1. Most research begins with a question. Think about which topics and theories you are interested in and what you would like to know more about. Think about the topics and theories you have studied in your program. Is there some question you feel the body of knowledge in your field does not answer adequately?
2. Once you have a question in mind, begin looking for information relevant to the topic and its theoretical framework. Read everything you can-academic research, trade literature, and information in the popular press and on the Internet.
3. As you become well-informed about your topic and prior research on the topic, your knowledge should suggest a purpose for your thesis/dissertation. When you can articulate this purpose clearly, you are ready to write your prospectus/proposal. This document specifies the purpose of the study, significance of the study, a tentative review of the literature on the topic and its theoretical framework (a working bibliography should be attached), your research questions and/or hypotheses, and how you will collect and analyze your data (your proposed instrumentation should be attached).
4. At this point, master's students need to recruit committee members (if they haven't done so already) and hold a preliminary meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to refine your plans if needed and to make explicit expectations for completion of the thesis. Doctoral students discuss their dissertation proposal as part of their qualifying exam.
At the completion of this meeting, the student should submit a memo to committee members summarizing what was agreed upon during the meeting.
5. Once your instrumentation is developed, you need to clear it and your informed consent protocol with the Institutional Review Board before you begin collecting data. Leave adequate time to do so. The process can take several days or weeks.
6. Obviously, the next steps are collecting and analyzing data, writing up the findings, and composing the final chapter. You also should make sure Chapters 1 and 2 are now fully developed. Your chair and committee members provide guidance as needed at this point but expect you to work as independently as possible.
7. You should be prepared to hire assistance with coding and data entry and analysis if needed.
8. Get a copy of the graduate school's guidelines for writing theses and dissertations and follow these guidelines exactly.
9. Each thesis or dissertation is unique but all share several common elements. The following is not an exact guide but rather a general outline.
Chapter 1: Purpose and Significance of the Study
In the first chapter, clearly state what the purpose of the study is and explain the study's significance. The significance is addressed by discussing how the study adds to the theoretical body of knowledge in the field and the study's practical significance for communication professionals in the field being examined.
Ph. D. students also must explain how their research makes an original contribution to the body of knowledge in their discipline. They also should address the significance of the study for mass communication education.
It is especially critical that this chapter be well developed. Without a clearly defined purpose and strong theoretical grounding, the thesis or dissertation is fundamentally flawed from the outset.
Chapter 2: Review of the Literature
The purpose of the study should suggest some theoretical framework to be explained further in this chapter. The literature review thus describes and analyzes previous research on the topic.
This chapter, however, should not merely string together what other researchers have found. Rather, you should discuss and analyze the body of knowledge with the ultimate goal of determining what is known and is not known about the topic. This determination leads to your research questions and/or hypotheses. In some cases, of course, you may determine that replicating previous research is needed.
Chapter 3: Methodology
This chapter describes and justifies the data gathering method used. This chapter also outlines how you analyzed your data.
Begin by describing the method you chose and why this method was the most appropriate. In doing so, you should cite reference literature about the method.
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