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Bell Curve

Bell Curve

Dissertation and Thesis Consulting

Dissertation and Thesis Students

Help is for you!  

It’s time.

You need to start writing your dissertation or thesis—and you know this. However, knowing and doing are two very different states, and I understand that starting your introduction for your dissertation can be the most challenging aspect of the entire writing process.

It’s not just you! Writers as a whole have struggled with this very problem for the longest of times.

How do I begin? As such, I know exactly how to get your Introduction going such that I put you on the right track toward the ultimate goal: your Degree!


      Generally, introductions serve as an easy way for the unfamiliar to take on an air of familiarity. In fact, the same can be said about getting your dissertation started. In this case, the Introduction to your dissertation aims to firmly ground an unfamiliar reader in your research topic, developing enough interest along the way such that your audience actually wants to read the rest. In order to facilitate this familiarizing effect, this section of your dissertation begins with setting up the problem, as well as the general topic you aim to explore. Once done, you then dive deeper into the background of the study, identifying the exact importance of the research problem along the way, the latter of which you must communicate in an attention-grabbing manner. Having accomplished this, you can begin making additional connections.

      Now, with the Introduction’s framework coming together, we must incorporate the“Statement of the Problem”wherein you begin drilling into the specific issue you will investigate. At this point particular, you can speak to the general population you will study—reiterating the general problem and the need for the study—before laying out the preliminary research method and design. The “Purpose of the Study” follows, which comprises a few sentences that summarize the motivating rationale behind the study. These sentences should include information about the research method, the research variables involved (i.e., independent, dependent, and relationship comparisons), the setting of the research, the population involved, and the audience about which the problem is of utmost importance. By now, you are creating something quite enticing for your readers and committee to set themselves upon.

      The “Significance of the Study" or also known as the contribution it will make to the body of literature. Importantly, this section contextualizes your specific research problem—which strictly applies to the research community and experts in the field—by speaking more broadly to the general problem that affects the community at large. More specifically, this section speaks to how your research aims to add to existing knowledge surrounding the subject, while simultaneously identifying who will benefit from your completing this research. In short, this section contains specific information about the intended impact of the research you aim to conduct.

      Following this section, the “Research Design translates the statement of the problem into specific research questions. These questions must be manageable and specific, and most studies include three to five research questions. Notably, your research questions may include sub-questions to answer specific components of a larger question. Regardless, these questions direct the research methods you will employ. For instance, if the research is quantitative, you should define and specify hypotheses. As a reminder, each quantitative research question must have a corresponding hypothesis or hypothesis set (i.e., a null and alternative version of the hypothesis). This applies not only to every quantitative research but additionally to each sub-question.

      Logically, your research and research questions cannot simply exist in a vacuum. As such, the next section of your Introduction, i.e., the “Nature of the Study, serves to connect your research to more than just itself. Particularly, this section must identify the Theoretical Framework and the "Nature of the Study"connects your research study to other research by providing a perspective for interpretation and comparison. You can also juxtapose this section with your “Definition of Terms”, which includes all constructs and variables investigated in the study, including the characteristics of the sample and operationalized terms.

     Lastly, your “Assumptions, Limitations, and Delimitations” section starts by identifying any condition that gets taken for granted in research. To clarify, this typically comprises anything most people would agree upon as true without requiring tedious proofs to prove their truth, i.e., your assumptions. In actuality, these assumptions are categorized

(1) general

(2) theoretical

(3) topic-specific

(4) methodology

      Limitations refer to aspects of the research project that you cannot change and pertain to flaws in the research design that may lead to low generalizable conclusions. (This can happen since limitations necessarily refer to inaccuracies that create misleading data.) Alternatively, delimitations refer to variables that you can control, or limit, necessarily establishing boundaries for the specific research project. Generally, delimitations represent areas intentionally left unexplored and serve to assist in future replication of the study. Once you wrap up this last section, you’ll be well-positioned—both in your own eyes and in the eyes of your committee—to tackle the rest of the dissertation.

