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The first edition of this book grew out of the dearth of written infor-
mation on the subject for either students or faculty. They told us they
needed to know much more about doing or directing theses and disser-
tations than they found in college catalogues, graduate office instruc-
tions, or discussions with those who had experienced the process.
We decided to write about the “how to” aspects of thesis and
dissertation study and to emphasize the intellectual effort required of
both students and professors.
This book is designed to inform and advise about the thesis and
dissertation process, how to get through it and get the most out of it.
The fact that half of the students who complete course requirements
do not go on to complete the dissertation (in some schools as high as
70%) makes our objective more urgent (Monaghan, 1989).
This fifth edition was prompted by suggestions from students,
colleagues, and other users of earlier editions. In response to those
helpful recommendations and our own observations, we believe that
the book is substantially improved in the following ways:
vi Preface
Attention is given to the honors thesis as an important and rapidly
growing category of student research.
More attention is given to the use of up-to-date technology, (e.g.,
computers and software) in the thesis and dissertation (T/D) pro-
cess, from initial research to writing the final results.
New suggestions designed to help foreign students are made, with
special emphasis on critical points, such as helpful advice for advi-
sors of foreign students.
A new section on qualitative research has been added to the first
The intellectual property aspects of the T/D are given major atten-
Socially sensitive research is explained and discussed.
Confidentiality and privacy of Internet communication are pre-
sented as critical issues.
Cautions about the accuracy and trustworthiness of research re-
ported on the Internet are offered.
A new section has been added concerning the appropriate use of
animal subjects.
The historical background of advanced degrees is summarized in
the new Introduction.
Reorganization, consolidation, and altered sequencing of topics,
with an enlarged index enhances use of the book as a reference.
There are additional suggestions for students and faculty in the
academic disciplines, as well as readers in the professional disci-
The forms of dissertation now current in higher education are rec-
ognized and acknowledged to be different but equally appropriate
ways to assemble data and focus on a problem, depending on the
nature of the problem to be addressed.
A table of contents is offered for both the thesis and the disserta-
tion, as models for student researchers.
A checklist for theses and dissertations is included to help student
researchers in critiquing and revising their own first drafts, as well
as the work of others.
More than twenty operational models have been presented for
dealing with specific problems in the thesis and dissertation pro-
cess, from topic selection through evaluating the finished product.
To the best of our knowledge, the bibliography is the most com-
prehensive one in print on the thesis and the dissertation.
Perhaps the most unusual quality of this book is that it addresses both
students and faculty members. Certainly it is aimed primarily at stu-
dents. Yet we found it necessary to write both to the student and to the
thesis or dissertation committee members in order to convey certain
concepts like colleagueship and consultation. So one should not be
surprised that the student is advised about interactions with committee
members at the same time that suggestions are given that committee
members might apply in their dealings with students. We hope that
our treatment of the subject encourages discussion among those in-
volved in the enterprise.
One of the surprising weaknesses in the thesis or dissertation
process is that there is relatively little scholarly literature and a re-
markably small number of empirical investigations about it. This is
true not only for the professions but also for the arts and sciences and
all aspects of the honors thesis.
Comparative and descriptive studies of T/D topics do exist.
However, the theoretical articles and the data-based studies one might
expect to find about the principles and processes of such an important
part of academia are few. That is why we report little hard evidence
on most of the issues in thesis and dissertation preparation. In fact,
we found it necessary to conduct our own investigations to help us
arrive at the viewpoints we present in the various chapters.
To broaden the database more than 100 faculty members were
interviewed, each of whom had directed more than five dissertations.
The insights they shared during structured and informal interviews
averaging considerably more than one hour each afforded us an unpar-
alleled opportunity for learning. The findings from those interviews,
supplemented by publications, constituted the raw material from
which the various chapters were constructed.
We are grateful to C. Baker, R. M. Bean, D. B. Cameron, R.
Dekker, J. T. Gibson, A. K. Golin, T. Hsu, R. D. Hummel, A. Kovacs,
L. Pingle, M. C. Reynolds, M. Spring, G. A. Stewart, M. Wang, and
viii Preface
T. Zullo for reading and critiquing the book, for using early drafts of
the book in seminars, and for employing it with individual students in
graduate research direction and guidance. We appreciate their wise
and acute observations on how to improve it. For assistance in build-
ing a relevant bibliography we owe thanks to many professors, gradu-
ate students, and bibliographers from the University of Pittsburgh and
other centers of higher education in the United States and abroad.
Special appreciation is acknowledged to Russell Dekker and Allen
Kent for helpful counsel and support throughout.
Whatever merit the book has is owed in good part to the thought-
ful help we have had from all who aided and advised us along the
We are naturally pleased that the response to our work has been
both substantial and warm. We hope that the fifth edition will prove
even more useful than the previous editions to students and faculty.
James E. Mauch
Namgi Park
Preface v
List of Figures xiii
Historical Introduction: The Emergence of Advanced Degrees
and Graduate Research xv
The right beginning Meaning and purpose of theses
and dissertations What constitutes an acceptable T/D?
Make a personal time line Take advantage of
technology Characteristics of high-quality student
research Qualitative research The thesis in honors
colleges and honors programs The thesis as an
element of the master’s program Preferred practices
in student research Thesis and dissertation objectives
Learning about advisor functions The T/D as a
teaching device Scope of advisor responsibilities
Encouraging committee participation Selection of the
research advisor Summary
x Contents
Interactions of student and academic advisor Students
with disabilities Choosing the topic for study
Foreign students in T/D study Personal criteria for
student use Using libraries and other information
sources Summary
Getting started Outlining the proposal Filling in
the outline Research design Research
methodology Make software your servant
Functions of the committee Student/committee
negotiations Maintaining communication
Selecting the committee members Committee member
roles Summary
Characteristics of a sound overview Purposes of the
proposal overview meeting Suitability of the topic
Consultation with committee members Coordination
role of the advisor After the overview meeting
Time Computer usage Use of private information
Obligations to human subjects Animal subjects in
research Material aid for student research
Student dropouts in the research stage Summary
The thesis/dissertation format An approach to the first
draft Using advice and technical assistance The
review of the first draft When the writing is finished
Structure of the oral examination Preparation for the
examining committee session Conduct of the oral
examination Decision making regarding the oral
defense Follow-up after approval or disapproval
After the research is approved Writing for publication
Improvement of one’s professional or academic discipline
Follow-up studies based on T/D research
Reinforcement for follow-up Future trends
Appendix A: Suggested Proposal and Project Guidelines 303
Appendix B: Course Outline 309
Bibliography 315
Index 327
List of Figures
1-1 The Thesis/Dissertation Time Line 6
1-2 Examples of Academic and Professional Disciplines 11
1-3 Distinctions Between Research in Academic
Disciplines and Professional Disciplines 1415
2-1 Progress of Student-Advisor Relationship 39
3-1 Schematic Diagram of the Proposal Process 68
3-2 Checklist of Thesis or Dissertation Topic Sources 73
3-3 Checklist of Topic Feasibility and Appropriateness 7879
4-1 Administrative and Technical Matters in Thesis
and Dissertation Regulations 101103
xiv List of Figures
4-2 Table of Contents for a Proposal 107
4-3 General Model for Research Designs 124
5-1 Thesis/Dissertation Evaluation Form 145147
5-2 Progress Report Memorandum 149
6-1 Faculty Tone and Attitude During Overview
Committee Meetings 176
6-2 Presentation for Topic Approval by Faculty 197
7-1 ToDoBy...”List 200
7-2 Recommended Note-Taking Format 206
8-1 Table of Contents for Theses and Dissertations 239240
8-2 Checklist for Theses and Dissertations 249250
Historical Introduction: The
Emergence of Advanced Degrees and
Graduate Research
The present college and university degree structure has deep roots in
more than 700 years of tradition. The connection of advanced degrees
with written theses and dissertations goes back in time almost as far.
The awarding of degrees as evidence of advanced study occurred in a
time when skill in argument and appeal to authority were valued
highly. The thesis and dissertation (T/D) constituted components of
well-reasoned arguments. The successful applicant had to take a posi-
tion (the thesis), buttress it with logic, and relate it to the earlier con-
clusions of respected scholars (the dissertation) to the point that it
could not be refuted. That concept of the T/D gave rise to a viewpoint
that continues to this day, namely that the final act with regard to
T/D study is the defense of the study by the student before a group of
probing questioners. Historically, successful defense led to advance-
ment of the writer from the status of student first to rank of master,
xvi Historical Introduction
then to doctor, with the rights and privileges that were part of those
stations in life.
Artisans and craftsmen had organized to keep their skills from
becoming the property of everyone, thus protecting their livelihoods.
They systematized the preparation of new specialists by enforcing a
sequence of training leading from apprenticeship to the status of mas-
ter. Preparation of a masterpiece, a work that was judged worthy of
the name by a jury of masters, signaled the successful conclusion of
As academic centers emerged, and as a sequence of study
evolved, the thesis and the dissertation became the capstones of suc-
cessive levels of achievement. The model, probably borrowed from
the guilds of artisans and craftsmen, spread. The masters and the doc-
torate became identifying symbols. For example, in the early four-
teenth century in Bologna, a candidate for the Doctor of Law degree
had to take two examinationsa private one and, later, a public one
in the cathedal. The private examination was conducted by the faculty
of doctors.
A series of knowledge explosions led to differentiation of academic
and applied fields. The age of terrestrial exploration greatly expanded
human knowledge. Much of the new information and understanding
also challenged long-held beliefs. The Industrial Revolution brought
another and much higher level of comprehension, particularly about
the physical world, triggering the post-Victorian period of technology
and science.
Each period brought changes. A major one was the emergence
of professional degrees as contrasted with academic degrees.
The Doctor of Philosophy degree, an academic discipline degree,
was first offered in the United States at Yale University in 1861. Less
than three decades later, in 1890, New York University initiated a
Graduate School of Pedagogy, the first graduate school of education
in this country. It offered the Doctor of Philosophy plus a Doctor of
Pedagogy degree, the latter credited with being the first doctoral level
xviiHistorical Introduction
degree in the professional discipline of education awarded in the
United States.
The master’s degree predated the doctorate. In 1858 the Univer-
sity of Michigan, for example, had courses of study leading to the
Master of Arts and the Master of Science degrees. As far as a master’s
degree in a profession is concerned, probably the first was the Master
of Pedagogy, also offered in 1890 by New York University. Inciden-
tally, the Bachelor of Pedagogy degree had a brief period of popularity
from about 1900 to 1936 as an indicator of graduation from under-
graduate teacher preparation.
The Doctor of Education degree was introduced in 1920 by Har-
vard University. It was intended for practicing educators. In 1933 an-
other new degree was born at Harvard University, the Master of Arts
in Teaching. It was to be administered jointly by the faculty of the
Graduate School of Education and by the Faculty of Arts and Sci-
During the same period, other professions developed masters and
doctors degrees that required theses and dissertations. The T/D pro-
cess in some disciplines developed uniquely. An example is law and
jurisprudence. Aspirants to the JD degree face requirements of an ex-
traordinary kind. Most professions, however, employed the familiar
M.A., M.S. and Ph.D., adapting them to their purposes but retaining
much of the flavor that the degrees originally had in the academic
disciplines and simply adding a phrase, as in Master of Arts in the
Adminstration of Justice. Several growing professions developed dis-
tinctive advanced degrees in addition to the well-established ones.
Some examples are:
Business: Master of Business Administration
Dental Medicine: Master of Dental Science
Engineering: Master of Energy Resources
Master of Public Work
Master of Public Work
Library and Information Master of Library Science
Nursing: Master of Nursing
Master of Nursing Education
xviii Historical Introduction
Psychology: Doctor of Psychology
Public and International Master of Public and International Affairs
Master of Public Administration
Master of Urban and Regional Planning
Public Health: Master of Public Health
Doctor of Science in Hygiene
Doctor of Public Health
Social Work: Master of Social Work
Doctor of Social Work
Each of these degrees, like others offered by responsible, accred-
ited universities and professional schools, has legitimacy and indicates
attainment worthy of respect. Each also has its unique history.
Other professional degrees emerge each year, and existing de-
grees attain more and more prominence. Actually, the histories of
many degrees have not yet been thoroughly sought out and recorded.
(There are still some T/D topics awaiting students!)
Whether in chemistry, psychology, public health, social work or
any other academic discipline or profession, students should know the
history of the degrees they expect to earn. That background provides
a valuable base from which to judge the appropriateness of a potential
T/D topic and to represent one’s discipline honorably and well.
The material published in university bulletins and elsewhere
about degrees usually tells little about the thesis or dissertation re-
quirements. In some cases, they say only that they require a project
that is considered equivalent to a T/D study. The scarcity of published
data on these matters for many of the academic or professional disci-
plines shows a need for additional scholarly inquiry into the natural
history and the characteristics of the thesis and dissertation.
Every contemporary profession was, in its beginning stages, made up
of a number of separate individuals operating with a loosely knit
group of common skills, responsibilities, and assumptions. The group
was held together only by social sanctions. As each profession’s cen-
xixHistorical Introduction
tral core of functions crystallized, a body of laws and customs devel-
oped that institutionalized the activities of the profession. At the same
time, the members usually organized and took steps to define their
roles even further, particularly with respect to two considerations: eth-
ical behavior toward their clients and toward each other, and protec-
tion of the public from charlatans.
These evolutionary steps had different points of origin for differ-
ent professions. For law in America the start was in the period 1775
1780. For educators in the United States, professionalization started
around 1850. The first call for a school to train social workers arose
in 1894. Before then, little theoretical or empirical writing had ap-
peared about the standards, teaching, financing, objectives, and sub-
stance of professional education.
