Broadly speaking, research paradigms (e.g., positivism, post-positivism, critical theory, constructivism, etc.) are ways of explaining the basic set of beliefs that you have (i.e., at a philosophical level) and how these influence the way you do research (i.e., the practical aspects of doing a dissertation). We all have these basic sets of beliefs, but you may not know what they are or what to call them. Whilst they can be very abstract and complicated to understand, we have tried to make these as straightforward as possible in the Research Paradigms section of the part of Lærd Dissertation.
Your dissertation guidelines may not mention the need to discuss research paradigms or research philosophies; and in some cases, your supervisor may have explicitly told you not to include them. If this is the case, move onto . However, since most students have to produce a Research Paradigm section within their Research Strategy chapter (usually ), even if their dissertation guidelines do not mention such things, it is still worth checking with your supervisor whether this is a requirement. If you leave it out at the start, but are later told it needs to be included, it can be much more difficult to incorporate at a later date. This is because when applied properly to your research, it is so instrumental in shaping the choices you make when setting your research strategy, as well as affecting the conclusions that you make based on your findings (something that we discuss in within the Route #1: Chapter-by-Chapter part of Lærd Dissertation).
In our experience, understanding and setting the research paradigm is without doubt the most confusing part of the dissertation process for students. It is easy to switch off when people talk to you about the philosophy of research, when they start to use words like epistemology and ontology, positivism, post-positivism, critical theory or constructivism, or ask you questions like: What is your view of the nature of reality? We sympathise!
The committee may accept the dissertation on the understanding that the student will make minor revisions and corrections to be reviewed and approved by their advisor before the dissertation is deposited with the Graduate School. In this case, they will sign the exam certificate and the abstract sheets and dissertation signature pages. The student will then have up to 30 days after the examination to make the requested changes and improvements.
NOTE: this 30-day period for corrections cannot be granted when there are fewer than 30 days left in the semester. In such cases you must check with the Graduate School to determine the deadline for submitting the completed dissertation.
The goal of your thesis proposal is to present the tenured and tenure-track faculty members of the department with a general outline of your intended thesis project together with a brief justification of its merit as a research project warranting a master’s degree. Take as your goal the creation of a concise, well-written document clearly articulating your project and its relationship to the philosophical literature. In general you should aim for 6-8 pages of text and a bibliography of 1-2 pages. A good thesis proposal will have three elements: (1) A clear and concise statement of the position you intend to articulate and defend in the thesis. (2) A well-researched statement relating your position to the philosophical literature indicating how your position connects with important thought on the subject by other philosophers. (3) An outline of how exactly you intend to structure your exposition in the thesis. This outline should present a chapter-by-chapter account, indicating how each chapter relates to the overall project.
The first step in creating a thesis committee is for a committee chair or advisor to agree to supervise your thesis. Minimally, the committee chair must be a tenured or tenure-track faculty of the CSULB Philosophy Department. Your committee must additionally consist of at least two other faculty members, at least one of whom must also be a tenured or tenure-track faculty of the CSULB Philosophy Department. The department strongly recommends that your third member also be tenured or tenure-track in Philosophy, although it’s possible for the third member to be a part-time faculty member or a person with appropriate qualifications from another
university department or another university. Please consult with your committee chair in determining appropriate persons to invite to serve on your committee. (Although many part-time lecturers in the department are generous in volunteering their time for committee service, we request that you remember that the University does not compensate them for it, and most have heavy teaching scheduleshere and on other campuses.) Your committee must be approved by the department.
By the end of STEP ONE: Research paradigm, you should be able to state, describe and justify the research paradigm underpinning your dissertation (i.e., typically a positivist or post-positivist research paradigm), and if using a philosophical justification for your choice of route, and approach within that route, explain your philosophical justification.
Research paradigms and "wild assertions"
Imagine that the authors of your main journal article made what you would consider to be "wild assertions" when it came to saying how far their findings could be generalised. To illustrate this, imagine that your main journal article examined the relationship between teaching method and exam performance, concluding that the use of seminars in addition to lectures improved exam performance amongst the population of undergraduate students at a single university. But what if in the Discussion section of the main journal article, the authors had concluded that: The addition of seminars to lectures improves exam performance amongst university students. The authors are making the assertion that their results can be generalised not only to the population that they investigated (i.e., undergraduate students at a single university in the United States), but a much wider population (i.e., all types of student - undergraduates, postgraduates, part-time students, full-time students, etc. - and all universities, wherever they may be in the world). Now such an assertion could simply reflect a loose writing style, which could be criticised for being nothing more than that, but it could also reflect a particular basic set of beliefs (i.e., those beliefs that form part of a research paradigm known as positivism, which without going into any detail at this stage, are more inclined to support context-free generalisations such as these). If your basic set of beliefs differed from these, and you felt that such assertions could not be made about the findings from the main journal article, this would be a philosophical justification to test the different populations, settings/contexts, treatments and time in which the findings from the original study hold (i.e., a Route B: Generalisation-based justification).
Writing a book report: Your thesis should make a modest contribution to the philosophical literature. A mere summary of the positions and arguments is inadequate. There are many ways you can contribute to philosophical thought: Your contribution could consist of finding a significant thesis or type of argument to constructively criticize. You could find an original extension of, or argument for, another person’s theory. You can develop a critical discussion of a view’s underlying methodological, epistemic, or ontological commitments. You can explore what is really at stake in a philosophical debate or the implications of a view. You can propose a useful organization of the positions in a debate. Whatever you choose, it must signify a step forward – an original contribution – albeit a modest one.
If a difference in the research paradigm underpinning the research in the main journal article and your dissertation is a major justification for your choice of route or the approach within that route, we would suggest learning how to recognize some of the main characteristics of research paradigms in a piece of research. A research paradigm can act as a major justification for your choice of route and approach when the choice of research paradigm in the main journal article has led to a potential flaw or limitation in the main journal article. Take the following example: