Chapter One Of A Dissertation

Chapter 1 Made Easy

By Jamie Patterson, Dissertation Editor

The number one problem I see with the writing in chapter 1 of a capstone study is that the writer is trying too hard. This should come as really great news if you haven’t started writing and will probably come as a blow if you have. Not to worry; this blog post is all anyone needs to write or revise for a perfect chapter 1--that is, if you’re writing a dissertation or an EdD research study. (My apologies to other schools, which have slightly different requirements.) Some of the golden nuggets to follow will certainly apply, but know that requirements for DBA and EdD project studies are slightly different.

No matter what school you’re in, my first piece of advice for making chapter 1 easy is to write it after chapter 3. Chapter 3 is where you’ll delineate the methodology of your study, where you’ll get to the real nuts and bolts of what it is that you’ll be doing. Because chapter 1 is introducing your study, it will be much easier to write after you’ve had a chance to really formalize what, exactly, it is that you’ll be doing.

Next, keep things as simple and to the point as possible. Never forget that chapter 1 is an introduction and is meant to do just that: introduce. Clear, concise, and to the point should be your writer’s mantra (referred to by APA as “economy of expression”). Chapter 1 in particular is incredibly formulaic. There are very specific pieces of information that you must present to your reader. Rubrics are available to help you present this specific information:

Taking the rubric, then, you’ll outline your chapter 1 in this way:

Introduction (Shoot for one page, maybe two. Refer to greater detail in chapter 2)
Problem Statement (A really strong paragraph will suffice)
Nature of the Study (One paragraph. Refer to greater detail in chapter 3)
Research Questions and Hypotheses (Simply list your research questions. Note: if qualitative, no hypotheses)
Research Objectives (One paragraph)
Purpose of the Study (One paragraph)
Theoretical Base (quantitative) or Conceptual Framework (qualitative; no more than a page)
Operational Definitions (Four or five are fine)
Assumptions (Short paragraph)
Limitations (Short paragraph)
Scope and Delimitations (Short paragraph)
Significance of the Study (No more than a page)
Summary and Transition (No more than a page)

Okay, now that we’ve completely mapped out all the Level 1 headings for your chapter 1 (and I do mean completely; please don’t add to these headings), let’s talk about some elements here that might not be intuitive for all writers.

To begin, at Walden all quantitative studies require a null and an alternative hypothesis. When you present your research questions and hypotheses, do so by presenting the question, followed immediately by the corresponding null and alternative hypotheses, following the example below and the guidelines on APA 4.45 for guidance.

Research Question 1: Listed here following a one half inch indent, followed by a question mark.
H01: Place the H in italics, the 0 in subscript, and 1 in plain font, followed by a colon, followed by the hypothesis.
H11: The alternative hypothesis will follow the null hypothesis.
Research Question 2: Most often, focusing your research questions and limiting the number will also help you to focus the entire study.
H02: The null hypothesis for Research Question 2 goes here.
H12: The alternative hypothesis for Research Question 2 goes here.

Note that qualitative studies are not hypothesis driven and therefore will not include hypotheses.

Next, note that the assumptions will be based on the study itself. That is, what will you assume to be true as you conduct this study? For most qualitative studies, for instance, the researcher assumes that the participants will be honest and open in their responses. For all studies, the researcher makes the assumption that the chosen methodology is the best possible tool for solving the research problem. Take care to leave any assumptions about the outcome of your study out of this section (a common mistake I see). Remember you are an unbiased scientist. The assumptions you make in chapter 1 are related to the functionality of the study itself.

Finally, let’s talk about limitations and delimitations in very basic terms. The limitations are elements of your study that you have no control over. The delimitations of the study are choices you made as a researcher. That’s why the delimitations and scope of the study are often grouped together: both the delimitations and scope are explaining the choices you made to define the parameters of the study.

Seems pretty simple, right?
It is!

I promise you, it is. Chapter 1 is as formulaic as it comes, and it behooves you to follow that formula as closely as possible. Think of who your actual readers will be: people like me who read hundreds, if not thousands, of academic documents in a single year. There’s a specific language that extends to how and when information is presented, and meeting your educated readers’ expectations of that language and presentation will make it easier for your content to shine through.

So, just to review: write chapter 1 after you’ve written chapter 3 and, I would suggest, after you’ve at least started the research for chapter 2. Keep things simple, concise, and rubric adherent. Remember: after you’ve fulfilled the requirements of the rubric you can stop writing. Really.

Chapter 1 is just that easy.

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