During the second half of the 19th century, an empirical base for
many of today’s professions began to develop. Books, journals, and
state and federal publications carried the material. Virtually all inves-
tigations, though, dealt with matters that could be approached by the
collection of factual data, examining the data in terms of totals,
ranges, averages, and percentages. Ideas about professional practice
continued to achieve acceptance or rejection on the basis of their logi-
cal or emotional appeal to the public and to persons in authority. Not
until the new century began did actual field-testing of new concepts
start to rival debate in determining the efficacy of professional prac-
The enthusiasm for science that characterized the Western world
at the turn of the century had a decided impact. The idea of a scientific
base for the professions began to be taken seriously. The science ad-
herents came from a variety of academic disciplines. They had in
common a conviction about the paramount importance of seeking
quantifiable evidence, deriving principles, and testing the principles
by additional investigations.
The investigative procedures advocated by science-minded
members of the professions came, naturally enough, from the various
academic disciplines in which they had been trained. They added tech-
niques devised to suit the questions they sought to resolve. The addi-
tions ranged from the questionnaire, the rating scale, the controlled
experiment, and the case study to the complex set of procedures used
xx Historical Introduction
in surveys of entire societal units (i.e., communities, school systems,
cultures, and nations).
Theses and dissertations on topics related more to the profes-
sional disciplines than to the academic disciplines grew in number
each year. So did the number of practicing professionals familiar with
research procedures. But the formal training of individuals for careers
in professional research moved forward more slowly.
During the first three quarters of the 20th century, the newly
trained professors who elected to work in professional schools became
more and more separated from the professors in the academic disci-
plines, including the disciplines that had generated most of the “pro-
fession-oriented” professors. During that same timespan, the training
of persons to conduct investigative studies on “professional” topics
became largely a function of faculty in the professional schools. More
and more often, the professional disciplines found themselves almost
completely separated from the main bodies of their parent academic
disciplines (e.g., social work from sociology and public affairs from
political science).
Certainly, this altered the nature of the T/D work. The investiga-
tions of both faculty members and students who recognized their pri-
mary engagement in professional preparation edged toward a more
operational, practice-oriented mode than the studies conducted by the
faculties and students in the arts and sciences. The same trend ap-
peared even in professional preparation programs which often re-
mained housed in university academic departments, such as speech
pathology and audiology, clinical psychology, economics, theater,
dance, studio arts, music, and journalism.
The widening separation of the professions from the academic
disciplines showed in the increasingly pragmatic stances of the for-
mer, as contrasted with the more abstract devotion to knowledge for
its own sake in the latter. There were exceptions, of course; some
leaders managed to straddle the gap. But the rapid growth in the avail-
ability of schooling and the public demand for high standards of hu-
man services, coupled with accelerated professionalization, exerted
powerful socioeducational forces. Among other things, these forces
influenced scholarship in professional schools to increase serious ef-
forts to develop professional preparation, with its own theoretical
base, and to construct a body of knowledge and practice that would
xxiHistorical Introduction
define the profession. The movement accelerated, too, under the influ-
ence of the steady and widespread growth in empiricism in most of
the Western world’s cultures and by increasingly sophisticated utiliza-
tion of statistical analysis of data in all sectors of society.
The impact of these factors in combination was strong. By mid-
century, empirical research methods dominated. Virtually all advanced
degrees in the professions required the study of statistical procedures
for data analysis. Research departments developed in professional
schools not so much to conduct research as to teach graduate students
to understand and use designs and data-analysis procedures for empir-
ical studies with the greatest feasible degree of control of variables.
Acceptable research came to be identified by the procedures taught by
the research departments of their particular schools. The definition of
“respectability” in many professional schools was to do a T/D that
employed some form of a controlled experimental design and sub-
jected its data to a complex statistical analysis.
The late 1950s saw the development of a noticeable negative reaction
to the attitude that any professional discipline could build a theoretical
and conceptual base securely founded on a narrowly conceived under-
pinning of research design and research methodology. Some profes-
sional-school faculty members had pressed for a broader interpretation
all along. Their students carried out surveys, conducted polls and case
studies, did retrospective project evaluation, analyzed the impact of
laws on practices, studied development processes, and in countless
other ways asserted the importance of a wider range of methodologies
and technologies of investigation. That reaction appears by now to
have approached a balance with the earlier, narrower point of view.
Contributions to the different knowledge bases for the various profes-
sions are at present welcomed from many directions. Recently added
dimensions in investigations are found, for example, in the widespread
interest in qualitative research and in the development of systems of
evaluation. Today’s T/D student in either an academic or a profes-
sional discipline has unprecedented latitude in choice of subject and
Getting Started
1. What do I need to get started? 14
2. What is acceptable as a thesis or dissertation? 45
3. How can I plan ahead effectively? 526
4. What are the main objectives of T/D work? 2733
This book is for
Students looking for practical help with honors and master’s theses
and doctoral dissertations
Faculty seeking instructional tools to use in seminars on research and
with advisees
Two precious commodities dare not be wasted in thesis and disserta-
tion (T/D)* work: student time and faculty time. Guidelines in this
book emphasize high-quality effort, excellence of product, and mini-
mum loss of time.
*For convenience, T/D means honors and master’s theses, dissertations, and other terms used
by various colleges and universities to designate the T/D work product. When necessary, distinc-
tions are drawn.
2 Chapter 1
The four essentials for a good start are
1. A clear understanding of the meaning and purpose of student re-
search work.
2. Accurate knowledge of what constitutes an acceptable T/D.
3. A detailed plan of action.
4. The technical skill to implement the plan.
These essentials are interrelated. Serious efforts should be devoted to
getting all four well in mind right away.
Special Note: One of the most important changes in thesis and
dissertation preparation has been the influence of technology. Two
decades ago, many theses and dissertations were still being typed on
a typewriter, and students use of computers to do the research, make
statistical calculations, properly cite references in the text, and prepare
bibliographies was at a beginning stage. Students today marvel at
what was accomplished by students before the advent of computers
and relevant software. For current students, computer knowledge and
skill are essential. If there remain students who lack such knowledge
and skill, now is the time to get up to speed. Throughout this text, we
point out the ways computers can help you do a better and more effi-
cient job of research and preparation of your thesis or dissertation.
Clarifying the Meaning and Purpose of the T/D
Students who know the official answers to the queries below tend to
begin the T/D process with more confidence and a good prospect of
1. What are the purposes of the T/D according to (a) your university,
(b) your school, and (c) your department?
2. If more than one kind of honors or master’s or doctoral degree
can be earned in your department, which should you aim for and
Avoid misunderstandings by talking with your academic or re-
search advisor to get full responses to the above two questions. If
3Getting Started
answers are not available in writing, take notes on what you are told
and by whom. Then, write a summary of your notes and give a copy
to your advisor for verification.
Keep a copy of the verified notes. If any doubts linger, recheck
your notes with the department chairperson. Here and elsewhere in
this book, we advise keeping verified notes. One key reason is that
both faculty members and procedures can change during the period of
your study, and your verified notes can prevent your progress from
being interrupted or delayed by such changes. It helps to use a com-
puter file (see Appendix A) and to maintain a backup.
Distinction Among Honors, Master’s,
and Doctoral Levels
In the United States, honors programs are typically opted for by out-
standing undergraduate students. Honors research normally takes
place in the junior and senior years. Common to honors research is
the requirement of proof of the student’s capacity for independent
scholarship, shown by the production, presentation, and defense of a
senior thesis. That thesis is held to a standard of quality and depth
usually reserved for the graduate level (University of Pittsburgh,
1992). The U.S. honors programs are substantially different from the
British honors system, and students from countries that employ the
British system (e.g., India, Pakistan, and some African nations) should
not confuse the two.
Master’s and doctoral degree research expectations are strikingly
similar among schools. These statements, for example, are from an
engineering school publication (Stuart, 1979).
The master’s thesis must demonstrate the candidate’s ability to
make use of appropriate research procedures, to organize pri-
mary and secondary information into a meaningful whole, and
to present the results in acceptable prose. The length of the thesis
is not important so long as these ends are fulfilled. (p. 1)
The doctoral dissertation is expected to represent independent
and original research in the field of the candid ate’s grad uat e study .
It must add, in some fashion, to understanding in the candidate’s
field. Such contribution to knowledge may result either from the
4 Chapter 1
critical examination of materials not hitherto dealt with or from
the re-examination of traditional materials by means of new
techniques or from new points of view. The project undertaken
must be of sufficient difficulty and scope to test the candidate’s
ability to carry on further research [independently] and it must
ensure...mastering the skills needed for such research. (p. 1)
These quotations illustrate an overarching concept: The T/D is
done to provide a demonstration of the candidate’s ability to carry
out, with substantial independence, a rational investigation that is sig-
nificant in the field and to report the results in a sensible and under-
standable fashion. There are marked differences among fields as to
what constitutes “independence” and “significant” in the research pro-
cess and product. Yet, essentially the same principles apply to thesis
and dissertation study in all professions and academic disciplines
(Council of Graduate Schools [CGS], 1990b).
Thesis and dissertation study is a part of higher learning intended
to identify significant problems, investigate them, analyze the find-
ings, relate them to important concepts or issues, and convey conclu-
sions and implications to others in clear, objective prose. In that con-
text, thesis and dissertation study is a stimulating activity carried on
by students in an increasingly collegial relationship with faculty mem-
bers. It is a culminating and synthesizing activity based on prior study,
and it should be a launch pad for future independent investigations.
Finally, thesis and dissertation work should prepare graduates who
become faculty members in colleges and universities to guide students
through the same experiences later.
General statements about the meaning and purpose of T/D work need
to be brought into sharper focus to be helpful in particular instances. To
accomplish that, students should ask their advisors specific questions.
1. What forms of investigation, if any, are favored by the faculty of
the department? What forms of investigation, if any, are unlikely
to be approved? Accepted forms of T/D investigation range
widely from school to school and even within departments of the
5Getting Started
same school. Form is often related to the student’s major field of
study. For example, studies of ancient bridges might be accept-
able in a history department, a seminary, a geology department,
or an engineering school. But one can be sure that the form the
studies would take (i.e., the research question, the data collected
and means of collecting it, the analysis of the data, and the defini-
tions of validity and replicability) would vary considerably.
2. Are any topics discouraged or even out of bounds for T/Ds? Are
any topics of special interest to the faculty?
3. Does the department have a particular orientation (e.g., the fam-
ily, public policy, or intercultur al concerns ) that characteri zes much
of its student and faculty research and other scholarly work?
4. Is there a published list of departmental faculty with notes about
their individual or team research interests?
5. Are computer workstations and software packages available for
student use in T/D work? Is the library automated, and are its
holdings accessible on line?
Inquiries like these can be used to initiate conversations with
one’s advisor. Also, it is helpful to talk about such questions with
students who have recently completed T/Ds successfully. It is sug-
gested that notes be taken and summaries written after discussions
with faculty and students. The more clarification one can obtain at
this point, the more likely one is to avoid difficulties in the future.
A realistic time line projection is imperative. It helps keep the project
on course, and it encourages disciplined use of time. Moreover, it is
a communication tool with the advisor and committee members. It
allows an advisor to react to and to be aware of the student’s orderly
approach. Our stress on the value of using a time line is reinforced by
W. G. Bowen and Rudenstine (1992), who urge the use of time lines
to help improve the effectiveness and the efficiency of advanced study
in general and the dissertation phase in particular.
The T/D time line (Fig. 1-1) can be used as is or adapted. The
action points may need minor alterations to make them match the
6 Chapter 1
Figure 1-1 The thesis/dissertation time line.
7Getting Started
specific procedures of a given school, but each of the 30 items appears
as an essential step somewhere in the process in most schools. It is
helpful to put this T/D time line on your computer and to update it
Start Now to Use the Time Line
First, define present status by checking off those items that are com-
pleted and circling the one or two currently under way. This allows a
precise answer to questions like: “How is the investigation going?
Where are you now?” Second, use the time line in planning. Reference
to the time line encourages thinking ahead, making appointments with
committee members, and scheduling one’s own time. Third, use the
time line to project one’s graduation date. Universities commonly re-
quire that final approval (Action 30) be certified by the T/D commit-
tee by a specified date that falls some weeks prior to the close of
the term in which the student intends to be graduated. Ordinarily, the
committee-approved final copy of the project must be submitted by
that same date. Insert that date at the bottom of the appropriate column
and work backward, estimating how many days, weeks, or months it
will take to move from one action to the next until the current status
is reached. This vital exercise brings into the open any discrepancies
between a student’s wishful thinking and the actuality of the calendar.
Most students find it helpful to enlist their advisor’s aid in making
time estimates and in gathering information about special considera-
tions related to timing.
Students are familiar with the calculator and the word-pr oce ssi ng func-
tions of computers because those functions are most helpful in com-
pleting assignments in college and university courses. But, some may
not have had experience with computer use and computer-related
technology for the independent kind of research called for in theses
and dissertations.
Today’s applications of integrated circuits and their linkages
allow research to be done more quickly and more accurately. Investi-
8 Chapter 1
gators can use technological tools profitably in almost every stage of
a study, including pinpointing the topic; doing the literature search;
selecting the research methodology; collecting, analyzing, and dis-
playing the data; and publishing the results and conclusions.
Probably the computer would come to mind first if one were
asked for examples of technological tools rich in research applica-
tions. The computer certainly has great value in almost every facet of
research. And, it definitely exemplifies high technology.
