VI. Getting Your Dissertation off the Ground: Choosing a Method

The choice of research methodology is another important step in focusing your dissertation.  What type of researcher are you in your heart of hearts?   The two most basic research paradigms are the quantitative and qualitative paradigms.  Each has its own worldview, its own theories, assumptions, and methods of conducting inquiry.  Different topics areas, different advisors, and different disciplines lend themselves to different research paradigms.  Future blogs will guide you in selecting your research approach and conducting your study.  For now, it is important to understand that part of focusing your topic is selecting an appropriate research design.

The Quantitative Perspective

The quantitative paradigm is also known as the traditional, positivist, empiricist approach to research.  Quantitative studies are typically experiments that test a theory composed of “variables” (constructs or phenomena), measured with numbers, and analyzed using statistical procedures.  Philosophically, quantitative researchers begin from the perspective that events can be understood in terms of cause and effect.

The Qualitative Perspective

The qualitative paradigm encompasses a broad spectrum:  the constructivist, naturalistic, interpretative, postmodern, and post positivist traditions.  Qualitative studies employ a variety of strategies, all of which (a) are designed to present a complex and holistic understanding of some phenomenon, (b) are reported in words, (c) rely on the descriptions of informants, and (d) are conducted in naturalistic settings.

A number of excellent books on research design are available as guides, all of which describe these research paradigms in detail, and most graduate programs require courses in research design, emphasizing the methods in favor in your department.   However, if you do not have a firm foundation in you preferred research paradigm, it is absolutely critical that you get this grounding before you proceed further.  If you think qualitative research is easier and decide to take that route, think again!  Get the training first!  If you think quantitative studies are faster, and yet you do not have a good grasp of statistics, plan on taking statistics coursework along the way.

The research question for your dissertation must be framed to match whatever method you choose. Suppose you are interested in researching the topic of “flirtation.”  Here are some of the questions you might pose and methodological perspectives you might choose, depending on your discipline:

What is the meaning of flirting in American Society? (Method = Phenomenology)

What is flirting like in American Society?  (Method =  Ethnography)

What are the stages in the progression of flirtation that lead to mating in American society?  (Method = Grounded Theory)

Do Americans approve of flirting?  (Method = Survey Research).

Do flirtatious Americans have better sex lives?    (Method = Correlational Study)

Are men or women more successful flirters?   (Method = Comparative Study)

What is the effect of flirtation training on the frequency of flirtatious behavior? (Method = Experimental Design)

What are the neurobiological underpinnings of flirting behavior? (Method = Brain Imaging and Neuropsychological Testing)

The next step in focusing your topic is to develop a researchable question and select the method that will best answer that question.

Exercise 7

Research Question and Method

1.     State your topic as a question.

2.     What is the most appropriate method to answer that question? What other methods could you use?

3.     What are some alternative ways to word your question, and what methods could be used to answer these alternative questions?

4.     What method best matches your experience and competence?

5.    What methods are favored by your advisor and your program?

6.    What method is most consistent with your Vision and your Creative Scholar

Before you finalize your dissertation plan, you will need to select your research question, your method, and find a faculty member who will sponsor your project.  Choosing an advisor will be the subject of a future series in this blog.  For now, it is important to realize that to get your topic approved you must have all your ducks lined up in a row: creative scholar + topic question + method + advisor.

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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