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Qualitative Dissertation Template
The purpose of the qualitative dissertation template is to ensure that the dissertation
manuscript is a quality document that conforms to the requirements of the XXXX University
School of Education. This template provides information about formatting and the content
contained in each section of the dissertation.
Formatting
 The margins for all chapters of the dissertation will be 1-inch on all sides.
 All text should be Times New Roman, 12-point font.
 Text within the body of the manuscript will be left-justified.
 Double-spacing will be employed throughout the manuscript.
 There will be 1 space after the punctuation at the end of sentences.
 Page numbers should all be Arabic numerals, Times New Roman 12 font, and placed in the
upper right-hand corner (with the page number on the first page suppressed).
 All manuscripts should follow the latest version of the APA style manual, which is APA 7th
Edition or later – APA 6th Edition is no longer acceptable.
The following is the Qualitative Dissertation Template with a description of each section.
THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF THE TITLE PAGE: A GENERIC QUALITATIVE STUDY
by
Student’s Full Legal Name
XXXX University
A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment
Of the Requirements for the Degree
[Doctor of Education or Doctor of Philosophy]
XXXXX University
Graduation Year
2
THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF THE TITLE PAGE: A GENERIC QUALITATIVE STUDY
by Student’s Full Legal Name
A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment
Of the Requirements for the Degree
[Doctor of Education or Doctor of Philosophy]
XXXX University
Graduation Year
APPROVED BY:
Name and degree, Committee Chair
(For example: Duck Doe,Ph.D., Committee Chair)
Name and degree, Committee Member
3
Abstract
The abstract summarizes the contents of the manuscript, starting with the purpose (required
template follows), the central research question, the methodology, and the results. The first
sentence is not indented and is the purpose statement. The purpose of this _________
(phenomenological, grounded theory, case) study (was/will be) to _______________
(understand/describe/develop/discover) the _____________ (central phenomenon of the study)
for _____________ (the participants) at __________ (the site). The theory guiding this study is
Smith’s theory on theories (do not cite the year here) as it (explain the relationship between the
theory and your focus of inquiry). Next, describe the methodology, including the study design,
sample, setting, and data collection and analysis approach. The abstract will not be longer than
one page and should be written as one double-spaced paragraph. It is written in the future tense
until the study is completed. For proposals, the abstract cannot be a full page, because the final
abstract will include the results of the study. There will also be no extraneous information in the
abstract not specifically delineated above, as there is no room on a single page for such
additional information. Thus, no citations are used. The word “Abstract” should be in bold title
case, a Level 1 heading, and centered.
Keywords: This is a list of 4-7 words, separated by commas, central to your study that
will aid search engines in pointing other scholars to your study. For example:
Keywords: retention, campus recreation, higher education
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Copyright Page (Optional)
While optional, we recommend declaring copyright to preserve your claim to the knowledge
generated in this study. Use one of the two following formats:
Copyright 2021, Jane Student
or
© 2021, Jane Student
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Dedication (Optional)
The dedication page is a page in which the candidate dedicates the manuscript. This
page is optional. Some examples are as follows:
I dedicate this dissertation to God, my creator, from whom all good things flow!
I dedicate this to my high school teacher, who inspired me to pursue Literature and
English.
To my parents, who gave me moral lessons on discipline from an earlier age and
helped pay for my studies.
To my supervisor, who was the guiding light every step of the way as I researched
for this dissertation.
To the memory of my sister Jane, who always believed in my abilities to earn a
doctorate.
To my children, John and Anna, may you pursue knowledge throughout your lives.
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Acknowledgments (Optional)
The acknowledgments page provides the opportunity for the candidate to acknowledge
individuals who influenced the writing and completion of the dissertation. This page is optional.
Some common people to acknowledge are your committee chair, your committee
members, your peers, your editors, your professors, etc.
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Table of Contents
The Table of Contents lists the chapters and subsections of the manuscript along with
their page numbers. The Table of Contents should include the Abstract, Copyright Page,
Dedication, Acknowledgements, List of Tables, List of Figures, CHAPTER TITLES (in all
caps), Level 1 headings, Level 2 headings, References, and Appendices. These should be leftjustified. The subsections included should only be APA Level 1 and Level 2 headings within the
manuscript. Level 1 headings should be indented one-half inch, and Level 2 headings should be
indented one inch. Chapter titles are not considered Level 1 headings. Entries should be doublespaced. DO NOT disrupt or change the formatting of the table of contents as it will correctly
format as you add to your dissertation. For this reason, all draft submissions to your dissertation
chair should be the entire dissertation with a note in the email to ask for a review of specific parts
as appropriate.
Abstract …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..3
Copyright Page (Optional) …………………………………………………………………………………………………4
Dedication (Optional) ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….5
Acknowledgments (Optional) …………………………………………………………………………………………….6
List of Tables …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………12
List of Figures ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..13
List of Abbreviations ………………………………………………………………………………………………………14
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION ………………………………………………………………………………..15
Overview …………………………………………………………………………………………………………….15
Background …………………………………………………………………………………………………………15
Historical Context ……………………………………………………………………………………..15
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Social Context …………………………………………………………………………………………..16
Theoretical Context ……………………………………………………………………………………16
Problem Statement ……………………………………………………………………………………………….17
Purpose Statement ………………………………………………………………………………………………..18
Significance of the Study ………………………………………………………………………………………18
Research Questions ………………………………………………………………………………………………19
Central Research Question ………………………………………………………………………….19
Sub-Question One ……………………………………………………………………………………..19
Sub-Question Two …………………………………………………………………………………….20
Sub-Question Three …………………………………………………………………………………..20
Definitions…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..20
Summary …………………………………………………………………………………………………………….21
CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW ……………………………………………………………………..22
Overview …………………………………………………………………………………………………………….22
Theoretical Framework …………………………………………………………………………………………22
Related Literature…………………………………………………………………………………………………23
Summary …………………………………………………………………………………………………………….26
CHAPTER THREE: METHODS ……………………………………………………………………………………..28
Overview …………………………………………………………………………………………………………….28
Research Design…………………………………………………………………………………………………..28
Research Questions ………………………………………………………………………………………………29
Central Research Question ………………………………………………………………………….29
Sub-Question One ……………………………………………………………………………………..29
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Sub-Question Two …………………………………………………………………………………….29
Sub-Question Three …………………………………………………………………………………..29
Setting and Participants…………………………………………………………………………………………29
Site (or Setting) …………………………………………………………………………………………29
Participants ……………………………………………………………………………………………….30
Researcher Positionality………………………………………………………………………………………..31
Interpretive Framework ……………………………………………………………………………..31
Philosophical Assumptions …………………………………………………………………………32
Researcher’s Role ……………………………………………………………………………………..33
Procedures …………………………………………………………………………………………………………..34
Permissions ………………………………………………………………………………………………34
Recruitment Plan ……………………………………………………………………………………….34
Data Collection Plan …………………………………………………………………………………………….35
Individual Interviews (Data Collection Approach #1)…………………………………….36
Document Analysis (Data Collection Approach #2) ………………………………………39
Focus Groups (Data Collection Approach #3)……………………………………………….39
Observations (Data Collection Approach #XX) …………………………………………….40
Physical Artifacts (Data Collection Approach #XX)………………………………………41
Journal Prompts (Data Collection Approach #XX) ………………………………………..41
Letter-Writing (Data Collection Approach #XX) …………………………………………..41
Surveys/Questionnaires (Data Collection Approach #XX) ……………………………..42
Other Qualitative Approaches (Data Collection Approach #XX) …………………….43
Data Synthesis …………………………………………………………………………………………..44
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Trustworthiness ……………………………………………………………………………………………………44
Credibility ………………………………………………………………………………………………..45
Transferability …………………………………………………………………………………………..45
Dependability ……………………………………………………………………………………………45
Confirmability …………………………………………………………………………………………..46
Ethical Considerations ……………………………………………………………………………….46
Summary …………………………………………………………………………………………………………….47
CHAPTER FOUR: FINDINGS ………………………………………………………………………………………..48
Overview …………………………………………………………………………………………………………….48
Participants ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….48
Results ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..49
Theme 1 …………………………………………………………………………………………………..49
Outlier Data and Findings …………………………………………………………………………..51
Research Question Responses………………………………………………………………………………..51
Central Research Question ………………………………………………………………………….52
Sub-Question One ……………………………………………………………………………………..52
Sub-Question Two …………………………………………………………………………………….52
Sub-Question Three …………………………………………………………………………………..52
Summary …………………………………………………………………………………………………………….52
CHAPTER FIVE: CONCLUSION……………………………………………………………………………………53
Overview …………………………………………………………………………………………………………….53
Discussion …………………………………………………………………………………………………………..53
Interpretation of Findings …………………………………………………………………………..53
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Implications for Policy or Practice ………………………………………………………………54
Theoretical and Empirical Implications ………………………………………………………..55
Limitations and Delimitations……………………………………………………………………..56
Recommendations for Future Research ………………………………………………………..56
Conclusion ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….56
References ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..57
Appendix A ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………60
Appendix Title …………………………………………………………………………………………………….60
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List of Tables
The List of Tables cites the tables and the corresponding pages of each table. This list
enables the reader to locate the tables in the manuscript easily. The title of this page should be a
Level 1 heading, centered, 1 inch from the top of the page. Entries should be double spaced.