Literature Review

       Your Literature Review chapter represents an integral component your successfully completing your dissertation. This is because, after the Literature Review’s introduction—which orients the reader as to the purpose of the topic and states the main points clearly. This chapter provides the conceptual basis, justification, analysis, and interpretation of the problem under investigation. It does this by presenting: 

1. the historical knowledge in the field

2. knowledge of similar research

3. knowledge pertaining to unsolved problems surrounding your topic

4. any knowledge of gaps in the literature

Perhaps just as important, your Literature Review will also cite the research that you used to develop key elements of your study. Despite these clear requirements, alternate viewpoints exist; however, we have laid out below a convincing path forward to get you a sound literature gap.

      The Literature Review should have a specific order, logic, and flow to it. Incorporating first a historical overview and any gaps in the literature an excellent starting point to creating a well-informed chapter. You can easily follow these pieces with a review of the current findings, ordering them from general to more specific in terms of applicability to your research topic. To elaborate, you’ll want to highlight any literature related to the research variables, the constructs or factors involved, and then the theoretical framework followed by elements of the research design. Following this order and logic will create an implicit flow to your Literature Review such that your readers feel you have done your job in-full with this chapter.

      A review of the methodological literature is relevant to your study. This section must include a review of the methodological choices you settled upon for your study. In fact, be certain you incorporate information about your research design, sample size, instruments, and data analysis. In doing so, you will provide a basis for justifying all of these factors for your study.

      First, you must create a synthesis of the research findings in that focus on the specific research problem being addressed. Next, follow this synthesis of the research findings in the literature review with a critique of the previous research.” You must establish the internal and external validity of the research you are doing to maintain solid validity. In the former, you can discuss the larger themes reviewed, while also touching upon the strengths and weaknesses of each study. Essentially, your synthesis of research findings must aim to provide a summary of the logic behind your study, including the theoretical framework, ideas, and constructs. Follow this section up by providing a critique of the previous research you’ve investigated. Here, you should aim to provide a critical analysis of the research reviewed, including an assessment of specific factors, like the quality of the research reviewed and any accompanying strengths or weaknesses in the various methodologies. Additionally, this component connects these factors specifically to your research direction and argument. By doing so, this section addresses opposing views and controversies, helping construct a strong case for your research study.

Research Question and Hypotheses Development

      After selecting your dissertation topic, you need to nail down your research questions. Importantly, whether your study utilizes a quantitative or qualitative approach, research questions need to be at least two things: interesting and researchable. Now, your committee will likely view your research questions as interesting if your questions underscore a well-defined problem that has a high level of significance to it such that examining the problem will contribute to the field in some novel way. Additionally, you will know your questions are researchable if you can confirm that the data are readily available to you, that the constructs can be operationalized into variables, and that the topic is manageable in size. The examples below provide additional context around quantitative and qualitative research questions.

Quantitative Research Question Example

     Imagine you want to examine whether a given social environment influences people’s personalities. This idea presents an interesting problem because both social environment and an individual’s personality represent constructs that researchers can easily measure by investigating any number of distinct components. For instance, is the social environment driven by the country one lives in? Perhaps it’s the generation in which one grew up? Another component that contributes to the definition of social environment as a construct, and the one we will use in this example, is the birth order within a family. Similarly, researchers can measure personalities in a multitude of ways using one of many approved tests. Of course, in addition to identifying the variables that define a construct, how your variables of interest relate to each other should be explained, typically by predicting outcomes or showing differences between groups. For example, a research question and the relevant hypotheses using the previously identified variables and constructs could be:

Research question – Are there differences in extroversion, as measured by introversion-extroversion scores, by birth order (i.e., first born vs. all others) such that first-born children have significantly higher extroversion scores than all other birth-order children?

Ho – There are no differences in extroversion, as measured by introversion-extroversion scores, by birth order (i.e., first born vs. all others) such that first-born children’s extroversion scores do not differ significantly from all other birth-order children.

Ha – There are differences in extroversion, as measured by introversion-extroversion scores, by birth order (i.e., first born vs. all others) such that first-born children have significantly higher extroversion scores than all other birth-order children.

