A Year In Reflection, Part C: Thesis Progress
I apologise for the lateness of the continuation of the reflective posts, where I reflect over the past year’s progress. With this final blog post in the series of reflective posts, I shall focus on the thesis.
I find myself in an interesting position when it comes to the order in which the thesis chapters are being written. Typically, the chapters of a thesis are written in order: introduction, literature review, research design, findings and discussion of findings (I accept this is a very simplistic overview!). I appear to find myself switching between chapters at different times, that writing sections in later chapters help to further develop previous chapters, and that I appear to be writing the findings and discussion of findings chapter (albeit in very rough form) at the same time as engaging with data analysis.
Most influentially, the engagement with the data analysis process has shaped the development and direction of the literature review, the use of the literature, as well as the direction of the research design and the construction of the research design chapter. This is probably to do with the nature of the research: I am adopting an inductive approach to qualitative analysis, and I am coming to realise that inductive research shapes our understanding of not just the data but also the wider literature landscape. Additionally, the changes to philosophical and methodological stances, as has been reported in the two previous blogs, have occurred through engagement with the data. Furthering this, it is the process of critical engagement with the data e.g., the act of asking questions about the data, about what I was perceiving and interpreting from the data, that led to alterations of my philosophical and methodological stances. Ultimately this has led to the reworking of the research design chapter’s philosophical sections.
Reflecting further, I did attempt to write the research design chapter prior to data analysis, as is typically the case, but I found this difficult. I found this difficult because I had to predict what methods I was going to use, but because I was experimenting with different ideas I could not rationalise the decision making at that time. Therefore, I found it better to write the research design chapter (particularly writing about the application of the data analysis methods) at the same time as actually performing data analysis. I have found this to be very beneficial because not only have I detailed the different steps that I took (and as I continue to take) to analyse the data, I also detailed reasons why and justified every phase, every step, and every method of data analysis, and continue to do so. I do believe that I made the right choice in writing about the data analysis at the same time as actually engaging with data analysis.
Every stage and every phase have been carefully documented, related, and justified, with every data analysis method used also being justified. In addition to all of this, I have been writing continuous theoretical memos to document the analysis insights, observations, etc. that shall go towards the findings chapter and the chapters related to each identified theme.
Essentially, engaging with the data has not only added to my literature review chapter, but also added to the research design chapter and, as mentioned, impacted upon the directions of the research design including my ontological position as previously discussed. What I am saying is, yes you can begin with an ontological or / and epistemological stance with various research methods, and as much as you might get on well with those methods it does not mean that they are the correct approaches. I was using Grounded Theory for a while and I was getting on well with it till I started to perceive the data differently. These changes entailed a shift in ontological understanding of the data, which led to changes in the methods used.
Have some ideas to begin with but be prepared to be flexible and changeable in terms of your ontological and even epistemological positionality. What’s interesting is that my epistemological positioning hasn’t changed much: it’s the ontological position that has changed. This might sound a bit odd given that ontological concerns impact the epistemological level. Some writers argue that epistemological concerns logically entail ontological positioning. Whilst this is true, what I am arguing for is that there does not have to be a strict adherence to this relationship. A realist ontology should not always necessitate an objectivist epistemology, for example.
In summary, try not to trap yourself in the idea that you simply must write a thesis in a particular order and in a particular way. It’s best to be adaptable and dynamic and allow yourself to be guided by your thinking, your observations and your analyses rather than what could be perceived to be a set institutionalised approach to your writing. Of course you have to get the chapters completed in good time to be reread, proofread, etc, but not in such a restrictive way. If you find, like me, that your research is naturally guiding you towards writing more about the research design at least initially than the literature review then so be it. Be guided by what you do and what you observe. Seek advice and clarification yes, but be true to who you are and what you believe is right for your thesis.
Remember: you are the author of your thesis. No one else can write your thesis in the way and order that you believe shall bring out the best in yourself, and your thesis!