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Writing the Winning Thesis or Dissertation

Writing the Winning Thesis or Dissertation
A Step-by-Step Guide

Third Edition

January 2013 | 328 pages | Corwin
The classic for master's and doctoral students-newly revised and updated!

Completing your master's thesis or doctoral dissertation can be a daunting task. Writing the Winning Thesis or Dissertation, Third Edition, demystifies the process, helping you prepare your scholarly work. This experience-based, practical book takes you through the process one step at a time!

Newly revised and updated, this edition uses a step-by-step approach, providing specific models and examples that will take you through the complex writing process.

Major topics included are:

" Laying the groundwork for the thesis or dissertation

" Organizing and scheduling your work

" Collaborating with peers

" Using technology

" Solving problems throughout the dissertation process

This excellent resource, used in its first two editions by tens of thousands of students, will provide you with clear direction for structuring a winning thesis or dissertation.

About the Authors
I. Establishing the Foundations
1. Laying the Groundwork for the Thesis and Dissertation
Understanding the Special Nature of the Dissertation

Purposes in Writing the Dissertation

The Audiences for the Dissertation

Analyze the Special Characteristics of the Dissertation

Making Ethical Choices With Respect to the Dissertation

Conduct Ethical Research

Secure Informed Consent

Acknowledge All Those Who Have Contributed or Collaborated

Report the Results Honestly and Objectively

Securing the Needed Resources

Analyze Your Needs

Search for Special Support

Understanding the Key Differences Between the Thesis and the Dissertation

Roles and Responsibilities of the Committee

The Dynamics of the Committee

Preventing Problems with the Committee

Dealing With Committee Problems

Committee Members Do Not Give Feedback Promptly

Committee Members Give Conflicting Advice

Committee Members Give Unhelpful Advice

Relationships Critically Deteriorate

Solving Personal Problems With the Dissertation

Problems Near the End of the Course Work

Problems at the End of Course Work

Problems After the Proposal

Problems After the Defense

A Look Ahead

Technology Technique: The Role of the Internet for Research in the Dissertation Process

2. Dealing With Institutional Requirements

Specific University Guidelines or Requirements

Institutional Review Board

Knowledge Requirements (Training)

Certificate Time Frame

Degree Completion Timelines

3. Finding a Research Problem
Make a Personal Assessment of Topics

Professional Significance

Continuing Professional Interest

Personal Interest

Career Advancement

Professional Knowledge, Experience, and Skills

Likely Support

Time Required


Conduct a Broad Scan of the Literature

Organize for the Broad Scan

Read to Inquire

Concentrate on Research Reviews

Reflect and Discuss

Fix on the Research Topic and Research Problem

Technology Technique: University Research Librarians

4. Conducting a Focused Review of the Literature
Reorganize Your Files

Retrieve All Related Abstracts

Evaluate the Results

Check for Prior Dissertations

Retrieve the Full Texts of the Most Useful Sources

Use Primary Sources

Develop an Annotated Bibliography

A Concluding Note

Technology Technique: Software for Maintaining Reference Information

5. Making a Preliminary Choice of Methodology
Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives

Mixed Method Perspective

Project-Based Studies

Research Types

Studies Primarily Quantitative in Nature

Experimental Research

Quasi-Experimental Research

Causal-Comparative Research

Correlational Research

Descriptive Research

Evaluation Research

Studies Primarily Qualitative in Nature

Case Study Research

Ethnographic Research

Action Research

Research Methods

Make Preliminary Choices

Technology Technique: Data Analysis Software I

6. Organizing and Scheduling Your Work
Develop a Planning Chart

Make the Tentative Entries

Technology Technique: Chart Software

7. Developing the Prospectus and Organizing the Committee
Prospectus Rationale

Prospectus Developing

Committee Selection

Committee Dynamics

Technology Technique: Telecommunication and Software Editing Tools

II. Developing and Defending the Proposal
8. Conducting a Comprehensive Critique of the Literature
Maintain Good Research Practices Throughout the Search