Qualitative Research Question Example

      Qualitative research in the social sciences usually takes the form of phenomenological, grounded theory, or case study research. These methods focus more on the in-depth experiences of participants rather than quantifiable measures. Using the constructs in the example above, perhaps the researcher would ask participants what it was like growing up as the first-born child or not, whether they consider themselves introverted or extroverted, and what role their birth order may have played in developing this trait. An example of a qualitative research question is as follows (typically qualitative research only has research questions and does not create formal hypotheses):

Research question – What is the lived experience of an extrovert and the role that being may have played in that trait?

      Considering some dissertations will require several research questions, a great place to start the process begins with selecting a topic and starting to articulate the variables and constructs because these inputs will form the basis behind your research questions. As always, if you would like our help forming research questions or hypotheses, feel free to call us and we’d be more than 


     So, you’ve done your research, and you’ve found a gap in the literature that needs to be addressed. Even more impressively, you have designed a study that can fill this gap. So what do you do now? The obvious answer is to actually conduct your study, but before that can happen you have to overcome the roadblock of attaining Institutional Review Board (IRB) clearance. Unfortunately, for many students, the IRB application presents a particular challenge because it is written for a different target audience than the rest of the dissertation. However, just as with the other chapters you will write as you work through this process, the IRB application can be broken down into a few key components, and by focusing on meeting these requirements you can greatly simplify the process. To put it simply, the purpose of the IRB proposal is to answer four key questions of why your research is important, how you intend to conduct the research, who will take part in your study, and how you will manage experimental data once you have collected it. Adequately addressing these four key components will give your IRB confidence in your ability to proceed with the study in a safe and ethical manner.

Why is your research important?

       I. Your IRB will want a simple explanation of the purpose of your study. While completing the Introduction and Literature Review chapters of your dissertation certainly positions you as an expert in your field, your IRB committee has quite possibly never heard of your topic. As such, it is important to provide a brief description of the state of the field, as well as to identify where the gap in the literature exists and how your study will help fix this issue. Perhaps more importantly, you should also identify why your research is important to the wider population. Since your IRB committee members may be from an entirely different field than you, the most important thing to remember is to be concise and accessible. Your description of the study purpose should be straightforward and should be written in layman’s terms to ensure that your readers can readily understand why they should approve your study.

How you intend to conduct the research?

       II. Once you have explained why your research is important, it’s time to move onto detailing how you plan to perform your study. This aspect of your proposal should cover all of the specifics around what you will do to prepare for, and actually conduct, your study. As such, this portion of the proposal should begin by informing the review committee of the basic details of the study, including the setting and the personnel who will be conducting research activities. Specifically, you should provide a complete list of any individuals who will be assisting with data collection or interacting with participants. Additionally, it is important to note all locations where data collection will take place, particularly if this will occur off of your campus. This section must also cover the specific experimental protocol that all participants will take part in during the study, which many consider the most important part of this section; therefore, handle this part with great care. Importantly, a proper protocol should describe all details of the participant’s experience, from the moment they are recruited to when they walk out the door. This will include a description of all study activities and questionnaires or surveys (which should also be attached to your IRB application) that the participant will complete, as well as the methods you will use for obtaining consent and debriefing the participants. In short, it is vital that you provide a clear description of this process, as the details of the study protocol can often be a sticking point in the IRB review process.

Who will take part in your study?

       III. You will need to include information about who will take part in your study. One of the primary goals of the IRB is to ensure the safety of research participants, so providing details on how you plan to recruit and treat these individuals is a critical part of any IRB application. To fulfill this requirement, you will need to identify the population of interest for the given study. In doing so, it is important to note what factors will lead to individuals’ inclusion in, or exclusion from, the study and how you will screen potential participants to ensure that they are eligible to take part in research activities. You will also need to specify whether individuals from at-risk populations will be allowed to participate. At-risk populations include individuals who may not be able to make informed decisions for themselves (e.g., individuals younger than 18 years of age or those with mental handicaps) or those populations that may be taken advantage of due to their circumstances (e.g., prisoners or economically disadvantaged individuals).

