boggle your mind with what they do in their classroom. Twitter is a powerful learning tool for educators.

While George Couros, author of Innovator’s Mindset, doesn’t say you HAVE to be on Twitter to be innovative, he has said, that many teachers who are innovative happen to be on Twitter. There’s just something about connecting with other educators around the world that helps us to have a more balanced and global approach to what we do in the classroom.

To encourage you to consider Twitter as a viable professional development (PD) tool, I’ve   started a tutorial series titled “Twitter for Innovative Thinkers.” Part 1 is called “Educator’s Guide to Twitter: The Profile Page.”  In this first tutorial I explain how Twitter is used by innovative people (compared to popular culture) and  I then go through the elements of a Twitter profile page to prepare YOU to set up our own account.

In Part 2 titled “Hashtags and other Twitter Terms I Don’t Know” I will share the construction of a tweet along with the importance of a hashtag.  Coming soon.

I double-dog dare you to open a Twitter account today and begin experiencing learning (as a teacher) like never before! Have Fun!

~Dr. Darci Harland

Be the Glue: Writing Sticky Sentences

Have you ever received feedback on your academic writing that sounds like this?

This paragraph lacks cohesion.
Add more synthesis, please.
This is all summary.
Where is the analysis of these studies?
Why does this matter?

If so, its likely that you need to work on being the glue!

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Hopefully you know about the MEAL plan. Walden’s Writing Center has done an outstanding job of providing a model for writing strong academic-toned paragraphs. Here is what MEAL stands for.

M = Main idea = Topic Sentence
E = Evidence = Facts from research studies
A = Analysis = You Be the Glue
L = Lead Out = Your voice summarizing

I find that once students begin to understand the importance of strong topic sentences and lead out sentences, most learn to use them consistently. However learning to do the analysis well is where most students struggle. I have started calling this “the glue” and urge writers to “Be the Glue!” I find myself asking students for more sticky sentences that will pull the citations they are using into a coherent review of the literature.

WU Writing Center stated

Analysis should function as both the “you” (your unique interpretation of evidence) and the “glue” (a clear linkage among pieces of evidence and between evidence and the topic sentence) in every paragraph.

Glue + You = Analysis

Even if you agree with my argument for the importance of having analysis in every paragraph, you probably know how difficult it is to write well. You might be asking yourself, How do I transition from the evidence to analysis? I probably can’t just say “I believe this is important because….” or “This matters because…..” So how do I do it? I’m going to break my answer to this into two parts. First, I will provide tips for how you interpret the evidence and second, tips for linking evidence together. I will conclude with tips on what to avoid when writing these sticky sentences.

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How Writing a Literature Review is like Hosting a Dinner Party

Writing a literature review is like hosting a dinner party.  Don’t you just love a good analogy?

As a literature review writer, or dinner host, it is your job to invite everyone who has done research to debate on a specific topic around your dinner table. Those researchers who’ve published in the last 5 years have priority seating—but big wigs in the field should also attend.

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As the host, it is your job is to listen to your guests, ask probing questions, encourage academic debate, find holes in each other’s research, and to discuss what is still yet to be studied.

Now, let’s listen in on a dinner party much as I describe above. Close your eyes and listen to the clanking of utensils on dishes. Do you hear the various voices and tones? Do you smell the seared steak and steamed vegetables? Do you feel the warmth of the candlelight centerpiece on your face?

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