Common Mistakes to Avoid in Dissertation Research

Dissertation Motivation

In my experience with assisting dissertation students over the past 22 years, I have identified the most commonly made dissertation research mistakes that doctoral candidates make with the best of intentions. The dissertation process is unique in that sometimes the best of intentions do not prove successful- many times those that understand the dissertation process move through the phases quicker than those that do not.

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I have shared some of the most commonly recognized dissertation research mistakes below:

Mistake #1: Assuming Approval
You should get clear approval from every member of your committee through each phase of the process. This will prevent you from unnecessary revisions at crunch time.

Mistake #2: Starting the Dissertation with the Literature Review
Most students know the research questions they want to investigate: therefore, contrary to the sequence advocated, begin with your methodology section. This will then help focus your literature review (not researching and reporting irrelevant topics) and lays the plan for the results chapter.

Mistake #3: Creating Your Own Survey
I recommend you use an already reliable and valid survey instrument. Creating your own survey can add months to the dissertation process by requiring you to pilot and validate the instrument.

For a list of commonly used dissertation survey instruments click here.

Mistake #4: Choosing the Wrong Survey Instrument
Be sure that your survey instrument assesses the constructs in your research questions. Your survey instrument scales should be reliable and valid.

Mistake #5: Recreating Someone Else’s Study
A dissertation should be original. You need a wrinkle or a twist that will provide a good rational on why the dissertation study is needed for this population at this time.

Mistake #6: Not Choosing Your Committee Members Wisely
You should research who your potential committee members are: what are their interests, what dissertations they’ve approved in the past (paying close attention to the methodologies that they are comfortable with), and who they’ve worked with in the past. You want to work with committee members who get along with each other but you also don’t want committee members who are not too overly enthusiastic about your (read their) research topic– you’ll never finish! Choose a committee with a moderate knowledge of your topic, not seeking to change the world.

Changing committee members at any point is generally not a good idea, and will likely add months to your dissertation process. Keep this in mind when making the important committee decisions.

Mistake #7: Claiming Your Dissertation as Your Own
You’re probably not going to like this: Let go of the idea that your dissertation is “yours.” Your dissertation will be a product of your committee approval. Accepting this fact now will help you through the difficult approval process and prevent unnecessary revisions and frustration.

Mistake #8: Isolating Yourself from Peers
Use your peers as your support system by sharing your resources and experiences with others (and listen as they share theirs), and creating a network of problem-solvers (people you can call when you’re having difficulties). Facebook and other social networks can be a great resources for you while working on your dissertation research.

Mistake #9: Poor Communication with Committee and Advisors
I recommend you communicate with committee members and advisors regularly and suggest you schedule monthly phone conferences to keep you “in-the-loop.” This will also help you keep on schedule with progress towards dissertation completion by checking-in regularly to make sure you’re on track.

Make sure your writing makes sense! Every time a committee member has a question about your research it will likely add at least two weeks to your approval process, so make sure your writing is clear.

Committee Feedback- I recommend that you clearly address any committee feedback/comments, both in your dissertation and in an email to them. This will help you confirm that you are taking their suggestions seriously, and by clearly highlighting all changes, helps mitigate future needs for revision.

Mistake #10: Over-Complicating Your Research
Hard writing makes for easy reading. Your dissertation should be clearly explained so that the average person can make sense of it. I recommend having a spouse/friend/colleague read through your writing to ensure clarity.

Write the methods chapter like a cookbook. I commonly compare the methods section to a cookbook: an outline of all the ingredients and processes necessary to conduct your study. Your ingredients will be the participants, the instrument(s), etc. The cooking instructions will be the methodology procedure. You should (figuratively) be able to give your methodology cookbook to your next-door neighbor and they would be able to exactly replicate your research study.

In the results chapter of your dissertation, your tables and figures should be clearly labeled so that they can stand alone without further explanation.

Mistake #11: Attempting to be an Expert in Everything
You should be an expert in your topic. No one expects you to be an expert in statistics, methodology, APA-style, research design, etc. Your attempt to be an expert in something that you’re not may only thwart your dissertation approval process–ask for help when you need it.

Dissertation Defense- Don’t get overwhelmed with needing to know everything. You know what you know and you should be comfortable with that. If your committee has a question that you don’t know the answer to, say “Great question! Let me research the answer and get back to you.”

We hope these tips help!

Dr. James Lani
Statistics Solutions

If you have further tips or dissertation research mistakes to avoid, please contact us.

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Please call 877-437-8622 to request a quote based on the specifics of your dissertation research, or email [email protected].

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