An example is provided below.
Table 1. Open-Ended Interview Questions………………………………………………………70
Table 2. Open-Ended Focus Group Questions.………………………………………………….73
Table 3. Participant Demographics………………………………………………………………85
Table 4. Theme Development……………………………………………………………………94
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List of Figures
The List of Figures cites the figures and the corresponding pages of each figure. This list enables
the reader to locate the figures in the manuscript easily. The title of this page should be a Level 1
heading, centered, 1 inch from the top of the page. Entries should be double-spaced. An example
is provided below.
Figure 1. Oceanside Christian Academy by Race……………………………………………………………..110
Figure 2. Oceanside Christian Academy Household Income………………………………………………115
Figure 3. Conestoga Christian Academy by Race……………………………………………………………..120
Figure 4. Conestoga Christian Academy Household Income………………………………………………135
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List of Abbreviations
The title of this page should be a Level 1 heading, centered, 1 inch from the top of
the page. Entries should be double-spaced. Doctoral candidates should take all precautions
to avoid creating new acronyms not already in use in the field. Also, abbreviations or
acronyms that are common in the United States need not be included in this list, such as
USA (United States of America), state names, common government organizations such as
DoD, etc.; however, erring on the side of caution is fine for this section. Examples are
provided below.
Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI)
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)
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CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
Overview
The purpose of Chapter One is to introduce and frame the study. The Overview must
clearly and concisely describe the contents and organization of the chapter and is most
effectively done in a single paragraph. The chapter should create reader interest, provide a
contextual background for the problem, articulate the research problem and the purpose of the
study, identify the significance of the research, introduce and elaborate on the research questions,
and finally, offer relevant definitions for the reader. Chapter One may vary in length from 10 to
15 pages for the final dissertation.
Background
The Background section contains a summary of the most relevant literature and provides
the historical (e.g., how the problem has evolved), social (e.g., society, community, education
system, areas, etc., affected by the problem), and theoretical (e.g., the theoretical concepts that
have developed the concept under examination and the principles underpinning the research).
The introductory paragraph of this section should be short and forecast the three contexts. Use
APA Level 2 headings for each of the contexts.
Historical Context
This section sets the historical background for your study by briefly exploring how
history has unfolded, forecasting the conditions for, or the existence of, the problem that
motivates the study. For example, this section might include a brief history of higher education, a
brief history of access to education, or the historical success of a particular cross-section of
society in education. Specifically, if you were exploring the experiences of Black men in higher
education settings, you might review the relatively recent access to higher education for the
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broader Black population and the struggles this population has faced since the 1960s. This
section does not include information intended for the next two sections. There are no restrictions
on the recency of citations used in this section, but a comprehensive review might include some
older and some newer references.
Social Context
The Social Context section addresses the relevant social context to help frame your study.
While there may be some minimal overlap with the Historical Context, this section is more
specific to the social aspects related to this study and will lean towards a much more
contemporary orientation than the historical setting. Questions that may be asked or addressed in
this section may include, but are not limited to: Who else is affected by the problem? Who may
benefit or use the proposed research? Given the Black men in higher education example, you
might include information on the significant efforts to increase Black men’s participation in
higher education and to offer some evidence of social reasons that the men may not be attending
college in a representative manner. This section need not be overly lengthy but needs to be
comprehensive in addressing the social context for the reader. There are no restrictions on the
recency of citations used in this section; however, most literature in this section should be no
more than five years old.
Theoretical Context
The Theoretical Context section will include a brief review of seminal research, along
with theoretical, conceptual, and scholarly work done in your topic area. Questions that may be
asked or addressed in this section may include, but are not limited to: What research has been
done to investigate or address the problem? What new information might the current research
add to the body of existing literature regarding the topic? How will the proposed research extend
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or refine the existing knowledge in the area under study? There may be seminal or older
literature used in this section, but efforts to draw on current literature should be obvious. To
continue the example of Black men in higher education, you might highlight the comprehensive
and recent work of Shaun Harper in this section. This section need not be overly lengthy but
needs to be comprehensive in framing the theoretical context for the reader. Reserve extensive
elaboration of the study’s theoretical or conceptual framework for Chapter Two. There are no
restrictions on the recency of citations used in this section, but a maturing or robust scholarly
area will lean on mostly newer references, while newer or less mature scholarly areas might
merely rely on the nascent body of literature available.
Problem Statement
This section begins with the statement of the problem. You should state: “The problem
is…” A problem is never that what you want to research is not present in the literature. A
problem can generally be defined as an issue within the literature, theory, or practice that
suggests the need for your study (Creswell & Poth, 2018). This need for the study is often
referred to as a gap in the literature or adding to the body of knowledge. An example of a simple
problem statement is, “The problem is that African American students are underrepresented in
doctoral programs.” It identifies the general problem, the specific problem, the focus of the
research, and the population sample. The problem statement draws from the background section;
it includes three to five current citations (i.e., five years or less since publication) to show that the
proposed research is empirically significant and relevant to the field. It should be stated clearly in
one to two focused paragraphs and should convince the reader why the particular issue or
problem your study is investigating needs to be explored empirically.
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Purpose Statement
The purpose statement should follow the problem statement and clearly and succinctly
state the focus and intentions of the proposed research. Use the following template from
Creswell and Poth (2018, p. 132): The purpose of this _________ (phenomenological, grounded
theory, case) study is to _______________ (understand? describe? develop? discover?) the
_____________ (central phenomenon of the study) for _____________ (the participants) at
__________ (the site). At this stage in the research, ___________ (central phenomenon of the
study) will be generally defined as ________________ (a general definition of the central
concept). The purpose statement foreshadows the research question(s), and the statement must be
consistent throughout the dissertation. All preceding writing within the manuscript should funnel
into the problem and purpose statements, and all succeeding aspects of the manuscript should
align with, support, and further expand upon the problem and purpose statements.
Significance of the Study
The significance of the study section contains a description of the contributions that the
study makes to the knowledge base or discipline from a theoretical, empirical, and practical
perspective. The theoretical significance of the study articulates how the study will/does
contribute to the theoretical underpinnings of the problem and is articulated in one well-crafted
paragraph. The empirical significance of the study is how the study relates to other studies
similar to yours or how undertaking the particular methodological approach will add to the
literature and is also articulated in one well-crafted paragraph. The practical significance of the
study articulates in one well-crafted paragraph why the knowledge generated from the study may
be significant to the location, organization, general population, or sample being studied (e.g.,
How might this study be used for the participants, the site, or on a wider scale to affect change to
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help a group of people or an organization as a whole?). References are critical here to lend
credence to the significance of your study, and all assertions in this section need to be supported
by the empirical literature.
Research Questions
The proposed research questions should be derived from and align with the problem and
purpose statements and should be introduced with a brief lead-in section of at least three
sentences. A well-written research question (RQ) is feasible, clear, significant, and ethical. In
qualitative studies, research questions are often philosophical or pragmatic in nature and ask
about meaning, process, perceptions, or behavior. Qualitative RQs are usually broad and would
make poor interview questions because they are intended to address the research problem.
Individual interview and focus group questions get more and more specific the deeper into the
study the scholar goes. Identify at least three research questions or a central research question
and at least two sub-questions. If a central RQ is used, the subordinate questions are called subquestions (SQ). Use the following formatting in your dissertation manuscript. Note how the
central RQ is a broad question involving the phenomenon, site, and participants, while the SQs
address specific segments of the Central RQ.
Central Research Question
What are the experiences of K-12 teachers who mentor underserved populations? A
phenomenology will typically have a central RQ and two to three SQs to explore the
phenomenon. In fact, most qualitative studies will follow this recipe. However, it is perfectly
acceptable to have three research questions and no SQs.
Sub-Question One
What are the experiences of K-12 teachers who mentor English Language Learners?
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Sub-Question Two
What are the experiences of K-12 teachers who mentor lower socioeconomic status
students?
Sub-Question Three
What are the experiences of K-12 teachers who mentor handicapped students? To review,
you can see how each of the sub-questions addresses a single construct of the central research
question.
Definitions
Terms pertinent to the study should be listed and defined as the final section of Chapter
One. All definitions in this section also need to be supported by the literature with the
appropriate citation. Words that are commonly known need not be defined in this section. As an
exception, if you have to develop a definition that is not found in the literature, you may briefly
create a definition, but it still should draw on empirical literature that you will cite. Include terms
that use abbreviations. An example is provided below.
1. Attitude – Attitude is a psychological tendency that involves evaluating a particular object
with some degree of favor or disfavor (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993).
