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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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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Align Align Align

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.

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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

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Theoretical vs. Conceptual Framework

Theoretical vs. Conceptual Framework

Generally speaking, theories used in academic research are a collection of ideas that can be used to explain things that happened in the past, to describe things that are happening right now, and to predict things that may happen in the future.

Theoretical Framework is a well known theory that can be used:

  • as a lens through which a researcher views the topic (qualitative study)
  • deductively; to test the theory in a specific circumstance (quantitative study)
  • inductively; as an emerging pattern (mixed methods)

In a quantitative study; theoretical framework is used to make the hypothesis or prediction of the outcome of the study. The purpose is to see if that theory “applies” in a specific situation and circumstance. The quantitative data will either further support the theory or it won’t.

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Picking a Dissertation Topic is like Choosing a Wedding Dress

Finding a dissertation topic is like choosing a wedding dress. For some, she knew all along what she wanted, and its the dress she sticks with. For others, she has a general idea of what she wants, but waits for the ah-ha moment of when trying on dresses. She looks tirelessly for the dress that matches what she had envisioned. She goes to every store, tries on every dress, and then one day, looks in the mirror and say, “YES! I found it!”

How picking a dissertation topic is like choosing a wedding dress.

Some have the dress picked out, but when she gets to the store, the dress is already taken by someone else. So crushed….she moves on and searches for another dress, but none seem to measure up to the “dream dress” she had hoped for (and she seems to always be bitter about that).

For others, nothing she tries on seems to be just right. So she keeps looking. She narrows it down to several dresses that would “work” but receives no gut response about it being “the one.”  Eventually, a dress is picked for one reason or another (cost, looks nice, mom likes its, easiest to alter…etc). Essentially, the dress works, and gets her down the isle wearing white.

While I won’t dissect the entire analogy for you (you are–after all– PhD students), I will say; do not wait for the ah-ha moment regarding your dissertation topic. It may never happen and you’ll still be ABD. Do the best with what interests you and what will allow you to finish. While I’m all about taking time to determine good fit for your dissertation topic, you need to get started in order to finish. Good luck!

Would love to hear how your “dress story” compares with how you find your dissertation topic!

~Dr. Darci

Defining Innovative

What is innovative?

As a student in the Learning, Instruction, and Innovation PhD program, at Walden University, at some point you will struggle with what innovative really means. It appears to be a simple question as first, but applying it to educational research is more difficult than you think.  You will be asked to defend that your dissertation topic is innovative in addition to filling a necessary gap within the literature. The response I give students regarding what innovative means is that it is a research idea that studies:

  • Something new used in an old way
  • Something old used in a new way
  • Something new used in a new way

One of our very own Dr. D’s mentees expanded on this idea in her post Does Technology Really Make the Innovation Innovative?

There’s a journal titled Journal of Educational Research and Innovation (JERI). The site describes the journal’s focus this way, “JERI aims to provoke conversation about emerging ideas, stimulate innovation in practice, and encourage diversity of opinion. Perhaps,  taking a look at  articles accepted for this journal might be a good place to begin?

As you know, I love all things Google, and this company is known for being innovative. So maybe we should be looking at the Educational Innovation Research they deem worthy of being studied? And then maybe even look for a job as a Researcher there? Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?

Another source of inspiration might be The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) who has recently made a series of videos showing and encouraging students to be innovative. While the introduction video embedded below focuses on STEM innovation, (who can argue that technology that saves baby’s lives is innovative) there are some real gems built within the video that may inspire you on the research side of innovation. Can you pick them out and share them below in a reply?

While much of our dissertation journey is just that, a journey, you will at some point have to finalize your topic. You will need to be passionate about it and be ready to dedicate your life to a very focused aspect of education and innovation. Remembering this….

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I hope this helps you begin your own journey in determining whether or not your study topic is innovative or not.

Your mentor ~Dr. Darci

Prospectus – Purpose?

What’s in a prospectus? Title page, problem statement, significance, background, framework, research questions, nature of the study, possible types and sources of information, and references. [Be sure to familiarize yourself with the entire dissertation process by visiting Walden PhD Process Dissertation and Document’s page.]

While the length of the prospectus is not that impressive, the amount of work that goes into writing one is. By the time you are ready to write your first prospectus draft you should have extensively already read articles on (and around) your topic from the past three years as well as have a strong sense of the historical foundations on which you are building the study.

The purpose of the prospectus is that you must convince your committee chair that your study is:

  • unique (fills a gap because its never been studied before)
  • worthy (important enough to be studied)
  • important (someone will benefit from the results of your study; potential for social change)
  • innovative (new in some way)
  • doable (you’ve asked a good question and have a way to answer it)
  • connected (all parts are logically related and interwoven)

Ironically enough, the order in which each section should be appear in the final draft it is not the order you should write them!

If you know your study will be qualitative, I suggest you use the Maxwell book to help you organize your thinking regarding your study. He offers great brainstorming and concept maps that will help you pull together your ideas. In another post, I share steps of how to use Maxwell’s book for your pre-thinking.  These would be perfect for adding to your Quarter Goal and task sheet.

