How do you know what to believe?
This is one of the most common questions we receive from doctoral students. Advances in online communications have led to a web that is awash in opinion, advocacy, distortion, and questionable “truths”, much of which is stated or implied as “common knowledge”. Yet, how do we really know what knowledge is common, what can be accepted as true, and how can we wade through opinion and belief to get at the real facts?
Most doctoral programs require dissertation writers to primarily use peer-reviewed sources in the development of their proposals. This most frequently takes the form of refereed journals of established quality. However it is not always clear which sources are peer reviewed and which are not. Moreover, what do we do about questions or problems that have received little or no credible research? How are we to judge the sagacity of what we read?
We’ve recently added several resources to our website targeted at this concern:
Scholarly Research Versus Fact Finding
What is Common Knowledge?
Critical Review by Coutts
Many doctoral students, particularly those opting for a qualitative methodological approach, use interviews in gathering their data. There is a variety of different ways to use interviewing in your research, and these are well reviewed in various methods texts. However there is often not a lot of guidance in these texts about some of the basic mechanics of being successful in your interviewing.
We just added a resource in the Guides, Tools, and Worksheets section of this website that provides some practical guidance on effective interviewing, based on our own research and our work with doctoral learners who use interviews. If you are planning on interviews as a part of your research, you might find this useful. Here is the link:
Many students are challenged but the requirement to use or even develop theory in their dissertation work. Those who come from a practical background may regard theory with skepticism, and see little value in working with it. However, stripped to the basics, all theories are just structured discussions of belief about how different phenomena fit and work together.
Most doctoral programs require you to review and integrate theory, or perhaps several theories, into your research. Hypotheses are usually based in theory, and developing a good explanation of how theory is relevant to your dissertation focus or topic is usually very useful in understanding the problem, and choosing a method and design to research the problem.
One of the common problems I see in dissertation proposals is a discussion of theory, but little alignment between the theory discussed and the research questions or design that is proposed. A failure to demonstrate how theory connects to your questions, hypotheses, and design can slow you down in getting your proposal accepted.
We have posted several relevant resources about working with theory in various sections of this website. In particular, you may find the following resources helpful: