3 Steps to Starting the Literature Review the Easy Way!

3 Steps to Starting the Literature Review the Easy Way!

This post is about starting your literature review when you have no idea of where to begin. You may not even have your topic narrowed down yet. You may have an idea but not quite sure where to begin. Someone may have even told you that you need to read more to help narrow your topic.  But...exactly how do you do so? I’m going to share with you 3 steps that you can do right now. 

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Finding A Dissertation Topic

Attention Black women.

I said, attention all Black women!

We are entering a state of emergency!

It’s not just that you take what we create.

It’s that it always gets lost in translation.

Crystal Valentine & Aaliyah Jihad - "Hide Your Shea Butter" (CUPSI 2016)

I haven’t written much about my actual dissertation on my blog.

I want to change that.

Today, I will tell you the long version of how I came to my topic.

I will describe the context in which I came to my topic.

I would like to note that research topics can come from many places and points of inspiration.

Finding a topic is a messy process.

Qualitative research is a messy process.

This is my story.


A year ago, I just finished transcribing my first sista circle for my dissertation.

I knew that this was more than another research project.

Magic was happening, a spirit of connectedness that was screaming for recognition.

My dissertation was an experience, not just another item on my to-do list.

Wasn’t about a credential.

I was after something much bigger.

Here is the overview of my study that I gave during my first circle: 

*I use actual excerpts from my data (and real life). Names are pseudonyms to protect participants' identities

Marvette: I'm gonna give a brief overview. So originally...how my mind works...I’m a big picture thinker. And so because we're in student affairs and we're always talking about what’s the future... umm for me, I don't think as a field, we're not paying enough attention to where our students’ attention actually is going towards. Umm we're still using old theories and old understanding of how (laughter) to come to like how we think of ourselves.

Sasha Fierce: Cause I've been studying.

Marvette: I don't see myself reflected in the academy or college. I don't have anywhere to go to talk about being a Black woman from Chicago that comes from a working-class background. Umm I’ll go to YouTube and find someone who’s in college who looks like me who comes from a similar neighborhood and see how they’re doing it and that’s how I get my understanding one of me and how to navigate through college and so I was wondering...

How can we take what’s already happening and bring it back to the brick and mortar university and build those communities?

But first I really wanted to understand...as Black women...

Sasha Fierce: So your research is mainly focused on the representation of Black women.

Marvette: So how do you make meaning of those and then what does that do for your identity?

I used Sista Circle Methodology.

Meaning, I was a participant in my study.

This also means that I included my own words in my transcripts and in my write-up.

You will find excerpts like the one above throughout my findings section.

However, that is a blog post for another day.

We viewed Beyonce’s “Formation” and Crystal Valentine & Aaliyah Jihad’s  “Hide Your Shea Butter” before engaging discussion.

The next three weeks were full of love, revelations, tears, fears, and laughs.

Everything just clicked.


Searching For A Topic

Let’s rewind back about two and a half years (Fall 2015).

I could not figure out a topic. Too many options.

I knew I wanted to do something with Black women, identity development, and Beyonce.

Lemonade was not yet released.

My committee just gave me the collective side-eye about the Beyonce part. 

My advisor mentioned maybe I could do an updated version of Dr. Rachelle Winkle-Wagner’s  The Unchosen Me work.

We were floating around the idea of hosting a 10-week workshop for Black undergraduate women where we would discuss pop culture and identity development.

10 weeks though?!

I was trying to vibe with it though.

Working on pulling it together. Meeting with key gatekeepers to help me with the project. Drafting plans.

Just couldn’t quite get into it.


50th Anniversaries, Black Berets, and Surprise Performances

Fast-forward to February 7th, 2016 during a relatively boring halftime performance (#SorryNotSorry)

Beyonce’ appears with a new single, a tribe of Black women, and a message for the world.

February 8, 2016, I went to my counseling appointment with a nice, white lady.

Nice, white lady: How was your weekend?

Marvette: It was okay. Didn’t do too much. Enjoyed some much needed alone time.

Nice, white lady: Oh, I thought you would’ve mentioned Beyonce’ at the Superbowl.

Marvette: Oh yeah, that was a cool surprise.

Nice, white lady: Why would she do that?

Marvette: *confused look*

Nice, white lady: Why would she support that terrorist organization? The Black Panthers! I was just meeting with a client whose father (that was a cop) was killed by the Black Panthers.

Collective sigh.

That ended in an hour-long session about the Black Panthers, Black Lives Matter vs. All Live Matter, and other fooleries.

Noted to self that was my last session as I went home to get ready for the day.

A few hours later, I rolled into a school function that I showed up to only so I wouldn't be fined.

During a break, another “nice, white lady” started a conversation about Beyonce’. This time it was about the Formation video.

I hadn’t seen it yet.

Nice, white lady 2: Marvette, what did you think about the Formation video?

Marvette: I haven’t seen it.

Nice, white lady 2: I’m all for art and expression but why does she have to be crass, so vulgar? I believe you can get your message across without having to do all of that. The middle fingers, the police car underwater….

Y’all, it was only the afternoon.

Beyonce’ could have sent out an email to the Black woman collective to provide a warning or something.

We could have been prepared or at least made the decision to not leave the house for a couple of days.


Get In Formation

Formation was just the prelude or the positionality to Beyonce’s dissertation, Lemonade.

Lemonade dropped and the Ashiest of the Ashy also came to join in the conversation with the nice, White ladies.

I couldn’t believe all of these discussions on Twitter.

