Wise Running

Train smart, eat well, and enjoy the run.

P. Mark’s Dissertation Workshop


P. Mark Taylor, Ph.D.

A dissertation is a huge project.  It can be overwhelming, but it does not need to be that way.

A strong word of advice:     At Carson- Newman University, your dissertation process starts the second summer and is typically completed by the end of the third year.  You cannot work ahead.  Your dissertation journey will not begin until after you have passed comprehensive examinations.  Your topic is not set in stone until AFTER comps.  Any work that occurs before then may not count towards your faculty-approved dissertation topic, questions, and methods.  The best advice is to take the program one step at a time and wait until we are ready to work with you on the dissertation.

When it is time to start, this page will serve as a primary resource.  The purpose of this page is to offer you an overview of what a dissertation is, what the parts should look like, and how to go about putting it all together.  In addition to the general advice, I will show you the checklists that I use for evaluating dissertations and coaching the doctoral candidates to improve their efforts.  I will cover both the quantitative and the qualitative dissertation checklists.  I will also explain what I am thinking as I evaluate dissertations chapter by chapter.

I start off by looking at typical steps in the process of planning and implementing a dissertation study.  After that, we look at the product of the dissertation process, which is a lengthy paper representing and explaining the research process and results.  Finally, we discuss the dissertation defense.  This is a presentation (often using PowerPoint) in which the dissertation process is explained, the results are interpreted, and the questions of your dissertation committee are answered.



Overview of Dissertation Process

Topic selection –

This will be a process of negotiation between you and the chair of your dissertation committee during the weeks after you complete comprehensive examinations.  This typically happens upon completion of your second spring semester At Carson-Newman University, we prefer that your topic be a problem that naturally occurs in the context of your daily work as a teacher, administrator, or other roles within education.

You may choose to study a topic of interest within many of your courses before this point, but the topic may change depending on circumstances.

Narrowing from the Broad Topic to the Specific Research Questions

After you and your dissertation chair agree on you topic, you will begin to formulate specific research questions and methods during the research methods course (EDUC 751, in the first part of your second summer of doctoral studies).  As the course instructor, I will work with you to explore your questions with both qualitative and quantitative approaches.  By the end of the course, you will choose the specific questions and methods that you intend to use in the following fall and spring as you complete your dissertation.

Your review of research literature on the topic (conceptual framework) and a relevant theory (theoretical framework) of your choice will help you write effective research questions.

video clip on conceptual frameworks
video clip on theoretical frameworks
video clip on developing questions

Fitting methods to the questions (not vice versa)

Within 751 and during the dissertation year, I will work with you and your chair to make sure that your questions and methods are clearly aligned.  In this process, I will repeatedly remind you that the wording of the questions will lead you to the appropriate methods of data collection and analysis.  Often a doctoral candidate will come to me with ideas about a quantitative study, but their questions may be clearly qualitative (or vice versa).  Here is how things should go:

Problems in your specific working context inform your topic selection.

Your review of research literature on the topic (conceptual framework) and a relevant theory (theoretical framework) of your choice will help you write effective research questions.

The specific wording of your research questions will require specific types of research methods.

One of the main things I will check in each version of your dissertation will be the alignment of topic, frameworks, research questions, and research methods.  (see rubric below)

video on alignment and cohesive thinking and writing

Dr. Taylor explains how to choose research methods…

Dr. Sohn and Dr. Taylor speaking on Qualitative research, as well as theoretical and conceptual frameworks

Writing the proposal (chapters 1-3)

In the second part of the second summer of doctoral studies, you will take EDUC 752 with your dissertation chair as your instructor.  Your chair will mentor you as your write chapters 1 -3 of your dissertation.  That paper is your dissertation proposal. (see section below for details about the chapters)

The draft of each chapter will be shared with your chair and improved based on their feedback.  When the chapter nears completion, you will send the chapter to an outside reader who will check it for grammar and APA issues.  When you have all three chapters cleaned up and approved by the chair, your chair will give you permission to share the full proposal with all committee members for input.  As the methodologist on your committee, I will need to see an early version of chapter 3 to make sure you are on the right track.  Again, your chair will tell you when it is time to share with me.

Chapter 1 establishes the importance of the problem you are attempting to address in your dissertation research study.

The initial 8- 10 pages should begin with the broad problem to be address and gradually narrow down to the specific topic. the broad topic and work you way to the specific topic.

The next section should include the very specific research questions. These are the questions that will guide the rest of the research project and paper. Everything before and after the research questions needs to align with the specific wording of those questions.

The chapter will end with a list of definitions of the technical terms to be used throughout the reminder of the paper.

Chapter 2 holds the bulk for the review of relevant research publications.  It should entail at least 25 pages of explanation of the topic.