       After identifying who will take part in the study, you will need to provide information regarding how participant rights will be upheld. One of the key components of this is the inclusion of an informed consent form which you must provide to participants prior to their inclusion in the study. This document should inform participants that they have no obligation to take part in the and that they can withdraw at any time without penalty. Finally, you will need to include information regarding the risks and benefits of participation in your study. This will include any physical, emotional, or social risks that the participant may encounter, no matter how unlikely. Additionally, you should note what measures you have taken to prevent any negative outcomes for your participants. Furthermore, you will also need to disclose any benefits or the participant may receive to ensure that this value is not so high that it can be seen as coercive. By discussing all of these aspects of who will participate in your study, you allow the IRB committee to feel certain that you have taken all of the necessary steps to ensure the safety of your research participants.

How manage experimental data once you have collected it?

       IV. Following these components, you will need to prove to your IRB that you have adequately thought through the aspects around what you will do with your data once you’ve collected it. Essentially, your IRB knows that the goal of any experiment is to acquire data; they simply need the details around how you will handle data management and participant confidentiality. In discussing your plans for data management, you should note specifically how you will store any study materials. This often entails noting that data will be stored digitally on a computer, but you should also specify security measures that will be put in place to protect the data. For example, if you plan on using a password-protected computer, which you will store in a locked office, this is the place to note that. It is also important to state how long you intend to keep any study materials. Many institutions have set guidelines for how long data should be kept after the conclusion of the study, so make sure to check with your school to find what they recommend. This component of the IRB application should also contain details of how you will protect your participants’ confidentiality. In doing so, you will need to specify whether data will be anonymous, de-identified, or if it will contain identifying markers, and how you will ensure participant confidentiality in light of this information.

       By addressing these four aspects of your IRB application, you should be well prepared to address any concerns that might arise during the IRB review of your study. However, we understand that gaining IRB approval is a complex and difficult and that you may still have questions.  

Research Design and Methods

      Essentially, the research plan is an abbreviated introduction and methodology chapters. In an introduction, the researcher the purpose of the study and how the study examines the research problem; the significance of the study, which should explain why this study is important; and the study’s research questions, which sit at the heart of the What that the study seeks to examine. Additionally, the research plan addresses the approach of the study, which is either qualitative or quantitative, the research design, the methodological model, and the rationale of the study. The introduction also identifies the theoretical framework, the constructs and variables in the study, and any definitions used in the study.

     Now, the methodology aspect of the research plan, in both quantitative and qualitative studies, describes the population, sampling procedure, as well as the sample and its size. Furthermore, the methodology outlines the instruments and procedures of the study. In qualitative studies, the role of the researcher and issues of trustworthiness are included. In both types of studies, the data analysis plan is presented, as is the types of data to be collected.

Database Management and Development

SPSS is the abbreviation of Statistical Package for Social Sciences and it is used by researchers to perform statistical analysis. As the name suggests, SPSS statistics software is used to perform only statistical operations.

        I am in SPSS software and statistical operations. If you are a graduate student or researcher, I can assist you in the following areas:

  • Understanding the capabilities of SPSS software

  • Cleaning, coding and data entry in SPSS

  • Choosing the correct statistical test to run

  • Interpreting SPSS output

  • Statistical analysis of SPSS data output

         SPSS software is used to perform quantitative analysis and is used as a complete statistical package that is based on a point and interface. This software has been widely used by researchers to perform quantitative analysis since its development in the 1960s by Norman H. Nie, in collaboration with C. Hadlai Hull and Dale Bent.

         SPSS software can read and write data from other statistical packages, databases, and spreadsheets. When entering data into the software, one has to click on “variable view.” The variable view enables the user to customize it by data type and consists of the following headings: Name, Type, Width, Decimals, Label, Values, Missing, Columns, Align, and Measures. These headings enable the user to characterize the data.

         SPSS is most often used in social science fields such as psychology, where statistical techniques are involved at a large scale. In the field of psychology, techniques such test, etc., are available in the “analyze” menu of the software.

          There is also an option in the software called “split file,” which is given in the “data” menu. This option is very useful for researchers who are performing comparative studies. Suppose researchers want to know the literacy rate of three regions. In this case, the split file option will help them get the result of three regions separately so that they can interpret and compare the literacy rate of the three regions.

