Scientific Merit Review (SMR): Constructs, Variables and Operational Definitions


We were working with a dissertation client recently helping them understand the Scientific Merit Review, SMR, section 3.3 Constructs, 3.4 Variables, and 3.5 Operational definitions.  As we read it, it seemed that the SMR writers got this one correct.  Essentially, the pattern of 3.3-3.5 describes the theoretical constructs (3.3), discuss each of the variables (3.4), and tie together how the constructs are measured by the variables (3.5).

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3.3 Constructs section is the place to talk about the theoretical constructs.  For example, self-efficacy is a construct that can be looked at from social learning theory perspective, attribution theory, motivation theory, etc.  Constructs should describe just that, constructs from a theoretical perspective.  Every construct in your research questions should be described here.

In the Variables (section 3.4) of the SMR is the section to talk about the variables, and levels of the variables.  For example, one could be assessing participants’ sense of locus of control, stability, and controllability, and each of these measures could range on a continuous scale from 1-10, or be scored on an ordinal scale of low-medium-high.  Every variable that is used in your study needs to be talked about here.

The Operational definition (3.5) is the section to put 3.3 and 3.4 together: once you talk about the constructs and explain the scales, the operational definition is simply how the constructs in 3.3 are measured by the scales in section 3.4.

The bottom-line is that your language is going to matter: if you don’t have the correct language, you are going to get it kicked-back to you, causing you even more time and tuition dollars—and it’s frustrating.  At Statistics Solutions, we help in the latter two sections, or see if you can get a hold of your advisors’ previous students to see how things were written.

Remember one thing: you only have to do this once!  You will get through it and you will succeed!