It was as if Black women were in a different world than everyone else. Here are all of these beautiful images of Black women in the center of a discussion around empowerment, healing and self-definition and the Ashies on Twitter (and the Ivory Tower) could only feel threatened.

It made me wonder: how can I be a part of capturing this affirming moment for Black women?

Think piece upon think piece detailed Black women’s responses to Lemonade. What it meant for them. How it helped them to reconcile their past with their present. How Lemonade reflected what their bodies already knew.

Lemonade was about more than a cheating spouse and father.

Lemonade and Formation was a call for Black women everywhere.

I took that call in the form of my dissertation work.


Black women in the Ivory Tower have been slaying for years, without recognition or support.

Our bodies hold the magic, the sacrifices, and the trauma of the past and present. As slaves, we were used to breed more property while matching the men in skill and productivity. Today, we are still expected to do the same. Except we are not harvesting cotton, we are now harvesting degrees. We are the silent ones behind the scenes. We are the ones on committees, running research projects, teaching courses, volunteering our time and emotion to our communities while still completing our class assignments and own research projects. We do so without praise or mention from the Ivory Tower. Oh yes, the academics celebrate our numbers, but it is hidden behind convoluted rhetoric that erases our efforts.

Ivory Tower, you give the gifts of trauma and pain, instead of support and assistance. And we keep rising; we keep spreading our magic. You tell us that we are not good enough; that our acceptance into your program was some sort of anomaly. As a result, we have to work harder, be the butt of your oppressive jokes and remarks. I acknowledge that this is not about one particular group of individuals. It is about the institution of higher education. This shit was not built for Black women. We are not asking for handouts and or special attention because we have been doing great without it. That excellence comes with its price though. And we continue to bear that price alone. We ask that you acknowledge us and that you hear us. We are asking to stop being lost in translation. 

I was working to provide a space for Black women to reconcile their personal development with their academic development.

No longer having to sacrifice the personal for the academic. I wanted a place of healing. Provide Black women a place to make their own decision about who they are in a holistic way.

That their experiences in their program along with childhood, sexuality, and spiritual experiences were all interconnected.

I did just that.

And became Dr. Lacy in the process.

Naomie: So umm that's one thing that I think of the importance of having other Black women around you for multiple reasons to serve as a support umm bounce ideas off of each other whatever but it’s just having that network of other Black women umm I think that’s important.

Audre: the older I've gotten the more I've been around more Black women from different areas, different places different spaces seeing it doesn't have to be this or this and that has been a strange, a challenge and just figuring out where I fit into all of that or creating my own space for all of that but it's also a very freeing and so its an onward process but just getting out of that this or this just has been just liberating

(Collective hmmm)

Naturally Surviving: Emmanuel

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Name: C. Emmanuel Little

Program: Ph.D., Higher Education Administration, UGA

Year In Program: Year 5 (began in fall 2013)

Where can people find you (website, social media, etc.):

Favorite Quote: "A wise man speaks when he has something to say. A fool speaks because he has to say something." - Plato (always stuck with me; had it as my email sig until very recently

Anything else you would like to add: I'm also from/ currently live in central Georgia and am married with a two-year-old daughter.

Tips:

  • Don’t be like me, be better than me.
  • Put family first: If this job or degree went away, what would you have left? I’m not an island. I have people who have sacrificed for me….and remembering that helps keep me grounded
  • Think like a faculty person instead of always as a practitioner
  • Find community to share your experiences, your struggles, what’s to come instead of suffering quietly

Resources:

Book

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration  (By: Isabel Wilkerson)

Podcast

Just Tell Me What I Need To Know: Reflexivity and Positionality Statements

Today, I’m back with the next part of this series: Just Tell Me What I Need To Know.

Part three is about reflexivity and writing your positionality statement.


I was having a conversation a few weeks ago about people who engage in qualitative research topics that reflect their personal experiences. Afterall, research is we-search, right?

This conversation was how people should not research some topics because they haven’t yet healed from it themselves. It comes out when you talk to them. The it being the pain, the harm, the years of deflection, and all the emotional stuff.

We-searchers already knowing what they are going to find from the data...because they experienced it. So since they have personal knowledge and experience, then, of course, the rest of the world has experienced it the same way. Right?

A. BIG. FAT. NOPE.

Today’s topic is another overlooked aspect of qualitative research, engaging in reflexivity and stating your positionality as a researcher.


Some things to remember:

  • I’m providing a starting point. This is not meant to be taken as the right way to write. It is intended to give you some guidance during a confusing process.
  • It is easier to edit an existing thing than to start from scratch. So…the goal is to write the worst draft ever! This is not about spending hours and hours making the perfect first sentence. Writing is a process. You will spend more hours editing than you think. So the goal is to have something to edit.
  • Show up with something! Always, always, always refer to the Graduate’s school guidelines, your program’s manual, and your advisor/chair. This guide is meant to give you something to show up with.
Reflexivity

Reflexivity is an attitude of attending systematically to the context of knowledge construction, especially to the effect of the researcher, at every step of the research process (Cohen & Crabtree, 2006).

Who you are and what you’ve been through influences how you see the world, your decisions, actions, etc. (i.e., paradigm).

Therefore, who you are and where you’ve been ALSO influences your research.

Now, I don’t believe in bias per se.

I do believe it is important for you to situate yourself within your research so that the reader knows about the researcher (i.e., the research instrument).

However, if you don’t know who are, how will we?

