Week 3
Home Up Week 3 Week 4


Brock Lakehead Western Windsor
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Resources - PhD Handbook WebCT Lakehead

Dr. Sharon Haggerty

Navigating Your Way Your Question Heady Questions APA Exemplars
Ethical Review Design 39+ Tips UWO Alternative
Guidelines at Your University Methods Resources UWO Grad Studies
Download "Activities" Page - - -
Download Planning Form - - -



Navigating Your Way Through The Joint PhD Program

[NOTE: I am sending this to be posted before Christmas for those of you who want a sense of what will be addressed in Week 3. However, it is not yet complete–the final version will be posted in early January. Meanwhile, if you have any questions you may contact me at <haggerty@uwo.ca> I shall be checking my e-mail regularly throughout the holidays]

Congratulations! Those of you registered in the Colloquium have completed all of your courses but this one. What an accomplishment! 

By now some of you will have a good idea of what you want to do for your dissertation. Others will be struggling to come up with that one, best research topic. Because you are all at different stages, some of the comments, ideas, suggestions that follow may not be relevant to you and your work. If that is the case, just ignore that bit. I hope no one feels insulted if some of this seems too obvious for words. Because I don’t know most of you at all, I may be starting at a level that is beneath you. Please bear with me, and just pass over things that don’t apply to your situation. However, I do expect everyone to respond to the questions I pose below as they form the basis for the WebCT discussion on this module of the course–even if the questions seem trivial!

In this section I am trying to present a variety of tips, suggestions, reminders, etc. Hopefully, every one of you will find something useful as you navigate through the process from defining your research question to submitting your research proposal. There are a number of books that provide guidelines for this process as well. Click here for a list of some examples that are available at most university libraries.

There are a number of points along the way to a PhD dissertation that have the potential to be stumbling blocks. Jerry Wellington put together a list of 39 tips for navigating thesis research. Here are what I see as the major steps, along with some of the potential frustrations that my students and I have encountered in the past.


The first step is to decide on a general area of research. This may or may not be a problem for you.  Remember, your dissertation will occupy a significant portion of your life for the next couple of years or so. Don't settle for a topic that you don't feel passionate about--otherwise it will drag you down. Choose carefully and choose something that will keep you fascinated for the next few years. If you choose wisely, this topic can set the stage for an on-going program of research throughout the early years of your life as a university professor. Even if you think you have chosen your area, I hope you will find it helpful to work through some activities [Download Activities Page] to help you structure and focus your research--step number 2. These activities follow through a progression from identifying an area of concern right up to defining your researchable question.

Almost always, one of the really big challenges is to move from the research topic to the actual research question or problem to be addressed. The biggest difficulty for most of us is to narrow the question or problem statement sufficiently. If we don't do that, we end up wasting an incredible amount of time and effort, often not only our own time, but the time of the poor souls who have agreed to become our research subjects or participants (not to mention a PhD student's long suffering supervisor and committee members). Your supervisor will work with you on this; we will also be taking a look at your research question in this module. 

Here are some examples of research questions that have been addressed in education theses:

How do grade nine students come to learn about heat and temperature?

How does part-time work affect school performance?

How do the results of provincial testing impact teaching?

What is the relationship between socio-economic status and school achievement?

What is the difference, if any, between the versions of Canadian history as represented in Quebec and Ontario history textbooks?

What are the characteristics of effective school principals?

Which of two reading programs is better?

How has the social studies curriculum evolved over the last 50 years?

How did the political stance of the Mike Harris government affect schooling at the Intermediate grades?

Using the following criteria (along with any other criteria you think are relevant), critique at least three of the above questions. Enter your critiques in the QUESTION CRITIQUE discussion on WebCT (WebCT Lakehead) and respond to at least five critiques presented by at least five different students in the class, and addressing at least three different questions (i.e., minimum of 5 responses, all to critiques by different students, and in reference to at least 3 different research questions):

Can the research question be answered with a yes or no? If it can, is it an appropriate area of research for a yes/no answer? If not, would it be better stated as a yes/no question? 

What sorts of research methodologies would be appropriate for the question?  Which might not be appropriate?

Is it clear from the question what the student is planning to do? 

What assumptions appear to underlie the question?

Draft out two or three possible research questions or problem statements in your area of interest. Then go back to WebCT and share with all of us your topic area and your questions. Record your questions in the Question Discussion area. Keep the above critique criteria in mind as you prepare your questions.


