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DISSERTATION DEVELOPMENT – Choosing your Dissertation context


One of the most difficult choices that a student will make is the context for their dissertation topic. Most students have no idea what they would like to research, while a handful is absolutely sure. What if I told you both are totally normal? What if I told you that even those students who think they have a clear and defined topic right now will likely not end up using that topic at all? In reality, none of you have read even close to enough articles to have a clearly defined topic. Rather at this point, we are talking about contexts for your topic. Through extensive reading, you will then narrow down to your topic.

The important thing at this point is to keep an open mind regarding your dissertation. There are a few hard and fast “rules” that you should be aware of (this list is only a few)–

Your topic MUST relate to you field of study. Meaning for all of you there must be a leadership component in your topic.

Your topic MUST be grounded in the literature. It is not enough to have a passion about a topic. Passion is great but this is a dissertation and thus there must be research to support the topic.

Your topic MUST have been identified through an identifiable gap in prior literature. You cannot use a topic that has been never researched before.

Your topic must contribute to the area of study.

With this in mind, how does one go about finding a context?

Have an interest or passion in a particular area you want to begin to focus on for you research.

Read, read, and then read some more. Consider that you are expected to become the expert in your area. To that end, it would be expected that you will have read between 150-200 articles related to your topic. Will you use every single article? NO, but in order to be an expert, you have to the background knowledge. Research changes quickly and you need to use the most current research. I think that we can all agree that research from 1984 is outdated, as is research from 2010.

Ensure you read the seminal works as well. While the bulk of your resources will need to come from the last 3-5 years that does not mean the seminal works are not important or that you will not use any of the seminal works. In simplest terms, seminal works are those of central importance to a research topic, often because they have a major breakthrough, insight, or synthesis of ideas.

Your context will start out very broad and narrow through your reading. You will have to take time outside of the normal class assignments for reading in preparation for your dissertation. That extra research time is not built into your program until much later and if you wait until those classes to start researching your topic, you will be behind!

My suggestion is to read 1-2 articles per week that relate specifically towards the context of your possible topic (this will also help you slowly develop the assignment that is due in Module 8). Again, at this point, NO ONE expects that you will have a clearly defined topic. However, the more literature you read that relates to your topic, the more you will be able to narrow down your topic.

What is one thing that you can commit to doing this week that can build time for the reading required towards your possible topic? (Remember, in order to receive participation credit, posts must meet the requirement of 150+ words).


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