The lit review should gradually move from general ideas on the topic (first 5- 10 pages) down to the particular factors/variables and/or interventions to be studied (next 10-15 pages), and finishing with very specific details of these methods/factors.  At the end of  chapter 2, the reasons for the specific wording of the research questions should be clearly supported by multiple resources.

Chapter 3 will begin by quickly reminding the readers of the problem being addressed and the specific research questions being asked (exactly as they are listed in chapter 1).  Then it will go through the details of the methodology

videos highlighting good examples of chapters 1, 2, and 3

dissertations linked as exemplars of chapter 1-3


Proposal Defense (presentation to committee – online)

When all committee members agree that you are ready to defend your proposal, then your chair will ask to schedule a time to meet with your committee and make a presentation.  This presentation typically includes 15-20 minutes of presenting the main ideas of chapters 1, 2, & 3.  After the presentation, the committee will ask questions and make suggestions for improvement.  You will usually be asked to leave the proposal meeting for a few minutes while the committee decides if you are ready to proceed with implementing the research.  When that decision is made, your chair will invite you back into the meeting and will then guide you through the next steps.

videos of exemplars of quan and qual proposal defenses

IRB Approval

Your chair will work with you on filling out and submitting your forms to IRB.  It is about protecting the participants, yourself, and CNU.

  • You will fill out the IRB form ASAP after successfully defending your proposal.
  • Your chair must approve before sending it to the IRB committee.
  • The IRB committee will examine it and usually approves within a week or two.

Data Collection and Analysis  (and writing chapter 4)

Both data collection and data analysis should be led by:

  • Focus on the research questions
  • Theoretical framework

The decisions and descriptions in your processes should reflect both of these throughout the study.

Data Collection

Data Analysis – Quantitative

 Software for Quantitative Analysis

CNU does not provide or endorse any one particular brand of software, but we do believe that the software can help focus your work and help you analyze massive amounts of data.  Here are a few software packages that are commonly used by our students:




Data Analysis – Qualitative

  • Examples of CODING TABLES that show examples of raw data and how ti was coded at various stages of coding.

VIEW Coding Table Examples Here

  • Here is a doc candidate meeting with Dr. Taylor after two rounds of coding.  She has excellent work that is organized well, and Dr. T offers suggestions on how to finish the analysis well.

  • Here is a very good overview of coding.  Visit the link and read it all before going to Dr. Davidson’s video


  • Dr. Davidson on coding QUALitatitive data

videos of exemplars of quan and qual chapter 4

links to exemplars of quan and qual chapter 4 papers

 Software for Qualitative Analysis

CNU does not provide or endorse any one particular brand of software, but we do believe that the software can help focus your work and help you analyze massive amounts of data.  Here are a few software packages that are commonly used by our students:



Interpreting Results, Discussion, and Ideas for Further Study  (writing chapter 5)

Summary of problem, questions, methods, and results

Interpretation of the meaning of those results including relating it to previous studies and relating it to your working context.

Ideas for future study


videos of exemplars of quan and qual chapter 5

links to exemplars of quan and qual chapter 5 papers



Proposal Defense (presentation to committee – online)


relevant video clip

Career Advice – Where to go from here!

  • relevant video clip

Overview of Dissertation Product (paper)

The dissertation is a paper usually comprised of 5 chapters.  Typical paper lengths range from 80 pages to 120 pages for the entire document including chapters, references, and any appendices.  Rather than page length, however, the focus should be on the quality of each chapter.  Each chapter should accomplish its purpose with a great degree of clarity and coherence.

Here I include a two rubrics for assessing dissertations: one for quantitative papers and one for qualitative papers.

Qualitative Dissertations:

  • Rubric
  • Videos with examples explained


Quantitative Dissertations:

  • Rubric
  • Videos with examples explained


Overview of Dissertation Defense

There are two times when you present your dissertation to your committee: in defending your proposal and in defending the fully completed dissertation.

videos of exemplars of quan and qual proposal defenses

Dissertation Final Defense (Chapters 1-5)

  • My Methodology Rubric
  • Videos with examples explained


NOTE: Anything below this line is content that is currently under construction!



New page to add later:   Levels of Chapter 4 for qualitative research

Level one. Reporting raw data
Level two. Reporting raw data with transition words, phrases and sentences.
Level 3. Summarizing the raw data.
Level 4. Using counts of occurrences to go with the summary statements
Level 5. Reporting a summary of the main themes coded from data sources.
Level 6. Explaining how the coding process lead to themes and/or altered themes from framework(s) (with samples of raw data, codes, themes, to illustrate the process)
Level 7. Doing all of the above plus sharing the extra trustworthiness steps of peer debriefing and member checks with specifics of how each one affected the outcome.
Level 8. All of the above with the addition of an explanation of how triangulation altered/refined/informed the resul


%d bloggers like this: