Getting help with your dissertation; help for doctoral (or grad) students on thesis or dissertation; #neverABD ; a "system" for dissertation writing
We know the look...the lone doctoral student left out in the cold by an overworked or under-engaged committee. Little guidance, lack of direction, overwhelmed by the complexities of a topic that once made them feel alive. The literature review looms. Hope is lost. Maybe I'll just be ABD (all but dissertation).
The truth is, the doctoral dissertation isn't as difficult as it's made out to be. Using a few tools (DSRP, Boote and Biele's rubric for valid literature review, MMM, and even DSRP as a Method) the doctoral dissertation can be broken down into specific easy-to-do steps. Don't try to swallow the elephant whole. Once you know the structure, its just literary ditch digging—and anyone can dig a ditch. Step by step. Bite by bite.
We can't save you the hard work, but we can save you the headache. We made a DSRP Model of the doctoral dissertation (especially designed for social science doctorates but the principles apply to all doctorates).
If you like it, you too can contribute to our SAVE A DOCTORAL STUDENT CAMPAIGN by passing it on. Let us know if we can help.
- How to Dissertation is a summary map of the sections and steps that you'll likely need to include in your dissertation. You can see it below and create a duplicate of this map to use for your own dissertation. There are lots of good tips in the map for writing your dissertation (or just thinking through its structure). But, in the numbered items below we will point out a few of the bigger elements that the map references...
- Boote and Biele Paper/Rubric: You'll also want to read Boote and Biele's paper so you can access their really well done table: a Rubric for Literature Reviews, which is incidentally a really nice way of applying a lit review of lit reviews to your lit review (mise en abime). I can't emphasize this enough. Print out B&B's table (that's why I provided it as its own pdf) and paste it on your wall in front of your desk. Students tend to ignore what we are saying the first few times we say it. But most doctoral students get hung up in their literature review (LR). LRs are unruly beasts. But they need not be if you simply follow B&Bs rubric. I suggest that you even incorporate the rubric itself into your literature review. In other words, you actually structure your literature review for your reader using the B&B rubric. Also note that the B&B rubric is similar to the PRISMA guidelines presented here in table and flowchart.
- Use this handy PRISMA Preamble to Boote and Biele Spreadsheet which allows you to create a count of the PRISMA Rubric and a Score for the Boote and Biele Rubric. These two activities should set your lit review on the right course!
- See a some examples of how it looks in action:
- Cabrera, D. (2006) Systems Thinking. Doctoral Dissertation. Cornell University.
- Brown, Sarah, Victoria Kasonde, Priscilla Koo Wilkens, William LaRose, Manshuk Mukhamejanova, Stefanie Smith, Dora Tan, Adam Terragnoli, Derek Cabrera, and Laura Cabrera. 2020. “Sustainability in the Galápagos Islands: A Systems Thinking Approach Reveals the Need for Environmental and Social Balance.” Cornell Institute for Public Affairs Systems Thinking, Modeling and Leadership (STML) Certificate.
- For social science (policy, business, etc. dissertations) you may find this paper useful: Mulyono, Y., Sukhbaatar, U., Cabrera, L. and Cabrera, D. (2021). “Hard” and “Soft” Methods in Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS): Agent Based Modeling (ABM) and the Agent Based Approach (ABA). In, Routledge Handbook of Systems Thinking, (Eds) Cabrera, D., Cabrera, L. and Midgley, G. Routledge. London, UK.
- Knowledge-Method Matching Matrix (KMMM): Choosing your methods can also be difficult. Think of this as choosing the right tool for the job. The right tool isn't given prior to the job, so you can't say (read: don't usually say because there are some exceptions) "I have this tool and I'm looking for a job." Instead say, "I am researching this issue, given the condition of knowledge in this area, what tool might I use to contribute to this knowledge in an incremental way?" The KMMM is a helpful tool for doing so, although we have actually seen advisors misguide doctoral students to using a method that is premature for the condition of knowledge and therefore creates many construct validity problems. Read the short paper on K-MMM heuristic here.
- DSRP as a Research Method: You undoubtedly will use DSRP throughout your dissertation. But, you may also want to use DSRP as the explicit Method of choice. This is usually for dissertations where the condition-of-knowledge in the area of focus is low and one is doing a thorough conceptual mapping or analysis of the issues. DSRP as a Method could also be combined with other methods or used for one part of a dissertation. Note that DSRP as a Method is not the same as DSRP Theory itself. For more information and examples of DSRP as a Method see Getting Started for Systems Researchers.