Basic Elements in Planning and Practicing Research
Huey B. Long
In this chapter we are concerned with practical matters rather than with the philosophical and theoretical issues to which the other chapters are addressed. Our primary purpose is to help the novice researcher, or graduate student, plan, practice, and report research. But even though the chapter focuses on procedures for organizing and pursuing a research question at a basic level--specifically, with developing theses and dissertations--we have also identified certain properties common to the planning and practice of many kinds of research, commonalities that should make the chapter instructive to a variety of individuals, not only to students but to administrators, to staff members of agencies who are interested in problem-solving research related to the agency's mission, and to people in government bureaus and special research institutes. Ac-
cordingly, we discuss some basic characteristics of research being done in the numerous adult education graduate programs, describe a few of the expectations professors of adult education have concerning research, and share a few writing tips.
The major commonalities discussed in the following pages are the research needs of both adult educators and the field of adult education, the approach to research, and the preparation of a proposal and a dissertation.
Research Needs of Adult Educators
Educators generally agree that graduate study should contribute to one's research competence, competence that is achieved through a combination of academic experiences, including formal courses on such topics as statistics, research methodology, and computer science. However, such courses in themselves are incomplete, and thus the skills and knowledge acquired in them must be integrated in another framework. Formal research, as required for a thesis or dissertation, provides that integrative framework wherein the student can learn to develop proposals, work out strategies for analyzing and interpreting data, and practice report writing.
Besides competence, graduate students also need an awareness of their assumptions and biases, and doing research should help them develop this. One of the important assumptions they should recognize, even if it is not stated by many of the researchers who hold it, is that past events in nature will recur provided similar circumstances exist again. Even more strongly held is the belief that such events must happen if identical circumstances prevail. From these basic assumptions about the uniformity and orderliness of nature have arisen three postulates: the postulates of natural kinds, constancy, and determinism, each of which is briefly discussed later in the chapter. For a more detailed discussion, the reader should consult some works on the philosophy of science, such as Cohen and Nagel (1934).
The postulate of natural kinds is as old as Aristotle. It refers to the possibility of classifying phenomena according to similarities among their essential structures, functions, or characteristics. Such activity leads to the development of classes, categories, and taxono-
mies which help the researcher bring some order to what may appear to be chaotic masses of data. Verner's work (1964) provides an example of the postulate specifically applied to adult education. Other useful examples include the Linnaean classification system in botany, the periodic table in chemistry, and Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives (Bloom and others, 1956).
Another important postulate that undergirds most research is that of constancy. Although researchers do not often find opportunities to expound on this postulate, it is significant because it suggests that natural phenomena are sufficiently stable to maintain essential attributes under given conditions or circumstances for a stated period of time. The postulate of constancy implies relative persistence and organization in nature.
And according to the third basic postulate, determinism, all natural phenomena are determined, that is, they are caused by some agent or event. The determinist rules out chance and accident as legitimate causes. An experiment designed to predict a phenomenon clearly depends on this postulate. So the researcher, especially the graduate student, needs to be aware of the premises underlying his efforts.
The practice of research at the graduate level also contributes to an understanding of theory and its role in research. Theory relates to inquiry in two distinct ways: deductively and inductively. When theory is the point of departure for the investigation, research proceeds deductively, usually by testing hypotheses. In the second way, observation and inductive analysis contribute to the evolvement of theory. The experimental research design is most often theory-based and tests various parts of a specific theory deductively. In contrast, the grounded-theory research strategy generates conclusions or hypotheses that may contribute to the development of theory.
Because of various professional needs of the adult educator, requiring him or her to do graduate research is a reasonable proposition (Aker, 1962). Many persons enter the field of adult education following practice in another field. And since often the jobs they take in the field do not require an advanced degree, these entrants frequently have had a good deal of practical experience but limited academic preparation. Consequently, they probably lack apprecia-
tion not only for the theory and philosophy of adult education but for research theories and methods. The adult educator must be a pragmatic philosopher and a philosophical pragmatist. Such a role derives great strength from experience in research.