"A researcher's background and position will affect what they choose to investigate, the angle of investigation, the methods judged most adequate for this purpose, the findings considered most appropriate, and the framing and communication of conclusions" (Malterud, 2001, p. 483-484).

I argue that coming to one’s positionality statement requires a few caveats:

  • One must continuously engage in the process of reflexivity throughout the research process.
  • Positionality is not fixed or static. We are constantly evolving in our understanding of self and the world.
  • The researcher-participant relationship is fluid, not one-sided. Each one is constantly influencing the other through their interactions.

Reflexivity is the process of examining both oneself as researcher, and the research relationship. Self-searching involves examining one’s “conceptual baggage,” one’s assumptions and preconceptions, and how these affect research decisions, particularly, the selection and wording of questions. Reflecting on the research relationship involves examining one’s relationship to the respondent, and how the relationship dynamics affect responses to questions (Hsiung, 2010).

Most are familiar with the concept of a researcher’s journal. This journal is not only to capture the researcher’s data collection process. The journal is there to capture your understandings (e.g., histories, life experiences, emotional baggage) and their connections to the research project.

I suggest that you begin your journaling even before you write your first word of your proposal. Use your journal to reflect even as you brainstorm topics and questions.


Positionality Statement

It is important to note here that a researcher’s positionality not only shapes their own research, but influences their interpretation, understanding and ultimately their belief in the ‘truthfulnesss’ of other’s research that they read or are exposed to. Open and honest disclosure and exposition of positionality should show where and how the researcher believes that they have influenced their research, the reader should then be able to make an informed judgement as to the researcher’s influence on the research process and how ‘truthful’ they feel the research is (Holmes, 2014).

In essence, the positionality statement should address who you are, how you see the world (your paradigm), and your relationship with the participant and research project.

Here are some questions to consider as you begin to write your positionality statement:

  • How do you understand the research process and knowledge? (paradigm)
  • Who are you?
  • What are your beliefs about this topic?
  • Any history or personal interaction with this topic?
  • What are your understandings of systems of oppression and their influence on your research?
  • What is your connection to your participants? Do you share any commonalities, identities, or experiences with your participants?
  • What do you think you will find in this study?
  • What are your hopes for this study?
  • Anything else that is important for the reader to know about you?

No right page limit exists for this section. However, to give some guidance, I would aim for 1-2 paragraphs in a paper and 1-5 pages for the dissertation. Again, refer to your chair.

All parts of the research proposal are interconnected. You will notice that clearly understanding your paradigm, purpose, and methodology is critical to writing your positionality statement and vice versa.


Need help writing that paper?

Join me on December 28th for the Qualitative Paper Workshop!


Cohen, D., & Crabtree, B. (2006, July). Qualitative research guidelines project. Retrieved from http://www.qualres.org/HomeRefl-3703.html

Holmes, A. (2010, March). Researcher positionality: A consideration of its influence and place in research. Retrieved from https://www.scribd.com/document/305906312/Researcher-Positionality-a-Consideration-of-Its-Influence-and-Place-in-Research

Hsiung, P. (2010, August). Reflexivity: A Process of Reflection. Retrieved from http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~pchsiung/LAL/reflexivity

Malterud, K. (2001). Qualitative research: Standards, challenges and guidelines. The Lancet, 358(9280) 483-488. doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(01)05627-6

 

4 Unexpected Things I Learned From Writing My Dissertation

Originally Published on SisterPhd The first 5 months of 2017 are kinda a blur to me.

I started data collection on January 3rd, 2017 and successfully defended my dissertation on April 11th, 2017. I don’t suggest this timeline to anyone.

I sometimes have difficulty believing that I am Dr. Lacy.  I get questions all the time about the process.

Do I have any advice to give?

What did I wish I knew before starting the process?

The dissertation process is a very individualized process. This is a cliche response and a very true response. However, there are some things I’ve learned from this experience that I believe can help others.

Here are the 4 unexpected things I learned from writing my dissertation:

 

Make the decision to complete your dissertation.

Your dissertation is not happening to you. No one can make you complete it. The proposal is just the beginning. Getting to the dissertation defense is the part where it is all on you. The dissertation is the ultimate test in how bad you want to be #PhinisheD. You have to make the commitment EVERYDAY that this is what you want. It will be lonely. It will make you question if you really NEED this degree. Life will continue to happen. There will be celebrations, heartache, and everything happening in between that will make you question this process. You may have to miss some things, people, or events. How bad do you want it? It also doesn’t have to be all about sacrifice. It could also be the most enjoyable experience in your life. However, it is up to you make those decisions.

Write every day.

No doubt you’ve probably heard this often since beginning the doctoral process. It is especially true for the dissertation process. Writing every day is not only about sharpening your writing skills. Writing every day doesn’t mean just academic writing. Write whatever comes to mind. Writing can be therapeutic, reflective. Writing can capture your thoughts about what is happening with data collection, data analysis, your position on what is happening, and your life. You will not be able to hold all these thoughts in your head and accurately recall them later when you need them. Writing everyday will also develop your discipline in being able to sit and write for long periods of time, which you definitely need to do during this process.

Reading is also a part of writing. Reading will improve your writing. It is especially helpful to read as many dissertations as you can, particularly paying special attention to chapter 3 and 5. These are the chapters that are difficult for most. Chapter 3 is about outlining your plan and needs a level of detail that beginner researchers are not used to providing. Chapter 5 is explaining what should be done with this data. The “what now”. Chapter 5 is also the end of a tiring process. Your brain is done and over it. Strengthening these chapters requires reading other examples and giving yourself time to work through it.