          SPSS software has a technique called missing value analysis, and this technique helps in making better decisions about the data. This technique enables the user to fill in the missing blanks in order to create better models to estimate the data. The analysis provides the user with procedures for data management and preparation.

          SPSS involves some sophisticated inferential and multivariate statistical procedures such as factor analysis, discriminant analysis, ANOVA, etc. SPSS, as the name suggests, is software for performing statistical procedures in the social sciences field. The major limitation of SPSS is that it cannot be used to analyze a very large data set. A researcher often gets a large data set in the field of medicine and nursing, so in those fields, the researcher generally uses SAS instead of SPSS to analyze the clinical data.

Statistical Analysis and Results Section

The data analysis plan refers to determining how the data will be cleaned, transformed, and analyzed.

Cleaning the Data

          The cleaning of data is the removing of univariate and multivariate outliers, dealing with missing data, and assessing for normality.

Univariate Outliers 

          Univariate outlier refers to an observation with a standard deviation of greater than ±3.29 from the mean. This is easily accomplished by standardizing the scores of a variable (i.e., the variable’s scores have a mean of zero and a standard deviation of 1), and looking for an observation greater than ±3.29.

Multivariate Outliers

          Multivariate outliers refer to outliers on a combination of two or more variables. To assess for multivariate outliers, you can conduct a regression with the observation ID number as the dependent variable, the variables being assessed as the predictors, and assess for Mahalanobis' distance. Then examine an observation’s Mahalanobis' distance score relative to the degrees of freedom (i.e., the number of variables will equal the degrees of freedom) for a chi-square value at the p=.001 level.

Missing Data

         Missing data is the absence of an observation on a variable. There are a few remedies: drop the observation with the missing data, mean substitution, and multiple (using SPSS or EQS).

Normal Distribution

         Normality refers to the shape of the distribution of scores (e.g., shape of a normal bell curve). To assess for normality, a researcher can examine Skewness and Kurtosis of a variable, or conduct a 1-sample KS test. The KS test will report whether the distribution of data is significantly different than a normal curve.

Transforming the Data

         Many multivariate tests assume normality. When the data is not normally distributed a transformation of the data can be appropriate. Some common transformations are the square root, logarithmic, and inverse.

Analyzing the Data 

        The selection of the analysis is based on two things: the way the hypothesis is stated in statistical language and the level of measurement of the variable.

The Hypothesis 

        The way the researcher states the hypothesis makes a difference in the data analysis. Here are three null hypothesis examples: (1) Variable A does not relate to Variable B, (2) Variable A does not predict to Variable B, (3) There are no differences on Variable A by Variable B. (1) tends to be stated in correlation or chi-square language, (2) in regression language, and (3) in ANOVA or perhaps Mann-Whitney language. How is one to choose the precise data analysis? It depends on the level of measurement of each of the variables A and B.

Level of Measurement of the Variables to Select the Correct Data Analysis

       In the hypotheses above, the level of measurement of the variables is a key factor in selecting the correct data analysis. In example (1) if the variables are both categorical the correct analysis would be a chi-square test, while if both variables are interval-level, a Pearson correlation would be the correct analysis. In example (2), regression is the appropriate test (i.e., examining the influence of a variable on another variable), linear regression is the correct analysis if the dependent variable is interval-level, logistic regression if the dependent variable is if the variable has three or more categories. In example (3) if the dependent variable is interval an ANOVA may be appropriate while an ordinal dependent variable a Mann-Whitney may be the analysis.

Putting the Data Analysis All Together

       In the data analysis plan, data cleaning and transformation should be addressed, then discuss the data analysis of the data. Be sure to state the hypotheses the way you want—to examine relationships, to predict, or to examine differences a variable by another variable.