2. Interest – The combination of emotion and personal valuation of a task resulting in a
desire for various levels of enjoyment (Ainley & Ainley, 2011).
3. Student veteran – any student who is a current or former member of the active duty
military, the National Guard, or Reserves regardless of deployment status, combat
experience, or legal status as a veteran (Vacchi, 2012, p. 17).
4. Etc.…
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Summary
Provide a chapter summary here. The Summary includes a succinct restatement of the
problem and purpose of the study and provides a strong conclusion to the chapter without
consuming much more than a single page.
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CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW
Overview
Chapter Two typically is the longest chapter of the dissertation proposal. The minimum
length must be 30 full pages, including tables, graphs, and figures, but most are longer to address
the relevant literature comprehensively. This chapter provides an empirical context for the study
via the literature as well as the need for the study as evidenced by the gap in the literature.
Chapter Two is comprised of four sections with Level One headers: (a) the Overview, (b) a
Theoretical and/or Conceptual Framework section, (c) a Related Literature section, and (d) a
Summary. Level 2 and Level 3 subheadings are numerous in the Related Literature section and
may also be necessary for the Framework section. Typically, 100 to 200 articles are used in the
construction of this chapter, with even more used in the construction of Chapters One and Three.
The Overview must clearly and concisely describe the contents and organization of the chapter
and should not be longer than one paragraph.
Theoretical Framework
Situating your study and focus of inquiry within an established theoretical framework
helps to organize and guide the study. This section should provide the reader with a direct
connection to the conceptual or theoretical framework that will effectively guide the study and
allow the findings to be situated within a greater context. According to Maxwell (2012),
The point is not to summarize what has already been done in the field. Instead, it is to
ground your proposed study in the relevant previous work, and to give the reader a clear
sense of your theoretical approach to the phenomena that you propose to study. (p. 123)
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Start by describing the theory, including origination and major theorist. Next, discuss how the
theory has advanced or informed the literature on your topic. Conclude by articulating how your
study utilizes the theory and how it may potentially advance or extend the theory.
Examples of theoretical frameworks include Astin’s theory of involvement (1984),
Bandura’s (1986) social cognitive theory, Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory (1993),
Knowles’ (2015) adult learning theory, Maslow’s (1954) hierarchy of needs, etc. Note that when
identifying a theory in APA style, the name of the theory is not capitalized. Grounded theory
studies will have neither a theoretical nor a conceptual framework, and this section can be
omitted for those studies.
Some studies might only use a conceptual framework, while others might use both a
theoretical and conceptual framework. In rare exceptions, some studies might use two theories
for the framework, but this will need to be approved by the committee chair as an exception. An
effective Framework section discusses the theoretical or conceptual framework in less than two
pages, while a dissertation that uses both a theoretical and conceptual framework ideally
describes both in less than three pages. The main purpose of this chapter is not to endlessly
discuss your guiding framework: it is to situate your study within the extant scholarly literature.
Related Literature
The purpose of this section is to provide a synthesis of the existing knowledge on this
topic, not simply a study-by-study summary, and to link this existing knowledge to the proposed
study. Remember that this section frames your argument for the significance of your study. It
communicates what has been examined on the topic, what has not been examined, or how the
understanding of the topic is still developing, and how the study can fill the gap or further
understanding in the field. It is important to remember that Chapter Two is not a library, that is, a
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listing of facts or summaries of relevant research, but rather an integrated and critical argument.
The references used in this section should be current, meaning use the most updated version of
the work of seminal authors. Thus, there is no hard and fast rule about how much of your
literature should be new and how much can be used from more than five years ago, merely that
the literature review represents a current snapshot of the extant literature. Also, remember to use
primary sources, not those “as cited in” another source. Other dissertations should be used
sparingly because they are not peer-reviewed.
Convince Your Reader
Remember that your literature review provides the context for your dissertation and
demonstrates why your topic is important and relevant. Consider also that the literature should be
described as you would articulate the literature, and as such, every effort should be made to
avoid direct quotations unless it is the absolute identical way you would say something. The best
dissertation proposals have no quotations in the first three chapters.
Critique the Literature
Are there disagreeing prevailing perspectives in the literature? Is there universal
agreement? Do not simply list out the literature that you find. That is, make sure your literature
review logically informs the need to conduct your study. Does a published study make little
sense logically or empirically? This ambiguity is important to highlight for the reader – just
because something is published does not automatically make it of value or correct. Some
literature simply becomes outdated as it gets older or a topic area matures, which is either
important to point out to the reader or to withhold these references from the literature review.
Synthesis is not Simply Listing the Literature
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This paragraph offers an artificial but effective example of synthesis. Many graduate
students struggle between merely listing literature and creating a cogent argument with an
effective synthesis in literature reviews for graduate-level writing (Authority1, 2017; Scholar1,
2016). Citing multiple authors who articulate the same or similar perspectives demonstrates
agreement in the literature. Despite continuing efforts to elevate the level of synthesis in graduate
writing (Scholar1, 2016; Scholar2, 2020), the field sees little progress in the synthesis skills of
social science graduate students (Authority2, 2019). Authority1 (2017) asserts that synthesis is
not merely a listing of the literature as offered by some less-reputable graduate institutions that
have recently closed due to poor employment rates of their graduates (e.g., Sad State University,
Big Fail For-profit University, and Biased Private College). Still, listing the literature has a place
in the development of writing skills, albeit at the secondary school level (Authority1, 2017;
Authority2, 2019; Scholar1, 2016), to explore a wide cross-section of the literature. Further,
Scholar2 (2020) offers that synthesis skills should begin in upper-level classes in high school.
Counter voices insist that because most high school graduates do not complete a four-year
college degree (NCES, 2021) that expending precious classroom time on teaching synthesis in
high school is not a good investment (Lesser K12 Association of America, 2016). While many
scholars agree that synthesis should be taught beginning in the later high school years (e.g.,
Authority1, 2017; Authority2, 2019; Scholar2, 2018), a more viable solution may be to focus on
literature review synthesis skills in introductory graduate-level writing courses (Scholar1, 2016;
Scholar2, 2018; Council of Graduate Education Experts, 2021) to ensure, in particular, that more
doctoral students can more effectively synthesize the literature in their dissertation proposals.
Summarizing Synthesis
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You see in the above passage that there were points of disagreement and agreement, and
the reader can tell what the field has had for a discussion in the literature about the synthesis
topic. This is called creating dialogue within the literature. Not only is this easier to read than a
simple listing of the literature, but it tells the story of the literature better, makes your argument
more effective, and engages the reader in your literature discourse, helping to shape the gap in
the literature that your study will partially fill.
Be Selective
Avoid the temptation to include all the literature you have read. Be selective and use the
most relevant articles that build your argument for the need for your study. Keep in mind that the
best literature reviews do not use words such as, “therefore the gap in the literature is that we do
not know how to train graduate students to synthesize the literature.” Rather, the gap will be so
plainly evident that the reader will identify that your study serves to contribute to narrowing the
gap without you articulating that in chapter two.
Be Smart
While seeking to use primarily peer-reviewed scholarly articles, only use magazines, the
Internet, or dissertation material if they are the only representations of the knowledge you need
to discuss. If you are in an emerging topic area, this may be more common than well-established
topic areas, e.g., the student veteran literature is still in its infancy, and much of the generated
knowledge is within dissertations, while teacher experiences in K-12 settings is a mature topic
area and should not include many references other than peer-reviewed material.
Summary
This section should provide a focused summary of what is currently known, what is not
known, and how your proposed study can specifically address gaps in the existing literature.
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After your literature review, write a statement that summarizes or highlights the most relevant
literature and conclusions that lead to your proposed study. Be sure that you identify that your
study has theoretical (i.e., narrows a gap in the literature) and practical value (i.e., a solution to a
problem or concern in the professional field, improves professional practice).
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CHAPTER THREE: METHODS
Overview
The purpose of Chapter Three is to present the research design, procedures, and data
analysis plans for your study. That is, it provides the reader with the details of what will occur
during the execution of your research. Descriptions in this chapter should be comprehensive and
in sufficient detail to permit the replication of the study. The Overview begins with a restatement
of the purpose of the study, is one paragraph in length, written in the present tense, and clearly
and concisely describes the contents and organization of the chapter. The Chapter Three sections
and subsections are listed and explained below.
Research Design
In the Research Design section for qualitative studies, articulation of why a qualitative
study is appropriate opens the section for the reader. Next, the research design (e.g.,
phenomenology, case study, or grounded theory) should be identified with a rationale for why
the general design is appropriate. Finally, the specific type of design is described with an
explanation for why the specific design was selected, except for grounded theory studies.