 

Your advisor is on this journey with you; it’s not just about you and your timeline.

I have the BEST ADVISOR in the world and I dare you to challenge me on this. #FightMe

Seriously, I couldn’t have asked for a better advisor. In November 2016, after I defended my prospectus, she informed me that I would be graduating in May 2017 instead of August 2017 like I planned. She then proceeded to send out a direct and clear email to all of her advisees outlining that she will not be putting up with any foolishness and that there are some strict deadlines to be met.

“I think you’re planning to graduate in May, so I wanted to review these deadlines with you and give you something to work toward from my end.  As you all know, I strive to be direct, clear, and good with boundaries and not make our emergencies other people’s (e.g., your committee!) emergencies.  I don’t want to sound like a jerk, yet I also don’t want there to be surprises later, so I want to say up front that for me, there is no compromising on the two weeks time required for your committee to review the dissertation and then if you have edits to make (and you will – everyone does!), you need time to make those.  In some cases, committees will want to see your edits before submitting them to the graduate school, which will mean you need even more time.  I have been on too many committees where students have expected me to drop everything and review their dissertations as soon as I get them and I don’t want to put other people in that position, so we won’t be doing that!  Give yourself (and the people supporting you) plenty of time!” Dr. Chris Linder

This means that a completed draft of my dissertation had to be completed by March 6, 2017. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I didn’t. I made it. The truth is I forgot that advisors are also being evaluated on their advisees. This year, my advisor would hood her first Ph.D. students and she waited (over) 4 years to do so

Redefine your personal understanding of productivity.

It took 3 hours to write chapter 3, 1 day to write chapter 1, and three months to write chapter 2. I started my proposal June 2016 and had a completed draft in September. I completed data collection February 6th, 2017. Chapter 4 was due two weeks after. Chapter 5 due on March 6th, 2017. If you’re following along with the math then you know there is a lot of time in between. Writing is a process (see point 2). The pressure was on! Plenty of days where I felt in the groove. Other days I cried, laughed, or just couldn’t even look at my laptop. And all of that had to be okay. There was no other choice. I just told myself to keep moving forward. I didn’t beat myself up about “wasting time”. I had no time to think about if it was perfect and I honestly believe my dissertation is better for it. Because the beauty is in the editing process. First drafts are meant to be shitty. No (successful) writer exists in isolation.

Completing a dissertation is more of a mental exercise than it is about actually writing 200 pages (arbitrary number). Some days the writing will just flow. Other days you will spend five hours staring at your screen. Both are productive. Have kind and realistic expectations of yourself. There is no “should” “supposed to be” or “right way” to this process. Already there is enough pressure and expectation built in this process, try not to put extra on yourself. Cry if you need to, have that shot of Crown, spend hours on Facebook, re-watch all 13 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. It’s all a part of the process. You will need breaks. Just don’t stay there too long.

There is so much more I could say about lessons learned. These four lessons had the most impact. My dissertation allowed me to connect more with beautiful souls who graciously shared their time and their stories with me and each other. The beginning of the year was more of a spiritual journey where I learned about who I am as a writer, a researcher, a person and who I want to be in the future.


Dr. Marvette Lacy currently resides in Milwaukee, WI where she is the Women’s Resource Center Director at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She also works with graduate students to better understand qualitative research. Need help with your dissertation or research assignment? Sign up here for a free 30-minute consultation.

Just Tell Me What I Need To Know: Participants, Research Sites, And Methods

Writing is more about collecting and organizing information when describing your participants, research sites, and data collection methods. Most people will skip the details of this section. This may be because of space limitation. I find that novice researchers don’t think to include these details.

Whatever the reasons, I have included some prompts below for you to consider when writing your methodology section.

Some things to remember:

  • I’m providing a starting point. This is not meant to be taken as the right way to write. It is intended to give you some guidance during a confusing process.
  • It is easier to edit an existing thing than to start from scratch. So…the goal is to write the worst draft ever! This is not about spending hours and hours making the perfect first sentence. Writing is a process. You will spend more hours editing than you think. So the goal is to have something to edit.
  • Show up with something! Always, always, always refer to the Graduate’s school guidelines, your program’s manual, and your advisor/chair. This guide is meant to give you something to show up with.

Participants

Think about who the ideal person would be to help you achieve your research purpose.  Additionally, decide how many people you will need in order to “substantiate your claims” (thank you Dr. Corey Johnson). There is no right  number for participants and it does depend on your methods.

The more in-depth your methods, the fewer the participants you may need. Especially, when you are designing your first research project (i.e., dissertation). If you are only interviewing your participants for one interview, then you may want to aim for about 6 - 12 participants. Either way, here are some things to think about when deciding on participants:

  • How many?
  • Identity considerations (e.g., race, gender, sexual orientation)
  • Age?
  • Membership (e.g., organizations, degree programs)
  • Socialization (e.g., born and raised in the U.S.A.)
  • Any other?

Ex. Participants included 7 self-identified women of color activists attending a state university in the western United States. Participants defined their identities in their own words (see Table 1) and were active in campus and community activities, including a campus social justice retreat, multicultural sororities, living–learning communities, a student organization for multiracial students, and women’s studies and ethnic studies.

Ex. The present study represents a secondary analysis of data collected from an 18-month critical collaborative ethnographic study alongside nine trans* collegians at the City University (CU, a pseudonym). Specifically, the data used for the present analysis were drawn from participant observation (Wolcott, 2008) alongside, and a series of ethnographic interviews (Heyl, 2001) with, two black, non-binary participants, one of whom also identified as having multiple disabilities.