But not to be overlooked are a number of other devices of real
potential utility, too. Here is a partial list:
Tape recorders
PowerPoint presentations
Internet providers
Fax machines
Cell phones
Internal modems
E-mail providers
There is no end in sight so far as the potential for using en-
abling devices and technologi es is concerned. New on-line univer si-
ties are being created based on the ability to communicate with stu -
dents using the new telecommunication technology. The Universit y
of Phoe nix ( ) Online is one example.
Another is Walden U niversity’s (http: // Online
Accredited University Degree Program. Older universities are join-
ing in also, by starting courses or program s that eventually lead to
degree programs. See the home p age (
for som e examples.
Also, many of these devices can be connected to one another
at nearby or distant places to b ring resources together for the re-
searcher ’s advant age and to conduct procedures in a matter of sec-
onds th at would oth erwise take hours or day s of the investigator’s
time. I n succeeding chapters, such technological applications a re
suggested as they m ight fit the requirements of a particular stage of
9Getting Started
Electronic Communication Etiquette
The deep absorption in one’s problem fostered by the demands of
research does not qualify as an excuse for not maintaining normal
civility and etiquette. This applies to both students and faculty in their
relations with both colleagues and associates.
Increasi ngl y, colleges and universit ies are publishing policy state-
ments on civility in discourse, debate, and other person-to-person in-
teractions. These have special merit for investigators caught up in the
often-intense emotional and pressure-filled atmosphere of T/D work.
Sensible guidelines for electronically mediated interactions are
found in the current (18th) edition of Etiquette, the Blue Book of So-
cial Usage (Post, 1997). Etiquette continues to be defined as a code
of behavior based on thoughtfulness and consideration. Particularly
relevant for the modern researcher is Post’s section on electronic com-
munication. A coined word, “netiquette,” covers appropriate behavior
in using the Internet (or any net).
The Terminology of T/D Work Needs to Be Defined
Terminology in higher education is not standardized. The definitions
that follow do, however, enjoy common usage.
Thesis: The thesis is the product of a scholarly and professional
study at the honors or the master’s degree level. It is usually a docu-
ment* in a format and style specified by the particular university.
(Sometimes, “thesis” is regarded as a synonym for “dissertation.” That
is acceptable, but we elect to link thesis with honors or master’s de-
gree studies and dissertation with the doctorate.)
Dissertation: The dissertation is the product of student work at the
doctoral level, distinguished from thesis study chiefly by its deeper,
*Theses and dissertations are referred to as documents in most instances throughout this book
since the majority do take that form. It is sometimes the case that the end product of thesis and
dissertation study is a musical composition, a painting, or a performance of artistic merit. We
respect all of these and documents equally, but we could find no generic expression that would
adequately include all forms of the various capstone works in advanced graduate study.
10 Chapter 1
more comprehensive, and more mature professional and scholarly
treatment of the subject.
Proposal: A proposal (synonymous with “overview”) is a written
plan for a thesis or for a dissertation developed by a student for con-
sideration and possible approval by a T/D committee.
T/D Committee: The T/D committee is a group of faculty members,
usually at least three for the thesis and four for the dissertation, re-
sponsible for assisting the student in planning a proposal, for deter-
mining if it is approvable, for guiding the student in the conduct of
the study and in preparing the T/D, and for examining the student at
the end of the process.
T/D Advisor: The T/D advisor is the faculty member officially des-
ignated to chair the T/D committee and to have chief responsibility
for the student’s guidance in all matters through the process; some-
times also called the research advisor; not necessarily the student’s
academic advisor.
T/D Chairperson: The chairperson and the T/D advisor may be the
same person or they may be two different persons. In the latter case,
the chairperson has primary responsibility for convening meetings of
the committee, monitoring matters of regulation and protocol that
need to be observed, and ensuring that the student’s rights and privi-
leges and those of the faculty members are understood and not
abridged. Thus, the research advisor has primary responsibility for
guiding the student in the conduct of the study and in the preparation
of the T/D document.
Graduate Office: The graduate office is the university office with
responsibility for issuing, implementing, and interpreting regulations
about the T/D, such as forms to be used, time schedule of events, and
style guides. This office also usually has record maintenance func-
tions. For the honors thesis, the above functions are usually located in
the office of the dean of the honors college.
Academic and Professional Disciplines: There will be occasions to
refer to substantive bodies of knowledge in the sciences, humanities,
and arts (such as physiology, history, literature, philosophy, chemis-
11Getting Started
try, and music), as well as reasons to refer to such professional fields
as education, law, social work, nursing, and engineering. In many lex-
icons, these bodies of knowledge are called “disciplines.” In order to
clarify a distinction that is grounded in a real difference, we refer
separately to the “academic” disciplines and the “professional” disci-
plines, as in Fig. 1-2.
The person trained in an academic discipline is master of a large
and involved, but unified, body of knowledge and is primarily inter-
ested in adding to that body of content. The person trained in a profes-
sional discipline, on the other hand, is master of diversified informa-
tion and concepts that focus on the efficient and effective conduct of
some operation, such as teaching, treating an illness, trying a case in
court, or designing or directing plays. So, it is reasonable to expect
that T/Ds done in the academic disciplines and the professional disci-
plines would differ.
Figure 1-2 Examples of academic and professional disciplines.
12 Chapter 1
Characteristic Similarities and Differences Between T/D
Research in Professional and Academic Disciplines
Similarities: The same three elements must be present in all accept-
able T/D work in both the professional and the academic disciplines:
originality, individuality, and rigor. Originality means that the re-
search has not been done before in the same way. It is rare to find a
topic that has not been researched before to some extent and by some
procedure. So, originality does not mean that the research questions
or hypotheses are entirely new. Instead, the originality criterion is met
if the student continues to study an unresolved problem in a way that
is substantially different from prior approaches and that has a reason-
able prospect of adding to an understanding of the problem. Also,
replication of prior research meets the originality criterion if features
are added to the replication that make it possible to check on the
procedures and findings of the earlier study, thus making the replica-
tion more meritorious research than that replicated.
Individuality means that the study is conceived, conducted, and
reported primarily by the student. Topics may often be suggested by
others. Also, advisors may help in thinking through the concepts and
the procedures to be used. But, the chief decisions about whether to
study the topic, how to study it, and how to report it must be made,
rationalized, and defended by the student. When one applies the indi-
viduality criterion, it is difficult to accept a T/D that is simply “a piece
of” a large research project being carried on by the advisor. If a stu-
dent’s T/D is to be related to the research program of the advisor (and
that idea has much to recommend it), special care must be taken to
ensure real independence for the student in conceptualizing and con-
ducting the study.
The third element common to T/D work in the academic and
professional disciplines is rigor. To attain rigor means to be charac-
terized by strict accuracy and scrupulous honesty and to insist on pre-
cise distinctions among facts, implications, and suppositions. Rigor is
achieved by sticking to demonstrable facts when reporting procedures
and results, by building on a foundation of facts when drawing con-
clusions, by specifying links to facts when inferring implications, by
always bringing forward all relevant data, and by being both self-
critical and logical in reporting and when projecting needed research.
13Getting Started
The individuality, originality, and rigor criteria are common req-
uisites for investigations in both the academic and professional disci-
plines, even though research in the two kinds of disciplines may differ
markedly otherwise. And, there are real differences both in objectives
and in procedures, as elaborated in the next section. Many students
and faculty members take up work in professional schools after
study and experience in academic disciplines. For them, especially, as
well as for T/D students in general, it is valuable to compare and
contrast research in the two settings.
Despite overlap in the topics studied, we have found seven
points on which there are conceptual or administrative differences (see
Fig. 1-3). To make the differences explicit, read item 1 under “Aca-
demic Discipline Research” and then item 1 under “Professional Dis-
cipline Research.” Note the contrast. Then, do the same through the
seven-item lists.
These seven comparisons should help students and faculty mem-
bers to clarify their thinking as well as to recognize and rationalize
the differences listed. It should be evident that there is no special
quality in any T/D work that does not have its roots in the social-
professional mission it is intended to support and foster. Thus, the
better one understands the social role and function of a profession or
an academic discipline, the better prepared one is to conduct or direct
T/D study within it.
Note also that, within a professional discipline, there may be
distinctions between “applied or practice-oriented” T/D and “theoreti-
cal or concept-oriented” T/Ds. Now is the time to ascertain whether
your school or department values that distinction and what it might
mean for you.
The next section turns to the following questions: What factors
go together to make up a high-quality T/D? How can students make
those factors operational in getting started on their own work?
In a thesis or dissertation, it is the integrity and objectivity of the
investigator that count most. These criteria prevail regardless of the
Figure 1-3 Distinctions between research in academic disciplines and pro-
fessional disciplines.
15Getting Started
Figure 1-3 (continued)
form of investigation or analysis used. Integrity is shown when every
component of the study is carried out with scrupulous honesty. The
criterion for objectivity is met if the investigator recognizes and, as
much as possible, sets aside personal interests and desires and main-
tains a steady state of academic or professional inquiry from the be-
ginning to the end of the project.
For a definitive analysis of these important concepts we recom-
mend three works: Honor in Science (Sigma Xi, 1991), On Being a
16 Chapter 1
Scientist (National Academy of Sciences, 1989), and “Breaking Faith”
(Root-Bernstein, 1989).
Finally, high-quality research should be characterized by publi-
cation. Others deserve access to both the findings and the method used
in the investigation. We call attention to publication now because we
agree with Meloy (2002), who suggests that publication concerns need
to be addressed much earlier than they usually are in the T/D research
process (see Chapter 10).
What Is High-Quality Dissertation or Thesis Research?
Research cannot take the place of thoughtful reflection and even-
handed deliberation. Research can produce facts and ideas that, in
turn, can fuel thought. Research can help the investigator to know
whether all relevant matters are being considered in the study of a
problem. But, research itself does not produce solutions. Human
thoughtnot researchis the sovereign problem solver. Only when
thought is applied to the information unearthed by research is it proba-
ble that valid, reliable, and operationally useful outcomes can be ex-
pected. Thus, the quality of an investigation is a function both of the
research that has been done and of the human cognition that has been
applied in the process.
Some consider that the term research should be applied only to
a very restricted form of controlled, experimental scientific inquiry.
But, that point of view leaves out many important realities in the pro-
fessions. Also, the investigations of historians, anthropologists, or so-
ciologists would frequently not qualify for the title research under that
rule, nor would many of the studies in the arts and in literature. Those
who invent new theories, new psychosocial measures, new techniques
of instruction or who design new curricula or do qualitative research
would often be excluded, too, despite the fact that they may employ
very sophisticated procedures leading to objective evaluations of what
they do.
If the term research is to be used meaningfully in the context of
T/D study, it must encompass not only controlled experimentation,
but also many additional forms of planned, thoughtful, investigative
activities. The definition should be broadly inclusive, encouraging full
17Getting Started
use of the ability and the creativity of the student and the advisor.
The following definition of research best accommodates these needs:
“Diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in or-
der to discover or revise facts, theories, applications, etc.” (Flexner,
1987, p. 1219). It is only fitting that the specific nature of T/D work,
and how research is defined, should depend on the kinds of problems
that need to be investigated to enhance the particular body of knowl-
edge of concern in each discipline.
No one research appro ach is inherently better than another. Rather,
there are research methods that match some problems well and others
poorly. For example, morale factors among supervisors probably can
be studied more adequately through polling, critical incidents, or case
studies than by other methods. If the question is the effectiveness of
a new or modified traffic control system, it is probably best attacked
through an evaluation procedure. For decisions about long-range
building programs, comparative financial projections and analyses
may be important contributing studies. Research about changes in mo-
tivation or about improvement in human skills may be best undertaken
through applied behavior analysis or other forms of controlled ex-
perimentation. Researchers need all forms of investigation, need to
respect them equally, and need to attempt to link each problem to the
research approach that has the best likelihood of helping to apply hu-
man thought to solve it.
Students and colleagues have urged us to add content about qualitative
research to this edition. Their reasons are the following: They found
many associates unfamiliar with that form of research and its poten-
tialities for T/D work; they were concerned about possible misun-
derstandings between those who used qualitative and quantitative ap-
proaches to investigations; and they pointed out the increasing and
spreading use of qualitative research beyond the disciplines and pro-
fessions in which that style of research had its roots.
Those observations seemed to justify devoting added attention
to the matter. Moreover, both of us have directed qualitative research
for T/Ds and have published qualitative research on our own. Thus, in
18 Chapter 1
the following, we call on first-hand experience as well as on research
methodology literature.
The Nature of Qualitative Research
Qualitative research represents the general name for a group of invest-
igative procedures with common characteristics. Also, qualitative re-
search is empirical in the same sense as other recognized forms of
scientific inquiry. It relies on observation. It follows the principle that
experience, especially of the senses, forms the primary source of sci-
entific knowledge (Bogdan and Bikler, 1998; Hernande z, 1996; Lancy,
1993; Le Compte et al., 1993; Taylor and Bogdan, 1998).
Qualitative research encompasses several forms of the investiga-
tion. They all share this characteristic: The data used do not accommo-
date readily to quantification, specification, objectification, or classifi-
cation. Because of that, common statistical procedures cannot be used
for data display or analysis. Typical of such data might be reports of
participant observation or the texts of in-depth and relatively unstruc-
tured interviews.
In qualitative investigations, the researcher strives for understand-
ing of the phenomenon under study, for example, why people like cer-
tain foods, how an athlete prepares for optimum exertion, how opinions
about political issues are formed, how it feels to be a “senior citizen,
or how threats are expressed in Maori culture. The researcher keeps
detailed records of events heard, seen, read, felt, or otherwise noticed in
respect to the topic or situation under scrutiny. The primary objective is
to gain knowledge (data) from the subject’s frame of reference.