Furthermore, we dispute the claim that it is either desirable or wise to separate research from practice. In the broadest sense we see all adult educators as practicing researchers and research-oriented practitioners. The roles are complementary, and efforts to divide them yield sour fruit. Although in a narrower sense, some adult educators produce more research than others and some consume more than others, most will be engaged in research to some degree. Such research may not be as formally organized and as complex as that done for a dissertation; it may be simply the orderly treatment of data to answer questions. Yet even when it takes this simplified form, the researcher is confronted with concerns about spurious data and validity. And if the adult educator is primarily a consumer of research, he still needs at least a basic understanding of the inquiry process and of how to critically evaluate studies conducted by others.
Thus all adult educators, including those whose functions do not involve the practice of formal research, can profit from research training at the graduate level. Even an individual who consistently avoids all semblance of overt data collection, if there be such a person, is influenced by the research of others. The practitioner who narrowly limits his attention to doing things and does not read research reports is still affected by research, because funds are sometimes appropriated as a result of research findings, and such appropriations may strengthen or weaken a specific adult education program. Though some adult educators may never write a research publication after they have obtained their doctorates, it is difficult to. imagine their completely withdrawing from reading. Complete withdrawal is about the only way to escape reading about some kind of research, even if the reports are just polls published in the news papers or popular magazines.
Thus far we have discussed how research training can help to satisfy Some of the adult educator's professional needs. To close this section we want to point out another need: to consult with other specialists. Such consultation is often productive, as it brings the adult educator into contact with scholars from other disciplines
or into closer contact with other adult educators with different interests and skills. Other specialists not only have different ways of asking research questions but also they utilize different methods of gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence. Either kind of experience should be valuable to both parties as well as to the field of adult education, in which diversity is necessary. Just as it would be restrictive for all researchers concerned with questions related to adult education to subscribe to identical research methods, so would it be undesirable for all researchers to specialize in one kind of data analysis. Fortunately, such a prospect is unlikely. The analysis, like the research method, should be appropriate to the question, the sample, and the design.
Research Needs of the Field
Since graduate programs are a major stimulus to adult education research, the continued development of the field is related to the quality of graduate research activities. Those activities potentially have both a short-run and a long-run value. The short-term benefit derives from the immediate production of research and its subsequent contribution to knowledge and practice. The long-term benefit is the collection of research skills that the graduate can apply to adult education questions for years after he leaves the university.
The preceding view places a pragmatic value on graduate research and the skills developed by the experience. As noted by Long in Chapter One, individuals whose professional responsibilities include the planning and delivery of a variety of service programs represent a range of interests and needs. Graduate instruction should be broad enough to help develop the philosophy, skill, and knowledge necessary to meet many of those needs. It would seem that Jensen's five characteristic needs of adult educators (1964, pp. 106107) are shared by many other people in the helping professions who do not strictly consider themselves to be adult educators and that all these individuals require a basic research competence to perform their occupational tasks. For example, Jensen defines the need to be able to analyze a variety of factors and make competent
decisions---skills that are required and enhanced by the practice of research.
Thus, the justification for the university requirement that adult education students develop research skills is clear. If the adult educator is to be professionally competent, it is highly desirable, if not absolutely necessary, that he have such abilities. Similarly, such capacities seem to be required among the professional leaders in the field if adult education is to continue to develop as a field of practice.
Approach to Research
What are the structural outlines of the research process? What are the skills to be practiced? Although researchers in adult education would undoubtedly provide different specific answers to these questions, certain areas of agreement are general enough to warrant discussion here. Even so, we want to emphasize the general nature of this discussion, lest the reader develop the idea that there is universal agreement on the following structural elements: selecting the problem, stating the problem, reviewing the literature, and designing the research.
Selecting the Problem. This phase is often a period of struggle in which the budding researcher--a student or agency employee-struggles to find a suitable topic. In the selection process some are highly promiscuous, entranced by a different topic daily. Other novices choose a topic so broad that the narrowing process is both painful and difficult. Sometimes the researcher-to-be is spared this dissonance: the major advisor or employer assigns the topic.