Statistics Solutions can assist with the development of your quantitative or qualitative data analysis plan. We offer the following services:

Data Analysis Plan

  • Edit your research questions and null/alternative hypotheses

  • Edit data analysis plan; specify specific statistics to address the research questions, the assumptions of the statistics, and justify why they are the appropriate statistics; provide references

  • Justify your sample size/power analysis, provide references

  • Explain your data analysis plan to you so you are comfortable and confident

Sample Size Calculation / Power Analysis

      Every study needs data, the question is how much data are needed. The sample size determination using a power analysis is the process of figuring that question out and will be of particular interest to both your committee for Proposal and IRB approval. Details below briefly examine how a power analysis calculates sample size, before going into how to use free resources to determine your study’s sample size in just a few minutes.

Power Analysis

       For a given statistical test, the sample size is calculated from statistical power, effect size, and significance level. That is, each of these four components of your study—namely, sample size, statistical power, effect size, and significance level—are a function of the other three. Specifically, the effect size of your study tells you the strength or importance of a particular relationship. The power, typically .80, is the probability of not making a type II error, which differs from beta, or the probability of making a type II error.  

Discussion Section Interpretation

      While your dissertation’s Discussion Chapter has been years in the making—you have arguably been working toward it your entire life—now is certainly not the time to relax. Even though all of the so-called “hard” work may be in the past, those who have not mentored you through the entire research process may not care to review the entirety of your manuscript. Sure, your committee members will have time to read, critique, and respond to what you have poured over, time and time again. However, for the many readers who approach your study post-publication, your Discussion Chapter may very well be the only chapter they read. As such, do not lose heart, for this actually gives you purpose: Recognizing all of this makes the Discussion Chapter perhaps the most important piece of your dissertation to hone and perfect; getting it right can give you staying power that you may not otherwise garner.

      Now, at a high level, your Discussion Chapter must provide an explanation of your contribution to the body of knowledge in your field, yet it needs to do so by offering a compact review of your dissertation as a whole. In order to accomplish this, your committee will likely look for you to cover several key pieces, at the least. To start, you will necessarily need a summary of Chapters 1 and 3 wherein you reiterate the essential points from both Chapters. This will certainly include highlighting the importance of your study and its limitations and delimitations, before then explaining your study’s design and any potential flaws therein. Notably, all of this gets couched in the context of the related literature.

      Next, you will need to provide a summary of your study and what it encompassed, including your findings and conclusions. Additionally, you will likely want to organize this information by research question and its related hypotheses. In fact, this organizing structure works out nicely: After you discuss each research question and its related hypotheses, you can smoothly integrate your conclusions (i.e., follow each discussion of a research question and its related hypotheses with the relevant findings and conclusions). Importantly, you must take care here—your committee will want you to use language that makes this last part clear such that no ambiguity remains concerning what comprises your conclusions.

      Furthermore, be sure to dedicate sections to discussing your results, always as they relate to the literature, as well as a section on the limitations of your results. Thoroughly addressing these sections solidifies your position in your readers’ eyes as the expert. You will then want to use this positioning to lay out all of the implications you recognize your results have for actual practice, while also providing insight into any recommendations you have for additional research.

      Note that in your implications section, you will want to make a broader connection to the social significance of your study, especially as it relates to professional practice or applied settings. Alternatively, in the recommendations section, you should consider what your research necessarily implies, and what your data support investigating further. Of course, a natural place to delve into here starts with your study’s delimitations—since these represent places you did not go in your investigation—as well as areas related to the study that the current research data did not support. Ideally, you will provide readers with a proposed methodology and design that you feel fits each recommendation. In short, this section of your Discussion Chapter provides you with a place to help guide future efforts that emanate from what you are now polishing.

      Finally, once you have all of these pieces assembled, you will need to elegantly compose a conclusion section to your Discussion Chapter that includes an overview of the chapter and your research findings. Typically, a final description of the findings related to the research questions, along with a suggestion for how the study may further the understanding of the problem, also gets included. Essentially, you should treat your conclusion section as your final opportunity to share a concise overview of your findings and your conclusions.

      To review, your Discussion Chapter should be treated with care, and not simply because you, your mentor, and your committee want you to; it, in fact, may be the only opportunity you get to impress upon readers just how integral your study has been to the knowledge in your field. In other words, this chapter may very well be the only one people read post-publication. And while you certainly want to be thorough, you also want to aim for a well-informed succinctness that simultaneously avoids watering down the power of what you have to offer.

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