Securing accurate information about feelings, sensitive behav-
iors, and other personal experiences is critical in many areas of re-
search. It has been historically difficult to obtain unbiased and full
reports from research subjects about, for example, their pain, mood,
personal and social history, or dietary habits. Techniques have been
developed in the last few decades to improve the reliability and accu-
racy of self-report and observer report; qualitative research studies
often depend heavily on such methods. Such data then contribute to
the evaluation of hypotheses or interventions and to the development
of theories or prognostic indicators. Many researchers are already
19Getting Started
knowledgeable about prevailing quantitative methods of investigation.
Therefore, a useful way to define qualitative research is to highlight
how it compares and contrasts with the more familiar quantitative pro-
cedures. In the following, we amplify and extend the distinctions
made by Ford (1997, p. 46) in an article aimed at psychologists.
Distinctions Between Qualitative
and Quantitative Research
1. Qualitative research relies on deduction. It reaches conclu-
sions by reasoning or inferring from general principles to par-
ticulars. Quantitative research relies on induction, arriving at
generalizations by collecting, examining, and analyzing specific
2. Qualitative research requires the investigator to engage with the
persons, events and ambience studied as an integral part of the
study process. Most often, quantitative research calls for the in-
vestigator to remain detached.
3. Qualitative research offers particular value in the process of gen-
erating new concepts or theories. Quantitative research focuses
more on the testing of existing theories of generalizations.
4. Qualitative research seeks to provide full and accurate descrip-
tions of phenomena in all their complexity. The aim of quantita-
tive research is to reveal or establish cause-and-effect relation-
ships in or among experiences or occurrences.
5. Qualitative research attempts to discover and show the assump-
tions that underlie events or actions. Quantitative research fo-
cuses more on testing the operation of assumptions.
6. Qualitative research uses natural settings as primary data. Quali-
tative studies deal mainly with statements and questions couched
in words and with detailed descriptions of settings and events.
Quantitative research constructs or controls settings and deals
chiefly with amounts and numbers as primary data.
7. Qualitative research begins with broad questions or problems
and attempts to narrow them. Quantitative research starts with
narrow or specific phenomena and attempts to relate them to
others as building blocks to illuminate larger matters.
20 Chapter 1
8. Qualitative resea rch tends to deal with small sampl es and unique-
ness. Quantitative research encourages studying large samples
and prizes representativeness.
9. Qualitative research considers the context of words and events
an integral part of the primary data. Quantitative research tends
to delete context or tightly control it to minimize the influence
of affective nuances.
10. Qualitative research depends on thoroughness and depth of re-
porting to demonstrate significance. Quantitative research uti-
lizes statistical analyses, particularly employing probabilities, to
demonstrate significance.
From the above comparisons and contrasts, it becomes evident
that qualitative research has a distinctive character. How the unique
attributes of qualitative research might best serve the T/D student’s
purpose should be resolved in discussions with the advisor and others
who have the responsibility of guiding student research.
Rigor in Qualitative Research
Investigators using the more conventional forms of research believe
that rigor, or strict and scrupulous accuracy and honesty in conducting
and reporting, is illustrated in part by several markers. The most com-
mon are evidences of validity (both external and internal), reliability,
and objectivity. Qualitative research has its own specific procedures
that convey similar assurances of rigor.
Using the equivalency formulation put forward by Lincoln and
Guba (1985), Ford (1997) draws parallels as follows between mean-
ings of terms from the two types of research:
Qualitative research Quantitative research
Credibility External validity
Transferability Internal validity
Dependability Reliability
Confirmability Objectivity
21Getting Started
If the conditions implied by the above terms can be firmly built
into a qualitative research proposal, it is well on its way to meeting
the high standards that T/D work should exemplify.
Pilot Studies
Pilot studies are tools in determining, in a preliminary fashion, the
potentialities and perils of almost any research idea. For qualitative
research proposals, we strongly agree with Krathwohl (1988) and
Meloy (2002) that only the foolhardy begin without a pilot study that
suggests how the full-blown study should be constructed. Pilot trials
can sharpen the procedures, remind one of the permissions and ap-
provals needed, assay likely costs in time, and check the feasibility
of a larger study. Investment of energy in a pilot study (with advisor
and committee support) can enhance the quality of a subsequent
study and minimize the likelihood of unexpected delays and possible
Applications of Qualitative Research
Qualitative research, sometimes called “naturalistic” or “field” re-
search, has deep roots in the “social” research of the late 1800s. Dur-
ing that time, society’s concerns prompted investigations of the life
conditions and the views and characteristics of industrial workers, ru-
ral families, dock laborers, criminals, and other groups defined by
occupation or lifestyle.
At the same time, other beginnings of qualitative approaches to
building knowledge came from the academic disciplines of anthropol-
ogy, geography, and sociology. The naturalistic aspects of qualitative
research also attracted attention from journalism and photography and
from writers of history, biography, and fiction.
Whenever societal problemsor simply intriguing questions
pressed for dependable answers and scholars found it difficult or im-
possible to really quantify data firmly, it proved necessary to rely on
the observations of thoughtful and careful investigators. Such reports
and analyses, whether gleaned from interviews, visual inspection, or
other sources, were critiqued and polished by peers. Finally, having
survived a gauntlet of skeptical scholars, the observations attained re-
22 Chapter 1
spectable positions in science. Otherwise, we might not have arrived
at such scientifically useful notions as the color spectrum of light,
biological taxonomies, gravity, or the theory of evolution and bodies
of knowledge like etymology and paleontology.
Even the most qualitative and objective sciences sometimes face
process questions that can best be studied by qualitative designs. A
contemporary example is the ecology of human communities, with
special reference to the preservation of environmental quality (i.e.,
air and water) through application of optimum conservation and civil
engineering practices.
Using Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches
Differences between research styles do not necessarily make one bet-
ter than another. Rather, one research approach may prove more
suited to a given problem than another. Thus, we reemphasize that,
in planning any research, it is essential to choose the investigative
approach that best promises to match the problem and its setting and
to result in the most believable and dependable solution. In some in-
stances, a qualitative design may well be the approach of choice.
Role of the Research Advisor
Students may encounter faculty members who favor one research style
over another. Some professors may seem almost messianic in their
conviction that a certain investigative style should be employed. This
can occur particularly when the faculty member tries to introduce a
form of research not traditional to their academic or professional dis-
Such advisors can sometimes actually prove helpful because
their enthusiasm and commitment extends to students who elect to
work with them. Alternatively, such single-mindedness in an advisor
can put limits on the flexibility and on the encouragement of indepen-
dence that best satisfies the needs of the beginning researcher.
For balance, we continue to urge the studen t to seek a broad range
of inf orm ati on before commi tting to an advisor. Also, we suggest that
students remain wary of advisor s who let selection of the research
method take precedence over the selection of the problem to be studie d.
23Getting Started
Qualitative research does have much in common with all other re-
search. It calls for a statement of the problem, and a research design
must guide the study toward its goal; data are gathered, organized,
inspected, analyzed, synthesized in deliberate and replicable ways,
and related to other data. For the T/D student, the keys to success in
qualitative research appear fundamentally no different from those for
success in any other research enterprise.
In the final analysis, the utility and the rigor of the product de-
pend on the researcher’s integrity and mastery of the subtleties of the
methodology and on a full, honest, and clear description of what oc-
curred in every step of the research protocol.
A report of the National Collegiate Honors Council (1997) stated that
it included 578 colleges and universities, all of which mount under-
graduate honors programs or honors colleges. Such academic units
emerged more than 30 years ago and are on the increase.
During the past two decades, a growing number of schools au-
thorized undergraduate degree studies in which the completion of a
thesis is required for graduation. Such courses of study are commonly
known as honors programs or honors academic units.
Honors academic units vary greatly in structure and in opera-
tional characteristics from place to place, but they all are similar in
one way: Each aims at locating highly able undergraduates and allow-
ing them to advance in higher education at their own pace. A foremost
concern is that students with unusual talent, drive, and curiosi ty should
receive incentives and recognition for achievement with individual-
ized opportunities for intellectual, artistic, and physical challenge, spe-
cial advising, and demanding and rigorous instruction and content
(University of Pittsburgh, 1992).
Generally, a university or college undergraduate honors program
provides courses that, so far as intellectual challenge is concerned,
match the highest undergraduate or the initial graduate levels. That is
24 Chapter 1
consistent with the high academic attainment focus typical of such
Ordinarily, study under the auspices of an honors faculty calls
also for strong evidence of the student’s ability to carry out scholarly
independent work consistently and in depth. The culminating evidence
of that ability is the successful completion of an honors thesis.
All honors units emphasize student research in one or more
forms. A large proportion of member schools include a research proj-
ect similar to the master’s thesis in scholarly scope and quality as a
standard requirement. Faculty members from all of the academic and
professional disciplines are recruited into honors units to teach, to
guide, and to evaluate student research.
The procedures employed by students and faculty members in
moving toward completing an honors thesis are, in the programs we
have reviewed, strikingly similar to those that apply to the master’s
thesis. In fact, the faculty members who direct or chair honors thesis
committees are often the same persons who do so for graduate T/Ds.
An honors program (sometimes called an honors college) is, in
short, a distinctive undergraduate course of study that is more than
ordinarily demanding academically, that requires consistently high
achievement, and that culminates in a thesis, through which the stu-
dent demonstrates a proven capacity for academic initiative and for
independent scholarship. The guidance of the advisor and committee
during the thesis preparation and defense is similar to that found in
master’s degree study.
Because of the common elements in honors thesis and T/D ob-
jectives, policies, and procedures, we treat them together, making
note, when necessary, of any special considerations.
The master’s degree is a highly valued degree that has been increasing
both in number awarded and in prestige. The number awarded nearly
doubled from 1970 to 1996. Since then, growth has been steady, rising
to over 500,000 earned annually, most in the applied sectors like busi-
ness and nursing (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES],
1999). Master’s recipients credit the degree program with helping to
25Getting Started
sharpen the ability to connect theory and practice, and to refine critical
ability (Clifton, 1993).
In preparing a master’s thesis, the graduate student can present
evidence of the competencies required to make use of accepted proce-
dures of scholarly inquiry. For instance, the student can combine data
from primary and secondary sources into a unified presentation in cor-
rect and readable prose. The general objective of the thesis as part of
master’s degree study has been stated as follows:
It is reasonable to expect that, in a fifth year of academic work
of respectable quality, a student will have had an intellectual
adventure which can be described in writing. And such descrip-
tion gives an experience which will be obtained in no other way;
by it, one is introduced to the methods employed in the acquisi-
tion, preparation and the analysis of material. Depending upon
the field and the type of degree for which one is a candidate, this
exercise may represent a small piece of research, the solution of
a complex problem of design, a critical understanding of a sector
of knowledge of considerable dimensions, or critical apprecia-
tion or creative work in literature or one of the arts. (Report of
the Committee on Graduate Work of the Association of Ameri-
can Universities, quoted in and adapted from the Style Manual of
the School of Education, University of Pittsburgh, 1981, p. 88)
This statement did not differentiate between professional school and
academic discipline master’s projects. Note, too, its similarity in sub-
stance to the master’s research requirement from an engineering
school quoted above (Stuart, 1979).
Both the honors and the master’s thesis can serve these func-
1. They can give first-hand experience in conducting investigations
and can familiarize the student with the kind of effort and integ-
rity demanded by research. That, in turn, can help to prepare those
who aspire to the doctorate.
2. They can make the student expert in at least one aspect of a pro-
fessional or academic discipline.
3. Either can serve as a capstone for a significant unit of advanced
26 Chapter 1
Students and faculty alike are probably most interested in which char-
acteristics a T/D should have to merit acceptance. That is what the
student wants to know when seeking guidance in the selection of a
topic and a procedure to use in studying it. That is what the faculty
member wants to know when trying to decide whether to encourage a
student to move ahead with a proposed investigation or, later, whether
to settle for what the student has produced at the end of a period of
study, analysis, and writing.
A landmark national study reported on practices in doctoral
study in the more than 100 institutions in the United States that had
doctoral programs in the profession of education (Robertson and Sist-
ler, 1971). According to that study, the dissertation “is considered a
training instrument in the techniques of scholarly research and of re-
porting findings; it also represents a contribution to the knowledge of
a given field” (p. 183). The Council of Graduate Schools, in 1990,
stated that a “Doctor of Philosophy program is designed to prepare
a student to discover, integrate, and apply knowledge, as well as to
communicate and disseminate it” (CGS, 1990b, p. 1). Thus, scholarly
investigation and the presentation of findings to others are a pair of
characteristics that has a historical association with doctoral research,
whether in professional study or in the academic disciplines. Contem-
porary writing uniformly reports training in scholarly and research
procedures and contributions to knowledge as the chief features the
graduate student’s research should have (Barzun and Graff, 1985;
Cortada and Winkler, 1979; CGS, 1991b; Krathwohl, 1988; Martin,
1980; Sternberg, 1981).
Another feature reported by Robertson and Sistler (1971) was its
service as the subject of a final examination for doctoral students. The
last examination of the student by the faculty covered only the re-
search project in 85% of the queried institutions. Three-fourths of the
time this examination was oral. No institution used only a final written
examination of the student’s research. Approximately 10% used both,
with the written test at certain schools invoked only if students did
not perform satisfactorily in an oral interrogation. Less than 10% of
doctoral programs had no final examination. The role of the final oral
doctoral examina tio n remains essenti all y the same today (CGS, 199lb).