Most adult education professors encourage students to select their own topic, giving them a great deal of freedom and responsibility. In the case of an employee, the problem to be studied may be dictated by circumstance as well as by a supervisor's directive. And the research problem may differ from that given to or chosen by the student in being more practical, that is, concerned with obtaining sufficient evidence to continue, discontinue, or modify a program.
Almost any topic can be worthwhile provided the problem is defined adequately. Conversely, almost any subject might be unacceptable if the problem is inadequately posed, if an improper
conceptual framework is used, or if the boundaries of the research are inappropriate. Novice researchers are frequently impatient with the identification process, and their problems are poorly conceived. They fail to state the problem clearly, overlook major variables, select a problem beyond their capacity to handle, or lack a sound theoretical framework (Van Dalen, 1973).
The identification and selection of research problems require sufficient intelligence to isolate and understand the elements contributing to that selection. And the investigator should ask numerous questions, including personal ones, before he finally selects the problem. The following have been suggested by Van Dalen (1973):
--Is the investigator really interested in the problem but free from strong biases?
--Does the investigator possess the necessary skills, abilities, and background knowledge to study this problem?
--Does the investigator have access to the necessary equipment, space, and subjects to conduct the investigation?
--Will solving the problem contribute to knowledge in the field?
--What kind of application may be made of the findings?
--Are the research tools and techniques sufficiently refined and reliable for the conclusions of the investigation to be of value?
--Will the investigation contribute to the development of other studies?
One good rule for researchers to follow, if they can, is to pick a topic of great interest to them. It may be related to a burning question they have had but heretofore had always been reluctant to ask. It may emerge from their past work or educational experience. It could evolve out of the graduate training experience. It could focus on some problem that the student believes can be solved through adult education. Or perhaps it is directly related to a program of an agency or institution.
We also suggest that researchers pick a topic closely related to their future goals. Ample reasons exist for choosing a topic that may stimulate professional development, such as by contributing knowledge to a specialized area or by building a reputation for skill in a certain subject. There is some danger, perhaps, in being
conspicuously opportunistic; but why select a topic in which no one is interested? Topic selection, doubtlessly, is related to how widely read the researcher is, for this is not a sterile, isolated process. It is helped along by experience, by observation, and by a review of the literature. The literature .can reveal what kinds of questions others are asking as well as what areas are being neglected. (We return to the literature review later in this chapter.)
An additional observation is that the selection of the research topic can reveal both the maturity and the competence of the student. If the student is too limited in experience, maturity, or exposure to the field, he may fail to recognize many of the significant problems to which research may provide solutions. At the same time, if the person has poor skills, he may be unable to choose wisely among the problems to be studied. Given either circumstance, the investigator probably is not yet ready to pursue a thesis or dissertation problem (Hillway, 1974).
Cohen and Nagel (1934) have suggested that the ability to perceive in an experience the basis of a problem whose resolution contributes to the solution of other problems is not a common talent. The difficulty rests in part in the absence of any standard procedure which can be followed by an individual who wishes to ask significant questions. These authors also noted that a problem cannot even be stated unless the investigator is familiar with the subject matter of the problem.
Stating the Problem. After the investigator has determined that the problem to be studied has enough social value to warrant the research and is sure that his personal skills are sufficient to handle it, the researcher has to state the problem effectively. Before meaningful inquiry can begin, some limitations must be imposed on it. In the very early stages of inquiry the research problem may be broad and vague. But at some point, arrived at through continuous revision, the problem must be sharply focused. Global problems can not be solved in a general fashion. The researcher must state the Problem so that it is manageable. Cole and Glass (1977), Long (1977), and Pennington and Green (1976) provide acceptable illustrations of problem statements in which the purpose of the study is explicit.
Two procedures will help the researcher develop the problem statement. As the objective of the statement is to make the topic very specific, the investigator may ask, What do I have to discover? Precisely what problem do I want to solve? Cole and Glass (1977, p. 76) seemed to follow this strategy: "The purpose of this experimental study was to determine the effects of adult participant involvement in program planning on the dependent variables of achievement, information, retention and attitude." The other procedure is to turn the topic into a question instead of a statement. In this form, it requires a specific answer, and then finding the answer becomes the purpose of the study (Hillway, 1974). In the Cole and Glass example, the investigators could easily have asked, Is participation in program planning related to achievement, information, retention, and attitude? Or, Will the presence of participant involvement in program planning affect achievement, information, retention, and attitude?