Although the literature review is often set aside in a chapter of its own, you will probably be reading throughout the time you are working on your dissertation. [more to come in this section–stay tuned]



Human beings seem to have some sort of inner drive to organize, categorize and/or label everything. The bottom line is that doing so helps us make sense out of various aspects of our lives--it simplifies things. At least, it simplifies things if we use an appropriate system of organizing. Imagine trying to shop in a supermarket that had the products shelved in alphabetical order; or a telephone directory that listed people by the street they lived on, etc.; or imagine that the supermarket or the directory had no system whatsoever.

In the same way, organizing different sorts of research can help us develop and navigate through our research plan if we think about how our research might be categorized. Such is the realm of research methods courses, and we assume that you will either have already completed one or more courses that survey a variety of research methodologies. We also assume that once you have determined the appropriate methodology for your research question, that you and your supervisor will ensure that you either have or will acquire the necessary expertise to conduct that research. For some of you that may mean taking another course; for others, it will be a matter of some intensive reading!



There is sometimes debate over what should be called method and what should be called methodology. Throughout this discussion I shall refer to the theoretical framework that structures the research as the methodology.  And I shall refer to the strategies, techniques or activities that are involved in the collection, interpretation and/or analysis as the methods. 

What comes first? The methodology comes first! But the methodology comes after the question--sometimes students are tempted to first think they want to do a particular kind of research and then they go looking for a question that they think fits. My advice is don't let yourself fall into that temptation--it can lead you down the garden path! The question, if properly stated, will dictate what methodology or methodologies are appropriate. 

What methodologies might be appropriate for the questions stated above?

What are some common methodologies? Some examples might be: grounded theory, phenomenology, narrative, hypothesis testing, critical theory, ethnography and so on. What others can you name?

You will probably find that there tend to be concise names for methods of quantitative analysis, but that qualitative methods of analysis require a rather detailed description of what the researcher intends to do. For example, some data collection methods are: interviews, questionnaires, classroom observation, attitude scales, etc. Some examples of interpretation/analysis methods are: tallying distributions, anova (analysis of variance), t-tests, constant comparison, etc. It is very important to remember that all statistical tests rest upon a particular set of assumptions. Be sure you understand and consider those assumptions before you decide on the statistics you will use for your analysis. Some methods can be used within a variety of methodologies. Which methods might be most appropriate for which methodologies?  

What do you want to be able to claim when you are finished? Habermas (1971) has identified three categories of human interest that he says underscore knowledge claims: prediction, understanding, emancipation. Do you want your research to allow one to predict future outcomes? Do you want your research to lead to a better understanding of your problem area? Do you want your research to lead to change of some sort? Lather (1991) has added an additional category: deconstruction. The kind of knowledge claims you wish to make also help you decide on the most appropriate methodology and methods for your research.




All research that involves human subjects in any way must have ethical approval BEFORE those human subjects participate. That means that you must have formal ethical approval from your home university’s committee BEFORE any aspect of your research can begin. You cannot even conduct pilot studies without approval.

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council web site indicates that the Tri-Council Policy Statement must be adhered to for any research that is funded by SSHRC. To the best of my knowledge, all Canadian universities also take that position with regard to all research conducted by both faculty and students. As the appendix to the Policy Statement indicates, the following criteria are guidelines as to when ethical approval is required:

Whether the research is funded or not;

Whether the funding is internal or external;

Whether the subjects are from inside or outside the institution;

Whether the subjects are paid or unpaid;

Whether the research is conducted inside or outside Canada;

Whether the research is conducted inside or outside the institution;

Whether the research is conducted by staff or by students;

Whether the research is conducted in person or remotely (e.g., by mail, electronic mail, fax or telephone);

Whether the information is collected directly from subjects or from existing records not in the public domain;

Whether the research is to be published or not;

Whether the focus of the research is the subject;

Whether the research is observational, experimental, correlational or descriptive;

Whether a similar or related project has been approved previously or not;

Whether the research is a pilot study or a fully developed project;

Whether the research is to acquire basic or applied knowledge;

Whether the research is primarily for teaching or training purposes or whether the primary purpose is the acquisition of knowledge.

By implication therefore, if your research does not fit any of these criteria, you probably will not require ethical approval. Such research would be based solely on information and/or data that already exist in the public domain. If you believe your research problem does not require ethical approval please consult with a knowledgeable faculty member at your university for confirmation before you proceed. THIS CANNOT BE OVER-EMPHASIZED!!