27Getting Started
Students may well ask, “What is involved in completing T/D work?”
“Why should I do this work?” “What will it have to do with my pro-
fessional and academic competence?” Faculty members, particularly
new ones, can be plagued by related questions: “What am I supposed
to be conveying to the students whose investigations I direct or on
whose committees I serve? What really are the functions served by
this phase of graduate study?” “What has this process to do with the
purpose of the university?” A core element common to those ques-
tions is “Why?” For an answer, we look first at the commonly stated
objectives of graduate student research found in institutional publica-
General Objectives
Published objectives, as mentioned above, emphasize evidence of
scholarly work, research competence, and contribution to knowledge.
These have the validity of academic consensus. Faculties agree that
both theses and dissertations should aim at those objectives. More-
over, they agree that those qualities should be easily discerned in ac-
ceptable documents submitted by students.
Operational meanings for scholarly work, research competence,
and contribution to knowledge are not easy to specify, however. Crite-
ria for judging those three matters are highly individual. They vary
from faculty member to faculty member and among the academic and
professional disciplines. Our findings from interviews with students,
faculty members, and other university institutional representatives,
however, indicate that these general objectives are commonly ac-
cepted by academics, and scholars feel they can tell us when they are
present in theses and dissertations.
Objectives of Students
Student objectives include those that are short range and those that
look to the more distant future.
Professional and Academic Standing: Students often find that the
qualifications they seek are linked to obtaining the master’s or doc-
28 Chapter 1
toral degree. Thus, the attainment of an advanced degree may be tied
to goals like being recommended for qualification as a specialist in
teaching, doing research, promotion in rank, supervising, managing,
counseling, or a specific realm of practice or administration. Foreign
students are often under specific direction from the ministry that pro-
vides the scholarship and support (e.g., there is an expectation that a
Ph.D. will be earned rather than another doctorate). Hence, it is appro-
priate that the T/D be recognized as an essential short-range objective,
the outcome of which will be evaluated by others along the student’s
way to some desired position, certification, or licensure.
Completing Course Work at a High-Quality Level: When the stu-
dent’s aim is doctoral study, the master’s degree becomes a short-
range objective, one that must be reached at an acceptable level of
quality before doctoral study can be undertaken.* Some schools set a
limit on the residence time, the number of graduate credits, or the
particular graduate courses a student may take before completing the
thesis, thus operationally defining the thesis as a short-range objective.
Staying Within the Statute of Limitations: Almost all schools put a
time limit on the completion of the dissertation, too. Commonly, a
statute of limitations reads like this: “The dissertation must be com-
pleted within three years of the time the proposal received initial ap-
proval.” The number of years allowed may vary from school to
school, but some time constraint is all but universal, although exten-
sions may be granted for cause.
Finding Good Advisors and Models: Students do detective work,
trying to find out what faculty members consider an acceptable T/D.
This effort to define what might find favor with potential advisors
and committee members can be motivated by a sincere desire to do a
worthwhile job because of what it means for self-esteem and to gain
added respect from the faculty. In pursuing this objective, students
*Some schools permit or encourage students to move from the bachelor’s degree directly to the
doctorate. Students in those cases, we believe, should be advised to do directed independent
study equivalent to master’s thesis work along the way to help prepare them for the dissertation
experience. Honors thesis students may be at an advantage here.
29Getting Started
look for models primarily in the recently completed T/Ds of other
Foreign students are often especially dependent on their advi-
sors, so for them the choice of an advisor may also involve affective
considerations of empathy, learning styles, and personal relationships.
Such considerations, while possibly important to all students, seem to
be less an issue when cultural differences between students and fac-
ulty are small or well understood by both parties (Mallinkrodt and
Leong, 1992; Mauch and Spaulding, 1992; Parr et al., 1992).
Objectives of the Higher Education Institution
Institutional objectives are stated in broad terms. Hence, it would be
unusual to find them phrased in language specific to student research.
It can be inferred, however, that the T/D elements of a student’s ad-
vanced preparation are expected to be consistent with the institution’s
mission. The three statements below represent how a professional
school faculty might phrase institutional objectives.
Providing Leadership: Preparation of leaders for the profession for
communities, for state and federal agencies, for colleges and universi-
ties, and for other components of the public and private sectors.
Expanding Knowledge: Fostering theory building and conducting
studies that create new and better approaches to our profession and
encouraging and carrying out demonstrations that illustrate and dis-
seminate information about improved practices developed at the uni-
versity and elsewhere.
Improving Professional Practice: Development of master prac-
titioners who will bring professional and humanistic advances to the
fields in which they apply their skills.
These statements say little about T/D activities. Yet, embedded
in those objectives are clues to the kinds of proposals that ought to be
well received at this particular institution. Students should look for
statements of institutional objectives and discuss them with their ad-
visors. Not only will that trigger ideas about possible topics, but also
it may help to establish part of the rationale for the selection of a
30 Chapter 1
Objectives of the Faculty
Faculty objectives for T/D activity are to enhance scholarship in the
sense of looking for truth, to build on the existing body of knowledge,
and to create original works. Steggna (1972) speaks of scholarship as
an activity inherent in the mission of a university, one that should be
exemplified in the work of the faculty. He calls it a faculty duty to
search for the truth, add to knowledge, and produce new cultural ma-
terials. That role for scholarship is reemphasized, directly or implicitly,
in more recent publications (W. G. Bowen, 1981; Ziolkowski, 1990).
Certainly, the faculty efforts devoted to guiding student investiga-
tions should contribute to the discharge of that duty to an appreciable
Yet, here we turn to the questions “What is scholarship?” and
“What is scholarly work?” The expressions are often used, but seldom
defined. This need for definition is more than a matter of intellectual
curiosity-more than an academic question. For example, students
who are told that their work will have to be “more scholarly” to be
accepted really deserve to be given a definition in operational terms,
plus examples. Likewise, assistant professors who have, after due pro-
cess, been refused tenure because their publications were not suffi-
ciently scholarly should have illustrations for comparison and criteria
for reference. Tenure and promotion committees in universities are
hard put also to define scholarly in sufficiently specific and objective
terms to allow them to develop reasonable standards for the up-or-out
decisions they must make. A more behavioral definition is needed.
Any one chosen will not be entirely satisfactory. However, the defini-
tion below will be useful now, and it may lead to a better definition
in the future.
Inculcation of Scholarly Standards
Following is a list of seven features that, in our judgment, characterize
scholarly written work. Few scholarly works meet all seven criteria,
but a work that meets none of them is almost certain to be in trouble
with the scholars. Faculty members try to inculcate these seven schol-
arly qualities during T/D work.
31Getting Started
1. A scholarly work is published in a respected, refereed journal or
in book form.
2. It has been available for a sufficient period of time to be subjected
to the criticism of other scholars in the same field, and it has
stood up successfully to that criticism.
3. It is based on the expert wisdom and literature of the field. The
work indicates that the author is familiar with the conventional
wisdom of the field, and if it departs in new directions, it presents
a sound and rational defense for its departure.
4. It demonstrates the workings of a thorough, careful, critical, and
analytical mind, looking at all sides of any proposition, examining
and testing hypotheses, setting up and knocking down arguments,
and marshaling in a complete and fair way all the facts in the
process of critically analyzing the study’s findings. A scholar
will, of course, believe and support the findings of a careful in-
vestigation, but a scholar is not an advocate or a promoter. The
scholar is evenhanded and is willing to entertain the possibility
that errors can be made by even the most watchful investigator.
Scholars should be happy to find error in their own positions
when such errors exist, for only in this way can truth be sought.
5. It demonstrates to other scholars that the writer is a competent
specialist who understands the theories and concepts of the do-
main and who has a systematic knowledge of the chosen field
rather than a smattering of insights here and there.
6. It is nonpolitical or amoral. It may, of course, be concerned with
political and moral judgments and related phenomena as fields of
study and specialization, but a scholarly work is not a polemic. It
is not selectively cleaned up or toned down or otherwise slanted
because it may be popular or unpopular with the contracting
agency, the government, the church, the boss, or professional col-
leagues. An essential ingredient to scholarship is the assumption
that politically, socially, and morally unpopular and even repug-
nant works may be scholarly, and decisions about whether one
should work in these areas and about whether or not they should
be published, examined, and debated should be based on the
scholarship of the work and not its political correctness. Scholars
32 Chapter 1
seem to agree on this, but the point has to be made because every-
one at times can find the commitment to free and open scholar-
ship weakening under the various pressures that can be brought
to bear so skillfully, subtly, and punitively by defenders of sacred
7. It must be useful, as indicated by how often others cite the work.
This also constitutes an index of scholarship. A well-regarded,
innovative, or provocative publication will be referred to fre-
quently by others. Thereby, it demonstrates that it has qualities
that are of significant value.
Evidence or Promise of Scholarly Work
As one reviews these seven standards, it becomes evident that student
research would need to be on public view for some time before it
could receive the in-depth testing implied in several of them. More-
over, it would be too much to expect that T/D work by students should
match the productions of seasoned and polished investigators.
Therefore, it is the indications of and the promise of scholarly
work, as characterized by the list, that advisors and committee mem-
bers look for in the productions of their students. There are occasions
when student work is qualitatively equal to the best of that of well-
established investigators and theorists. But, more often, the faculty
member is satisfied to lead students toward that level of attainment
and to judge by comparison and inference whether students finally
reach a respect for and an understanding of scholarship as a concept,
internalize it as a goal, and demonstrate by their own work that they
show substantial potential for attaining it.
Preparation for the Advisor’s Role
In addition to the faculty’s objectives that have to do with the stu-
dent’s attainment of a scholarly point of view and the promise of
scholarly productivity, there are others. A major one concerns the stu-
dent’s possible future role as an advisor or committee member for
others. Faculty members who guide graduate students recognize that
their own performances are models for their studentsperhaps the
only such models the students will ever know so close at hand and
33Getting Started
with such intensity. It is also plain to those faculty members that they
will be both judge and jury in determining the extent to which their
graduates are ready to help other students as fledging advisors.
Emphasizing Responsibility and Development
Especially important is balance in assessing graduate research scholar-
ship quality. Above, we noted the blend that needs to be achieved of
pragmatic technology and pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Al-
fred North Whitehead (1953, p. 199) said, “There is something be-
tween the gross specialized values of the mere practical man and the
thin specialized values of the mere scholar....What is wanted is an
appreciation of the infinite variety of vivid values achieved by an or-
ganism in its proper environment. We want concrete fact with a high
light thrown on what is relevant to its preciousness.” That can be
achieved by guiding students to insist that they be able to demonstrate
that their work has relevance for the advancement of their disciplines,
while at the same time, to show that it meets the requirements to
search out truth, contribute to the sum of knowledge, and produce
fresh material for the culture.
A time line is one of the first essentials for a student who wishes to
embark on T/D work. It helps to develop a plan of action. It has
increased value, too, when linked to an understanding of modern tech-
nology and of the meaning and purpose of graduate student research
and to a grasp of the standards for acceptable work.
Students and faculty members, academic and professional, make
important contributions through theses and dissertations. There is a
historical time line, extending at least to the Middle Ages, that vali-
dates such investigations as culminating achievements in advanced
In recent years, academic disciplines and professional disciplines
have moved to separate paths. The professions have matured, while
continuing to acknowledge their roots in the arts and sciences. There
are palpable differences now between the T/D in the academic disci-
34 Chapter 1
plines and in the professions. Also, it is possible to specify some of
their special characteristics. Purposes differ, depending on whether
they are examined from the viewpoint of the student, the institution,
or the faculty. Yet, they have much in common. T/D study is growing.
Both students and faculty need and deserve more objective and spe-
cific information about the process than they have had available in the
The Research Advisor
1. How do I find the right advisor for me? 3537, 6164
2. What is the student supposed to learn from
the advisor? 3848
3. What are the advisor’s responsibilities? 4861
4. How can I change research advisors? 6165
The research advisor, who typically also chairs the T/ D committee,
is the starting poi nt for this discussion. Since the more common
practice is to give students some voice in r esearch adv isor select ion,
it is va luable to know what that individual is supposed to do and
how to m ake constructive contact with potential research advisors to
assess their inter ests and comparability. We agree with Allen (19 73),
who sai d,
Since you may be working with this committee for an extended
period of time, you shouldif at all possibleattempt to influ-
ence the selection of a committee that increases your chances of
completing a high-quality research paper in the time you have
allotted for the task. (p. 30)
Others have since advised or implied the same notion (Krathwohl,
1988; Meloy, 2002).
36 Chapter 2
The advisor is the most important person in the scholastic life of the
student during T/D work. Moreover, university publications repeat-
edly stress that much of the initiative for finding a research advisor
must come from the student. One reason is that faculty members are
reluctant to be seen as “selling” students on their specific interests or
their particular ideological or research agenda. Another reason is that
choosing an advisor tends to be tightly linked to choosing a topic for
investigation. That relationship is noted in this chapter, but the details
of topic selection are elaborated in Chapter 3.
