Research Questions and Approaches Essay

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Activity 4: Forming Research Questions and Approaches (5 Points)
4 Form Your Research Questions and Approaches
Based on the required readings and your proposed study topic, respond to Exercises 5.1 (Assessing your question’s goodness of fit) and 5.2 (Aligning purpose and research question) of the Schram text. Please include both exercises in a single document.

Use APA style in preparing your paper and citing references (i.e. the paper should follow APA for all paper and text formatting). Please save your file using NCU’s file naming protocol (e.g., DoeJRSH9102-4.rtf). Submit the document in the Course Work area below the Activity screen.

Learning Outcomes: (3, 5)

Select a qualitative design based on the proposed study purpose, and include a rationale for appropriateness and support with foundational research methods literature.
Describe potential ethical implications in qualitative studies.

Section 4: Choosing a Research Approach
Qualitative research is multi-method in focus, involving an interpretive, naturalistic approach to a phenomenon. This means that qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of or interpret phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them. Qualitative research involves the collection of a variety of materials such as case studies, personal experiences, life story interviews, observations, historical, and meaning in individuals’ lives in communities and families. Qualitative research uses unreconstructed logic to get at what is really real — the quality, meaning, context, or image of reality in what people actually do, not what they say they do as gathered from questionnaires.

Required Reading:
Shank – Chapter 7
Schram – Chapter 6
Supplemental readings based on research design
Dissertation Review Form (DRF)

Activity 5: Preliminary Research Design (10 Points)
4 Proposed Preliminary Research Design
Based on the course readings, appropriate supplemental readings, proposed research problem, and revised purpose statement, expand on the preliminary qualitative research design in a 3-4 page document. Provide appropriate support and rationale for the design choice. Include appropriate foundational research methods related to the design choice (e.g. Yin for case study, Moustakas for phenomenology). Cite your references and use APA formatting and APA table formatting.

Use APA style in preparing your paper and citing references (i.e. the paper should follow APA for all paper and text formatting). Please save your file using NCU’s file naming protocol (e.g., DoeJRSH9102-5.rtf). Submit the document in the Course Work area below the Activity screen.

Learning Outcomes: (3, 5, 6)
Select a qualitative design based on the proposed study purpose, and include a rationale for appropriateness and support with foundational research methods literature.
Describe potential ethical implications in qualitative studies.
Create an annotated bibliography.

Section 5: Identify Dissertation Committee Chair

Required Reading:
NCU Dissertation Handbook

Activity 6: Secure a Chair for Your Dissertation Committee (0 Points)
4 Identify a Committee Chair
The Mentor for your next course will also be the Chair of your Dissertation Committee. For this Activity you will secure your Chair following these steps:

1. Inform your advisor that you are making a request for a Dissertation Chair.

2. Provide the proposed topic to your advisor.

3. The advisor will alert the Dean’s office and a chair will be appointed.

While this is a non-graded Activity, its completion is essential to assure your progress in the dissertation sequence.

Learning Outcome: (12)
Undertake and finalize a search to identify a Dissertation Committee Chairperson.

Section 6: Validity, Credibility, Dependability, and Ethics in Qualitative Research
The elements of validity and reliability determine the assessment of the quality and rigor of the research. Reliability is the extent to which other researchers would arrive at similar results. External validity is the extent to which the findings can be generalized. Internal validity is the extent to which the researcher can demonstrate that the emergent themes, constructs, and perspectives are true (thick description). Anticipate the ethical issues that may arise during the research process and the outcome of the data analysis.

Required Reading:
Patton, pages 405-417 and Part 3, Chapter 9
Shank – pages 109-122
Schram – Chapters 7, 8
Golafshani, N. (December 2003). Understanding reliability and validity in qualitative research. The Qualitative Report, 8(4), 597-607.

