How to Write a Rationale for Your Dissertation

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Before acquiring a Doctor of Philosophy or Ph.D. degree, graduate students must complete a book-length research study called a dissertation. The first chapter in this document lays out the rationale for your research, according to Linda Bloomberg and Marie Volpe, authors of “Completing Your Qualitative Dissertation.” Your dissertation's rationale introduces your readers to the problem you hope to solve, the current research focusing on that problem, the reason this problem should be discussed, and the method you will use in discussing and solving this problem.

1 Establishing the Context

The context for your dissertation’s rationale refers to the research, both past and present, that focuses on the problem you hope to address. Often, establishing the context in your rationale amounts to writing a condensed literature review of this research. In this review, show that you are aware both of other researchers and their positions, and be sure to indicate how you see your own research fitting in with their work.

2 Staging the Problem

The context or literature review of your rationale can often lead directly into your explanation of the problem on which your dissertation focuses. Upon completing your literature review, you can articulate how other researchers have failed to focus on a key issue related to the problem, and it is this issue your own research will directly address. In staging the problem your dissertation will address, you should also argue exactly why that problem needs to be solved. That is, part of staging the problem is arguing for its significance.

3 Describing the Purpose

Upon establishing the context and staging the problem of your research, you must describe the purpose of your dissertation. More specifically, articulate your angle of approach for attempting to solve the problem driving your research. Your angle of approach is related directly to your specific discipline’s approach. For example, historians approach a problem through historical analysis, while psychologists may approach the same problem through psychological analysis. The purpose of your dissertation should be framed around three to five central research questions, which the later chapters of your dissertation will attempt to answer.

4 Outlining the Method

The final step in articulating your dissertation’s rationale is describing your specific research method. The method of your research indicates how you will solve each of your central research questions. That is, your method follows your purpose or angle of approach. For example, a historian’s method may be to closely read and interpret primary archival materials, while a psychologist’s method may be to administer and score a series of psychological surveys. The method you describe in your dissertation’s rationale will guide your approach to solving your research’s central problem.

Samuel Hamilton has been writing since 2002. His work has appeared in “The Penn,” “The Antithesis,” “New Growth Arts Review" and “Deek” magazine. Hamilton holds a Master of Arts in English education from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Arts in composition from the University of Florida.