Starting to Talk with Potential Advisors
The care one should give to the selection of an advisor cannot be
overestimated. A mistake here could lead to disaster. Yet, students,
perhaps particularly new students, find themselves in a complex social
and academic situation with very little experience to guide them. An
excellent place to start is with other students, especially those who are
experienced in the academic program and perhaps well along in the
thesis or dissertation process. Ask the experienced students about ad-
visors, about their strengths and weaknesses, the number of advisees
they have, and their record in seeing advisees through to successful
Also, a bit of time in library research can tell you what potential
advisors have published and where. Try starting with search strategies
that focus on subjects in your academic program area and the research
area of interest to you and to potential advisors. The research librarian
can be of great help here, of course, but some places to start on your
own might be the Academic Search Elite, MLA (Modern Language
Association) International Bibliography, Public Affairs International,
Science Citation Index, Social Citation Index, and so forth. That tells
you something about the areas of expertise, as well as the quality of
the work of those scholars cited. Another indication of the quality of
the work is how often it is cited by peers, and many of the databases
will give you that information. All this information is available in
your research library and, in many cases, is available on your home
computer through access to the library’s on-line resources.
37The Research Advisor
Many faculty members have home pages that will provide a
good deal of information about them as potential advisors. Many fac-
ulty members, in addition to their academic program or department,
are affiliated with a number of other academic centers in the univer-
sity (e.g., Center for Latin American Studies, the Honors College, or
the International Institute for Studies in Education). Investigating
these affiliations can yield much information about the background,
area of expertise, research interests, and accomplishments of a faculty
member. Also, faculty academic backgrounds and fields of expertise
are often published by their universities, either in print or on line.
Another way to search for an appropriate advisor is to read the-
ses and dissertations from students who have graduated. Of course,
the fact that the students have graduated and completed their theses
or dissertations is already a good sign. University libraries usually
catalog copies of theses and dissertations. Read them and look for the
names of advisors, committee members, and the academic area of the
Ordinarily, faculty members are pleased to talk about their inter-
ests with students. Such discussions should be started by students soon
after admission to advanced study. Records should be kept of inter-
views. Faculty members not exactly right for research advisor may
later prove to be good choices for committee membership or consulta-
tion on specific T/D problems.
Before approaching a faculty member, the student should be sure
there is something to talk about. That calls for planning a brief
agenda. One way to start is by reading one or two of the faculty mem-
ber’s most recent publications. Look for places where the faculty
member calls attention to the need for more information or to prior
research that did not fully resolve the matter that it attacked. Use those
references to open the conversation; ask whether anyone known to the
faculty member is doing research to close those knowledge gaps. Sug-
gest that you might try to develop a proposal related to the question
or questions if no one else is already doing so. Be ready, too, with a
few written first-draft research questions or hypotheses that you have
developed on the subject(s), but recognize that neither the student nor
the faculty member expects that they are in final form. The most im-
portant point is to show that a serious effort has been made to prepare
38 Chapter 2
for the interview, and that the student has accepted responsibility for
the initiative.
Still a third effective variation on this approach is to study T/Ds
recently completed under the faculty member’s direction. The major-
ity of academic and professional T/Ds contain sections on implica-
tions for further research. Equally important, the faculty members who
approved them had already tacitly agreed to the relevance and impor-
tance of the proposed investigations. Foreign students may seek advi-
sors who have successfully worked with other foreign students or who
have conducted or directed studies having a strong international com-
As part of getting under way on the selection of an advisor, we
urge the student to do two other things without delay. One is to obtain,
carefully study, and follow any policies, statements, or procedure that
the local school or department has about research advisor selection.
The other is to commit time to a careful reading of the rest of this
chapter and at least to skim the rest of the book to identify areas to
be studied later. The suggestions in the book are intended to be useful
in making the most of the student’s important initial steps.
The Advisor’s Role
The role of the research advisor is mainly that of a teacher, but also
is that of a guide, mentor, confidant, and senior research colleague.
The role definition rests on the premise that the advisor is instructing
the student in learning to conduct investigations independently. Suc-
cessful students and advisors often describe their relationships as re-
spectful and collegial. The advisor, usually older, wiser, and knowl-
edgeable about the ways of the university world, wields a considerable
amount of power. The student, typically plagued with anxieties about
the ability to do what is expected, looks up to the advisor as someone
who has done it and who can teach or impart the needed knowledge
and skill.
A general theory of the student-advisor relationship can be illus-
trated graphically (see Fig. 2-1). In its basic form, the theory holds
that the relationship at the outset of T/D study is one to one, with the
advisor mainly in the role of teacher and the T/D candidate in the role
39The Research Advisor
Figure 2-1 Progress of student-advisor relationship.
of pupil. Then, as the work progresses, the relationship moves more
and more toward that of a junior colleague working with and maturing
as a researcher under the influence of a senior colleague. That theory
underlies the discussions and the recommendations about student-advi-
sor interactions in the major contemporary reports on the subject (CGS,
1990a, 199lb; LaPidus, 1990).
Currently, the above theory fits best in fields in which the pre-
vailing model is that of the T/D scholar working, for the most part,
alone, with no one else sharing the same or very similar research ac-
tivities and goals. In some disciplines, though, T/D research projects
are typically small components of much larger collaborative studies.
In the last case, the vested interest of the advisor in the research may
prove to be paramount from the outset, with the result that the advisor
takes a larger hand in managing the student’s investigation from the
very beginning, thus casting the student in the role of junior colleague
and collaborator all the way through the T/D experience.
In a policy statement, the Council of Graduate Schools (199lb)
Because of the inherent status differences of the participants, stu-
dent/faculty collaboration can present opportunities for abuse;
when students work on faculty projects, conflicts of interest can
arise over ownership of the data and the research results. How
is an equitable division of credit achieved for collaborative re-
40 Chapter 2
search between a doctoral (or master’s or honors) student and
his or her advisor? (p. 11)
The policy statement goes on to respond:
Faculty and graduate students alike see a need for some mecha-
nism to identify and evaluate a doctoral (or master’s or honors)
student’s individual contributions to a collaborative research
project....Universities should have clear policies governing
collaboration among faculty and students and among students.
These policies should insure the integrity of the various functions
of doctoral (or master’s or honors) research and protect all par-
ties’ rights in the research results. (p. 11)
We agree with Myers (1993), who says:
I have never met a student who did not hope to make a personal
imprint on his or her dissertation. Often the research idea comes
from the student’s own experience. Even when this is not the
case, there is a strong desire to implant one’s self-concept in the
work. Of course, there are examples of a student taking a minor
spinoff of a sponsor’s programmatic research. This is a very effi-
cient way to do dissertation research, but it seldom results in
feelings of fulfillment for the student. The internal drive to make
it one’s own is powerful and pervasive. (p. 334)
Truly, inherent in the T/D process itself, there is collaboration, in the
broad sense of willing cooperation, between students and faculty
members. But, when collaboration promises to involve the student as
one of a number of investigators jointly working on more or less con-
nected aspects of a large research enterprise, the above general theory
of student-advisor relationship (Fig. 2-1) needs the protection of clear,
written guidelines to ensure that the traditional purposes and goals of
the T/D process are never unintentionally subverted, with the real
loser being the student.
Students often feel absolutely dependent on the advisor to finish.
It can be lonely. The camaraderie of classes, groups, and grades is all
but gone. Prior learning now has to be synthesized and actively drawn
on in a rigorous fashion to produce something of worth, something
41The Research Advisor
that will be open to the critical examination of the advisor and later a
committee of learned peers of the advisor.
Although the roles are different, both students and advisors aim
for successful completion. The advisor may become anxious if the
student falters, if there appears to be a waste of time, fumbling, or inde-
cision. The advisor will chastise, cajole, encourage, reinforce, and per-
haps, at times, threaten. All this seems to be tolerated to a remarkable
degree when the student respects and trusts the advisor and knows
that the advisor is acting out of concern and interest.
There must be, after all, advisor respect for the advisee in order
that the thesis or dissertation preparation is a growth experience. Too
much direction and hand-holding can stifle creativity and indepen-
dence, blind both parties to reality, and weaken the selectivity of the
program. No matter how humanistic the advisor’s concerns, it is diffi-
cult to argue that all candidates in an honors, master’s, or doctoral
program should complete it. The advisor who defends an advisee un-
der any circumstance has gone beyond the bounds of appropriate be-
A more appropriate role for the advisor is that of advanced in-
structor. Here, the advisor presumes that the student is a mature per-
son, possessing the skills and tools of research appropriate to the
A colleague, C. Baker (personal communication, Dec. 18, 1992)
has collected statements made by students to advisors; she labeled
these “things dissertation advisors hate to hear.” These statements
were gleaned from years of experience working with graduate stu-
dents and their advisors:
Things dissertation advisors hate to hear:
“Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it!”
“It would be much easier if you gave me a topic to investigate.”
“I know it’s taken me 6 months to revise my overview, but could you
possibly have it read by tomorrow?”
“What rules were in effect when I started the program?”
“You mean that I should have committee members from my pro-
“I’ll study any topic as long as it doesn’t require statistics.”
42 Chapter 2
“Don’t expect me to know what I’m doing; I’ve never written a dis-
sertation before.”
“You have to sign off on this because I have made arrangements for
my family to fly in from across the world for graduation.”
“Couldn’t you make an exception in my case?”
Advisor advocacy is appropriate, but it has to be accompanied by
advisee responsibility with respect to identifying the topic, personally
conducting the research, setting reasonable and realistic goals and
meeting them, and using clear language in writing. If the student fails
in any of these respects, without acceptable cause, it is time for some
difficult evaluation and reassessment, with requests for appropriate
changes in behavior. The student has the right to know what is ex-
pected, to understand and discuss these expectations, and to know the
consequences of failing to meet them.
Phases of Faculty-Student Interactions
From experiences related by faculty members, it is possible to identify
three sequential phases of faculty-student interaction. First is an ex-
ploratory phase; the student is given encouragement to look for an
area of study. Having been contacted by a student, the advisor throws
out leads and gives information about where and how to look for
problems in need of investigation, but the student is not directed to-
ward specific problems. The advisor supports the search and offers
encouragement to continue it. This is an opportune time for advisor
and student to discuss how best to use electronic technology to help
accomplish the literature explorationsthe browsingand then to
carry out the literature searches that are needed. Advisors can help
students learn how to use computer-assisted literature searches to ex-
amine what has been reported in a particular “problem area” and to
move from that activity to the identification of specific potentially
researchable topics within the problem areas being explored. In this
phase, also, the advisor informs the student of criteria that can be used
to help determine whether a topic is one that would lend itself to T/D
work. For discussion purposes, criteria can be grouped in three cate-
gories: the student’s criteria, the advisor’s criteria, and the institu-
43The Research Advisor
tion’s criteria. The last includes university, school, and departmental
criteria. Chapter 9 supplies a suggested checklist of criteria.
The second stage in the advisor-student interaction sequence is
one of moving toward problem focus. The student settles in on two or
three problems in a topical area (sometimes more than one topical
area). The problems are described, and a beginning is made on stating
their boundaries. Though specific T/D problems have not yet crystal-
lized, there is movement in that direction. The advisor and student
have fairly well-defined problem areas to examine. In this stage, a
literature search is an important activity. Also, referring to the criteria
discussed in the first stage should prove helpful.
The third stage is generation of research questions or hypothe-
ses. The student formulates questions or hypotheses and tries them out
on the advisor, on friends, and among the other graduate students.
Still endeavoring not to be overly directive, advisors tend at this point
to lead the students toward a narrower and more precise problem defi-
nition. All of that is done, to the extent possible, in a spirit of coopera-
tive helpfulness. Inadvertent discouragement of students at this stage
is all too easy for the closer the student comes to defining a T/D
problem, the more strongly the criticism is felt.
The Advisor as a Mentor/Tutor
Mentor* refers to a person of competence who volunteers to instruct
a junior or less experienced person in an area of mutual interest. The
person who finds a mentor will be helped to prepare for a lifetime
career without losing a sense of identity. From the relationship comes
the confidence to succeed by one’s own efforts (Kavoosi et al., 1995).
Such a relationship is especially important to foreign students.
Mentoring is probably the most applicable instructional term for
the style of faculty-student interaction in T/D work. Unlike a tutor
*Some universities use the term mentor as the official designation for the T/D advisor. Fordham
is an example. Mentor was Odysseus’s trusted counselor, in whose disguise Athena became
guardian and teacher of Telemachus, Odysseus’s son. Other meanings of mentor are adviser and
wise one.
44 Chapter 2
devoted to subject matter, the mentor tends to become more sharing
and confidential. The student is apt to learn in depth what the advisor
thinks about topics of mutual interest. The faculty member who is
truly a mentor is liable to learn much about the student’s motives,
plans, and hopes. The searching and reporting by the student often
bring new information and insights to the faculty member, who in turn
enriches the contacts with the student (and with classes) by talking
about them.
Both students and faculty remark that they learn from each other
during graduate study. But, there is little literature that bears directly
on the learning experiences accruing from T/D study or advisement
(LaPidus, 1990).
Hints as to potentially valuable procedures can be found, how-
ever, in the extensive literature on the education of the gifted. Most
T/D students are in that category based on conventional definitions
(Sellin and Birch, 1980, 1981).
There remains, however, a constant acknowledgment that the
advisor has power that the student does not have. Krathwohl (1988,
p. 262) urges the student to look for an advisor who, among other
qualities, is “secure enough to stand up to others in your defense if
she thinks you are right.” He suggests asking other graduate students
about potential advisors who have that strength and who are respected
by fellow faculty members for it.
The Advisor as a Model
The advisor is probably the only faculty member the student will see
in action so closely and in such an intense way. Thus, it can be ex-
pected that the student, if later in the position to serve as T/D advisor
to others, will be greatly influenced by earlier example. The behavior
of the advisor is of signal importance, therefore, because it becomes
the model for others.
To summarize, the Council of Graduate Schools characterizes the
dissertation advisor in this way, and we believe that the same des crip-
tion should hold for the thesis advisor (CGS, 1990b, pp. 7 and 8).
