Almost every graduate program will have a dissertation paper students must complete as part of the course. It can be a great way to explore the world of research and to lay a foundation for future endeavors. Dissertations can also be the bane of a student’s life and can be viewed as the last-ditch effort of the college to drain them of their will. For the most part, it is a combination of the two, but the joy and sense of accomplishment of completing a dissertation will have few parallels. If you are just about to start your dissertation or are looking to start work on one shortly, here are a few resources that can make the whole process a more positive experience.
What to cover
Unless your college or faculty guide has specified a format, a dissertation paper should cover the following things and be characterized by:
- A concise objective, working around a hypothesis or discussing a question.
- Clarity in concept is something that will be expected throughout the work.
- Existing literature on the subject should be well analyzed, and the grasp of it must be to such an extent that there is scope for critical evaluation.
- Structured and formatted in a way that is both appropriate and academic.
- Consistent and coherent language as well as data.
Following these steps is not something that you can develop overnight, and a dissertation paper cannot be completed in a weekend. Plan to take the time and effort to create a paper that is academically sound and don’t cut corners. To help you through the suggestions listed above, here are a few tools and resources that you can make use of.
Virtual interviews make it easy and possible to interview a wide range of people over large distances instantly. Virtual interviews can be completed through emails, where a questionnaire is sent, and the respondent clicks through the list, or, more preferably, through video conferencing or on the phone. Applications like Skype, Free Conference Call, Interview 4, iPhone (if both parties have an iPhone) and Zoom make it possible to not only speak to the respondent, but also to collect data on the spot.
Transcribing your interviews into written form is the first step in qualitative data analysis, and it is critical that it be done as accurately as possible to ensure your paper is coded correctly. There are different styles of transcription, and I usually use the semi-verbatim style. Semi-verbatim transcription means that I transcribe everything that is said, and I usually omit many of the filler words people use while talking to avoid pauses or out of habit. However, details such as pauses, trailing off of sentences (will be shown as ellipses …), filler words used as an individual is struggling with emotion or conflict can be necessary when interpreting data. When requested, I can also add in nonverbal queues such as [long pause], [coughing], [sighs] and other non-verbal features that can be picked up in audio interviews that will be useful in your analysis.
While you are conducting your interviews, the importance of audio quality cannot be stressed enough. The biggest problem I have encountered in my career as a transcriptionist is when researchers conduct their interviews in noisy locations with loud and distracting background noises. Some think that it will put the interviewee at ease to be in a quaint but busy coffee shop or favorite restaurant or cafeteria, or that it is important to conduct an interview on-site at a local factory or noisy business environment to capture the atmosphere of the workplace. Please consider the effect of the clattering plates, conversations of those in nearby tables, or the inherent environmental noises in most factory settings! Background discussions and loud noises will be magnified in your recording, and they will affect the ability of the transcriptionist to accurately transcribe the interviews. If we were on-site with you, participating in the interview, memory would fill in many of the gaps for us. Because we’re not with you during the interview process, we have nothing to fall back on except to mark the inaudible words and sentences as [inaudible], despite our best efforts to listen and re-listen to the audio over and over again.
Please feel free to contact me and discuss your dissertation project and your transcription needs. Getting your interviews recorded as clearly as is possible will be one of the most important steps before you begin coding your data.
Getting the interviews completed is one thing, but coding is an altogether different animal. Qualitative data coding can be sorted with some tools like NVIV09 or MAXQDA. These tools are extremely expensive and prohibitive for most students, and so some less-costly alternatives are Leximancer, ATLAS, NUDIST, Weft QDA, QDA Miner Lite, Dedoose, and Saturate. These tools are, however, data management tools, and analysis and engagement have to come from the researcher.
Writing and charts
Putting your findings down in a readable and understandable manner is often the most ignored part of the research. If you have done great work in the field, analysis, and interpretation departments, but failed to bring it out in your final submission, it will be a terrible loss. MS Word, Libre Office, Open Office and Google Docs can be used for the writing of your paper, but spreadsheets and charts are invaluable for displaying qualitative tables and statics, including charts and diagrams. For these, you can look at SPSS, Eviews and freeware like PSPP. These tools help bring out correlations, F tests, T tests, deviations and a whole lot of other quantitative tests, which can be performed with ease utilizing the appropriate programs.
It will do you good to keep your dissertation as simple as possible. Your tools and analysis can be complex and layered, but the outcome of the paper must be explainable in a few short sentences.