Additionally, the specific research design type should be fully defined with a brief history of the
research design type. For example, if selecting a phenomenological study, be sure to identify
what type (i.e., hermeneutic or transcendental) and cite the appropriate scholars. If conducting a
case study (Stake, 1995), identify whether it is a single instrumental, collective, or intrinsic case
study. Alternatively, Yin (2018) offers four types of case studies holistic single or multiple-case
designs and embedded single or multiple-case designs. Here, the grounded theory scholar would
provide a rationale for the seminal scholar for their chosen approach to grounded theory. The
purpose and the specific research design should align with the research questions as well as the
29
procedures described. Throughout this section, refer to primary qualitative research texts for the
proper design description and use them to support your rationales. For example, Creswell & Poth
(2018) is not a primary text, but the work of Moustakas, van Manen, Stake, Yin, Strauss &
Corbin, Corbin & Strauss, Charmaz, Clandinin & Connelly, Chase, Riessman, Atkinson, and
Madison are primary texts for various qualitative methods.
Research Questions
List the research questions verbatim from Chapter One.
Central Research Question
What are the experiences of K-12 teachers who mentor underserved populations?
Sub-Question One
What are the experiences of K-12 teachers who mentor English Language Learners?
Sub-Question Two
What are the experiences of K-12 teachers who mentor lower socioeconomic status
students?
Sub-Question Three
What are the experiences of K-12 teachers who mentor handicapped students?
Setting and Participants
The purpose of this section is twofold. First, the purpose is to paint a site or setting
picture for the reader of your dissertation in sufficient detail to visualize the setting without
consuming too much time and space in the manuscript. Second, the purpose of this section is to
describe the profile of your participants by articulating the criteria for participation in your study.
Site (or Setting)
In this section, the setting (or the site) of the study should be described, including
30
elements such as geographic location, school system, leadership structure, a course, etc. Just as
you should have a rationale for selecting your participants for a qualitative study, it is also
important to provide a rationale for your site selection: Convenience alone is not sufficient. Only
important features which have a bearing on your study should be included. The following
questions should be addressed in detail: Why was this setting (site) chosen for this project? What
does the organization look like regarding leadership, organizational structure, etc.? Pseudonyms
for both individuals and institutions should be used in this section as well; however, it is
incorrect to use a pseudonym as follows: West Bend Academy. You will articulate in your
Ethical Considerations subsection of the Trustworthiness section that all names and locations are
pseudonyms to preserve the confidentiality of the participants and sites and, as such, noting that
a name is a pseudonym is unnecessary.
Participants
Demographic information (age, ethnicity, gender, etc.) should be described in narrative
form to create a visual of who the participants in the study are. For example, participants in this
study are teachers of core content areas with more than three years of experience as teachers.
An articulation of the specific demographics of the participants is reserved for Chapter Four, and
as such, no specifics are needed in this section to preserve brevity. If using a questionnaire to
identify participants, be sure not to consider this as a data collection method. The number of
participants will most often range from 12-15 or higher, and no fewer than 10 participants will
be accepted without written approval from the School of Education Administrative Chair of
Doctoral Programs and Research. While less restrictive, candidates should have intentional
reasons for including more than 15 participants in their study.
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Researcher Positionality
This section provides an opportunity for you to articulate your motivation for conducting
the study, that is, your research paradigm or interpretive framework (i.e., post-positivism, social
constructivism, pragmatism, or transformative frameworks), and your three philosophical
assumptions (i.e., ontological, epistemological, axiological) that will guide the study. Keep in
mind that qualitative research is written in the first-person voice rather than the third-person
voice. Many times, post-positivism and social constructivism are frequently used with
phenomenological and grounded theory studies, whereas pragmatism is the research paradigm
that is used when conducting a case study (Creswell & Poth, 2018). Transformative frameworks
include the many critical theories, action research, and feminist theory (Creswell & Poth, 2018).
Interpretive Framework
The interpretive framework, or research paradigm, can be confusing for scholars new to
scholarly research. Essentially, the interpretive framework identifies the lens through which you
will conduct your study. Although you may change depending on what you study, or your
desired approach to a study, your interpretive framework will be the same throughout any single
study. There is a full spectrum of interpretive frameworks beginning with positivism; however,
positivism is reserved for quantitative research and cannot be employed for qualitative studies
(Creswell & Poth, 2018). Beginning with the most conservative qualitative frameworks and
moving to the most radical, the paradigms are (a) post-positivism; (b) social constructivism; (c)
pragmatism; (d) postmodernism; (e) disability theory; (f) feminist theories; (g) critical theories,
etc. (Creswell & Poth, 2018). Most qualitative research for most Liberty University dissertations
will situate on the more conservative end of this spectrum and tends to cluster around social
constructivism, but in the end, you must simply articulate your chosen paradigm.
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Philosophical Assumptions
The philosophical assumptions can also be confusing for emerging scholars, but they
need not be. Unlike the research paradigms or interpretive frameworks, philosophical
assumptions tend to be consistent throughout a scholar’s life because these center on values and
belief systems within individuals. Articulating your positionality on the philosophical
assumptions aids the reader in understanding the lens through which you view the world and, as
such, how you approach your research. There are three philosophical assumptions that will need
to be addressed in your dissertation, ontological, epistemological, and axiological.
Ontological Assumption
The ontological assumption involves your beliefs on the nature of reality. Is there one
universal reality, or are there multiple realities? At Liberty University, it is hard to get too far
away from God’s truth as the singular reality, and that the human understanding of this truth is
imperfect, which may explain mistaken perceptions by some that multiple realities exist. In the
field, you will find that there are people who believe that multiple realities are the only possible
explanation of the world. This stark contrast of views requires that scholars inform their readers
of their ontological views for readers to have a better understanding of the approaches used
during research.
Epistemological Assumption
The epistemological assumption addresses what counts as knowledge, how knowledge
claims are justified, and, more specifically, what is the relationship between what is being
researched and the researcher (Creswell & Poth, 2018). In quantitative research, the goal is to
create a completely unbiased study in which the researcher is not relevant to the process or the
outcomes. Thus, in a statistical study, knowledge is regarded as facts derived from the source of
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the knowledge – which is a particularly objectivist view on knowledge. Qualitative research is
more subjective, and, as such, knowledge is likely derived from the subjective experiences of a
wide array of people and not necessarily those who are experts.
Axiological Assumption
The axiological assumption describes the extent to which researcher values are known
and brought into a study. Again, for quantitative research, the values of researchers ideally are
neither known nor influence the study. Conversely, it is important in qualitative studies not only
to convey your values, or positionality, concerning the context and setting of the research to your
reader, but also to be aware of those values and biases to effectively bracket those to best seek
the truth of the information you gather as data and in composing your final report. For example,
a veteran who is doing a study on other veterans would include the fact that they are a veteran
and are unapologetic about their belief that veterans are successful in most things rather than
broken and in need of help. Alternatively, a non-veteran researching student veterans might offer
their positionality that while not a veteran, they are from a long line of military veterans and are
effusive in their support of the veteran community. While this information constitutes bias, it is
important for the reader to understand these nuances to read the final dissertation most
effectively.
Researcher’s Role
In this section, you must clearly and thoroughly explain your role as the human
instrument in the study. You must be straightforward about your relationship with the
participants (you should not have any authority over them), your role in the setting or research
site, and any bias or assumptions you bring to the study that may influence how you view the
data or conduct your analysis. The role of the researcher must also be articulated in light of the
34
chosen design, and the implications of this role on the data collection and data analysis
procedures must be addressed.
Procedures
In the Procedures section, the steps used to conduct the study are outlined to a reasonable
enough extent that the study could be replicated from these descriptions. This explanation
includes necessary site permissions, information about securing Institutional Review Board
(IRB) approval, soliciting participants, the data collection and analysis plans by data source, and
an explanation of how the study achieves triangulation.
Permissions
In this section, all necessary permissions are explained and documented as appropriate.
For example, this section references the appendix in which your IRB approval letter resides and
site permissions for your study, as applicable. During the proposal process, it is important to
begin informal conversations with the gatekeepers of possible research sites to rule out
unwelcoming sites and to identify feasible sites. You will need your proposed site’s permission
in order to submit your IRB application. However, some sites have their own IRB or may require
conditional approval from Liberty’s IRB before they will grant site approval. Thus, you may
have to wait to get formal approval to use this study site until after you complete IRB, but at least
you are not trying to use a site that will not allow you to conduct your study there.
Recruitment Plan
In this section, the sample pool, the sample size, and the type of sample should be clearly
explained, and each decision should be supported by research citations. The sample pool is the
qualitative equivalent of the Quantitative N term for the total population available from which to
solicit a sample. For example, if the study seeks to explore the experiences of second-grade
35
teachers in a school district, the total number of second-grade teachers employed at all schools in
the district would be the sample pool. The sample size is the actual number of participants in the
study, which for Liberty University is a target of 10 and generally not more than 15, but during
the proposal, this should be expressed as a range of between 10 and 15 participants. Occasional
exceptions to the number of participants are possible depending on the method and type of study
with Chair and Qualitative Director approval. You will identify the type of sample (i.e.,
convenience, snowball, purposive, maximum variation, criterion sampling, or a combination of
types) and offer a rationale for your type of sample given the nature of the study. Information
about informed consent or asset should also be discussed here.