Develop a Focused Outline of the Search

Establish Parameters for the Search

Conduct a Comprehensive Search

Critique All Sources Retrieved

A Concluding Note

Technology Technique: Electronic Note Card

9. Detailing the Methodology
The Research Design: Its General Nature

The Research Design: Type-Specific Issues

Quantitative: Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Research

Quantitative: Causal-Comparative Research

Quantitative: Correlational Research

Quantitative: Descriptive Research


Qualitative: Case Study and Ethnographic Research

Mixed Method: Action Research

Develop Your Research Design

Technology Technique: Data Analysis Software II

10. Developing and Defending the Proposal
Peer Collaboration

Weighing the Advantages and Disadvantages

Structuring the Collaborative

Prepare for Comprehensive Examinations

Provide Editorial Feedback

Assist With and Contribute to Literature Review

Assist With and Contribute to Data Collection

Assist With and Contribute to Data Analysis

Prepare for and Contribute to Defenses

Develop and Article for Publication

Provide Emotional Support

Formalize the Structure and Request Advisor Approval

Help the Group Remain Productive

Readers and Reviewers


Developing the Proposal

Developing the Proposal: The Big Picture

Developing the Proposal: Writing Chapter 1

Introduction to the Chapter

Background of the Study

The Problem Statement

Professional Significance of the Study

Developing the Proposal: Writing Chapter 2

Review the Theoretical Literature

Review the Empirical Literature

Developing the Proposal: Writing Chapter 3

Developing the Proposal: The References

Developing the Proposal: The Appendices

Holding the Proposal Defense

Coordinate Committee Schedules: Date and Time

Prepare for the Proposal Defense

Presentation of the Proposal Defense


Deal With Other Defense Issues

Post Proposal Steps

Secure IRB Approval

IRB Certification

IRB Certification/Advisor

University Requirements/Protocols

Collect Data After Obtaining Appropriate Approvals

Committee Requirements

Required Edits and/or Revisions

Review and Adjust Timeline

Technology Technique: Page Numbering Using Word Processing Software and University Guidelines

III. Researching and Writing the Thesis or Dissertation
11. Following the Research Design
Communicate Periodically With the Chair

Ensure Access to the Research Site

Avoid Premature Data Collection

Develop a Detailed Planning Calendar

Change the Schedule as Needed

Prevent Problems With the Intervention

Use Computers Mindfully

Ensure a High Rate of Return on Surveys

Maintain Careful and Duplicate Records

Technology Technique: Electronic Data Collection

12. Mastering the Academic Style
Follow the Recommended Style Guide

Use the Writing Process

Develop an Effective Approach to Writing

Write With an Efficient Process

Mastering the Academic Style

Project an Appropriate Persona

Document Assertions

Vary the Way You Identify Sources

Use Appropriate Paragraphing

Write Clear, Mature Sentences

Some Special Matters of Word Choice and Form

Technology Technique: Tools for Writing Software

13. Organizing the Dissertation

How Are Dissertations Organized?

What Principles Govern the Organization of Individual Chapters?

How Can the Organization Be Made Clear to the Reader

How Is the Dissertation Finally Packaged?

Technology Technique: Editors/Style Editors

14. Writing the Introductory Chapter
Introduction to the Chapter

The Background of the Study

The Problem Statement

The Professional Significance of the Study

Overview of Methodology

Limitations and Delimitations

Definition of Terms

Technology Technique: Word Processing and Hanging Indents

15. Writing the Review of the Literature
Update the Comprehensive Critique of the Literature

Reread All Sources

Develop the Final Outline

Use Levels of Headings That Reflect the Outline

Write the Introductory Paragraph

Write the First Section of the Review

Provide an Overview


Specific Reminders

Write the Remaining Sections, Including a Summary

Specific Reminders

Evaluate and Revise

Technology Technique: Formatting Quotes

16. Explaining the Methodology
Prepare to Write the Chapter

Use an Objective Style in Writing the Chapter

Determine the Content of the Chapter

Outline the Chapter and Use Headings Appropriately

Make an Outline

Use Appropriate Headings

Describe the Context for the Study

Identify the Subjects or Participants

Identify the Instruments Used to Collect Data

Explain the Procedures Used in Completing the Design

Explain How the Data Were Analyzed

Write a Summary

Technology Technique: Formatting

17. Presenting the Results
Prepare to Present the Results

Decide on the Contents and Format of the Chapter

Determine the Organization of the Chapter

Develop the Tables and Figures

Write the Introductory Paragraph

Write the First Section

Write the Remaining Sections, Using Appropriate Headings

Revise the Chapter and Submit It for Review

Technology Technique: Using Software to Create Figures and Tables

18. Summarizing and Discussing the Results
Review the Results Reported

Develop an Outline of the Final Chapter

Write the Introductory Paragraph

Restate the Problem and Review the Methodology

Summarize the Results

Discuss the Meaning of the Study

Reflect on Your Findings

Determine the Content of the Discussion Section

Write the Discussion Section

Technology Technique: Software Capabilities

IV. Defending and Profiting From the Dissertation
19. Preparing and Holding the Dissertation Defense

Secure Needed Resources

Edit the Dissertation

Check on Content and Order

Write the Abstract

Write the Title and Approval Pages

Write the Acknowledgment Pages

Write the Table of Contents and Lists of Tables and Figures

Include the Chapters

Finalize the References

Finalize Any Appendices

Submit the Dissertation

Holding the Defense




After Your Presentation

After the Defense

University Requirements

University Graduate School or University Library


IRB Completion Requirements

Study Closure


Technology Technique: Packaging the Final Draft of The Dissertation

20. Publishing the Thesis or Dissertation
Add to the Research Knowledge Base

Present a Scholarly Paper

Publish a Journal Article

Identify Several Possible Journals

Make a Careful Analysis of Each Journal

Prepare the Article for Submission

Develop a Plan to Publish a Book

Complete the Book Plan

Submit the Book Plan

Technology Technique: Journal Software Requirements


"Successfully writing and defending a thesis/dissertation is often the impediment that keeps doctoral students from completing their programs. Writing the Winning Thesis or Dissertation is a great blueprint to avoid this pitfall. Every doctoral student should pick up a copy of this easy to follow guide. It is written in a very user-friendly format, answers numerous questions, and provides clear direction. Joyner, Rouse, and Glatthorn provide the graduate student a key to getting started, working through the process, and completing a winning thesis or dissertation. No graduate student should be without a copy on his or her shelf."

