Dissertation Writing: The Importance of Alignment

By: Dr. Ron Jones

As an instructor, one of the greatest challenges is teaching students the importance of directly addressing the topic, discussion questions, or assignment. Aligning the response with the topic would appear to be a simple task, yet my experience in the classroom indicates the process is difficult for many students. Personal opinions take precedent over proven facts and well-grounded theories. Rambling and off-topic remarks replace intently focused writing concentrated on the assignment subject matter. Although writing a dissertation requires far more time, resources, endurance, motivation, and work than completing a short class paper, the need to remain focused on the topic remains a vital requirement.

In writing a dissertation, doctoral students must grasp the concept of complete alignment to address the chosen topic. Alignment of the study begins with the identification of a problem worthy of doctoral research, followed by the stated purpose of the study, research question(s), and hypotheses (quantitative and mixed methods studies). The problem and purpose statements, research question(s), and hypotheses serve as the foundation for the remainder of the dissertation content. Including subject matter that does not directly link to these foundational elements of the research serves to distract from concentrating on the problem under study.

The problem statement should clearly delineate one problem. Is a rambling paragraph that does not directly state the problem a problem statement? No. Some doctoral students assume that with Problem Statement as a heading, the content that follows is the statement, regardless of ambiguity. Write a problem statement that clearly states one problem. Avoid including vague content or writing a problem statement that indicates more than one problem.

The purpose statement flows from the problem statement. The first sentence of the purpose statement should directly align with the problem statement. Well-crafted purpose statements describe the intent of the research, method and design, the variables, the geographic location, and the anticipated contribution to academia, society, and the body of knowledge within the topical field of study. Each element of the purpose statement should support addressing the stated problem.

The research question(s) aligns with the problem and purpose statements. The research question directs the central inquiry of the study. In other words, the intent of the research must be to answer the research question. With the research question in absolute alignment with the stated problem, answering the question allows the researcher to concentrate on the problem with clarity.

Crafting hypotheses typically occurs by a slight re-wording of the research question in statement form. For clarity, a simple example follows. The research question: What, if any, effect does employee turnover have on organizational profitability? The null hypothesis: Employee turnover has no effect on organizational profitability. The alternative hypothesis: Employee turnover has a significant effect on organizational profitability. Hypotheses provide a researcher testable statements. The results from testing allow the researcher to reject or fail to reject the null hypothesis. When the hypotheses aligns with the research question(s) and directly links to the problem and purpose statements, the research remains intently and narrowly focused on addressing the topic.

Writing a dissertation is an arduous task. By properly aligning the four foundational elements, the problem statement, the purpose statement, the research question(s), and the hypotheses, the writing and research process becomes clear and narrowly focused. By recognizing that the entire dissertation flows from these four elements, doctoral students eliminate needless work and research conducted outside the realm of their chosen topic. Oftentimes clarity and understanding come from seeking and accepting wise counsel from experts. Use the expertise of those who have successfully navigated the doctoral journey. Create a strong foundation for writing the dissertation by alignment of the initial elements, and potentially reducing the number of challenges associated with completing the doctoral project.