Sunday, October 2, 2011

Chapter 4

It is very true that Chapter 4 continues to kick my ass. There is no way around it. For those that are unfamiliar with the structure of a dissertation (and to save you from having to actually read one unless you have to) Chapter 4 is where you discuss your findings. This is where, after all that data collection, you begin to pull it all together and answer your research questions. This is scary.

I am doing a phenomenological case study. Yes, that is a long word - phenomenological. It’s also fun to say. What you really need to understand from this academese is that my data is rich and robust...ok, so throw out the buzz words...I have a crap load of data.

There are the interview transcripts (previously blogged about) from five different students, two interviews each. There are student journals from a whole term from each of these five students. There is a survey that had 150 respondents, but from which I can only use 100 (long story best told another day, ugh Internal Review Board). And there is the institutional data.

When I first got all of this stuff back it was exciting. Then, I started to really look at it...Suddenly I felt as if the ground caved in beneath me. There was nothing. I looked at all this data and saw nothing.

This feeling led to about two weeks of high anxiety marked with high blood pressure and bouts of hyperventilation. How could I have just gotten this far down the road, deployed all those methods of collecting data and end up with nothing? Actually, it was worse than seeing nothing, what I was actually seeing was EVERYTHING. All these little rabbit holes to jump down, none of it linking to each other, none of supporting each other.

Then I remembered something. I should be looking at this data in terms of my three research questions. Doh.

Now I felt better. Now things were coming together in these little themes and sub-clusters and things were linking together. That was all great and dandy until I sat down to write about it. See, I’m a visual learner and processor. This means that I spent countless hours mapping and clustering data on my white board at home, playing around with index cards, color coding, using Nvivo (an awesome software package), dumping Nvivo (found out I am old fashioned and want to feel and hold my data), and drawing lines from here to there making it all work. I found it hard to put that all on to rows of words that were then supposed to make sentences that somehow would brilliantly describe what I knew I could show you if I just had a dry erase maker and some white board.

This is part of the learning (or hazing) of the PhD process. Mostly likely you haven’t done something like this before. I certainly hadn’t. I thought it would be a piece of cake to just write it all down - here’s what I have! See?! Isn’t it so nice and pretty? When I was faced with writing it all down, showing and backing up what I had, the same fears washed over me. I have no data, there is nothing important here, nothing ground breaking or useful. Two weeks ago I reverted back to something I had not done in a really long time (which may explain a whole lot about my writing process) - I outlined Chapter 4. I tend to just sit down and write. I don’t spend time outlining chapters or papers. I just write. Maybe this is not fundamentally correct, maybe it is. I just know that I’ve always done it that way, and that it’s been working. Until Chapter 4 came into my life.

Outlining put me way out of my comfort zone, but I did it, and it’s been so much better. The ass kicking went down a notch. The ass kicking isn’t all gone, and let me tell you why: formatting tables, figures, charts and block quotes.

I hate that part. I hate APA style. I hate OSU’s APA style (and I am sure if I was at U of O I’d hate their style too, so don’t get all Beaver vs. Duck on me). I hate having to figure out on Word where all the damn formatting buttons are just so this one part can be double spaced and this other part (with columns or bullets) needs to be single or half spaced. I hate, hate, hate it.

It makes me want to style kick APA’s ass.