Saturday, August 20, 2005

A Musing on Reading

I have started reading dissertations of those who have completed the doctoral program here at Large Midwest University. This is a helpful exercise for me in that it's helping me to focus and narrow. The notion of getting more narrow is not one I come to very quickly (this last sentence probably made my colleagues who may read this laugh out loud!). However, reading these dissertations have given me some tidbits that provide perspective:
  1. One will most likely not change the world with one's dissertation!
  2. A dissertation that may appear to have a simple research design is not remotely a simple piece of research. One must truly enjoy one's topic in order to spend the amount of time completing a detailed analysis of literature and data.
  3. The dissertation is a completed work of research which has been read and critiqued by numerous others. There is no way that my proposal is going to be nearly as polished, nor should it be.
  4. Read read read literature of interest, find a gap where data don't quite match up or where more research needs to be constructed, and create a study exploring that gap.
It's interesting to find patterns in these things. I'm reading articles and these studies much more quickly than I read articles for my coursework. I look for the patterns in the different sections. For example:
  • Where's the gap noted in the review of literature?
  • What type of study is it, and how was the sample selected?
  • What are the implications of this study?
  • How did the researcher get from the initial formation of research questions to the end results of the study?
Frankly, there are sections of articles I merely skim, especially if I'm reading just to learn more about the construction of the study or about the manner in which a particular type of research is written. With other articles, especially the primary sources, I take my time absorbing the work, understanding the concepts, and reflecting on what I read in order to make connections to other things. It's truly a fascinating process that comes just from reading reading reading.

If you were to ask me HOW I am conducting my study or WHAT the implications are, I couldn't quite tell you just yet. I'm still reading, still learning where the literary gaps are. I finally see an initial gap (praise Moses!), but I need to read some more to see if the gap truly exists or if I'm just missing something. It's an interesting spot in the process for me. It's like I'm on the right road and I know what the destination is, yet I can't quite make out the roads I need to take to get there.

Hopefully the map will soon appear, or at least I'll acquire some cartographic skills pretty darn quick.

1 comment:

Hugh said...

What's really fun is to go and read the 30-year old disses (and some institutions even bind master's theses). 200 pages of that onion-skin paper, and all the work that went into typing it (just think of the skills that went into producing those footnotes!) And for what?

"Well, duh!" conclusions.

Remember (and I would tell this to Lemming, were she here), the diss gets you out, the first book changes the world.