Section 3 – The Dissertation Process
The dissertation process is a series of formal and informal steps that, successfully completed, lead to a dissertation that makes a substantial contribution to a field and to the award of a doctoral degree.
• See the Dissertation Review Form in Appendix B and the Dissertation Template in the Dissertation Center.
• Your Committee and the Office of Academic Research (OAR) will use them to evaluate your Dissertation Proposal and Dissertation Manuscript.
• Read them early in the dissertation process and consult them often.
3.1 Identifying a Dissertation Topic
The process of writing a dissertation begins with the identification of a topic. Your topic is the area of study in your field that your dissertation research will contribute to. Ideally, Learners begin the process of identifying a topic early in their doctoral program and continue the process through the content courses leading up to the dissertation courses.
Your dissertation topic must be:
• Interesting
• Feasible
• Relevant
• Worthy
Interesting means that the topic should interest both you and peers in your field. It should motivate you to work on it over a period of many months as you strive to make a contribution to your field.
Feasible means that you must be able to carry out your research given the constraints of time, money, and other factors. For example:
• a longitudinal study lasting more than 12 months is usually not realistic, unless retrospective or archival data are available;
• a study requiring that 1,000 participants are personally interviewed is not realistic, unless the data have already been collected and can be accessed, at reasonable cost, by the Learner;
• a study involving participants or organizations that cannot easily be recruited and/or vulnerable populations (e.g., children, prisoners, etc.) is also not realistic.
Relevant means that your topic area must directly relate to your program and specialization. For example:
• a Learner pursuing a doctoral degree in Business with a specialization in Management must pick a topic that will add to the field of business as it relates to management;
• a Learner pursuing a doctoral degree in Education with a specialization in Early Childhood Education must pick a topic that will add to the field of education as it relates to early childhood development;
• a Learner pursuing a doctoral in Marriage and Family Therapy with a specialization in Medical Family Therapy must pick a topic that will add to the field of Marriage and Family Therapy as it relates to medical therapy.
Worthy means that your research on the topic must contribute new findings to your field and show that the findings constitute a theoretically meaningful contribution to the field. Note that:
• a dissertation must involve either the collection of new data or a new analysis of previously collected data.
• except in the case of some applied studies, a dissertation research cannot merely replicate a previous study without well-articulated reasons why the replication will produce new and possibly unexpected results that will lead to changes in theory.
• once again, with the exception of some applied studies, reporting on the success of a project (such as a workshop or an organizational change) does not meet the requirements for dissertation research.
Use of Northcentral Learners in Research. Except under rare circumstances and only with prior approval of the School Dean and Provost, Northcentral Doctoral Learners cannot use Northcentral Learners as participants in a research study.
Use of outside consultants in the dissertation process. A doctoral dissertation must unquestionably and unequivocally be a Learner’s own work. Northcentral strongly discourages the use of vendors for editorial, statistical, or other services. If you are struggling with the editorial or statistical aspects of your dissertation, your Academic Advisor can suggest additional coursework that you can take in order to acquire the skills you need to complete your dissertation. At their Oral Examination, Learners must demonstrate conclusively that they have undertaken their own work and that they understand fully all aspects of their dissertation.
See Appendix C for guidance on identifying a dissertation topic.
3.2 Dissertation Milestones
There are six milestones in the dissertation process. Each one represents a significant accomplishment on the way to obtaining a doctoral degree.
1. Comprehensive Exam (CE)
2. Concept Paper (CP)
3. Dissertation Proposal (DP)
4. Institutional Review Board (IRB) Application
5. Dissertation Manuscript (DM)
6. Oral Examination
Depending on your degree program and the school in which your degree resides, specifics of the dissertation sequence of milestones and courses may vary. The six milestones are common to all Northcentral doctoral programs, as are the individuals or bodies charged with reviewing particular milestone accomplishments:
• The Concept Paper, Dissertation Proposal, and IRB Application are approved first by your Dissertation Committee and then by the University Office of Academic Research (OAR)
• The Dissertation Manuscript is approved first by your Dissertation Committee, then by the OAR, and finally by the Provost
• The Oral Examination is approved by your Dissertation Committee and School Dean
• The Comprehensive Exam is approved by the Mentor for the course in which it is written.
The place of the Comprehensive Exam in the Dissertation process varies by program. However, all programs require successful completion of the exam in order to continue with doctoral work. The Exam is discussed in Appendix D.
Use the Checklist in Appendix E to track your progress toward earning your degree.
3.3 The Role of the Office of Academic Research (OAR) and the Review Process
The Office of Academic Research (OAR) approves Concept Papers, Dissertation Proposals, and Dissertation Manuscripts after their acceptance by a Doctoral Committee. The purpose of OAR review is to provide a level of checks and balances that ensures the quality of doctoral degrees. Although milestone documents may be reviewed many times by a Doctoral Committee, documents submitted to OAR should be of such quality that they pass on the first submission.
Change Matrix. If the OAR identifies areas for improvement, a written evaluation will be provided to the Learner’s Chair, and the Chair will work with the Learner to address OAR concerns. With the exception of the first Concept Paper submittal, Learners must submit a change matrix form, located in the Dissertation Center, with all milestone document submittals to the OAR for review. The change matrix details revisions made in response to each OAR concern.