Research Sites

Where will your participants come from and where will the data collection process take place? These are the main two questions to consider when writing about your research site(s). Here are some things to consider:

  • Name (usually you will use a pseudonym)
  • Location (maybe not the exact the location, enough information to help the reader understand the context)
  • Overview of the site (how would you describe it and why did you choose it for your study)

Ex. CU is a large, urban, public four-year institution in the Midwest in the city of Stockdale (a pseudonym). Stockdale has a history of both racial and LGBTQ tension and ongoing systemic marginalization due to recent episodes of violence as well as an historic legacy of redlining, gentrification, and anti-queer legislation. Also of note for the present study, the percentage of black students at CU, at just under 10%, is vastly lower than that of the black population of Stockdale, which the 2010 Census data suggested to be 45%.


Recruitment

How did you reach out to participants and inform people about your study? The more detail you can include in this section, the clearer it will be for the reader.

  • Did you talk to anyone (gatekeepers, organizations)?
  • Did you send out an email, post on social media, have a website?
  • What happens once someone was interested in participating?
  • Did they complete consent forms before meeting you?

Ex. Recruitment for this study specifically sought self-identified women of color activists. Chris was serving as a facilitator at a campus based social justice retreat and sent an e-mail to all retreat participants and to the seven campus student diversity offices to recruit participants. We chose not to define activist, allowing those who identified as activists to self-select into the study. We selected all participants who responded.


Methods

Describing your data collection method section is about the how you will obtain the data you need to answer your research questions. Please note: Qualitative research is more than INTERVIEWS! Now that that’s out of the way, here is what to consider:

  • What is the method?
  • Describe method?
  • Why is it relevant to your study?
  • Be sure to use citations in this section. Who and what is guiding your understanding of this method?
  • Include example prompts or questions
  • Note: This may be brief depending on what type of paper you are writing.

Ex. To better understand the experiences of self-identified women of color activists, one researcher conducted 1-hour individual interviews with each participant. Participants provided a pseudonym to assist in protecting their confidentiality. A sample of the semistructured interview questions included: Please describe your campus activism. How would you say your activism has impacted your identity and how you see yourself?

Ex. The present study represents a secondary analysis of data collected from an 18-month critical collaborative ethnographic study alongside nine trans* collegians at the City University (CU, a pseudonym). Specifically, the data used for the present analysis were drawn from participant observation (Wolcott, 2008) alongside, and a series of ethnographic interviews (Heyl, 2001) with, two black, non-binary participants, one of whom also identified as having multiple disabilities.


Overview of Methods

One of the most common confusion of dissertation committee members is understanding a clear picture of the student’s research process. Try thinking about this part as the participant’s journey through your research project. Representing this journey visually can severely improve your chances of avoiding this common pitfall.

  • What is the process of your research design?
  • How would you describe the participant’s journey?
  • Display this using pictures, graphs, etc. that you can use during your defense.

Participant: Who is the participant?

Step One: How will the potential participant find out about your study?

Step Two: Now the potential participant is interested in the study, how do the signup or contact you?

Step Three: They have contacted you, what do they need to do next? (Consent forms, schedule a time, etc.)

Step Four: What will happen when you two meet at your designated time? (Consent forms, Overview of study, interview, schedule follow up)

Step Five: After initial data collection, are there other things the participant will need to do? (second interview, focus group, member checking)

Step Six: Any additional follow up, gift, raffle

Try to write out this step-by-step. No step is too small. The more details you can add, the clearer it will be for all.

Like this pdf? Sign up below!

 

Naturally Surviving: Mika

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Name: Shamika (Mika) N. Karikari

Program: Student Affairs in Higher Education Ph.D. program at Miami University

Year In Program: 3rd year

Where Can We Find You: @MikaKarikari (Twitter), http://mika-nicole.blogspot.com/

Words To Live By: "When I dare to be powerful, to exercise my strength in the service of my visions then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid- Audre Lorde

Advice:

  • Have an accountability partner who will check in with you about your progress.
  • Ex. When you leave work at 5, can you call me and ask me what I’ve read today?
  • You’re not bothering people or burdening them, most people want to help you
  • Understand why you want to pursue a Ph.D. before pursuing it.
  • Be courageous enough to go after what you want during your process

Tools:

Book: Present Over Perfect By Shauna Niequist

Podcast: This American Life

Self-Care:  Baking

Just Tell Me What I Need To Know: Paradigm and Methodology

Today, I’m back with the next part of this series: Just Tell Me What I Need To Write.

Some things to remember:

  • I’m providing a starting point. This is not meant to be taken as the right way to write. It is intended to give you some guidance during a confusing process.
  • It is easier to edit an existing thing than to start from scratch. So…the goal is to write the worst draft ever! This is not about spending hours and hours making the perfect first sentence. Writing is a process. You will spend more hours editing than you think. So the goal is to have something to edit.
  • Show up with something! Always, always, always refer to the Graduate’s school guidelines, your program’s manual, and your advisor/chair. This guide is meant to give you something to show up with.

Part two is about how to write about your paradigm and the first paragraph for the methodology section. The next post will address methods, positionality statement, participants, and research site.


Do you usually skip the methodology section when reading articles?

Skipping will severely hinder your understanding of the importance of this section, which will lead you to not be clear when writing/defending your own methodology section.

