Demystifying the Construction of a Qualitative Research Methodology: An Approachable Text for Doctoral Students

By Bluestein, Stephanie A. | The Qualitative Report, September 2018 | Go to article overview

Demystifying the Construction of a Qualitative Research Methodology: An Approachable Text for Doctoral Students


Bluestein, Stephanie A., The Qualitative Report


Doctoral students start off motivated and eager, albeit nervous, having decided to invest significant time and money to fulfill their dream of obtaining the academy's highest degree. But fast forward several years and students usually have fallen into one of two categories: those on track to defend their dissertation and those who are sadly realizing they may never reach that magnificent day.

Higher education institutions welcome students into their doctoral programs who are deemed worthy of the academic challenge. So then why do roughly half of those admitted never finish their degree and, more importantly, what can be done to help fix this complex problem?

A newly released textbook has the potential to make a significant difference in the number of students who end up with a Ph.D. or Ed.D., as opposed to being ABD. In Qualitative Dissertation Methodology: A Guide for Research Design and Methods, Nathan Durdella offers a comprehensive manual for conducting qualitative research in applied programs of study and social behavioral science fields. The text contains erudite advice for every step of the journey, from choosing a dissertation chair, to deciding the most appropriate research tradition for the proposed study, to conducting the field work and, lastly, to picking an interpretive paradigm to analyze the data.

Serving as dissertation committee chair for many students (including myself) in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies doctoral program at California State University, Northridge, Durdella picked up on patterns that threaten to derail dissertation completion. He points out students often are trying to decide the topic and focus of their dissertation event before they have even learned about methods, academic writing and research design. "This process-marked by intense emotional dynamics, intellectual engagement and often physical and mental demands-tends to strain students who sometimes balance work activities and professional obligations (not to mention family commitments) with academic course requirements and the demands of dissertation writing" (2019, p. xvii). Thus, students can feel overwhelmed and underprepared from the very first semester, potentially undermining their ability to finish their dissertation and earn their degree.

Durdella spent a sabbatical semester tackling this decades-old problem, resulting in a text that is truly a gift to both students and their department chairs and program directors. Rightly so, it takes a deep dive into the methodology chapter-truly the heart of the dissertation-because the strength of any dissertation study lies in how well the study is planned and executed. This is a different approach from competing textbooks, which tend to cover the entire qualitative dissertation, as Durdella accurately points out in the preface. His text is divided into three parts to cover these crucial topics: establishing one's dissertation committee, developing the original study and analyzing the data. Each of the 10 chapters begins with a short explanation of its purpose and learning objectives and includes pertinent questions students should ask of themselves, such as, "What physical or virtual sites or research settings could serve as backups in case I ultimately cannot access participants in my current or anticipated site(s) or setting(s)? …

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