For even more background on the history and purpose of the Walden prospectus, read Dr. Stadtlanter’s post titled Prospectus Beginnings and Prospectus, How do I start?

~Dr. Darci

Disclaimer: This post is for Dr. Darci’s mentees, but should only be seen as a supplement to the Walden annotated outline found in the Dissertation Prospectus pdf file along with the Prospectus Rubric on the PhD Dissertation Program Webpage

Thinking Before the Prospectus

I’ve already introduced the parts that go into a Walden prospectus, and if you want to know more about the purpose and history of the prospectus read Dr. Stadtlander’s post Prospectus Beginnings

My guess is you are chomping at the bit to begin writing. If I may….I am going to ask you to slow down, and get a good idea of your topic before writing the prospectus in a single session. In order to get something down on paper, you must have read a lot around your topic, and have many conceptual foundations in place. To help with this, I’ve divided up the pre-prospectus stage into several steps of pre-thinking. These “steps” are all for qualitative studies and reference Maxwell’s book, “Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach.”  How fast you move through these will depend on you, and how confident and focused you are with your topic.

Communicate Your Ideas (Brain Dump)

Send me your ideas! I know they’re all jumbled in your head, but get them down so we can begin really pulling out what we can use. Use the “Doctoral litmus test” as you focus your ideas. And don’t forget that your research topic must be innovative.

Further Focus your ideas (Qualitative)

Take the feedback I’ve given you, and determine how what you want to study fits into a large scheme. Use Maxwell (2013) chapter 1 as a way to help organize our ideas. Consider making a web map (mind map/ concept map) or a chart to help you determine how your research ideas may fit into:

Goals

Framework (conceptual or theoretical)

Research questions

Methods: Keep very basic

 

Determine your Goals (Qualitative)

Using Maxwell Chapter 2: Further identify your goals. There are three types; Personal, practical, and intellectual. Either add these to you’re the graphic you already made, or simply do the Exercise 2.1: Researcher Identity Memo pg. 34.

Better Determine the Conceptual Framework for your Study (Qualitative)

Read Maxwell Chapter 3: Conceptual framework. “The function of the theory is to inform the rest of your design—to help you to assess and refine your goals, develop realistic and relevant research questions, select appropriate methods, and identify potential validity threats to your conclusions. It also helps to justify your research” (Maxwell 2013; pg. 40-41). Complete “Using Exercise 3.1: Creating a Concept Map for Your Study” pg. 62.

Further Tweak your Research Questions (Qualitative)

Read Maxwell Chapter 4:

Now that you’ve got a feel for how your research may fit into the larger picture, tweak your research questions to align with the problem you’ve identified. Use Maxwell (2013) chapter 4 while working on this.

Put together a document of just your research questions, and give me metacognition comments to go with them. Why you like certain ones, why you don’t. Which ones you feel are the most important, what phrasing you particularly like, which ones you want help clarifying etc..

Then go look at dissertations (or published articles) that use a similar methodology that you are currently moving towards. Don’t read the dissertation cover to cover, but look at research questions, and compare them to your own. See if this changes how you view your own questions. Then add to your research question document, providing additional versions of the research questions you’ve already written. Add the metacognition commentary on these as well, being sure to clarify which you like best out of everything you’ve written.

Once you’ve done this, you’ll move on to writing a first draft of the prospectus.

~Dr. Darci

 

Brain Dump – Dissertation thinking – unorganized

At times, and not always at the beginning, I’ll ask you to give me a “Brain Dump.” I do this because PhD students often don’t like to turn in anything unpolished to their mentor and giving it the name “brain dump” seems to provide the motivation to write something down. See, I can’t help you if I don’t know what you’re thinking. So a phone call, meeting, or brain dump on paper is necessary.

There are no requirements for the brain dump assignment. No structure, no citations, just your ideas. Organize it however you want. But if you have writers (or even thinkers) block, consider addressing one or more of these questions:

  • What do I really care about?
  • If I could study anything, what would it be?
  • Why should anybody else care about this topic?
  • Why does this matter in the grand scheme of things?
  • How can I narrow this topic to make it more doable?
  • Am I more comfortable with crunching and analyzing numbers (quantitative) or telling stories (qualitative)? Why?
  • Are there cultural, educational, or environmental stumbling blocks that are in my way of doing the study I really want to do? Can I overcome them? Or should I just move on?
  • What theories of learning, instruction, or innovation inspire me most? What studies might I make using these theories?
  • Is there a study that I’ve read recently, that made me think…”I wonder if I could do a study like this only I would…..”?

If you haven’t already, be sure to check Walden’s PhD Dissertation Page and look at all the documents under the prospectus category. Familiarize yourself with what will be expected of you in this phase.

Can’t wait to see what you “dump” on me! (Wait, that doesn’t sound right.)

~Dr. Darci