Note: This section is small but mighty in relation to the rest of your paper. Don’t let that mislead you into thinking it does not need time and care to be written appropriately.


I will be breaking up the methodology section into multiple posts in order to demonstrate the importance of clearly defining your research design.

The two examples used for this post both use a critical/transformative paradigm and narrative inquiry methodology.

  • First, I will provide a brief overview of paradigms and methodologies.
  • Second, I will provide a guide to writing the first paragraph of the methodology section of your paper.
  • Third, I will walk you step-by-step on how to write the first paragraph of your methodology section.
  • Lastly, I will demonstrate how the guide was used in two published examples.
Overview

To start, let me give you some background information on these often missed components.

Paradigm

A paradigm is a way of looking at the world. It is composed of certain philosophical assumptions that guide and direct thinking and action (Mertens, 2010, p. 7).

Guba and Lincoln (2005) identify four basic belief systems characterized by the following questions that help define a paradigm:

  1. The axiological question asks, “What is the nature of ethics?”
  2. The ontological question asks, “What is the nature of reality?”
  3. The epistemological question asks, “What is the nature of knowledge and the relationship between the knower and the would-be known?”
  4. The methodological question asks, “How can the knower go about obtaining the desired knowledge and understandings?” (as cited in Mertens, 2010, p. 10)

I will not be going too deep into paradigms and the different types. I will say, however, these are some consideration when reflecting on your own understandings in the context of your specific research project.

Methodology

Methodology is “the study – the description, the explanation, and the justification-of methods, and not the methods themselves” (Kaplan, 1964, p. 18).

Restate the purpose of your study when beginning the methodology section in order to transition the reader. By restating the purpose will help the reader make connections between components of your research design. The plainer you can make the connections (i.e., rationale) in your study, the easier it will be to understand your study as a whole.

When writing about the methodology section, also consider the following guide:

  1. Clearly, identify which paradigm and methodology you used for your study. Note: A general qualitative research study is NOT A THING.
  2. Briefly, describe the theory (-ology) behind the methodology.
  3. Explain why this particular methodology was used for this study. Your paradigm helps with this rationale.


Methodology Guide

Clearly, identify which paradigm and methodology you used for your study.

The purpose of this ______ (paradigm) ___________ (methodology) was to ____________ (purpose statement).

This study was informed by ________ (paradigm and methodology).

In this ______ (methodology), I used a _______ (paradigm.

Ex. In this inquiry, we position our philosophical stance in the transformative paradigm (Linder & Rodriguez, 2012, p. 386).

Ex. The present study was informed by critical narrative inquiry (Nicolazzo, 2016, p. 1178).

Briefly, describe the theory (-ology) behind the methodology.

_______ (methodology) is the study of _________.

Ex. ...which centers the lived experiences of those who have been traditionally marginalized by systemic oppression (Linder & Rodriguez, 2012, p. 386).

Ex. ...critical narrative inquiry is a form of storytelling that seeks to ‘prick the consciousness of readers by inviting a reexamination of the values and interests undergirding certain discourses, practices, and institutional arrangements’ (Nicolazzo, 2016, p. 1178).

Explain why this particular methodology was used for this study (Rationale).

  • How does your paradigm connect with your methodology?
  • What are your obligations (e.g., axiology,  ontology) as a researcher underneath this particular pairing between paradigm and methodology?
  • What are some things you may need to consider?

The transformative paradigm directly addresses the politics in research by confronting social oppression at whatever levels it occurs (Oliver, 1992; Reason, 1994). Thus, transformative researchers consciously and explicitly position themselves side by side with the less powerful in a joint effort to bring about social transformation (Mertens, 2009, p. 21).

Ex. By asking female students to share their experiences related to their campus activism and intersectionality and then exploring the commonalities in those stories, we collaborated with participants to co-construct meaning from those commonalities (Creswell, 2007). As researchers, our task is to understand the common themes emerging from the data to accurately represent, in storied text, the lived experiences shared by participants (Creswell, 2007).

Ex. Thus, critical narrative inquiry seeks not only to uncover the ‘hidden ideological assumptions’ within which educational contexts are embedded (Kincheloe, 2011, p. 88), but also is committed to embodying a politics in which researcher(s) and participant(s) are ‘linked by an identity politics struggle for social action via a participatory democracy bent on viewing knowledge as a unified form of power’ (Moss, 2004, p. 371). Here, one can understand critical narrative inquiry as praxis, or as both a methodological construct as well as a way of life for those who (seek to) resist normative discourses.


Putting It All Together

You should be able to address all of these things in the first paragraph.

The purpose of this ______ (paradigm) ___________ (methodology) was to ____________ (purpose statement). _______ (methodology) is the study of _________.  _________(methodology) was used because it addresses ___________ (reason) and __________ (reason).

Example 1: (Linder & Rodriguez, 2012, p. 386)

Within the transformative paradigm, we utilized narrative inquiry to better understand the specific experiences of self-identified women of color activists. In essence, narrative inquiry is the study of lived experiences through story (Clandinin, 2007). By asking female students to share their experiences related to their campus activism and intersectionality and then exploring the commonalities in those stories, we collaborated with participants to co-construct meaning from those commonalities (Creswell, 2007). As researchers, our task is to understand the common themes emerging from the data to accurately represent, in storied text, the lived experiences shared by participants (Creswell, 2007).

Purpose statement: Within the transformative paradigm, we utilized narrative inquiry to better understand the specific experiences of self-identified women of color activists.