The evolution of the problem statement is likely to vary among individuals according to personal characteristics that influence their mode of thinking. However, regardless of. the procedures, each individual must eventually reduce the problem to dimensions that can be understood, communicated, and organized. The researcher who cannot describe and delimit the task in parsimonious terms will experience difficulty in completing the study.
The problem statement should contain action words that are clear and that can be implemented unambiguously. Words that are easily understood include mathematical relationships, differences, results, and change. Words that can cause problems, and that usually require careful operational definitions, include characteristics, analysis, and examine. Several sources, especially Hillway (1974), Kerlinger (1964), Tuckman (1972), and Van Dalen (1973), provide valuable discussions on how to develop problem statements and write operational definitions.
In summary, here are four rules that should be helpful in determining the final definition of a problem:
1. The problem selected should be neither too vague nor too broad in scope.
2. It should be stated as a question that requires a definite answer.
3. The limit and scope of the problem should be carefully stated to eliminate all elements that will not be considered in the study.
4. all the special terms that are used in the problem statement should be defined.
Reviewing the Literature. We cannot overstress the need to review carefully the literature related to a research topic. The task is too often approached too hastily. A thorough review can provide an understanding of the significance of the problem in relation to theory, some clues to appropriate design and methods, and a feeling for how the research will extend knowledge on a given topic. The value of the hours spent in the library. is difficult to estimate, but suffice it to observe that such time is usually well spent. Knowing what is already known about a subject is both a necessary step in research and an index to the quality of the forthcoming study. The literature search, however, is complicated by the rapid expansion of information that characterizes many fields. As a result, the reviewer may have difficulty providing a thorough and succinct summary. Nonetheless, the researcher is challenged to become familiar with the appropriate literature in order to accomplish several objectives. The most obvious one is to determine whether the problem or question has already been resolved. A second objective is to obtain helpful ideas concerning the topic. And a third is to find appropriate research procedures.
An important beginning step for the researcher is to become familiar with the various sources of potentially useful information: journals, indexes, periodic literature, government publications, Dissertation Abstracts, and the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) materials are only a few of the sources to be explored. University library staffs can help the reviewer find and use such materials.
The traditional hand search recently has been augmented if not replaced by the computer search. In many ways the two methods are similar. Both require the early determination of key words on which the search might be focused, and the title of the research or the research problem serves as a good source of key words in either kind of search.
The first item on the form requesting a computer search used
by one university requires the investigator to provide a concise statement of what he wants to know. For example, "I am interested in the relationship between dogmatism and learning among adults." The next step is to divide the statement into logical groups stripped of adjectives, conjunctions, and unnecessary modifiers. In the present example, there are three logical groups or concepts: 1. dogmatism, 2. learning, 3. adults. These concepts are connected with and logic. That is, the investigator wants to retrieve citations on dogmatism and learning and adults, not all citations on dogmatism or learning or adults. He wants only citations indexed by all three concepts together. The investigator also indicates the data base or bases to be searched. In the present example the person may request a search of Psychological Abstracts and ERIC. Searches may be either retrospective or limited to current materials. (Additional information on computer searches may be obtained from ERIC and universities that provide the service.)
Some investigators combine the hand search and the computer search at one or more stages of the process. A preliminary hand search may be helpful in selecting key words and identifying potential data bases. The hand search procedure may also supplement the computer procedure after pertinent publications have been identified and reported.
The careful recording of information is crucial to success. Complete bibliographic information, key quotations, paraphrased statements, and some individual coding system indicating the potential use of the material are some of the points to consider. Certainly this labor is time consuming. And a large share of the information recorded will not be used in the literature-review section of the research report. But a thorough review should enlarge the researcher's appreciation and understanding of the problem, and the result will be a more educative research experience. Most important, the only way the student can fully comprehend the theoretical basis of the problem is to do a thorough review.
