What is a good dissertation? (3)

Another consideration in the “good dissertation is a done dissertation” context is what it means to finish a research project.  Speaking abstractly, every research project has limitations.  There are limits to what can practically be accomplished, so compromises are made.  For example, a sample of data is gathered, rather than collecting data for an entire population. And beyond the immediate practical limitations, there are the new questions that all good research will inspire—questions about the implications of current findings or the ways to address limitations in the current study. All of this is to say that any one specific research project is part of a larger web of issues and questions, and the limits set on that project are not set by any abstract logic, but rather by the decisions of a researcher.

Think of it this way: let’s say you start with a research question X.  The question is complex, however, and it can be meaningfully analyzed into a number of separate issues, X1, X2,…XN. If your goal is to find an answer to X, then that goal is approached by finding answers to X1, X2,…XN.  But this leads to the question: do you have to find answers to all of X1, X2,…XN to have a “good” project?  Consider, for example, the question of mixed-methods research. The premise of such research is that the different methods invoked give additional perspective and insight into an issue.  The question I ask, however, is whether the studies done with the different methods can be presented as a series of interdependent projects that support each other.

If every research project leaves behind new questions, how do you decide when one project stops and another begins?  If you’re thinking about doing X1, X2,…XN to finish your dissertation, can you just do X1, get the degree, and then pursue X2,…XN as a doctor rather than as a student?