The principal advisor of a dissertation in particular is a mentor in
a special position of influence and trust. Inasmuch as dissertation
45The Research Advisor
advisors have the most to say about whether the student has done
adequate research, and to make employment recommendations
for positions after the degree has been completed, they have a
most serious responsibility to foster in the student intellectual
autonomy, appreciation of the highest academic standards, and a
realistic sense of appropriate career options.
At all stages, advising is a reciprocal responsibility. Faculty
are expected to be diligent in providing counsel and guidance,
and to be available for consultation. They should demonstrate
flexibility and critical thinking, a willingness to be challenged
and to challenge constructively, and the desire to help the student
to become better at research and teaching than they are them-
Both research and anecdotal evidence testify that advisors (and
committee members) have power over students, and that the power is
sometimes exercised inappropriately (Heinrich, 1991; Smallwood,
2002; White, 1991). If a person is sexist, has racial or ethnic biases,
enjoys bullying, or has other inappropriate tendencies and attitudes,
the student may be understandably intimidated and have few, if any,
defenses. Many women students, especially, develop a view of them-
selves as “victims” in the one-to-one advisor-student relationship
(Vartuli, 1982). But, women are not alone in experiencing the unpro-
fessional behavior of certain advisors. Sexual harassment, for exam-
ple, can occur in a same-sex advisor-student setting. Sexual harass-
ment or harassment of any other kind is reprehensible and not to be
Both students and faculty should be made aware that they will
be given a fair, objective hearing if there are cases reported of inap-
propriate advances or insulting or demeaning behavior. For all advi-
sors and committee members, we propose this guiding rule:
I will never exploit my position of power or status to take advan-
tage of a student-academically, professionally, socially person-
ally, sexually, financially, or otherwise.
Advisors who pledge themselves to this credo have set the foundation
for being worthy models.
46 Chapter 2
The T/D is a teaching device; this is at the heart of its reason for
existence. The honors or graduate student research process normally
yields more opportunities for faculty and students to interact on a
close academic and professional basis than any other institutional situ-
ation. Nowhere else in the university is so much individual time de-
voted to students by faculty, on a one-to-one basis, in examining sub-
stantive issues and academic-professional concerns at the edges of
current knowledge and practice. The guidance of student research pro-
vides the major opportunity for systematic identification and attack on
a problem of interest to both faculty advisor and student.
Practicum in Guided Independent Study
Thesis and dissertation study is aimed at increasing the student’s abil-
ity to work independently on problems and researchable issues, build-
ing on existing literature. The ability to work independently on a re-
search problem is one of the qualities that often separate those who
finish and those who do not. It is not an easy skill to learn to the
proficiency level required by the T/D; it depends very much on one’s
attitudes toward doing research and toward one’s own professional
skill. But, it can be strengthened by going through earlier, similar
processes successfully several times, thus building confidence. Some
useful ways universities have to provide this experience are enroll-
ment for directed study, research papers in courses, and research semi-
nars in specialized fields. These experiences should precede rather
than parallel the T/D if they are to be of maximum help.*
Perhaps at no other time is there such opportunity to help stu-
dents work through questions about the nature of evidence, the nature
of scientific investigation, the processes of inductive and deductive
reasoning, and the drawing of inferences and generalizing, appropri-
*A number of schools use a T/D seminar both as a screen and as an aid to students having
difficulty. A typical requirement might read as follows: “Upon or near completion of prerequisite
course work, honors or graduate candidates will register for the T/D seminar. There they are
expected to develop a T/D proposal that will meet the approval of the seminar faculty. Students
who do not prepare approved proposals after two semesters of seminar will meet with the student
progress committee to determine future directions of study.”
47The Research Advisor
ately or inappropriately, from a body of data (National Academy of
Sciences [NAS], 1989). Readings, lectures, examination of examples
of good investigations, discussions, and hands-on experience in con-
ducting research are all tools that should be common in the work of
the advisors and students. At least the opportunity is there if the uni-
versity provides faculty with the resources and if the faculty is compe-
tent to use the resources.
Long-Range Influences of Guided Independent Study
The impact of seminar research reports and of T/D production on fu-
ture professional work is not known in detail. There is good reason to
believe that such investigative activities do have an influence. Terman
(1954, pp. 222223) reported his own recollection as follows:
I was a senior in psychology at Indiana University and was asked
to prepare two reports for a seminar, one on mental deficiency
and one on genius....Thereading of those reports opened up a
new world to me, the works of Galton, Binet and their contem-
poraries....Then I entered Clark University where I spent con-
siderable time...reading on mental tests and precocious chil-
dren....Bythetime I reached my last graduate year I decided
to find out for myself how precocious children differ from the
mentally backward, and accordingly chose as my doctoral disser-
tation an experimental study of the intellectual processes of four-
teen boys, seven of them picked as the brightest and seven as
the dullest in a large city school....Theexperiment contributed
little or nothing to science, but it contributed a lot to my future
thinking....Mydream was realized in the spring of 1921 when
I obtained a generous grant from the Commonwealth Fund of
New York City for the purpose of locating a thousand subjects
of IQ 140 or higher.
Perhaps not many dissertati ons presag e such monumental contributions
as Ter man’s Stanf ord -Bi net Tests of Intelligence and Genetic Studies
of Genius, both active today. Many contemporary leaders in the various
professi ons , how eve r, can identify links between their master’s and doc-
toral investigat ion s and important work they did later.
48 Chapter 2
Teaching Function Involved in All T/Ds
In guiding T/D work, teaching opportunity is constantly available to
faculty members, whether in experimental investigations, critical anal-
yses of social problems, health issues, developments in physics or
computer technology, analytical study of public policy or practice, or
developmental projects such as improving the mathematics curriculum
or staff of a school. Studies in the United States and abroad indicate
that most students need continued instruction in research skills during
the time they are engaged in T/D work (Reynolds et al., 1986; Zuber-
Skerritt and Knight, 1986). It cannot be too often emphasized that
T/D activities should teach the candidate to (a) identify and examine
critically alternative approaches to any question, (b) marshal facts and
data systematically to support choices among alternatives, and (c) test
the adequacy of these choices against the reality of the professional
workplace and the views of one’s academic colleagues.
An Exercise in Synthesis
Finally, the T/D should build on a synthesis of all earlier courses,
readings, and professional experience that the candidate brings to the
task. It is the major opportunity in the scholastic career in which all
past experiences can be brought together in a creative independent
work of the student’s design. The synthesis is not accomplished with-
out help, but is essentially an independent exercise; as such, it is an
opportunity for personal, academic, and professional integration un-
equaled elsewhere in higher education. The instructional obligation of
the advisor is to set that goal before students and to help them both
internalize and achieve it.
Advisors have responsibilities to a number of people and groups: the
advisee, other students, the university, the school and department fac-
ulty, the fellow members of the student’s T/D committee, the mem-
bers of their academic field or profession, and the registrar and gradu-
ate office. While none of these should be ignored, most advisors set
49The Research Advisor
as priorities three main responsibilities: to the student, to the other
committee members, and to the university.
Responsibilities to the Student
Advisors ought to be committed deeply to the belief that their first
responsibility is to the student. At no other time is the student so vulner-
able and so in need of close iden tification with one faculty member.
The advisor ideally should be as involved and interested as the student,
within the restrictions of time and competing responsibilities.
The obligation to the student is expressed in part in a consultant
relationship. The student should feel free to ask questions, try out new
ideas about procedures or substantive issues, and obtain guidance and
direction when it is requested. No other faculty member should be as
ready to help in the dissertation process as the advisor, specifically
with regard to two matters: the topic the two persons have agreed to
pursue and the university, school, and departmental rules and pro-
cesses applicable.
The help of the advisor in choosing a topic is expected. After
all, the advisor, too, will have to live with the topic. The position of
the advisor is delicate, steering a tight course between giving the stu-
dent a topic and allowing a completely free choice. The risk with the
topic chosen by the advisor is, of course, that the student may have
little interest in it and may feel inadequate to tackle it. The possibility
of conflict of interest arises, too. Will the study become an article or
part of a book for the advisor? Is the topic chosen to perform work
that the advisor is unwilling to do? Such suspicions inhibit work and
endanger relationships. If the suspicions are confirmed and the activity
is allowed to continue, one wonders what the real purpose of the dis-
sertation is in the eyes of the advisor, the faculty, and even the institu-
tion. It is still a learning situation for the student, but the model may
persuade the observer that it is appropriate to use the university to act
in unethical ways if it serves one’s purpose and if one can get away
with it.
The problem with allowing the student a free choice is no less
difficult. It is a shirking of responsibility, putting it all on the student.
It provides the perfect faculty excuse for failure at any point in the
50 Chapter 2
process: “Well, you chose the topic completely by yourself.” It en-
courages a minimum commitment on the part of the advisor. It may
deny the student the benefit of the experience and the expertise of the
research advisorone of the compelling reasons, presumably, why
the university provides this very costly teaching relationship.
It is the research advisor’s responsibility to ascertain that the
topic is well thought out, that the student can give cogent arguments
as to why the specific topic was chosen, and that these arguments
cover all the standard questions in the literature, such as feasibility,
efficiency, importance of the topic, competence of the student to at-
tempt the specific topic, and a theory base underlying the student’s
understanding of the topic. (These are explored in depth in the next
chapter, along with suggestions for satisfying them.)
The student should come to an acceptable topic with the advi-
sor’s sound advice, but not with a dependent or authority-beholden
attitude. The student exercises independent judgment within criteria
agreed on, analyzed, and discussed with the advisor. Such a process
regards both parties as mature human beings capable of being self-
directed, but capable also of recognizing and accepting suggestions
from each other. Each will understand their mutual concerns and com-
mitments to the topic. Each will understand the problems connected
with the topic and will be prepared to help resolve the problems. This
process can set the tone for interactions throughout the T/D study
period and help to weather many storms along the way.
Unsatisfactory Student Progress: The faculty member who regards
little or no progress at the T/D stage solely as student failure does not
understand the advisor’s job. Students’ failure to complete graduate
research work may ensue mainly from their own errors or failures, but
in some ways the advisor, the faculty, and the university may have
failed also.
In most university programs, the student signs up for a substan-
tial number of credit hours during the development and writing of the
overview, the thesis, and the dissertation. The system is designed to
reflect in a general way that the student is taking valuable time, and
that time carries with it costs to be paid and credits to be awarded. In
many programs, this is a substantial block of timeperhaps one-
51The Research Advisor
fourth or more of the total postmaster’s credits required for the doctor-
ate. Viewed in this way, it becomes clear that the student has the right
to reasonable faculty time and advice and has paid for this right. The
advisor, especially, then has the responsibilities of being available for
help, advice, and guidance and of offering such advice and guidance
on the highest professional and academic level. Failure in the context
of this system is seldom entirely one sided.
Ethical Responsibilities: The advisor’s professorial responsibility
transcends material considerations. Whether the student is contribut-
ing directly to the support of the institution or not, one would expect
the professional behavior of the advisor to be the same. In fact, this
concept is at the heart of the idea of professionalism. Specifically,
what are the ethical responsibilities of the advisors?
First, the advisor does what is best for students in all academic
or professional situations. Although the principle is easy to state, it is
not always easy to know or determine what is best for the students.
Conflicting values make life difficult for those who try to maintain
high ethical standards. For example, if a student hands in a paper that
is not his or her own or cheats on an exam, how does the advisor
ascertain what is in the best interest of the student? Faculties face
many examples of conflicts of values in what is best for the student,
and agreement is not always reached. Nevertheless, there must be at
least the sincere attempt to put the student first as a fundamental value
of advising. An advisor who operates in this wayworking as fairly
as possibleis usually perceived so by colleagues and students; that
action and perception helps to minimize ethical conflicts.
Second, the advisor avoids using the position for personal gain
and refuses to accept the offer of such gain. There are instances when
faculty admitted being given valuable gifts by an advisee, instances
of lavish entertainment provided to advisors by advisees, and the pro-
vision of other personal and professional favors.
If a foreign student proffers a gift and insists that it is considered
an insult in his or her homeland to refuse to take it, the advisor can,
gently but firmly, point out that they are not in the student’s home-
land, and that the customs of this land must be applied. The advisor
can then explain that here it is considered improper for a student to
52 Chapter 2
offer a gift and for an advisor to accept one. It can be suggested by
the advisor that the whole matter will be resolved with honor if both
the student and the advisor agree to forget the incident entirely and
return to their normal relationship.
It can be difficult to draw an exact line between ethical and un-
ethical behavior, but that difficulty is no excuse for failing to try to
do so. It is the responsibility of the university as well as the profession
to publish codes of ethics and to monitor ethical behavior. In our
view, accepting any favors (or the promise thereof), awards, gifts, pro-
fessional grants, and the like from a dissertation advisee creates an
improper and unethical situation. It may prevent the advisor from be-
ing critical or objective in evaluation. It creates conditions of expecta-
tion by the student. It is unfair to other students who are unable or
unwilling to engage in similar behavior. The situation compromises
the integrity of everyone it touches, indeed, of the whole institution.
A third matter involving professorial ethics is the use of student
work as if it were the work of the advisor so that the advisor gains
the credit (Smallwood, 2002). Marchant (1997, pp. 35) asked five
colleagues at different universities this question: “When should disser-
tation and thesis chairs or other committee members be included as
authors on any papers or articles resulting from the dissertation?” Key
excerpts from their responses follow:
A doctoral dissertation should be an independent research contri-
bution by the candidate so...thecandidate should either be the
sole author or the first author.
