Capella students completing quantitative dissertations are often required to submit a research plan for Scientific Merit Review (SMR). Some of the sections that give students the most trouble are sections 5.1, 5.2, and 5.3, which correspond to the constructs, variables, and operational definitions of the study respectively. Many students do not know what to report in these sections. The exact content that you need to provide will vary depending on who reviews your research plan; different reviewers will request different information. However, the guidelines below will give you a good idea about what most reviewers will expect you to include in these sections.
Constructs (5.1): Here you want to list and define each construct presented in your research questions. For instance, if your research question is “Is there a relationship between leadership style and job satisfaction?” then your constructs would be “leadership style” and “job satisfaction.” The definition of your construct should read like a dictionary definition. You should look at how previous authors defined the construct and cite those authors as your present your definition.
Variables (5.2): This section can be a bit tricky to distinguish from the constructs section. Here, you should list out each construct from the previous section and define it more specifically as a variable. For instance, for the construct of “leadership style” your variable might be “transformational leadership.” Again, provide a dictionary-like definition of the variable, and state whether it is an independent or dependent variable in your study. However, sometimes it is difficult or impossible to refine your construct into a more specific variable. If this is the case, reiterate the definition from the previous section and just state whether it is an independent or dependent variable.
Operational Definitions (5.3): This section is the most straightforward out of the three. Here you simply want to describe how each variable in your study will be measured. If you are using a previously published instrument to measure a variable, you will want to name the instrument (e.g., the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire) and cite the authors of the instrument. If your instrument has subscales, be sure to specify which subscale you are using. Describe the number of items or questions that make up the scale, how the items are answered (e.g., on a 1 to 5 scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”), and how the instrument is scored (e.g., by averaging or summing the items together). You should be able to retrieve all of this information from the original instrument development article.
The guidelines presented here should serve as a good starting point for the constructs, variables, and operational definitions sections of your research plan. Once you submit your research plan, your assigned reviewer should give you feedback on any other information they want you to include in these sections.
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