The Dissertation Chair must ensure that all concerns have been fully addressed by the Learner prior to resubmitting a document for OAR review by including an electronic signature on the bottom of the change matrix. It is the Dissertation Chair’s responsibility to carefully review the revisions prior to resubmission for OAR review. Failure to comprehensively address concerns will result in the need for additional reviews and potentially cause delays in student progress. Excessive resubmissions may result in chair reassignment, and/or reduced or suspended faculty assignments.
If a milestone document (Concept Paper, Dissertation Proposal, or Dissertation Manuscript) does not pass review by the Office of Academic Research, there will typically be a consultation with the School’s Research Professor.
Concept Papers receive a maximum of three (3) reviews by the Office of Academic Research. The purpose of the review is to provide Learners with ideas for how to strengthen the proposed concept, and to discuss whether the topic, as currently conceived, will likely develop into a feasible dissertation proposal. Dissertation Proposals receive a maximum of three (3) reviews by the Office if Academic Research; Dissertation Manuscripts receive a maximum of two (2) reviews by the Office of Academic Research. If the milestone document is not approved at these final reviews, the Council of Academic Standards is convened. The council members will conduct a comprehensive review of the Learner’s work and may decide that dismissal from the University is appropriate.
A note about multiple reviews: Often, when changes are made in response to a previous review, a problem is exacerbated in another area of the document. Hence, reviewer’s comments cannot always be limited to comments to the previous review.
It is helpful to remember that scholarly research is iterative and non-linear (however painful this may be while you are going through the process). Making a change in a later version to correct an issue in a previous version may reveal new issues that need to be addressed in the subsequent version.
Ultimately, Northcentral wants all Learners to succeed, but we also have to ensure that our terminal outcomes meet quality standards in order to protect our accreditation. To that end, below are steps of the Dissertation Milestone Review Process designed to facilitate Learner progress through the Dissertation process.
1. The Learner passes all foundation, specialization, research and methods courses with a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better. The Learner takes the Comprehensive Examination. If not passed first time, a retake is permitted. If not passed the second time, the Dean may require the Learner to leave the program.
2. University is unique in providing constructive feedback prior to the dissertation proposal stage. This is to ensure that the learner has a feasible and realistic plan that can culminate in a well-conceived, substantive, quality dissertation. Concept paper reviews serve to assess that the topic is appropriate and that the planned research is sound and practical within the scope of a doctoral program. The Concept Paper is initially approved by the Chair and Dissertation Committee, and submitted for review to the Office of Academic Research (OAR). If, in the review, it is indicated that the research idea is feasible, the OAR will offer suggestions for improvements and the Learner will proceed to work on the Dissertation Proposal. If the OAR indicates that the research idea is not likely to succeed, then the Learner should, in consultation with his or her Chair and Dissertation Committee, consider embarking on an entirely new project and write a new Concept Paper. .
3. The Dissertation Proposal should incorporate the suggestions made by the OAR in response to the Concept Paper. The Dissertation Proposal is initially approved by the Chair and Dissertation Committee, and submitted for OAR review. If it passes, the Learner proceeds to the IRB application.
• If the Dissertation Proposal does not pass the OAR review first time, it is revised by the Learner, and when the Chair is fairly sure that it will now pass review, it is submitted to the OAR for a second review. If it passes, the Learner proceeds to the IRB.
• If the Dissertation Proposal does not pass OAR review the second time, the Research Professor(s) will meet with the Chair to determine how to resolve the problematic issues. The Dissertation Proposal may then be revised by the Learner. When the Chair is convinced that it will now pass review, it is submitted to the OAR for a third review. If it passes, the Learner proceeds to the IRB. If the Dissertation Proposal does not pass this third review, the Provost convenes a meeting of the Council for Academic Standards. This Council is composed of all the University Deans and Program Chairs. The Council will also assess the performance and skills of the chair and committee members with respect to their dissertation guidance.. Faculty may be required to receive additional professional development prior to future chair or committee assignments.
4. Upon final approval of the Dissertation Proposal, the Learner applies to the Institutional Review Board (IRB). No data may be collected until IRB approval is obtained. Failure to observe this rule may result in the Learner’s status as a doctoral candidate being terminated and him or her being dismissed from University.
5. Following IRB approval, the Learner conducts his/her research or implements his/her doctoral project and writes the Dissertation Manuscript in the required manner. The Dissertation Manuscript is approved by the Chair and Dissertation Committee. It is then sent for review to the OAR, which may make suggestions for improvement. If the OAR finds substantial problems , the Research Professor(s) will meet with the Chair to determine how to resolve the problematic issues. If problems persist in the second OAR Review, the situation will be brought before the Council for Academic Standards (the functioning of which is described above). All Dissertation Manuscripts are also scrutinized by the Office of the Provost.
6. Upon final approval of the Dissertation Manuscript, the Oral Examination is scheduled. This is a “defense” of the PhD, and a “presentation” of the work done for the applied doctorates. To pass the Oral Examination, the Learner must be able to explain and justify what was accomplished by the dissertation research or doctoral project.
Please refer to the flow chart in Appendix I for more information on the Dissertation Milestone Process.
3.4 Document Review Turnaround Times