Data Collection Plan
A critical aspect of qualitative inquiry is the rigorous application of the variety of data
collection strategies or approaches available to the researcher. There should be several
subsections detailing at least three different sources of evidence in the data collection plan;
however, the only required data collection approach at Liberty University is individual
interviews. Other sources of evidence may include, but are not limited to, observations (i.e.,
participant, direct); document analysis (e.g., archival records; journals, letters, etc.); physical
artifacts (e.g., photographs, etc.); focus group interviews; and journal prompts. Discuss the data
collection approach in the order in which data will be collected and explain why you have chosen
this sequence. These data collection procedures should follow the recommendations of
established qualitative researchers in the field (e.g., Erlandson, et al., 1993; Lincoln & Guba,
1985; Merriam, 1988; Miles & Huberman, 1994; Patton, 2014, etc.). After discussing the data
collection approach, discuss the associated data analysis approach you will use for that data
collection method.
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Individual Interviews (Data Collection Approach #1)
At the outset of each of the subsections for the individual data collection strategies, you
should identify the data collection strategy, define it according to the empirical literature, explain
the data collection strategy in layman’s terms, and justify its appropriateness for your study.
Discuss any logistics (when/where/how/with whom will data be collected, recording, etc.) and
explicate which of your research questions might be answered by this data collection strategy. It
is important to demonstrate that interview questions are generated from your research questions,
which is easily done by annotating which RQs or SQs are addressed after each question.
Remember that you will need to break the ice with your participants to help establish rapport for
a good interview, and an effective way to achieve this is using what Marshall & Rossman (2012)
refer to as a grand tour question, which invites the participant to take you on their journey of
whatever aspect of the social dynamic you inquire about with the question that also sets a tone
and direction for subsequent directions. One of the expected side effects of the grand tour
question is that it gets the participant comfortable with sharing their story with you and likely
opens them up to deeper and more valuable responses to subsequent questions. The following is
an example of a semi-structured interview protocol about exploring teacher experiences. The
interview questions begin with a grand tour question, and this protocol should include enough
questions to cover your topic thoroughly. Include only open-ended questions (do not use yes/no
questions). Present your semi-structured interview protocol in the below formatting.
Individual Interview Questions
1. Please describe your educational background and career through your current position.
CRQ
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2. Describe your challenges when working with English Language Learners (ELL) in your
classes. SQ1
3. Describe successful practices you use when working with ELL students in your classes.
SQ1
4. What professional development experiences have you had that prepared you to work with
ELL students as a teacher? SQ1
5. What else would you like to add to our discussion of your experiences with ELL students
that we haven’t discussed? SQ1
6. Describe your challenges when working with lower socioeconomic status (SES) students
in your classes. SQ2
7. Describe successful practices you use when working with lower SES students in your
classes. SQ2
8. What professional development experiences have you had that prepared you to work with
lower SES students as a teacher? SQ2
9. What else would you like to add to our discussion of your experiences with lower SES
students that we haven’t discussed? SQ2
10. Describe your challenges when working with handicapped students in your classes. SQ3
11. Describe successful practices you use when working with handicapped students in your
classes. SQ3
12. What professional development experiences have you had that prepared you to work with
handicapped students as a teacher? SQ3
13. What else would you like to add to our discussion of your experiences with handicapped
students that we haven’t discussed? SQ3
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The questions should have a modest explanation for their inclusion in your interview
protocol, which may include a question’s relationship to the problem, purpose, theoretical
framework, conceptual framework, or any applicable research questions, the latter of which is
most common. An exhaustive rationale for each question supported by empirical literature is not
required. After developing your questions, discuss in your procedures that you will get experts in
the field to review your questions. Of course, these are typically your committee members and
need not be anyone else. Piloting the interview with a small sample outside of your study to
ensure clarity of questions and wording is not necessary but certainly permissible. In qualitative
research, we want to avoid the time and energy spent with unnecessary pilot studies, and we do
not want to waste viable data. With reviewed and approved interview questions, you can
proximate the value of a pilot study by taking extra care to critically review the conduct of your
first interview and seeking on-the-spot feedback from your first participant. When minor changes
are made to interview questions that do not change the substance of an interview, the credibility
of the interview protocol is sufficient to include the first participant in the study. Any pilot of
your interview protocols must wait until after you receive IRB approval to collect data.
Individual Interview Data Analysis Plan (Data Analysis Plan #1)
Each section in chapter three that addresses a source of evidence, such as individual
interviews, focus groups, or journaling, should have a subsection that explains how the data
analysis will be conducted for that data source. In this section, the data analysis procedures
should be identified, and a concise rationale for the type of analysis should be provided. Be sure
that your analysis procedures are aligned with your research design. Be sure to use primary
resources for your data analysis approach to guide the development of this section. While
secondary sources, such as course textbooks like Creswell and Poth (2018), provide good
39
overviews of different research designs and analysis procedures, they typically lack the detailed
procedural information needed to write Chapter Three. You need to provide enough detail that
someone could replicate your data analysis by following the data analysis procedures outlined in
this section. Further, if your study involves multiple forms of data collection to achieve
triangulation, you need to discuss how you will analyze each set of data and then synthesize
findings across all of your sets of data. Some form of coding primary data and associated
researcher memos is typically used to organize data and to identify recurring themes for many
qualitative studies. If utilizing quantitative instruments, be sure to address how you will analyze
and then integrate or triangulate the quantitative findings with the qualitative.
Document Analysis (Data Collection Approach #2)
Document analysis may be applied to a variety of sources including, but not limited to
legal documents, records, meeting minutes, letters, diaries, etc. Every effort should be made to
incorporate primary rather than secondary sources. Identify and describe the specific documents
you will collect and explain your rationale for why each type of document contributes to your
data collection strategy. The substance of the document analysis must be on par with all other
data sources. For example, when researching parent involvement in schools, it is insufficient to
simply use sign-in rosters of attendance at PTA meetings as evidence of involvement. For many
studies, it can be difficult to generate documents that are on par with other forms of data
collection.
Document Analysis Data Analysis Plan (Data Analysis Plan #2)
Articulate the document analysis data analysis plan in a concise paragraph.
Focus Groups (Data Collection Approach #3)
Focus groups provide an opportunity for the researcher to interact with multiple
40
participants at the same time while encouraging dialogue amongst participants about the area
being researched. Focus groups are especially useful for exploring complex, multi-layered
concepts from the perspectives of the participants. Focus groups are an excellent means to create
triangulation using varied sources of evidence in your study when needing to conserve time
rather than conducting follow-up interviews of all participants or when collective responses are
as good as, or superior to, individual interview evidence. Focus group questions must be
developed and reported using the same format as interview questions (see Interview Question
subsection above) and should avoid re-asking questions already asked during individual
interviews. Additionally, researchers should keep in mind that when using a focus group as a
source of triangulation for individual interviews, that the focus group protocol may need to be
modified after the study is underway to follow up most effectively on initial data findings of
individual interviews.
Focus Group Questions
List focus group questions here, including their contribution to research questions, and
include a brief rationale as you did with the interview questions. An exhaustive rationale for each
question supported by empirical literature is not required.
Focus Group Data Analysis Plan (Data Analysis Plan #3)
Articulate the focus group data analysis plan in a concise paragraph.
Observations (Data Collection Approach #XX)
When conducting observations, develop and include your observation protocol in the
appendices and be sure to address both descriptive and reflective field notes. Use, or modify an
example from a qualitative research text rather than creating your own observation protocol from
scratch. When describing your data collection approach for observations, be sure to discuss
41
whether observations will be scheduled or unscheduled and whether you will be a participant or
non-participant observer while also identifying the frequency and duration of observations.
Observations Data Analysis Plan (Data Analysis Plan XX)
Articulate the observations data analysis plan in a concise paragraph.
Physical Artifacts (Data Collection Approach #XX)
Physical artifacts are a less common source of evidence for most qualitative studies and
should be complemented with in vivo evidence from participants. Common physical artifacts
might be policies, professional development programs, laws, archival records, and even
photographs, drawings, or other physical media used to represent the perspectives of participants.
Physical Artifacts Data Analysis Plan (Data Analysis Plan XX)
Articulate the artifacts data analysis plan in a concise paragraph.
Journal Prompts (Data Collection Approach #XX)
Journal prompts are an excellent complement to interviews and can enrich participant
perspectives because there is typically much more time for participants to draft, edit, and submit
responses to the prompts. When crafting journal prompts, consider the amount of time for
drafting and finalizing responses when choosing the number of prompts to provide each
participant and the timeline to complete journal prompts. It may take 10 to 15 minutes to
complete each prompt, so limiting the number of prompts to between four and six is
recommended. Many participants will not be able to drop everything in their lives to complete
journal prompts, so giving them two weeks is a good compromise between urgency and fairness.