Dr. Henry A. Peel, Special Assistant to the President
Macon State College, Macon, GA

"This book is a valuable tool for students and professors alike. It addresses the concerns students have, and reminds those of us guiding dissertations of the issues surrounding this challenging process.Writing a dissertation is a step-by-step activity. This is a guide that the doctoral candidate can read, and re-read as each step is accomplished, seeing both the details and the 'big picture'."

Theresa Eagle, Dean, Graduate School of Education and Professional Development
Marshall University, South Charleston Campus, South Charleston, WV

"Few tasks are as potentially intimidating to graduate students as the process of constructing and completing a masters' thesis or doctoral dissertation. In this text, the authors have provided many practical tools and ideas for guiding this process to a successful conclusion. This newly updated edition of what has been a highly popular and useful text will be well received by scores of graduate students in the various fields of education and educational leadership."

James R. Machell, Dean, College of Education and Professional Studies
University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond, OK

"The authors have provided an excellent start-to-finish how-to guide for completing a dissertation. It is practical, useful, and written in a way that is not threatening to students. This book 'brings it home' for the students. It is an important resource for any doctoral student!"

Sandy Hutchinson, EdD, Professor of Educational Leadership
University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, MO

"Writing the Winning Thesis or Dissertation, occupies a unique place in academic literature. The book is extremely readable and offers practical and useful advice for graduate students and doctoral candidates while also observing the highest standards of scholarship and the professoriate. I recommend the book to all my doctoral students and the feedback I receive is uniformly excellent. The process for writing a thesis or dissertation is broken down into easily understood components with clear directions for following the process from the beginning (selecting a chair) to the end (the final defense). I am proud to know Dr. Rouse as a colleague, and I am proud of his work on this book."

Dr. James O. McDowelle, Professor, Educational Leadership
East Carolina University, Greenville, NC

"Writing the Winning Thesis or Dissertation represents a collection of years of professional experiences in serving on thesis and dissertation committees. Having successfully served on over sixty dissertation committees as chair, methodologist, and reader in my career, I found this book to be thoroughly covering all aspects of the dissertation process. The student oriented approach the authors take in writing and organization makes it easy for students to accept and follow instructions. What I appreciate most is the last part of the book giving students all the encouragement and support for continuing with the scholarship of their dissertation studies. This is a book I will certainly include as an essential reference for my doctoral classes."

Tak Cheung Chan, Professor of Educational Leadership
Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA

"It is a difficult quest to give students the needed resources to assist in writing a thesis or dissertation. Joyner, Rouse and Glatthorn address completing this journey in an organized and sequential process. I congratulate the authors in their thoughtful portrayal."

Ellen H. Reames, Program Coordinator
Educational Leadership, Auburn University, AL

Excellent book that thoughtfully takes students through the thesis journey.

Dr Katherine Cartmell
Education and Early Childhood Studies, Liverpool John Moores University
March 16, 2015

Recommended for beginner researchers that need level of detail.

Dr Margaret Carter
Business Administration , National Graduate Univ
June 25, 2014

Used as part of independent study briefings as suggested, as useful to students that need this level of structured guidance, in addition to that given by the university.

Mrs Kay Wall
Social Work Department, Kent State University
June 10, 2014

Sample Materials & Chapters


Chapter 1: Laying the Groundwork for the Thesis and Dissertation

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Randy L. Joyner

Randy L. Joyner is an adjunct professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC. He is retired from the Department of Educational Leadership in the College of Education of East Carolina University, where he directed or served as committee member for 25 dissertations. Furthermore, he has served as a doctoral committee member at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia; and North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina. He has received several awards for his research: the Delta Pi Epsilon doctoral research award, the... More About Author

William Arthur Rouse

William A. Rouse Jr. is the Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Faculty Affairs in the College of Education, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC as well as an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership in the College of Education, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC. He was a public school teacher and a secondary school principal prior to joining the faculty at East Carolina University. He has worked with several school districts’ administrators to refocus their efforts on effective school leadership practices that result in a dynamic teaching and learning environment. He has also worked with a school... More About Author

Allan A. Glatthorn

Allan A. Glatthorn (1924–2007) was a major contributor to the third and fourth editions; his research used in the preparation of the first and second editions of Writing the Winning Thesis or Dissertation: A Step-by-Step Guide was the foundation for the third edition. He was the Distinguished Research Professor of Education (Emeritus) in the College of Education of East Carolina University, where he advised doctoral students, chaired dissertations, and taught courses in supervision and curriculum. He was formerly Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education of the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to his university... More About Author

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