Harry Potter and Dissertations
July 31st is J.K. Rowling’s birthday. Rowling cast the perfect magical spell when she went from rags to riches. Here’s how to put her magic trick to good use for your dissertation…
J.K. Rowling authored the record-shattering, blockbusting, pop-culture-creating phenomenon that is the Harry Potter Series. But, the real magic behind her welfare-to-billionaire story wasn’t an incantation. It wasn’t one of the wands brandished by her characters. It wasn’t the magical creatures who saved or vexed them.
No, Rowling’s true magic was something much more mundane — planning!
Rowling admitted in an interview to writing much of the final scenes of her epic series while working on the very first book! The Harry Potter Series ultimately spanned some 4,200 pages. When Rowling was working on the first novel, her situation gave her no cause to suspect that her efforts would be successful, much less that millions of rabid fans would consume every word of a seven-novel series, often over and over, again.
Nevertheless, she meticulously planned all of her characters, their back stories, their future narrative arcs. She created an entire universe in which she could write the stories that would eventually comprise her novels.
It took Rowling six years to develop her universe and eventually publish the first Harry Potter book. Your task in completing your dissertation is much simpler.
You don’t have to create an entirely new universe. But you do have to understand the work that you are adding to it.
You don’t have to convince your publisher that there’s an audience for your work. You only have to show your committee that there’s already a community engaged in similar research.
You don’t have to plan just as carefully as J.K. Rowling did. — Actually, you do. Not an entire universe. Not extraordinary new characters, societies, and histories. But, you do have to understand fully and precisely what project you’re going to execute and how you’re going to execute it.
This comes down to having good answers to three deceptively simple questions:
Who are you going to talk to? — If you are interviewing participants as part of a qualitative study, then you need the literal answer to this question. Who will your participants be? How will you recruit them? What assurance do you have that they will agree?
If you will be surveying participants for a quantitative study, then you want to identify your population and your sample.
If you will be using existing data, you need to identify said data and secure access.
What are you going to ask them? — You must create your interview questions or create or obtain your survey instruments before you begin writing your proposal. If you are using existing data you must examine that data to ensure that it will allow you to answer the research questions you have posed. This is a critical element of the planning process.
What are you going to do with their answers? — How will you analyze your data? What hypotheses and statistical tests will you utilize? How will your thematic analyses proceed? What steps will you take to extract new understanding from your raw data?
Answering these key questions is the difference between having the confidence inherent in a solid plan and stumbling around in the dark.
Knowing where you’re going is the best way to get there.
It’s how J.K. Rowling turned a delayed train ride into fantastic, sprawling epic. And, it’s how you’ll turn your desire to graduate and help others into a doctoral degree!