The focus of the literature review may vary according to the research design. For example, if an experimental research design is proposed, the investigator will want to find information concerning theory, previous research findings, and research method, in order
to develop a conceptual framework. In contrast, for a study with a historical design the review may be limited to investigating the general outlines of the question or topic. The bulk of such an examination may be simply a listing of the sources to be used in the study.
Selecting the Research Design. Many publications provide guidance in determining what kinds of designs are appropriate for different kinds of research questions. Rather than relist publications cited elsewhere in this book, we refer the reader to the References (Adams and Preiss, 1960; Bledsoe, 1972; Borgatta and Bohrnstedt, 1970; Campbell and Stanley, 1963; Denzin, 1970; McCall and Simmons, 1969; Rosenberg, 1968; Schatzman and Strauss, 1973; Selltiz and others, 1959; Tuckman, 1972; Phillips, 1971). What more should be said to the beginning researcher who is trying to choose an appropriate design? It is that appropriateness is the key word. The other chapters in this book should provide the novice with an appreciation for the unique qualities of different research approaches suited to the broad field of adult education.
Appropriateness also implies consistency. In other words, certain problems may be best solved only by certain designs. The unique relationship between the research problem and the research design needs to be reflected in the research proposal. Moreover, researchers should employ a design which is appropriate to their individual abilities and preferences. Although professional consultants are usually available, the researchers themselves may need to defend their choice of design.
New researchers tend to fail in their preliminary conceptualizations of the data that will result from their plan. They create elaborate schemes without considering what the data will look like. Frequently, those researchers are surprised after months of work to find that they have masses of data they cannot use or, equally devastating, inadequate data on important parts of the study.
Therefore we encourage researchers to visualize their data and to project possible outcomes. These two processes are different but related. The first step is to ask questions like these: What will the data look like? Are they in quantifiable form or are they qualitative? Are they nominal? Continuous? Ordinal? Do they fit the
statistical analysis selected? The second step is to consider all the possible results. Although hypotheses and theoretical considerations may suggest one particular result, several may be possible. In many studies, for example, at least four outcomes are possible. If the researcher has not considered each of these, he has probably failed to conceive the theoretical dimensions of the study adequately.
Most graduate programs in adult education include courses in statistics and research design. Astute graduate students will enroll in these courses early in their programs, since an understanding of research design and parametric and non parametric statistics will prove valuable for most researchers. Even those who turn to historical research may find a knowledge of quantitative research helpful. However, if students are to become serious historians, the appropriate historiography courses should be taken. A good graduate program will provide students with ample opportunity to practice research skills before the major test of the dissertation arrives. In assigning preliminary research papers, professors should require writers to follow good writing style and bibliographic style. Such writing should be subjected to adequate reviews and criticisms to acquaint students with their weaknesses and strengths.
The expansion of knowledge and the development of new research tools present a continuing challenge to all scholars. Advanced students and professors engaged in studying adult behavior are challenged to improve their competence by adding new skills as research developments proceed. The procedures of statistical analysis and the application of computer technology to such analysis are two subjects that are changing rapidly.
How much skill and knowledge of statistical procedures constitutes the minimum for adult education researchers? A conversation with three or more experts in experimental design and statistical analysis is likely to reveal different preferences with regard to statistical analyses. One likes analysis of variance, another a correlation technique, and a third a factor analysis for the same set of data. If the experts disagree, what options are available to the novice? As few adults can be specialists in three fields--statistics, computer technology, and adult education--the researcher should probably try to develop above-average competence with the particular statistical technique that seems best suited to the individual's research
interests. For many adult education studies non parametric statistical techniques are more appropriate than parametric ones because of the different assumptions of each and the nature of adult education samples.
Preparing the Proposal
The first tangible activity leading to the dissertation is the preparation of a prospectus, or research proposal. It is often initiated when the student is beginning the last third of the course work. However, students should not delay all consideration of the project until that time. They should give considerable thought to the topic while they are developing research skills, writing ability, and a knowledge of their area of interest, in order to formulate the problem statement.