• Concept Paper review by Committee Members: 5 days
• Proposal and Dissertation review by Committee Members: 7 days
• Concept Paper, Proposal, and Dissertation Review by OAR: 7 days
• IRB review: 10 days is average, but allow up to 3 weeks.
• Dissertation review by Provost: 7 days

3.5 Concept Paper
The Concept Paper (CP) is a “pre-proposal” or abbreviated proposal. A well-done CP is the basis of a strong DP. Approval of your CP indicates that your research topic and problem are acceptable and grounded in recent and key research on your topic.
A Concept Paper must:
• have problem and Purpose Statements and Research Questions in near final format
• contain an articulated but not final research design
• offer an explanation of how the study will contribute to theory (in the case of PhD studies) or practice (as appropriate for Applied Doctorates).
• be well-written with proper Northcentral and APA formatting.
A common problem in CPs is a misalignment among the research problem, study purpose, and the proposed design and research questions. The discussion on alignment in Appendix F will help you align the key sections of your Concept Paper.
It is very common for Learners to revise their CP many times. Chair and Committee Member requests for revision only help your paper be stronger. If your Chair says that your CP is not ready for OAR review, do not push to move on. Your work is ready when it is the best it can be, regardless of course end dates, finances, or professional or personal issues. Strive to have your CP accepted by the OAR the first time you submit it!
See the Concept Paper Template in the Dissertation Center; see the last page of the Concept Paper Template for a list of common errors.
Your Committee and the OAR will use the CP Template to evaluate your CP.
3.6 The Dissertation Proposal
Your Dissertation Proposal demonstrates that your project is sound and your research design detailed enough so that anyone reading it could replicate your study. Your DP is the basis of your actual research and is, essentially, the first three chapters of your Dissertation Manuscript (DM).
Your DP builds on your CP. The main difference between them is that the DP has a deeper, more comprehensive literature review, an explicit, detailed account of the theoretical contribution your study will make, especially for Ph.D. studies and an applied contribution, as appropriate for applied degrees, and a much more detailed method description. Here are some questions your Committee and the OAR will ask of your DP:
• Is there a clearly articulated and documented study problem?
• Does the design align with the study problem and purpose?
• Is the topic appropriately substantive, but also reasonable in scope?
• Does the study fit with the learner’s program of study?
• Is the design appropriately described and applied?
• Does the proposal clearly address the study’s theoretical or applied assumptions and contributions?
• Are seminal and contemporary theoretical or applied sources appropriately supported and cited?
• Is the theoretical or practical support directly related to the topic?
• Is a theoretical controversy or problematic issue missing?
• Is the theoretical or conceptual foundation presented in an integrated way?
• Are technical terms clearly defined?
See the Dissertation Review Form in Appendix B. Also, see the Dissertation Proposal Template in the Dissertation Center.
Your Committee and the OAR will use the DRF and DP Template to evaluate your DP.
3.7 The IRB Application
Learners must submit an IRB application following approval of the Dissertation Proposal and prior to any data collection.
Failure to obtain IRB approval before any data collection (for dissertation research, a pilot study, or pilot testing of data collection methods) may result in the immediate dismissal from the University of the party or parties involved.
See Appendix G for a detailed description of the IRB process.

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