You’ve seen PhD candidates being challenged to the very limitsby their dissertation projects. You understood their struggle, but you always believed the process would be different for you. You have your heart set on a topic and you think things will go as smoothly as possible. As soon as you start the preliminary research process, you realize your assumptions were far from the truth.
Suddenly, you’re faced with the most serious project you’ve ever worked on. The research stage is perhaps the most confusing aspect. You have to collect and go through many resources that are often contradictory to one another.
Take a deep breath. You’ll go through this. You’ve come so far! The following tips will help you conduct the research for your dissertation without feeling the usual pressure:
Start With a Literature Review
Let’s make something clear: the research stage comes after you identify your topic. We’ll assume you already have your topic, since this is a guide for the research stage.
The process starts with a review of the literature in the area. You’ll include comments on this process in the dissertation itself. The literature review section will contain a brief introduction to the topic, explanations of the key concepts, and an evaluation of the existing literature. For many PhD candidates, this is the most difficult part of the entire dissertation completion process.
- Start by reading integrative articles to see how other researchers organized the literature review.
- When you find a relevant journal article, research report or book, go through the references and they will guide you to other relevant materials.
- Use Google Scholar to find more relevant sources. Include electronic bibliographies in the research process. ERIC(Education Resources Information Center) and PsychINFO are good places to start.
- Take notes! You can work on the literature review section as you conduct the research.
Distinguish Secondary Material from Primary Sources
A primary sources gives you direct evidence for your thesis. The primary sources can come in the form of audio or video recordings, results from experiments, interviews, surveys, legal and historical documents, published creative writing pieces, speeches, works of art, and mainly empirical studies. When you encounter a study based on direct observation or experiment, it’s a primary source.
Secondary sources, on the other hand, discuss, describe, evaluate, analyze, and comment upon primary sources. These can be journal articles based on someone else’s research. They are equally important for your dissertation as primary sources.
Have a Plan
Do yourself a huge favor: make a plan for the research. This will be a long process. Any distraction and procrastination will have a negative effect on it. Block out the days when you know you won’t be able to work. Holidays, important events, rest days… mark them in your calendar. Then, give yourself a timeframe for the research. A dissertation usually requires months of committed research. Allocate the research tasks in a schedule you know you’ll be able to follow.
Start writing the dissertation somewhere along the way. When you realize you have enough material to work with , start writing the first draft and continue the process of analyzing resources.
The point of making a plan is motivation. You see attainable goals there. For example, you give yourself one week to read and analyze a particular study or survey. When you have such a milestone that’s not difficult to achieve, it will be easy to stay on track. If you don’t have a plan, you’ll fall a victim to procrastination.
Don’t try to fool yourself; the process will be long and exhausting. However, this is a project you knew you would get to. You’ve been working to get to this point too hard. You already have a solid base of knowledge that allows you to tackle the topic, and you’ve obtained the needed writing skills through all other projects you worked on. You can do it!