The prospectuses vary among institutions from brief, informal, general research plans to formal and detailed descriptions of research procedure. Regardless of the institutional requirements, however, the quality of the prospectus is obviously related to the quality of the completed dissertation. Simply stated, the prospectus describes what the student proposes to do, why he proposes to do it, where and when he proposes to do it, with whom he proposes to accomplish the task, and how the tasks will be accomplished. The prospectus should be more than an essay outlining the general problem to be investigated. It should be a highly specific document that requires the student to give critical attention to the problem before conducting research on it. The more attention the student pays to detail in the prospectus, the fewer difficulties she will encounter when she begins collecting data.
The proposed research may take several forms: A case study, a historical analysis, the development of an instrument, descriptive research, or an experimental study. The following outline of the Items to be covered in a prospectus constitutes a guide to what the faculty of one adult education department expects when the prospectus is based on an experimental design. Modifications of the outline may be required for students proposing to use the case-study or historical method. However, we believe the general model is appropriate to these methods.
Basic Elements in Planning and Practicing Research
Conceptual Framework. First the writer explicates the relationship among the elements of the study-the problem, the theoretical base, and the research procedures. Since this conceptual framework is frequently based on assumptions that have to be explicitly recognized, the writer presents the major premises underlying the chosen design, sample, and instruments.
Definition of Terms. The writer should use regular terminology whenever possible, keeping jargon to a minimum. Because a term may have several meanings, only one of which is intended within a single statement of a hypothesis, the writer needs to tell the reader exactly which meaning of the term is intended. The writer may also need to formulate operational definitions for certain words. For example, educational achievement may be defined in terms of a score on an instrument, or of years of education, or of degrees held. Similarly, what constitutes an adult has been defined differently in various studies, as Long pointed out in Chapter One. So the investigator must be careful to specify what he means.
Statement of the Hypotheses. An experimental study must have hypotheses, preferably stated in the null form. The level of statistical significance required to reject the null hypotheses should also be noted at this point. (For additional comments on hypotheses, see Long's chapter on experimental research.)
Selection of the Sample. The writer relates the selection of his population to the theoretical framework and also indicates the method used to select the sample. For example, if the proposed sample is a random sample, how was randomization established? If the subjects will constitute a fortuitous sample, what led to the selection of the fortuitous sample?
Among the first problems that confront the researcher concerning the sample is the kind of compromise to be made. The investigator has limited resources; hence, everything about every person cannot be observed and recorded. The researcher must decide not only what to observe and record but how many subjects are to be included in the observation. The longitudinal compromise favors the intensive study of a few individuals (Bledsoe, 1972). Tough's work on adults' learning projects (1971) provides an example of a longitudinal compromise in adult education. And Allerton's investigation (1974) based on Tough's work is even more
intensive. We use the word compromise because the researcher is interested in generalizability, and large samples, other things being equal, are superior to small samples in terms of external validity. (See the chapters by Long and Boyd for additional comments on internal and external validity.)
Data Collection. In this section the researcher states in step fashion how the data will be collected. For example, after selecting the sample, the writer may develop a control group and an experimental group. In this part of the proposal he discusses how he will assign subjects to each group, what kind of treatment schedule will be followed, and how the data will be collected. Clear descriptions of the procedures are essential if readers are to comprehend exactly what is planned.
Instruments. The investigator provides a section describing the instruments to be used. For example, if the student plans to use Rokeach's dogmatism scale, she should briefly describe the instrument, tell how it was developed, and state how the reliability and validity of the instrument were established (unless the validity and reliability were discussed in the literature review section).
Treatment of Data. The statistical techniques to be used to treat the data are a highly important element and should also be included in the prospectus. The appropriate statistical treatment should be chosen before any data are collected.
Other Information. The proposal writer often includes a projected schedule for conducting and reporting the research. Establishing deadlines beforehand is desirable because they give the researcher goals he can work toward in certain phases of the data collection. The investigator should also note various possible expenses--such as the cost of travel to collect data the cost of purchasing and duplicating instruments, and postage--and show how these will be covered.
