I want to advise the countless people who want to do a PhD that you should pursue doing it only if only you have a driving fortitude to explore and learn something new. If you love research, you need to push yourself to achieve difficult goals. I firmly believe that some people are made for a doctorate program. They are usually intrapersonal in nature (Howard Gardener’s Multiple Intelligences); they’re in tune with their inner feelings, they have wisdom, intuition and motivation, as well as a strong will, and their own opinion.
In one of the seminars on how to write a good PhD thesis, where I was invited to as an observer, after about 2-3 papers, I couldn’t resist any further listening to the same rut, and I told the audience that every academic discipline needs a different style of presenting a PhD thesis. It needs a different handiness, different comprehension, and a different fashion to present it. The seminar was nicely organized because some librarians were also present in it; the librarians argued that all PhDs are the same.
I want to ascertain here that if you really want to do a good PhD, you need a lot of support from the librarians – they can guide you to a whole gamut of books, journals and citations. Well, many of the features of doing a PhD are common to all disciplines, but there are some differences, especially between the sciences and the humanities. The science thesis is very collaborative in nature, where as humanities thesis can be done independently.
Remember, once a PhD is conferred, it is not the end of your academics life; in fact your academic life enhances further, because you are likely to contribute further.
Topic Selection: Pick a topic which has interested you for a long time; gather a lot of information on it, the topic must literally possess you. A PhD not necessarily answers every problem; many times it may raise more questions than it answers. The inquiries that you raise are the issues that later some other researchers will look at.
The foundation of a good thesis must be located inside a larger field, in sense your topic must narrow down the focus on one or two of the issues. Your topic must demonstrate new facets while identifying gaps. Your thesis must contribute to the betterment of society. We see repetition of some common topics; I call them over chewed topics.
Data Collection: Primary data is data that has been collected from first-hand experience; that means it is not been published yet. It is more reliable, authentic and objective-driven. It has not been changed or altered; therefore, its validity is greater than secondary data.
Most PhD research involves empirical work. As such, you should be able to collect relevant data. It is very important to pay special attention to the practicability of data collection. You must balance the scope of your research vis-à-vis the practical problems that can arise during data gathering. Pay attention to points such as: do you have special access to managers or organizations? How many potential variables or factors can you address? Is it possible for you to examine all of the proposed variables or factors? For primary research data, i.e. fieldwork, surveys, interviews, etc. what is your budget – how are you going to finance your data gathering? The biggest pitfall is ending up with too much or too little data. Studies gathering qualitative data can generate huge amounts of data, which are difficult to record and complex to analyze. If you do not have enough data, it can be tricky for you to address your research question in a meaningful way. Do not confuse data with information or evidence. Another piece of advice is – let your data be both qualitative and quantitative in nature. Your composed data helps you in analysis and interpretation. Remember it should cover up your research objectives and problem statement both.
Research Design: The research design must be appropriate which covers the objectives and address the questions identified in the study. Methodology should be clearly described so that the study can be replicated in practice. For example, if you are doing a research in the area of Human Resource Development (HRD) and your topic is related to performance appraisals – your work should be worth replicating in practice. If you are choosing any innovative or exceptional methodology, or mode of analysis, it needs to be justified. You have to explain why you have chosen a particular approach.
The results should be justifiable, be confident to address the issue of a possibility of bias or alteration in the data identified. The results should also be presented in an appropriate manner and adequate interpretation of the results carried out. A good thesis shows the maturity of the author.
A good thesis carries well-structured and focused arguments. It links diverse aspects of the topic with clarity. The sources of the material collected on the topic are reliable and dependable in nature. Each chapter is balanced, incorporated while touching diverse elements. The sequencing of chapters must be logically organized so that the flow of the research is peaceful.
Literature Review: The literature review is science as well as art. Would you like it to be a chapter at the beginning of your thesis or would it be better to have an imperceptible literature review throughout the thesis. The literature review should be balanced with your though process on the topic, your ideas are most important. Some researchers stuff half of their thesis with literature review. Keep in mind that the literature (secondary data) is somebody else’s idea and not yours. It is not new information either. Therefore, try to give something new to the reader. A good PhD indicates to the reader that the student is aware of the existing information.
Some supervisors recommend writing literature review after completion of results. Literature review must add to your own findings; its context indicates that you are aware of it. Beware, it should not overshadow your though process. Your contribution needs to be unique, and show originality.
Conclusions: Often this part of the thesis is shabbily handled. The conclusion is a key part of the text and thesis writers really need to spend some time getting it right. This is because the conclusions allow you to present your contribution to the knowledge area; where you show what it is, and discuss its implications. While it doesn’t have to be as long as other chapters, the conclusion does have to do its job. The conclusions should be clearly linked to data and evidence, not based on assumption or opinion. The thesis will address its stated objectives, even if the outcome differs from what was anticipated.
Uniqueness: How will you maintain uniqueness? I suggest if you can borrow a little from some other field (after all education is interdisciplinary in nature), try something new in research methodology, connect to new links, and bring in some new perspective – a new touch perhaps. I have corrected a thesis in which the first chapter was of Research Methodology – the researcher explained his methodology the 2nd chapter of conclusions and observation, the next 4 chapters handled the history, present status and comparison. It was so well presented that not only me but the other two referees also had no objections. You need to visit many University libraries and see many theses before doing your final work.
Remember, your thesis should be well written, well-designed, and lucid. It should not lose the focus at any point. Try to resist writing an oversized thesis – let it be within word limit. Please for God’s sake don’t imagine your external referees to be morons. Let them derive pleasure while reading your thesis. Let it engage the reader all through. Let it be a thought provoking work.