Each of the home universities has information on their procedures for obtaining ethical approval. Now is the time to go to those web sites, as you will have to consider those requirements as you design your research study. I searched each of the university web sites and found information on the following pages. If these links don’t work for you go to the university home page and search again!







Western's policy and guidelines:  http://www.uwo.ca/research/ethics/nonmed/nmreb.htm 

Western's form for Faculty of Education research: http://www.edu.uwo.ca/research.html


 Ethics Guidelines


Some Heady Questions

What do we mean by "truth"? Is the goal of your research truth? By what criteria can one make a claim of truth? What are some other possible goals? predictability? initiating change?

If our research involves others as subjects or participants, what are our moral responsibilities to those participants?

If your data will be numerical and your analysis will be statistical, how well do you understand the statistics you will be using? Are you certain that you will not be violating any of the assumptions underlying the statistic/s?

Some Heady (and some not so Heady) Words about Research Designs

What do the following terms mean? What assumptions underlie each? What words can you add to the list–see the discussion Research Design Discussion on WebCT.



critical theory









narrative research






qualitative inquiry

quantitative inquiry



action research










(from Wellington, 2000, pp. 53-54)

39 Steps, but not in this order, says Wellington:

1. Don=t panic too often

2. Be nice to librarians (especially in inter-library loans)

3. Remember that your supervisor . . .

4. Be sure you know how you work best

5. Always have a couple of areas on the go that you can work on at any time

6. Read a few dissertations in your area

7. Plan ahead

8. Don=t think that photocopying is the same as reading

9. Keep your writing structured

10. Put your external=s book in your reference list

11. Don=t think it will be absolutely perfect

12. Read your supervisor=s dissertation

13. Remember that ideas change over timeBwhat you wrote in your proposal may need to be changed in the final dissertation

14. Write your introduction first; write the dissertation introduction last

15. Don=t be afraid to point to your strengths and to the weaknesses of others

16. Keep full citation details on every reference your consult; I repeat, keep full citation details on every reference you consult

17. Have someone review and give you feedback on your writing style at an early stage

18. Set yourself short-term goals . . .

19. . . . and if you aren=t meeting them, figure out why; then do something about it

20. Allow yourself lots and lots of time for writing the dissertation

21. Step back from it from time to time

22. With each part of the work, ask if it is worth doing

23. Don=t begrudge some time spent on reading very widely

24. Be sure you and your supervisor know and understand the PhD dissertation/thesis regulations at your home university early in the process (they may be quite different for the PhD than for the master=s)

25. Talk to people about your project

26. Don=t begrudge time spent on pondering your work

27. Keep writingBand don=t worry if some of what you write doesn=t make it into the final dissertation; it will have helped you develop your ideasBnothing is useless

28. Don=t think that reading just one more book will solve your problems . . .

29. . . . and don=t use that as an excuse for not starting to write

30. Criticize, evaluate, analyse, as well as describing

31. Buy a book on punctuation

32. Use your research to make contacts

33. Using quotations doesn=t make the idea any more true . . .

34. . . . and you can usually write it better yourself

35. Use an index, either on cards or electronic, for references, ideas, etc. as they come to you

36. Don=t be afraid to be imaginative

37. Make sure your references are comprehensiveBthat they provide the background to all aspects of your research

38. If you must set something aside for a while, make some notes about your ideas beforehand, so you don=t reinvent the wheel

39. Organize an efficient filing system, both for books, readings and other bits of paper you collect as you do your research, and for electronic materials.

(Two more that Wellington forgot)

40.  Always back up everything on your computer dailyBpreferably keep back up copies in two different locations. Ensure that at least one back-up is in a different place than your original. What if someone breaks into your home or office and steals your computer and all of your CDs and/or floppies? It isn=t only hard-drive crashes that we need to keep in mind here.

41. Don=t assume your supervisor or committee members will be able to drop everything and read your latest chapter a day or two after you finally get it to him or her. Plan with your supervisor when you will have chapters or sections ready to be reviewed, keeping in mind both your schedule and that of your professor. If you don=t have your work ready when planned, it may not turnover as quickly as it would have if you had met your intended time-line.




The set of references illustrates APA requirements re: line spacing.


Doe, J. N., & Smith, P. L. (2001). This is a sample: Follow it.  In L. K. Brown & P. O. Black (Eds. & Trans.), Do it right the first time (Vol. 3, pp. 2-44).  London: Goofy Press. (Original work published 1995) [or] (Reprinted from Silly Education, 1999, 22, 245-287).