Journal Prompts Data Analysis Plan (Data Analysis Plan XX)
Articulate the journal prompts data analysis plan in a concise paragraph.
Letter-Writing (Data Collection Approach #XX)
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Letter-writing is an excellent alternative to journal prompts and can enrich participant
perspectives because there is typically much more time for participants to draft, edit, and submit
letters. When considering the purpose of letter-writing, many times the prompt might be about
what the participant wishes they knew earlier in their lives or educational journey or sometimes
referred to as a letter to the participant’s younger self. This kind of data collection is typically
limited to one instance per participant and should be substantive. For example, “as a woman
administrator in higher education, what would you tell your younger self to be better prepared for
your experiences as a professional administrator.” Many participants will not be able to drop
everything in their lives to complete letters, so giving them two weeks is a good compromise
between urgency and fairness.
Letter-Writing Data Analysis Plan (Data Analysis Plan XX)
Articulate the letter-writing data analysis plan in a concise paragraph. Keep in mind that a
side benefit to letter-writing is that transcription is not needed.
Surveys/Questionnaires (Data Collection Approach #XX)
Taking care when considering the purpose of a survey or questionnaire is essential to
eliciting meaningful data from participants. In most cases, surveys or questionnaires will focus
on qualitative data and are what are called open response surveys; however, there are some
exceptions. Case studies may involve limited quantitative data (e.g., Likert-type) as, by
definition, a case study can be a mixed-methods approach to generating knowledge (Yin, 2018).
Advanced statistics should be avoided in case studies that fall under the broader category of
qualitative dissertations. If using a published survey or questionnaire, be sure to gain permission
to use it and explain here how the survey was developed and how validity and reliability were
established. If generating your own, you need to address face and content validity and describe
43
piloting procedures. Simply collecting demographic information from participants is neither
considered a survey nor sufficient to serve as one of the three required sources of evidence for a
qualitative study at Liberty University.
Survey/Questionnaire Questions
List survey questions here, including their contribution to research questions, and include
a brief rationale as you did with the survey questions.
Survey/Questionnaire Data Analysis Plan (Data Analysis Plan XX)
Articulate the Survey/Questionnaire data analysis plan in a concise paragraph. Again, this
should be limited to basic and descriptive statistical methods.
Other Qualitative Approaches (Data Collection Approach #XX)
There are other, less common approaches to qualitative data collection in the methods
literature. Numerous factors should be considered when using any of these other methods, such
as the rigor of the method, the appropriateness of the method, and the effectiveness as a means of
triangulation. An example is participant journaling, which can be an ineffective way to elicit
quality data for several reasons, such as overloading the participants with time demands and
additional responsibilities. Also, if participants neglect their journaling, then one of the three
required sources of evidence may fail, causing problems for the progress of your dissertation.
Care should be taken when considering the use of journaling – in most cases, journal prompts are
a faster and more effective way to elicit participant data. All other qualitative approaches should
be approved by your dissertation chair and the Qualitative Research Director well before the
final proposal defense to allow you time to identify other sources of evidence in the event that
the Director does not approve this approach for your study.
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Data Synthesis
After you have articulated your data analysis approach for each source of evidence, you
will need to briefly, but completely, explain how you will synthesize all of your data into a
coherent singular body of evidence that identifies themes and will offer answers to your research
questions. Said in another way, you will not simply analyze the data of each of your three
sources separately and have separate themes: your entire body of data will generate a single set
of themes. Additionally, if you plan to use a Qualitative Data Analysis Software (QDAS) such as
NVivo (free download at LU IT Marketplace), Atlas.TI, or MaxQDA, discuss this in the
appropriate data analysis sections as well. Please use caution here: QDAS software is not an easy
button and will not analyze your data for you! The vast array of QDAS packages are merely data
management tools, and you will still have to code your data manually. Novice scholars shouldn’t
use QDAS because, in most cases, it will only add time to the data analysis process because
QDAS packages are typically used to keep very large data sets organized, and your dissertation
typically will not rise to an unmanageable level of manual data management. Those who falsely
believe that QDAS can automatically code and analyze data generally end up with a garbage in
garbage out analysis and simply end up with word frequencies that do not rise to the level of
rigorous qualitative data analysis. If you do use QDAS, be sure to think of it only as a data
management tool, not a data analysis tool.
Trustworthiness
Lincoln and Guba (1985) conceived of the foundational concepts and terms that establish
the trustworthiness of a study, specifically credibility, transferability, dependability, and
confirmability. These are merely terms that are synonyms for comparable quantitative terms,
such as internal and external validity, reliability, and objectivity. While the qualitative researcher
45
can go to great lengths to attempt to create the conditions to achieve all four of these
trustworthiness criteria, in the end, it is the reader who makes the final subjective determination
of the extent to which the qualitative researcher achieved trustworthiness in their study. An
example of a high-quality version of the Trustworthiness section can be found in Appendix B.
Credibility
Credibility is confidence in the truth of a study’s findings or the extent to which the
findings accurately describe reality (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). It is the feasibility of the account
that a researcher arrives at that determines its acceptability to others (Bryman, 2016). Techniques
for establishing credibility include: (a) prolonged engagement; (b) persistent observation; (c)
triangulation; (d) peer debriefing; (e) negative case analysis; (f) referential adequacy; and (g)
member-checking (Cohen & Crabtree, 2006).
Transferability
Transferability is showing that the findings may have applicability in other contexts
(Lincoln & Guba, 1985), which is largely achieved through the use of thick descriptions when
describing research findings (Geertz, 2008). Transferability refers to the ability for findings from
the context of your study to be applied to another context or within the same context at another
time (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). It is important to acknowledge that the researcher can only create
the conditions for transferability but cannot assure transferability: this judgment can only be
made by the reader of the research.
Dependability
Dependability is showing that the findings are consistent and could be repeated (Lincoln
& Guba, 1985), which can be demonstrated through an effective description of the procedures
undertaken for the study. Dependability is accomplished through an inquiry audit, which at
46
Liberty University occurs with a thorough review of the process and the products of the research
by the dissertation committee and the Qualitative Research Director.
Confirmability
Confirmability is a degree of neutrality or the extent to which the findings of a study are
shaped by the respondents and not researcher bias, motivation, or interest (Lincoln & Guba,
1985). Techniques for establishing confirmability include: (a) confirmability audits; (b) audit
trails; (c) triangulation; and (d) reflexivity.
Ethical Considerations
Any ethical considerations or implications of the research should be discussed. As a
minimum, the following ethical considerations are discussed: Obtaining site and/or participant
access, consent, or assent letters, if applicable; obtaining informed consent from participants;
informing participants of the voluntary nature of the study and their right to withdraw from the
study at any time; the confidentiality of the site and participants (e.g., use of site and participant
pseudonyms; and discussing how both physical and electronic data will be secured and how long
it will be stored. These might include data storage (e.g., locked filing cabinets and password
protection for electronic files.) If you do not plan to add to the data collected for the dissertation,
the data should be destroyed after three years (per LU IRB), but if the scholar feels that the study
may be extended in the future, data should not be destroyed. Risks and benefits to the
participants should be discussed along with an evaluation of the possible risks and mitigation
factors. Any other potential issues unique to the study that might arise and how they will be
addressed should also be included in this section.
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Summary
Provide a chapter summary. The Summary provides a succinct restatement of the
alignment of design choice, data collection, and data analysis strategies.
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CHAPTER FOUR: FINDINGS
Overview
The purpose of Chapter Four is to present the results of your data analysis as findings.
This chapter is reserved for findings specifically; methodological information should be
discussed in Chapter Three, and an interpretation and discussion of results should be reserved for
Chapter Five. The Overview should begin with a brief restatement of the study’s purpose
followed by a clear and concise overview of the chapter content. The chapter will include
participant descriptions; the data, in the form of narrative themes, charts, graphs, tables, or
models, presented by theme; outlier data; and research question responses as level one headers
before concluding the chapter.
Participants
While the desired sample should be described in Chapter Three, Chapter Four begins
with participant descriptions in tabular form and elaboration on the extent to which you were
successful in soliciting participants according to your plan from Chapter Three. Pseudonyms will
be used to protect the confidentiality of participants and locations; however, annotating that you
are using pseudonyms is not desirable for the reader to seamlessly read your report. Pseudonyms
should be realistic and reflective of the culture of your participants, but not in such a way that
their anonymity could be compromised. Below is an example of a participant table:
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Table 1
Teacher Participants
Teacher
Participant
Years
Taught
Highest Degree Earned
Content Area
Grade
Level
Amy
10
Masters
Social Studies
8th
Brandon
7
Education Specialist
English Language
Arts
8th
Charlotte
14
Education Specialist
Special Education All Content Areas
6th – 8th
Results
This section must be organized thematically using APA Level 2 headings for themes and
Level 3 headings for sub-themes. Theme development must be supported using appropriate
narrative and raw data, especially using in vivo participant quotes to demonstrate evidence of
themes or sub-themes from the data. Do not simply list a series of participant quotes detached
from any narrative. The candidate has options on how to present and organize this section, for
example, a table identifying all themes and sub-themes at the beginning of this section could be
appropriate, or a table at the beginning of each Thematic section could list that theme and the
associated sub-themes, or no tables at all is a possibility. Consult with your chair on their
preference.
