I’m creeping closer towards the completion of my doctoral coursework. This means that the beginning of my own educational research study and dissertation writing is not to far from my future. As a part of my coursework at the University of Akron, I’ve been participating in a Doctoral Student Research Forum that includes students from three research method classes (Data Collection Methods, Advanced Statistics and Advanced Qualitative Methods) and their respective College of Education faculty.

In a fairly progressive undertaking by UA College of Education faculty, Dr. Kristin Kosksy, Dr. Susan Kushner Benson, Dr. Xin Liang, Dr. Jennifer Milam and Dr. Sandra Spickard Prettyman, doctoral students from 5 different sections of those classes have been assigned to small discussion groups. From the course requirements we were provided, the purpose of the forum is to:

…provide College of Education doctoral students with an opportunity to work with other doctoral students and faculty in a collaborative and collegial manner while exploring and reflecting upon contemporary research topics.

Most recently, we have been reading and discussing articles relating to the purpose of a dissertation literature review. We began with David N. Boote’s and Penny Beile’s Scholars Before Researchers: On the Centrality of the Dissertation Literature Review in Research Preparation. From there, we moved on to Literature Reviews of, and for, Educational Research: Commentary on Boote and Beile’s “Scholars Before Researchersby Joseph A. Maxwell.

Wordle - Role & Purpose of Literature Review

After reading both articles, one of the key connections I made to my own work grew from Maxwell’s discussion regarding the divide in the educational research community. Maxwell suggests there is a gap between those “who expect a thorough review of the research literature in the area of the dissertation (the traditional view),” and “those who want a selective review of the literature that relates directly to what the student plans to do, showing these works’ implications for the proposed study.”

This idea seemed particularly relevant to me as I am trying to pin down exactly what my dissertation research study will be and where I need to focus my attention as I begin the lit review. I’m aligning my thinking with Maxwell, as I really feel like the most important aspect to my lit review and the most beneficial expenditure of my time will be to “learn how to identify and assess relevant research findings and to apply these in evaluating and supporting some claim or action” that I make in my own research study.

While I would like to take the time to conduct an totally exhaustive review of all the literature in my area, that doesn’t seem entirely practical or doable with all the other responsibilities I have in my life. As is the case with many other doctoral candidates, this is just a small piece of my life right now. While I hope to make educational research my life’s pursuit, I feel like I am constantly struggling with how to balance my time. It may sound like I’m trying to take the easy way out, but that is certainly not true. I am just trying to maximize my effort in a limited span of time, and I think that conducting a lit review for my dissertation that relates directly to what I plan to do makes the most sense. Maxwell points to Locke, Spirduso, and Silverman (1999), who sum up my preferred way of thinking about the purpose of a dissertation literature review fairly accurately. They argue,

The writer’s task is to employ the research literature artfully to support and explain the choices made for this study, not to educate the reader concerning the state of science in the problem area.

My plan moving forward is to try and find faculty members who are like-minded in their thinking on the purpose of a literature review and ask them to be part of my dissertation committee. This is very strategic thinking on my part, which I hope will lead to the creation of a meaningful literature review that is relevant to my research study and ultimately fulfill the requirements set forth by my dissertation committee.