Definition of methodology: In essence, narrative inquiry is the study of lived experiences through story (Clandinin, 2007).

Rationale:

(Reason 1) By asking female students to share their experiences related to their campus activism and intersectionality and then exploring the commonalities in those stories, we collaborated with participants to co-construct meaning from those commonalities (Creswell, 2007).

“researchers consciously and explicitly position themselves side by side with the less powerful in a joint effort to bring about social transformation (Mertens, 2009, p. 21).”

Power dynamics also exist within the research process between the researcher and participant. By working with the activists through co-constructing meaning, the researchers of this study shifted this power dynamic.

(Reason 2) As researchers, our task is to understand the common themes emerging from the data to accurately represent, in storied text, the lived experiences shared by participants (Creswell, 2007).

“..narrative inquiry is the study of lived experiences through story (Linder & Rodriguez, 2012, p. 386).”

In line with the methodology, the researchers are representing the participants’ experiences and interpretations of those experiences through storied text.

Therefore, Linder and Rodriguez are in connection with both their paradigm and methodology.

Example 2: (Nicolazzo, 2016, p. 1178)

The present study was informed by critical narrative inquiry. An extension of narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000), critical narrative inquiry is a form of storytelling that seeks to ‘prick the consciousness of readers by inviting a reexamination of the values and interests undergirding certain discourses, practices, and institutional arrangements’ (Barone, 1992, p. 143). Thus, critical narrative inquiry seeks not only to uncover the ‘hidden ideological assumptions’ within which educational contexts are embedded (Kincheloe, 2011, p. 88), but also is committed to embodying a politics in which researcher(s) and participant(s) are ‘linked by an identity politics struggle for social action via a participatory democracy bent on viewing knowledge as a unified form of power’ (Moss, 2004, p. 371). Here, one can understand critical narrative inquiry as praxis, or as both a methodological construct as well as a way of life for those who (seek to) resist normative discourses.

Identify paradigm and methodology: The present study was informed by critical narrative inquiry.

Definition of methodology: An extension of narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000), critical narrative inquiry is a form of storytelling that seeks to ‘prick the consciousness of readers by inviting a reexamination of the values and interests undergirding certain discourses, practices, and institutional arrangements’ (Barone, 1992, p. 143).

Rationale:

(Reason 1) Thus, critical narrative inquiry seeks not only to uncover the ‘hidden ideological assumptions’ within which educational contexts are embedded (Kincheloe, 2011, p. 88)...

“confronting social oppression at whatever levels it occurs (Mertens, 2009, p. 21).”

Nicolazzo explicitly states that this paradigm coupled with this methodology will help to identify and confront oppression, even those found in everyday assumptions.

(Reason 2) ...but also is committed to embodying a politics in which researcher(s) and participant(s) are ‘linked by an identity politics struggle for social action via a participatory democracy bent on viewing knowledge as a unified form of power’ (Moss, 2004, p. 371). Here, one can understand critical narrative inquiry as praxis, or as both a methodological construct as well as a way of life for those who (seek to) resist normative discourses.

“...consciously and explicitly position themselves side by side with the less powerful in a joint effort to bring about social transformation (Mertens, 2009, p. 21).”

The goal of the critical paradigm is to not only highlight oppression and power dynamics, it also requires action or social change. Narrative Inquiry is also being used a tool in social change by Nicolazzo and participants working together to resist those everyday assumptions about identity (particularly the intersections between gender and race).


Conclusion

Yes, there is a lot of information in this post. Please, take the time to consider these philosophical points as these undergird your entire study by answering the question of why your study is needed and it’s intended impact.

Need help writing your paper?

Join me on December 28th for the Qualitative Paper Workshop!


Kaplan, A. (1964). The conduct of inquiry: Methodology for behavioral science. San Francisco, CA: Chandler.

Linder, C., & Rodriguez, K. L. (2012). Learning for the experiences of self-identified women of color activists. Journal of College Student Development, 53(3), 383-298.

Mertens, D. M. (2010). Research and evaluation in education and psychology: Integrating diversity with quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Nicolazzo, Z. (2016) ‘It’s a hard line to walk’: black non-binary trans* collegians’ perspectives on passing, realness, and trans*-normativity.  International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 29(90), 1173-1188, doi: 10.1080/09518398.2016.1201612

Naturally Surviving: Jillian

Jillian-300x300.png

Name: Dr. Jillian A. Martin

Program: Ph.D. College Student Affairs Administration

Words of Wisdom:

Read other writers to learn how to write and to help you find your own voice.

Be true to yourself during the process.

Create your own process.

Write every day.

Get a writing partner.

Make yourself a Ph.D. playlist

Resources:

Websites:

750words.com

Books:

The Artist's Way By Julia Cameron

Purple Hibiscus By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Color Purple By Alice Walker

What I Know For Sure Oprah

The Charleston’s Syllabus

Podcast:

The Read

Freakonomics

Tim Ferris

The Barbershop Mentality

Music:

Jillian’s PhD Playlist on Spotifyy

I’m Getting Ready By Tasha Cobb Leonard

Your Spirit  By Tasha Cobb Leonard and Kierra Sheard

Lady Mamarlade By Pattie Labelle

Just Tell Me What I Need To Know: Problem, Purpose, and Research Questions

I remember feeling frustrated and confused during my first year of the program. Like all I wanted was for someone to tell me what I needed to do!

People would speak in this very theoretical, heady way and had no idea what they were saying let alone meaning.

I just wanted someone to just tell me what I needed to know and do.

