Focusing on the Focus Statement

I’ve been reading two books in particular as I work on my dissertation topic. Peg Boyle Single’s Demystifying Dissertation Writing is fast, easy, enjoyable (no, really!) and one of the most useful books I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it to anyone writing a thesis or intimidating academic paper. I talk about that book to every ABD student I meet. The second is Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation by Lunenburg and Irby. I’ve read a couple of these general-purpose “how to do a dissertation” books, and this is my favorite. It provides a clear step-by-step outline of the traditional five-chapter dissertation format in the social sciences.

Boyle-Single recommends writing a focus statement to help define your topic, to keep you on track, and to guide conversations with your committee chair (advisor). She emphasizes that this isn’t a one-time exercise, but a key piece of writing that you continually revise throughout the dissertation process. It’s also handy as your “elevator speech” version of your dissertation. I wrote a mock dissertation proposal last semester closely related to my potential topic, so I’m using my “Statement of the Problem” from that as a guide for my focus statement. Here’s the current draft:

There are currently no agreed-upon standard educational requirements for the position of an academic library dean. I am studying the educational attainment of currently-employed academic library deans in the United States because I want to discover how the advanced degrees that they hold relate to institutional and library characteristics and mission, in order to better prepare those who aspire to become academic library deans and to inform hiring administrators and search committees about current standards so that they may decide what educational requirements are appropriate for their institution.

In a nutshell: I want to find out which deans have masters in library science (the typical requirement for an academic librarian position), which have doctorates, which have neither, and which have both. Then I want to determine if/how their degrees relate to the institution at which they work.

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