Theme 1
Theme 1 is a placeholder name for this template, and you should replace these
placeholders with the real names of your themes and sub-themes. Briefly summarize the essence
of the theme, offer an in vivo quote, and then move on to the first sub-theme. You will have a
Level 2 header for each of your study’s themes, and the associated sub-themes will be listed as
Level 3 headers immediately following the theme. An example is offered below the formatting
example for Theme 1. While some themes and sub-themes can be as brief as the examples
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below, some may be longer. It is considered bad form to have a lot of long block quotes with
little to no literature to balance an understanding of the theme or sub-theme being described;
always seek a balance between explication of the theme and the in vivo quote used to exemplify
the theme.
Sub-Theme 1
Briefly summarize the essence of the sub-theme, offer an in vivo quote, and then move
on to the next sub-theme.
Sub-Theme 2
Briefly summarize the essence of the sub-theme, offer an in vivo quote, and then move
on to the next sub-theme or theme, as appropriate.
Teacher Passion for Helping Students (example theme)
Teachers have a clear passion for helping all students, particularly those who show an
interest in learning, but it is clear that teachers have a heightened passion when working with
marginalized students. When speaking about her passion for helping marginalized students, Jane
posed the question, “Who else is going to help them? It is our obligation as teachers to help these
students as much as possible.”
Meeting Students on Their Level (example sub-theme)
Teachers agreed that the most successful approach to communicating difficult concepts to
students in wheelchairs is to kneel or crouch to have their heads at a similar level to those of the
children. Michael quipped, “I’m really tall, and talking from my height down to a level that is
only three to four feet off the floor can seem intimidating to kids. They open up to learning better
when I kneel beside them.”
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Marginalized Student Discipline (example sub-theme)
Most teachers agreed that going easy on marginalized students when discipline is
justified sends the wrong message. Joan asserted, “They learn that they can get away with things,
which turns into worse habits. It’s better to discipline them just like any other student when
appropriate.”
Outlier Data and Findings
Unexpected findings and themes that do not align with specific research questions or
themes are also presented. Limit this section to major unaligned findings that warrant the
attention of your reader. In the unlikely event that your study has no major outlying findings, this
section can be omitted.
Outlier Finding #1
One student in the study was six feet tall in the fifth grade and presented an option for
teachers to speak with this student while standing up. This can be beneficial when developing the
maturity of adolescents as it can be a way to speak with them, as adults tend to speak with each
other standing up. John offered, “I have bad knees, so when I need to talk with Andre, it is a bit
nicer because we can stand and speak because he is almost as tall as I am!” Despite this
observation, it is uncommon for many fifth-graders to be able to stand and speak with comfort to
an adult teacher.
Outlier Finding #2, etc.
Research Question Responses
This section offers the reader concise answers to your research questions to prime them
for the discussion that will follow in Chapter Five. This section must supply short and direct
narrative answers to each of the research questions using primarily the themes developed in the
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previous section. Select participant quotes that are appropriate to support the responses to the
research questions.
Central Research Question
What are the experiences of K-12 teachers who mentor underserved populations? The
participants’ perspective is that working with underserved populations is both rewarding and
frustrating for the same reasons serving other students is frustrating: the best students are
sometimes neglected to deal with other student discipline situations. Mary said, “the distractions
of the trouble-makers take away so much time from the good students, that I wonder how much
more successful the good students could be without me being taken away from their learning so
much to discipline other students.”
Sub-Question One
What are the experiences of K-12 teachers who mentor English Language Learners?
Provide a brief answer to the sub-question with an in vivo participant quotation.
Sub-Question Two
What are the experiences of K-12 teachers who mentor lower socioeconomic status
students? Provide a brief answer to the sub-question with an in vivo participant quotation.
Sub-Question Three
What are the experiences of K-12 teachers who mentor handicapped students? Provide a
brief answer to the sub-question with an in vivo participant quotation.
Summary
The Summary is a strong and succinct conclusion paragraph that reviews the themes and
highlights a significant finding or two. Do not rewrite the entire chapter in this conclusion.
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CHAPTER FIVE: CONCLUSION
Overview
Begin the Overview section with a brief restatement of the purpose of the study. The
Overview must clearly and concisely describe the contents and organization of the chapter in the
present tense. Chapter Five is unique in that you are expected to use your interpretations and
ideas to refine the findings of your study and interpret them for the reader. Chapter Five consists
of five discussion subsections: (a) interpretation of findings, (b) implications for policy and
practice, (c) theoretical and methodological implications, (d) limitations and delimitations, and
(e) recommendations for future research.
Discussion
The purpose of this section is to discuss the study’s findings in light of the developed
themes. Typically, findings are discussed in such a way as to highlight the voice of the
researcher, who is now an expert in this topic. Still, supporting the interpretations of findings
with empirical and theoretical sources along with hard evidence from the study is required. The
discussion section has five major subsections including: (a) Interpretation of Findings; (b)
Implications for Policy or Practice; (c) Theoretical and Empirical Implications; (d) Limitations
and Delimitations; and (e) Recommendations for Future Research.
Interpretation of Findings
This section begins with a brief Summary of Thematic Findings as discussed in Chapter
Four, followed by a series of interpretations deemed significant by the candidate.
Summary of Thematic Findings
This section should be brief. The purpose of this activity is to provide a summary to
orient the reader ahead of the significant interpretations of the candidate.
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Interpretation #1. Use your own terms in place of the interpretation headings, as these
are merely for showing the organization of the dissertation template. Interpretations may not be a
mere regurgitation of the themes from Chapter Four, but some overlap may be possible. This is
your opportunity to make connections between the phenomenon, the participants, the setting, the
literature, and the theories to generate new knowledge about this subject.
Interpretation #2. As there will certainly be multiple interpretations, each interpretation
is discussed with its own APA Level 4 header.
Interpretation # etc. Despite having multiple important interpretations, you will not
want your list to be interminable. You may have to be selective, but do not omit any important
interpretations of the findings. As such, these interpretations need not be lengthy, only complete.
Implications for Policy or Practice
Depending on the topic, it may be appropriate to include specific recommendations for
various stakeholders, such as policymakers, administrators, teachers, parents, etc. This brief
introduction should forecast the main subsections: Implications for Policy and Implications for
Practice. Depending on the study, there may be no implications for policy or no implications for
practice, however unlikely, but it is more likely there will be both, albeit there may not be a
similar number of each.
Implications for Policy
These implications should be limited to setting specific policies, laws, regulations, or
possible implications for higher-level organizations or entities, such as school district, state, or
federal policies.
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Implications for Practice
These implications should be reasonable for the population, organization, or site of the
study or might be expanded to a potentially transferable context. Keep in mind to hedge as you
cannot be the determiner of the transferability of your study; that judgment is reserved for your
readers. Hedging is when you are not definitive about the applicability of an implication for
practice outside of the context of the study. For example, “While it is clear that communication
with students by being on their level is an important finding for this school, it may also be
effective for all school settings and students.” Use of the words may also be are the specific
words that are used to hedge, as opposed to saying, “these findings apply to all school settings,”
which is not hedging.
Theoretical and Empirical Implications
The purpose of this section is to address the theoretical and empirical implications of the
study. Depending on how many implications you articulate here will determine if you use a
subheading for each subtopic here. How does your study confirm or corroborate previous
research? How does your study diverge from or extend previous research? What novel
contribution does your study add to the field? Did anything emerge regarding the use of your
method and design that would be interesting for the reader to know or offers implications for
future use of the method? How does your study extend or shed new light on theory informing the
topic? How does your study diverge from the extant theory? Be open to the possibility that there
may be more than simply your theoretical framework at play here – particularly if it becomes
clear that you could have used a more appropriate theoretical framework or some of your
methodological practice was not effective.
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Limitations and Delimitations
Limitations are potential weaknesses of the study that cannot be controlled. They may be
related to world or weather events, the sample (e.g., gender, age, ethnicity, geographical location,
etc.), technology failures, participants who refused to participate, etc. Delimitations are
purposeful decisions the researcher makes to limit or define the boundaries of the study (e.g.,
only including participants over the age of 18, selecting an ethnographic over a
phenomenological study, choosing a hermeneutic phenomenology over a transcendental
phenomenology, etc.). Describe the rationale behind decisions made to limit or define the scope
and focus of the study. Again, depending on the number of limitations and delimitations you
articulate will determine if you use further subheadings in this section.
