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
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.
Single Sentence Problem Statement
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
- Is the topic directly related to my specialization?
- 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
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.
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!”
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!
Here is an infographic made by our LII Specialization Coordinator, Dr. Toledo. It outlines the Walden EDUC process for how/when a dissertation prospectus should be accomplished. I hope it helps! To view the entire infographic click HERE or on the graphic itself.
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….
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
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?
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.