Policy on Human Research. As the number and scope of research studies have increased, researchers have probed ever deeper and occasionally threatened and or insulted their subjects. At the same time, people have became more sophisticated in their reactions to scientific work, more concerned about the moral and ethical implications. Thus, because of the potential danger that some research with human subjects poses and because of new demands that in-
vestigators be accountable, the federal government has adopted regulations concerning such research. These regulations require universities, and other organizations and institutions that obtain federal funds, to adopt a set of guidelines for monitoring human research. All individuals conducting studies using human subjects should be aware of the policies and guidelines of their institution.
Policies concerning the use of human subjects should be in line with the American Psychological Association's "Ethical Standards in Research," the World Medical Association's Declaration at Helsinki, and the "Institutional Guide to Department of Health, Education and Welfare Policy on Protection of Human Subjects." One such institutional policy (University of Georgia, 1975) lists fifteen different guidelines, having to do with the scientific justification for the research, the qualifications of the investigators, the expected benefits, the protection of the subject, the confidentiality of personal data, informed consent, the protection of individuals not able to exercise fully their powers of choice, and the responsibilities of the researcher to the subject.
Review procedures usually require the investigator to file appropriate documents with the institution or agency for review according to established practice. Several options are available to the review committees: They may approve the request, ask for additional information or clarification, or refuse to approve such research. The time required for review will vary among agencies and institutions; therefore, the researcher should become aware of institutional practices and include sufficient time for the review in the research schedule.
Preparing the Dissertation
The dissertation is often viewed as the final hurdle, the professor's last claim on the student, the last academic ritual before graduation. Such views are unfortunate, because the writing of a dissertation should be a highly constructive educational experience that sharpens the skills of the student-researcher, influences attitudes, and contributes to knowledge. If these kinds of views prevail, the experience will probably lack such favorable characteristics. An overemphasis on the contribution that a dissertation may make to expanding knowledge may also limit the impact that the experience
has on the student's development. But with proper balance, there is no reason why the dissertation should not be a valuable learning experience that also contributes to knowledge.
The dissertation may be the key to the writer's future. Either the topic or the research design employed may yield opportunities for recognition and professional development. We know several people who were recruited for good jobs and for consulting work as a direct result of their dissertation research.
Outline. Here is a typical outline for a dissertation:
Table of Contents
List of Tables
Chapter 2--Research Design and Methods
Chapter 3--Presentation of Findings
Style. Writing and bibliographic styles vary among institutions and according to the research methods employed. For example, history is usually written in a more narrative style than are experimental reports. Different institutions and different approaches may dictate both the writing style and bibliographic style.
There is a growing preference for the bibliographic styles used in the older and better established social sciences. The Pub-
lication Manual of the American Psychological Association (American Psychological Association, 1974) is a good example of such a style guide. Writers of history and others in the social sciences frequently follow Turabian (1970), while some universities have their own style manuals. Graduate students should become acquainted early with the requirements and expectations of their institution.
Even though institutions differ on bibliographic style, they generally agree that the prose should be accurate, clear, concise, and grammatically correct. Strunk and White (1965) have published a popular guide that struggling writers will find helpful.
There is no reason that a successful dissertation or research report has to be boring. Chambers (1960) has suggested that such a flaw is due only to the ineptitude of the writer or his indifference to the art of communication. Good writing is helpful at every stage of the research process.
Continuing the Process
The feeling of success which accompanies the completion of a dissertation is heady wine. Yet too many graduates in adult education fail to move beyond that first experience in rigorous research. Why? The failure of a large percentage of the more than 1800 adult educators who hold the doctorate to continue their research and writing is a major problem that may stem from a variety of causes. One possible explanation may be the student's attitude toward research, which is often "Considered mystical or overly abstract and useless in practice. The problem is compounded when the dissertation is viewed as a hurdle rather than as a way of seeking answers. As a result of such negative perceptions, a large number of the doctorates in adult education may be awarded to recipients who vow, "Never-again."
The development of this attitude might be prevented if the student's advisory committee would attempt to stimulate curiosity, encourage observation, foster inquiry, and then provide ample nonthreatening opportunities for the prospective adult educator to test his ability to use a variety of inquiry skills. This book is intended to increase the probability that novice researchers will develop a realistic and positive attitude toward the practice of research.
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