—Richard Mayer, University of California, Santa Barbara
Dissertation chairs are not routinely included on a paper derived
from a dissertation.
—Angela O’Donnell, Rutgers University
Students always merit first author’s slot on publications that de-
rive from a thesis because they take the lead in conceptualizing,
analyzing, and writing up those research projects.
—Phil Winne, Simon Fraser University
A dissertation ought to be rewritten for publication by the Ph.D.
student with the advisor (or other committee members who con-
53The Research Advisor
tributed to the piece of research beyond the call of their advisor
duty) being second author.
—Gavriel Salomon, University of Haifa
Authorship must recognize . . . professional contributions [which]
include developing a research design, a conceptual model, and
building theoretical arguments. Tasks such as creating a data file,
carrying out analyses specified by the faculty member, and pre-
paring manuscript are not considered professional contributions,
but may warrant acknowledgement in a footnote.
—Rick McCown, Duquesne University
All five respondents qualified their answers to account for unusual
circumstances. But, all insisted, except for extraordinary conditions,
that the T/D student have unquestioned priority as the first author, and
that any additional author earn that privilege through having made a
significant contribution to the research itself.
If each advisor puts the legitimate work of the student forward,
encourages the student to publish, to read papers at professional and
academic meetings, to pursue further research, and to do all this under
the student’s name, there will be little likelihood that the advisor will
have to worry about ethical transgressions on this score. Certainly, the
contributions of the advisor, when real and substantial and beyond the
normal teaching and consulting role of a T/D advisor, should receive
due credit. A guide that helps govern such questions is to divide the
credits commensurately with the amount of work and time invested
by each (Fine and Kudek, 1993; Smallwood, 2002). If that guideline
is followed, it is difficult to imagine how an advisor’s name could
appear at all as a coauthor, much less a senior author, on a publication
arising out of a thesis or a dissertation done by a student unless a very
substantial amount of additional analysis, interpretation, discussion,
and editing is done by the advisor after the T/D has been approved by
the final oral committee.
A fourth note on ethical behavior concerns competence. Qualita-
tively, within the narrow confines of one’s specialty, the self-examina-
tion of competence seldom arises. In fact, however, faculty compe-
tence varies a good deal; it is indeed the wise and ethical advisor who
is aware of faculty limitations.
54 Chapter 2
A reasonable position regarding competence would be some-
thing like this: Be as parsimonious as possible in the selection of re-
search-advising responsibilities; serve only on T/Ds of other advisors
when you are sure you have a needed competence and can make a
substantial contribution; be willing to admit that there are many dis-
sertation areas for which the best you can do is learn from the student;
and finally, lace the committees of your advisees with the most com-
petent experts you can find.
Maintain Competency: One of the important responsibilities of advi-
sors is to maintain their academic and professional competencies.
Without this, an advisor is not much good and even may be harmful
to the student. A faculty member maintains competency by reading
the literature, by keeping up with the latest thought (even though the
latest is not always the best), by teaching and keeping in contact with
colleagues and students, by taking a meaningful part in conferences
and meetings, by listening and discussing, and by speaking and writ-
ing. Perhaps no other activity keeps faculty as sharp in doing rigorous
research and writing and the subsequent exposure to the critical analy-
sis of colleagues and other experts. After all, one can say or write
what one wants, within the bounds of propriety, before a class of stu-
dents who will be graded on how well they restate it later; it is quite
a different experience to address a group of colleagues and experts.
We do not maintain that the best advisors are those who do the
most research and writing. The variables associated with excellence in
advisors are too complex for such a conclusion. The point is that a given
faculty member will probably be a more competent advisor for having
personally done research and writing. We, in fact, feel so strongly about
this point that we recommend that one of the criteria for the appointment
of research advisors from among the general faculty is evidence of high-
quality research and writing. We do not believe that such evidence
would be as difficult to assess by peers as some may suggest.
Responsibilities to Other Committee Members
Traditionally, the advisor chairs the committee and sets standards of
committee behavior. The research advisor sets the climate of expertise
and high standards within the committee. No one else is in a position
55The Research Advisor
to have such a positive or negative influence on the committee climate
for no one else can set the level of expectations for committee behav-
ior. Most faculty will tend to conform to the expectations and leader-
ship behavior of the chairperson of the committee. It is unlikely that
the committee will rise above it. Indeed, the accepted (although un-
stated) rules of committee behavior make it very difficult for members
not to conform to the pattern set by the chairperson.
Defining Committee Roles: Many advisors hold a pre-overview
work session with the committee to go over and agree to rules for
operation. Sometimes, the institution or a professional group has de-
tailed standards for expectations (CGS, 199lb). At many institutions,
though, each committee sets its standards under general rules. Indeed,
the frequent vague guides for students or faculty are one of the moti-
vating forces behind the preparation of this book.
Useful rules with respect to committee role start first from the
notion that the committee should know and agree on its expectations
for itself. These are best discussed openly and explicitly before indi-
vidual instances come along to test the limits of the principles. Sec-
ond, rules should enjoin the committee to act always in the highest
interest of the student, consistent with maintaining high professional,
academic, and institutional standards. Of course, words like “high”
and “highest” have to be defined operationally within the institutional
context, but agreeing to the principle is a good place to start. Third,
operating at a professional level implies that committee members con-
sistently treat the student and one another with respect and maintain a
collegial atmosphere. Persons can disagree without being disagreeable.
The research advisor has the job of ensuring that the committee mem-
bers participate throughout the T/D process. The committee is selected
for the expertise of each individual, and the student has a right to that
expertise. Furthermore, if the members have been taking an active part
throughout, there should be no surprises at the final defense.
T/D students queried by Meloy (2002) repeatedly told of being
hampered by absence of or delay in response from their committee
members. That, plus a seeming lack of interest in their views on the
56 Chapter 2
part of committee members, sapped students confidence in them-
selves and in their supposed mentors.
The amount of guidance and time to be expected of committee
members falls into proper perspective if it is understood that the re-
search advisor has the primary responsibility for guiding the work of
the student. The advisor keeps the committee informed of progress
and ensures that the student sees the committee membersor at-
tempts to see themperiodically to keep them informed and seek
advice. The advisor and student share responsibility to see that com-
mittee expertise is used and that committee members are kept in-
volved. Specific ways to seek creative suggestions of members and to
follow through on them are spelled out in Chapters 5 and 6.
If the advisor and student sincerely try to involve the committee,
the response is usually quite good. At the very least, individual com-
mittee members will read the proposal, critique it, be available for
consultation when the student asks for consultation, read the document
and critique it before a final defense, and attend scheduled overview
and defense meetings. Anything more is to be desired and encouraged.
Coordinating Committee Communications:
Some faculty want all communication between the student and other
committee members to come through the advisor; others think the stu-
dent should feel completely free to spend as much time and take as
much direction as wanted from committee members. These are proba-
bly the two extremes; most research advisors fall between them. It is
more important that the advisor and the student talk out and agree on
the ground rules than to argue about which procedure is best. Probably
any reasonable procedure will work if the rules are agreed on and if the
student understands the consequences of alternative kinds of behavior.
Special attention is advisable with foreign students since cultural
differences often mean that the nature and frequency of written com-
munication can create difficulties. A discussion can lead to under-
standings that forestall such problems.
Faculty experience has indicated certain procedures that are im-
portant responsibilities of the advisors. These are more in the nature
of good commonsense advice than of laws or dictums. The advisor
has the responsibility of negotiating with the committeeall of it
57The Research Advisor
those things that a student cannot negotiate with the committee, such
as problems that come up concerning necessary changes in the research
during its conduct or personal difficulties of the student. The advisor
has to see that the committee is kept informed. Sometimes, the advisor
does it; other times, it is appropriate to make sure that the student sees
or at least communicates with every committee member. When com-
mittee suggestions are sought on a draft, they must be t horoughly dis-
cussed by the student and the advisor, and the student should discuss
and understand the risks and positive aspects of whatever action is
taken. The advisor has responsibility to draw a consensus from the
committee so that the student does not suffer from faculty disagree-
ments and so that the individual committee members can continue to
serve without feeling that their scholarly reputations are in jeopardy.
The only guiding principle that merits support is for the advisor
to relate to all committee members with integrity and academic re-
spect. Good communication by the advisor gives all the committee
members the information they need to be helpful and to use their ex-
pertise in assisting the candidate to successful completion of the T/
D. Technology such as E-mail has made advisor and student written
communication easier. The same message can be sent simultaneously
to the student and to committee members. Messages can be sent fre-
quently and accurately, with the knowledge that all are getting the
same information at the same time.
Administrative Arrangements: The advisor also calls committee
meetings for the overview, for the final defense, and for other pur-
poses. Another obligation is to see that the student produces the T/D
document in required form and has it in the committee’s hands several
weeks before the meeting. The chairperson is also responsible for
working with the candidate to ensure that all school and university
requirements that call for committee action are met in a timely fashion.
Responsibilities to the Institution
Higher education institutions flourish largely because of the integrity
of the individuals who make them upstudents, faculty, administra-
tion, and staff. Not many other major societal units are so free of
externally imposed laws and requirements. And few, if any, organiza-
58 Chapter 2
tions are so self-governing. Individual integrity of consistently high
order on the part of the members of the university community is an
essential quality that has fostered that state of affairs and that must be
present if university-based academic and professional preparation and
research are to continue.
Maintenance of Standards: The first responsibility of the advisor to
the institution is the maintenance of high standards of quality in all
T/D and related activities. What constitutes quality is a value judg-
ment, of course, but the judgment is not without guidelines. No other
single person in the university has that responsibility or could ever
discharge it if it were possessednot the student, not the committee
members individually, not the dean, not the program chairpersonno
one but the research advisor.
Prevention of Fraud: Deceit, breach of confidence, gain from unfair
or dishonest practices or from pretenseall of these fall under the head-
ing of fraud. In the academic and professional community, fraud also
includes fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, and other lapses in integrity
or trustworthiness. It also means altering data, misrepresentation of re-
sults, and publication of another’s intellectual property as though it were
one’s own. It probably is true that fraud in various forms in research
reports is as old as the recorded history of discovery and creativity.
There are several guidelines for preventing fraud that should be
discussed between advisor and student. We advocate making the same
guidelines a part of what every faculty member accepts as a credo in
working with students and colleagues in a sincere effort to prevent
fraud and the temptation to perpetrate fraud in research.
Faculty are responsible for monitoring and vigorously enforcing
standards of scientific integrity, and faculty should help establish pro-
cedures for resolving conflicts and professional disagreements promptly.
It is the university’s responsibility to educate faculty and students
about what constitutes scientific misconduct (Mishkin, 1993; Ruark,
2002; Smallwood, 2002).
We make a simple and direct charge to the advisor. Expect the
whole T/D committee to exercise keen surveillance on all aspects of
the project. To the student, we say, “Never cheat or tolerate cheating.”
Nothing helps so much as full disclosure every inch of the way.
59The Research Advisor
Relevance of the Student Research: The advisor has the responsibil-
ity to ensure the relevance of T/D work. It is not a frivolous document.
It should relate clearly to the program or department in which the
student is doing graduate work or the question of where the disserta-
tion and the student belong may be raised. If the proposed investiga-
tion has an evident and close relation to the expertise of the committee
members, one aspect of the question of relevance is well answered.
But, perhaps the most important aspect of relevance is the advisor’s
responsibility to ensure the relevance of the topic to the student. Does
the student see the topic as related to his or her own long-term inter-
ests? Does the student have the background to work on the chosen
topic? Has the student articulated well the reasons for the choice of
These and other aspects of relev ance are detaile d in Chapter 3,
but two need to be named here: use ful contributions to the field an d
usefulness to the growth of the s tude nt. Bo th are essen tial criteria in
weighing the rel ev a nc e of a topic. Without a rigorous examination of
relevance, T/Ds can descend to the level of trivia. Highly relevant,
well-conceived, well-executed, and significant T/Ds indicate top-qual-
ity professional and academic programs. The T/D is the one product
that represents the best of the student, the advisor, the committee, and
the quality of prior preparation. It must be carefully reproduced, bound,
microfilmed, or otherwise preserved for posterity as the culminating
work of long and demanding training. Whatever the student’s subse-
quent career, the signed, bound copy of a relevant and scholarly T/D
stands forever in testimony to the relevance and scholarship of the
student, the advisor, and the university.
Academic Interests: Advisor responsibility to the institution includes
academic and personal integrity, and integrity finds its severest testing
in T/D work, the highest levels of independent study. The predomi-
nantly solitary or one-to-one T/D work leaves both the student and
faculty member largely to their own resources. Individual student be-
havior cannot be melded into that of the rest of the class. There is no
set course outline and no standard textbook with manual and tests to
be interposed between the faculty member and the student. There are
no specified number and schedule of class meetings. Colleagues or
assistants cannot substitute for the faculty member. The student cannot
60 Chapter 2
find help in another student’s notes. Instead, independent study lead-
ing to the T/D is a type of student-faculty member adventure into
the academic unknown. The personal and academic integrity of each
becomes a major ingredient in the enterprise.
Perhaps the best way to deal with possible role conflict related
to integrity is always to keep in mind the question, “What is the best
course to follow in terms of the integrity of the process, the university,
and the student?” This question will not necessarily yield easy an-
swers, but keeping the question foremost in one’s thoughts is more
likely to yield worthwhile answers than bending with whatever wind
blows hardest at any given time.
When there are no local institutional guidelines, the matter
should not be bypassed. Instead, personal and academic integrity should
be discussed in