Doe, J. N., & Smith, P. L. (1999).  This is a sample: Follow it [Electronic version]. Silly Education, 22, 245-287.

Doe, J. N., & Smith, P. L. (2000, August).  This is an Internet sample: Follow it.  Retrieved September 4, 2001, from   http://www.nonsense.com/~Sharons.homepage.htm

Also, please note that APA no longer uses underlining to represent italics. Students should use italics for titles, not underlining.

See your Faculty of Graduate Studies web site for details on thesis format requirements.

UWO http://www.uwo.ca/grad/index-curr.html

 Haggerty/14 September/2001

UWO Thesis (acceptable alternative):

Doe, J. N., & Smith, P. L. (2001). This is a sample: Follow it.  In L. K. Brown & P. O. Black (Eds. & Trans.), Do it right the first time (Vol. 3, pp. 2-44).  London: Goofy Press. (Original work published 1995) [or] (Reprinted from Silly Education, 1999, 22, 245-287).

Doe, J. N., & Smith, P. L. (1999).  This is a sample: Follow it [Electronic version]. Silly Education, 22, 245-287.

Doe, J. N., & Smith, P. L. (2000, August).  This is an Internet sample: Follow it.  Retrieved September 4, 2001, from http://www.nonsense.com/~Sharons.homepage.htm

Note: UWO thesis style says you may single space your list of references, although the main part of your paper must be at least 1.5 line spacing (the first section above is spaced at 1.7 lines–the second set is single spaced except double spaced between references). APA style for submission to journals still requires double spacing throughout a manuscript.

Haggerty/14 September/2001



(NOTE: Tables of Contents for the more recent of these books can be viewed through the UWO Online Library Catalogue (and on some of the other university library catalogues as well)

The following list is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather representative. Browse through your own library and choose resources that look useful for your needs.

THE BIBLE, of course, for formatting your papers and your thesis (unless you and your supervisor choose to use another style manual) is:

American Psychological Association. (2001). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

See also http://www.apastyle.org  (at this site you can sign up to be notified by E-mail whenever any changes are made to APA approved style).

APA is not only a format/style manual but has good sections on common difficulties re: grammar, punctuation and writing style in general.


Some of my favourite basic references/resources for research methodologies and writing

Lighter to Moderate Reading:

Becker, H. S. (1986). Writing for social scientists: How to start and finish your thesis, book, or article. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Bell, J. (1999). Doing your research project: A guide for first-time researchers in education and social science (3rd ed.).  Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

Best, J.W., & Kahn, J.V. (1998). Research in education. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Bieger, G.R., & Gerlach G.J. (1996). Educational research: A practical approach. Albany, NY: Delmar. A good basic resource on quantitative methods and research.

Blaxter, L., Hughes, C., & Tight, M. (2001). How to research (2nd ed.). Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

Bogdan, R.C., & Biklen, S.K. (1998). Qualitative research in education: An introduction to theory and methods. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Downey, G. R. (2002). The fifty fatal flaws of essay writing. London, ON: The Althouse Press.

Although this book claims to be aimed at undergraduates, I find many of these Aflaws@ not only in graduate student writing, but also in papers I review for scholarly journals (sometimes even in published papers!); published by UWO=s Althouse Press!


Jeroski, S., Booth, L., & Dockendorf. (1992). Field-based research: A working guide. Victoria, BC: Ministry of Education.

Wellington, J. (2000). Educational research: Contemporary issues and practical approaches. New York: Continuum.

More Challenging (more like PhD stuff!):        

Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2000). Research methods in education. New York: Routledge.

Eisner, E.E. (1998). The enlightened eye: Qualitative inquiry and the enhancement of educational practice.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

Howe, K.R. (2003). Closing methodological divides: Toward democratic educational research. Dordrecht, Holland: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

McLaren, P.L., & Giarelli, J.M. (Eds.) (1995). Critical theory and educational research. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

McNamee, M., & Bridges, D. (Eds.) (2002). The ethics of educational research.  Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Schostak, J.F. (2002). Understanding, designing and conducting qualitative research in education: Framing the project. Milton Keynes, UK: Open University Press.

Scott, D. (2000). Realism and educational research: New perspectives and possibilities. London: Routledge/Falmer.

Simons, H., & Usher, R. (Eds.) (2000). Situated ethics in educational research. London: Routledge/Falmer.

Again, I repeat, this list is not intended to be exhaustive. There are many excellent resources that are not on the list. Consult with your supervisor and browse through the library for additional ideas.

Good luck!