VIII. Getting Your Dissertation off the Ground: The Steps to Success

In the previous blogs you have learned how to construct your dissertation topic through eight essential steps.  In a future series in this blog you will learn more about selecting an advisor and how important it is to never, ever try going it alone!  Without an advisor and bountiful support, the best topic idea will not work for you the way you want it to.

Topic Building:  How It Works

Verna Lynn was working on a doctorate in the field of Education.  She began her professional career as a teacher, first working with Native Americans in Canada, and later moved to California where she worked with a culturally diverse population.  Always idealistic and highly motivated to improve her teaching, she became a teacher educator and moved quickly from a master’s program to a doctoral program.  She was always an outstanding student; yet when Verna Lynn began the doctoral program, she had no clear direction for her dissertation.  She had the potential to become a first-rate scholar but lacked the clear focus necessary to achieve it.  She came to me to for help applying what she perceived to be my “laser technique.”  For Verna Lynn, the steps to create a dissertation topic worked like this:

Dissertation Vision.  In exercises designed to clarify her vision, Verna Lynn identified a vision of an emerging multicultural scholar, researcher, and educator who would make a significant impact on the training of multicultural classroom teachers in this country.

Dissertation Commitment. When Verna Lynn made the commitment to say “yes” to her dissertation, she said “yes” to her vision, but she had to say “no” to the fear that paralyzed her and sabotaged her own best efforts.

Declaring Your Creative Scholar.  Verna Lynn named her Creative Scholar “Ishansa,” a spiritual being with a strong connection to the natural world, as well as to her past, present, and future.

Preliminary Focus:  During her graduate coursework, Verna Lynn developed projects and expertise in areas in which she felt passionate:  multicultural education, teachers’ reflective practice, constructivism, and teachers’ professional development. For her preliminary focus, the path that aligned with her vision was:  multicultural teaching practice.

Topic Generation.  Verna Lynn created scores of posters on her closet doors as a way of brainstorming ideas for her dissertation topic.  She tried to connect these ideas by generating a series of visuals, until at last she came up with the following topic that would she felt would work for her:  How do experienced elementary school teachers describe their own multicultural framework?

Topic Goodness Criteria:  This idea met the practical criteria for a good topic:

1.   It had passion for her because it connected to her core values, as well as her past, present, and future selves.

2.  She found faculty whom she had previously worked with and who were eager to sponsor her.

3.  She knew she was well grounded in the literature relevant to existing theories of multicultural frameworks.

4.  Through her employment she had access to informants and the resources to carry out the study.

5.  She was well trained to conduct the study and had conducted a research practicum using her chosen method.

6.  Her topic addressed an important current issue in the field of Education, and she was frequently asked to speak on this subject at various professional meetings.

7.  Her research question had not been answered by previous researchers.

8.  Her findings would have an impact on training teachers for multicultural classrooms in this country.

9. It led her clearly towards her professional vision.

Verna Lynn identified her creative voice, generated a workable topic idea, identified a research question and method (ethnographic interview), and selected an advisor who would give her the kind of support she needed.

The Working Title:  Verna Lynn then crystallized her topic idea by developing a working title.  Her working title became:  “Creating a De-centered Whiteness:  An Ethnographic Study of How Teachers Construct Multicultural Frameworks in Classrooms.”

Steps to Dissertation Topic Success

Dissertator Vision Inventory

Dissertation Commitment

Declaring Your Creative Scholar

Preliminary Focus

Topic Generation

Topic Goodness Criteria

Research Question and Method

Working Title

Working through these steps, you will find a dissertation identity and a dissertation topic that fits YOU!  You need a dissertation with heart to sustain you through the process, and you need a dissertation that will take you where you are going in life.

This is the last post in the series on Getting Your Dissertation off the Ground, laying out a program that can guide you through the eight-step process to focus your study.  Getting off to a good start will help you avoid catastrophes at the beginning of your journey.  Use these steps to get started, but be prepared to redo and refine them as you continue on your dissertation journey.

Dr. Sally Jensen

I am Principal and Founder of, which launched in 1997, to help academics achieve their goals.  At the time, I had seen many doctoral students floundering and often failing because of the lack of guidance.  I decided they needed a Dissertation Doctor to help them succeed without “bang-ups and hang-ups” (to quote Dr. Seuss).

I am a master certified coach and I help dissertators by nurturing and developing what I call the Creative Scholar.  I have guided over 200 Dissertators to successfully complete their doctoral journeys.

Contact Sally Jensen

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One Response to VIII. Getting Your Dissertation off the Ground: The Steps to Success

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