Recommendations for Future Research
In consideration of the study findings, limitations, and the delimitations placed on the
study, provide multiple recommendations and directions for future research. Include an argument
for what topics and populations should be studied, along with specific types of designs that
should be employed. It is common to recommend other methods to explore your topic, other
populations to be studied similarly, etc. This is a time to be creative with your suggestions for the
field to continue and expand upon your research.
Conclusion
Provide a summary of the entire study rather than a simple summary of Chapter Five.
This final summary can be a difficult undertaking for those who struggle with concise writing.
Limit this conclusion to less than one page. From your Implications section, reiterate what you
consider to be the one or two most important takeaways from the results of your research.
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References
All the references cited within the text should be listed following the most recent edition
of the Publication Manual of APA, which at the time of the publication of this template is APA7.
The reference title should be capitalized, bold, and centered.
Ainley, M., & Ainley, J. (2011). Student engagement with science in early adolescence: The
contribution of enjoyment to students’ continuing interest in learning about
science. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 36(1), 4–
12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cedpsych.2010.08.001
Astin, A. (1984). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of
college student personnel 12, 297-308.
Atkinson, M. (2016). Ethnography (pp. 71-83). Routledge.
Bandura, A. (1986). The explanatory and predictive scope of self-efficacy theory. Journal of
social and clinical psychology, 4(3), 359-373.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1993). The ecology of cognitive development: Research models and
fugitive findings. Development in context: Acting and thinking in specific
environments, 3, 46.
Bryman, A. (2016). Social research methods. Oxford University Press.
Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing grounded theory. Sage.
Chase, S. (2005). Narrative inquiry. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook
of qualitative research (3 ed., pp. 651-680). Sage.
Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (1989). Narrative and story in practice and research.
https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED309681
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Cohen, D., & Crabtree, B. (2006). Qualitative research guidelines project.
https://sswm.info/sites/default/files/reference_attachments/COHEN%202006%20Semistr
uctured%20Interview.pdf.
Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (2014). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for
developing grounded theory. Sage.
Creswell, J. & Poth, C. (2018) Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five
approaches. Sage.
Eagly, A. & Chaiken, S. (1993). The psychology of attitudes. Harcourt brace Jovanovich college
publishers.
Erlandson, D., Harris, E., Skipper, B., & Allen, S. (1993). Doing naturalistic inquiry: A guide to
methods. Sage.
Geertz, C. (2008). Thick description: Toward an interpretive theory of culture (pp. 41-51).
Routledge.
Knowles, M. (2015). The adult learning theory.
Lincoln, Y. & Guba, E. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Sage.
Madison, S. (2006). The dialogic performative in critical ethnography. Text and Performance
Quarterly, 26(4), 320-324.
Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. (2015). Designing qualitative research (6th ed.). Sage.
Maxwell J. (2012). Qualitative research design: An interactive approach. Sage publications.
Maslow, A. (1954). The instinctoid nature of basic needs. Journal of personality.
Merriam, S. (2002). Introduction to qualitative research. Qualitative research in practice:
Examples for discussion and analysis, 1(1), 1-17.
Miles, M., & Huberman, A. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. sage.
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Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Sage.
Patton, M. (2014). Qualitative evaluation and research methods: Integrating theory and
practice. Sage Publications.
Polkinghorne, D. (1995). Narrative configuration in qualitative analysis. In J. A. Hatch & R.
Wisniewski (Eds.), Life history and narrative (pp. 5-23). Falmer.
Riessman, C. K. (2008). Narrative methods for the human sciences. Sage.
Rossman, G. & Rallis, S. (2016). An introduction to qualitative research: Learning in the field.
Sage.
Stake, R. (1995). The art of case study research. Sage.
Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. M. (1997). Grounded theory in practice. Sage.
Vacchi, D. (2012). Considering student veterans on the twenty-first-century college
campus. About Campus, 17(2), 15-21.
Vacchi, D. & Berger, J. (2014). Student veterans in higher education: a direction for research and
theory. In M. Paulsen (Ed.), Higher education handbook of theory and research, vol.
XXIX. Springer Science+ Business Media.
van Manen, M. (2016). Phenomenology of practice: Meaning-giving methods in
phenomenological research and writing. Routledge.
Yin, R. (2018). Case study research and applications: Design and methods. Sage publications.
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Appendix A
Appendix Title
The appendices must include a variety of artifacts. The appendix must include the IRB
application (replace with the approval letter for the complete dissertation), informed
consent/assent forms, surveys/questionnaires/instruments, protocols (interviews or observations),
sample transcripts of interviews, theoretical memos, and other documents used to establish an
audit trail. Any identifying or personal information (names, schools, districts, phone numbers,
email addresses) should be eliminated. If numerous types of artifacts are included as appendices,
each type should have a section labeled as Appendix A, Appendix B, etc. Each appendix must be
addressed in the narrative text. The appendix title should be capitalized, bold, and centered.
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Appendix B
Trustworthiness Section Example
This appendix offers an example of a comprehensive trustworthiness section. This
example may be slightly beyond the expectations of what most doctoral candidates will achieve,
particularly during the proposal phase of the dissertation process. This section is fabricated from
a faculty member’s dissertation and adapted to meet the XXXX School of Education Qualitative
Template. This section was done well after the study was completed and after the faculty
member had advised over 30 candidates on their trustworthiness sections.
Trustworthiness
Lincoln and Guba (1985) responded to criticism from positivists about a perceived lack
of rigor, reliability, and objectivity by conceptualizing parallel terms for these characteristics of
qualitative research, specifically, credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability.
This section describes the measures taken to assure a rigorous study through the lens prescribed
by Lincoln and Guba. While these terms are, in many cases, synonyms for terms used in
quantitative scholarship, these have different meanings and implications for the quality and rigor
of a qualitative study.
Credibility
Credibility refers to the extent to which the study’s findings accurately describe reality, at
least according to the perceptions of participants, as a proximation of the truth of the
phenomenon in question (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). I achieved credibility in three ways: (a)
triangulation, (b) peer debriefing, and (c) member-checking.
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Triangulation
In this study, I undertook triangulation of qualitative methods, data collection methods,
sources, and theories to explore the stories told by student veterans Bout their success. The
methods included aspects of life history (Polkinghorne, 1995) narrative inquiry (Chase, 2005) a
hybrid method created for this study in which I did not seek the entire life history of student
veterans, but their influences from their military service on their experiences in college and I
took up the role of narrator for the veterans’ stories as they may not be prepared to tell their own
stories (Chase, 2005). Data collection methods triangulation was achieved through using
individual interviews of veterans, their success influencers, and focus groups of veterans. Source
triangulation was achieved through using the veterans and their staff or faculty success
influencer’s perspectives on the phenomenon of student veteran success. Theory triangulation
was achieved through the use of Astin’s (1980) I-E-O theory and Vacchi’s conceptual model of
student veteran support (Vacchi & Berger, 2014) as both organizing frameworks and analysis
frameworks.
Peer Debriefing
A technique I used frequently during this study was peer debriefing (Marshall &
Rossman, 2015) which allowed me to discuss emergent findings with colleagues to ensure my
analyses were grounded in the data. Ideally, I would have had military veteran scholars
triangulate results during this study through peer debriefing, but I did not have ready access to
those kinds of peers. Still, there are some data available in the modest literature that provided
some corroboration for my findings, in addition to peers in my academic program who are
familiar enough with my research to provide important perspectives that helped elucidate my
study’s findings.
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Member Checking
Having undergone many of the same experiences and transitions myself that student
veterans experience before and during college gave me an insider’s connection with my
participants (Rossman & Rallis, 2016). This insider’s, or emic perspective, which Rossman and
Rallis (2016) suggest can be an advantage for researchers, allowed me to reflect back the
meaning of the participants’ words during the interviews; this immediate member checking
(Lincoln & Guba, 1985) was important because, during the interviews, I confirmed some
concepts by asking questions from various perspectives to ensure I captured the essence of an
experience. After transcription, I clarified specific elements of data with the participants, thus
ensuring I accurately reflected their stories of success, which can also serve as member checking
(Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Still, I was wary of falling into the trap of believing that I automatically
understood what participants meant and forced myself to explain some concepts in participants’
words that I believed I already understood. For further member checking, I provided willing
participants a copy of their transcript, which they reviewed for accuracy. I also provided a copy
of what I believed to be the main points of each participant’s interview that participants also
checked for accuracy.
Transferability
Transferability is showing that the findings may have applicability in other contexts
(Lincoln & Guba, 1985), which is largely achieved through the use of thick descriptions when
describing research findings (Geertz, 1973). The descriptions I used to describe the experiences
of student veterans at one public, and one private research university painted a robust picture of
what success in college meant for my participants. The alignment of participant testimony across
these two institutions was so similar as to suggest that the specific context of a college setting
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may not be the primary factor in what contributes to student veteran success. While a single
institution of each type does not necessarily facilitate transferability of findings, the literature
offers virtually no insights into factors influencing veteran degree attainment, so this study may
offer an exploratory first step toward an improved understanding of student veteran succes…
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