I understand that this is not as easy because there is no one way to do a thing and some people are just not good teachers.

Some things to remember:

  • I’m providing a starting point. This is not meant to be taken as the right way to write. It is intended to give you some guidance during a confusing process.
  • It is easier to edit an existing thing than to start from scratch. So...the goal is to write the worst draft ever! This is not about spending hours and hours making the perfect first sentence. Writing is a process. You will spend more hours editing than you think. So the goal is to have something to edit.
  • Show up with something! Always, always, always refer to the Graduate’s school guidelines, your program’s manual, and your advisor/chair. This guide is meant to give you something to show up with.

Part one is about how to write your problem statement, purpose statement, and research questions. For each section, I will provide:

  • A brief overview,
  • Questions or points to address,
  • A fill-in-the-blank guide, and
  • Examples (one I made up and two from published journals)

Let’s jump right in!

Research Problem

The research problem: the “why” of your study. The problem explains the history and context of why your study needs to be conducted. The problem statement should address such questions as:

  • What is going on?
  • What are some reasons that it may be happening?
  • Who does this effect?
  • What is being done about it?
  • What information is missing or needed to solve the problem?

Problem statement: (Existing literature), yet (this is missing).

Ex. Researchers have examined the experiences of first-generation college students at historically White institutions, yet there is little that is known regarding first-generation college students’ experiences at historically Black colleges and universities.

Ex. African American women tend to enroll in institutions of higher education at far greater rates than their male counterparts, with women accounting for approximately 60% of the total enrollment of African American students (Allen, Jayakumar, Griffin, Korn, & Hurtado, 2005). Yet, much of the African American college student literature that has explicitly explored gender has focused on African American men, often comparing them to the racial/ethnic counterparts or documenting their experiences at predominantly White institutions (PWIs; e.g., Bonner, 2010; Harper, 2008b, 2012; Harper & Griffin, 2011). [Greyerbiehl & Mitchell Jr., 2014, p. 282]

Ex. Some popular media outlets have described the importance of social media in sexual violence activism (Ludden, 2014), yet little scholarship has examined the role of social media in campus-based sexual violence activism (Linder, Myers, Riggle, & Lacy, 2016, p. 232).

Research Purpose

The research purpose is the “what’ of your study. The purpose clearly states the goal of your project. Your research problem informs your research purpose.

Think about it as a funnel. The problem section provides a broad overview of the issues. Your writing become more narrow as you get to the purpose statement. The goal is to have a concise statement that provides the reader an overview of your study. Think about a thesis statement. The purpose statement may also include information about the following:

  • Paradigm
  • Methodology
  • Central phenomenon
  • Participants
  • Research Site
  • Theoretical Framework

Purpose statement:

The purpose of this____________ (paradigm) (methodology) study is to _____________ (understand, explore, describe, develop) _____________ (central phenomenon) for _______________ (participants) at _____________ (the site).

Ex. The purpose of the critical narrative inquiry is to examine sense of belonging for first-generation college students at historically Black college and universities.

Ex. In this study, we documented the experiences of African American women involved in historically Black sororities at a PWI using an intersectional social capital framework (Greyerbiehl & Mitchell Jr., 2014, p. 282).

Ex. In this study, we examine the strategies of campus sexual violence activists, including the role of social media in sexual violence activism (Linder, Myers, Riggle, & Lacy, 2016, p. 232).

Side Note On Significance:

Providing a statement of significance is often overlooked by novice researchers because...well...simply, we just want to research what we want to research.

As great as that feels, it’s important to be clear about who this study is for and what they should do with the data. Your significance statement(s) may address:

  • So what?
  • Why are you doing this study?
  • How will this contribute to your field?
  • What are readers supposed to do as a result of reading your study?
  • Who are your ideal readers?

Ex. The findings and implications of this study may benefit practitioners at HBCUs to develop and maintain more intentional programming for first-generation college students, which may also increase retention rates.

Ex. In turn, researchers and practitioners may gain more insight on the experiences of African American women involved in historically Black sororities and build on the findings (Greyerbiehl & Mitchell Jr., 2014, p. 284).

Ex. Finally, we describe and discuss findings from our observations and interviews with sexual assault activists, and provide implications for those supporting campus-based activists (Linder, Myers, Riggle, & Lacy, 2016, p. 232).

Research Questions

Research questions help guide your study. There are different schools of thoughts about questions. Some will say it is the most important thing and that you should only look for information related to those questions.

My philosophy is that your questions provide boundaries to your study with a lot of wiggle room. You don’t know what you are going to find and you shouldn’t limit the possibilities. This comes down to paradigms and understandings of qualitative research. For the purposes of this workshop, we will develop one main research question.

Golden Rule: Always check with your advisor/chair regarding their specific expectations.

Questions: What are the experiences of ______________ (participants) who ____________ (central phenomenon) at _________ (the site)?

How do ______________ (participants) who ____________ (central phenomenon) at _________ (the site)?

Ex. How do first-generation college students experience sense of belonging at HBCUs?

Ex. The research questions for this study included: What are the strategies of campus sexual assault activists? What role did social media play in campus sexual assault activism? (Linder, Myers, Riggle, & Lacy, 2016, p. 235)

Ex. The following research questions shaped the study: (a) What are the experiences of African American women who joined historically Black sororities at a PWI? (b) How does the intersection of race and gender shape their experiences within historically Black sororities at a PWI? (Greyerbiehl & Mitchell Jr., 2014, 282)

There you have it, folks!

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