Creating a Criteria Matrix for a Dissertation

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The objective of this essay is to develop a criteria matrix of requirements for an adequate research topic and then compare 5 different dissertation topics as put forth in this week's discussion question text.

Discussion

The MBA student who starts the dissertation process transitions for the stage of knowledge acquisition to knowledge creation (Useem). Often, the students are faced with the challenge that they have to identify a subject for a dissertation themselves, without significant help of others. In addition, the chosen topic should be an original as well as substantial work in a field of study that adds to the knowledge base. (All Answers, 2010)

White (2000, pp. 9-12) outlines 8 criteria that contribute to the development of an adequate dissertation topic including:

The presence of a genuine interest of the student in the subject

The presence of substantial knowledge relating to the subject

The presence of enough information published on the subject

The ability to deliver required depth and breadth dealing with the subject

The presence of adequate resources such as time, money, facilities or equipment

The appropriateness of the subject to the student's degree

The relevance of the subject to the student's needs

The appropriateness of the subject with respect to the institution and course guidelines.

In addition the suggestions provided by White, the student should also consider the following questions (Herrfeld, 2010):

Is the topic to broad or too narrow?

Is the topic of interest to others and does it to the knowledge base of the field of study?

Does the dissertation have potential to being developed into a publication or PhD. Thesis?

The 5 management dissertation subjects of this discussion question to be compared to the above criteria are:

How China can best compete with Europe in the next hundred years.

The introduction of Enterprise-Wide Resource Management in my company

Compatibility problems in my company's computer network

The effect of bonus schemes on staff turnover rates in the countries in which my company operates

An appraisal of Microsoft Office compared to its competitors

How China can best compete with Europe in the next hundred years.

Subject selection criteria that apply:

The presence of substantial knowledge relating to the subject

The ability to deliver required depth and breadth dealing with the subject

The presence of adequate resources such as time, money, facilities or equipment

This subject is of such broad implications that it will be difficult to complete simply to the volume of work and the literature review required in order to look at the subject critically from several angles.

The title draws an unclear image what the competition is actually about. Is it about export business, manufacturing, military strength, employment satisfaction, or economics in general.

With too broad subjects there is a high risk that the student will get lost in the subject and produce dissertation with lack of clear focus or firm conclusions (All Answers, 2010) Finally, due to the broadness of the subject, one could question whether the subject is unique, interesting, or will add to the knowledge base at all

In this instance a narrowed down subject should be developed. The author might focus on a specific industry area and define a clear thesis or question. For example:

"Competitiveness in the luxury car industry: China cannot be successful only by producing cars superior in durability, reliability, and price. Offering unsurpassed value added Customer Service will be key to obtaining a competitive advantage over Europe's car makers"

The introduction of Enterprise-Wide Resource Management in my company

Subject selection criteria that apply:

Is the topic of interest to others and does it to the knowledge base of the field of study?

The presence of enough information published on the subject

The ability to deliver required depth and breadth dealing with the subject

Is the topic of interest to others and does it to the knowledge base of the field of study?

The Key challenge of this title is uniqueness and interest to the field of study. A quick Google search on Enterprise Resource Management yields over 10 Million entries in less than a second and a search in the UoL online library for the same keywords yields 165'798 publications. This could be an indicator that there is already a lot published on the subject which is both advantage and disadvantage. White (2000) argues that with lots of publication available, there is a strong likelyhood that usable data can be found. On the other hand, one needs to search much more.

Academic depth might be a challenge. Reading the title one might get the impression that we are looking merely at the description of a project rather than an academic analysis.

Delivering an interesting subject that adds to the knowledge base might be questioned unless the company is a focus of attention or the challenges are very unique.

Finally, there may be confidentiality issues. The student needs to assure that s/he can write about company internals.

Again a narrowing down of the subject and a more clearly defined title might be useful. For example:

"The introduction of an enterprise wide resource management system. How to prevent productivity from declining in the introductory phase. A case study of company xy and best practice recommendations"

Compatibility problems in my company's computer network

Subject selection criteria that may apply:

The ability to deliver required depth and breadth dealing with the subject

The appropriateness of the subject to the student's degree

Is the topic to broad or too narrow?

Is the topic of interest to others and does it to the knowledge base of the field of study?

The title seems to suggest that the subject is better suited for computer and IT sciences rather than management. Therefore suitability for management needs to be evaluated. It could work if the dissertation focuses on the management aspects of such problems and analyses how these could be overcome based on existing literature or own research.

Just like in the example below, it might be advisable to expand the subject beyond the own company in order to increase relevance to the knowledge base. Similarly to the above case, the subject might need to be broadened to include management aspects:

"The financial impact of cross company computer network incompatibility - Money lost ignoring the problem vs. Money gained fixing it. A case study of two companies"

The effect of bonus schemes on staff turnover rates in the countries in which my company operates

Subject selection criteria that may apply:

The presence of adequate resources such as time, money, facilities or equipment

Is the topic to broad or too narrow?

The ability to deliver required depth and breadth dealing with the subject

Is the topic of interest to others and does it to the knowledge base of the field of study?

While at first glance this subject seems to fit nicely into management studies, the inherent problem this student might face is accessibility to resources such as historical data (showing turn over) the time it might take to generate future data (people need to actually leave) and how to attribute this to the bonus structure. Therefore it may be challenging to generate enough depth and reach conclusions based on company information. The student might need to look at branching out beyond the own company.

As this deals fundamentally with employee satisfaction, perhaps the title could be changed to:

"How to design a bonus scheme that will measurably improve employee motivation."

An appraisal of Microsoft Office compared to its competitors

Subject selection criteria that may apply:

The ability to deliver required depth and breadth dealing with the subject

The appropriateness of the subject to the student's degree

Is the topic to broad or too narrow?

Is the topic of interest to others and does it to the knowledge base of the field of study?

This subject may not be suitable for management sciences as it deals with software features and benefits rather than direct management implications.

I addition it lacks originality, and academic depth which may render it entirely useless as a dissertation title. The student may be able to focus on the user friendliness of one product compared to the other and outline how quicker adaptability to the software can improve productivity and employee satisfaction:

"Choosing the right office software in a multinational company: How time to user proficiency effects productivity and employee satisfaction."

Summary

White and Herrfeld suggest several criteria that help selecting an appropriate dissertation subject. This essay tried to apply these criteria to a set of suggested dissertation titles. It must be noted that a title alone will most likely not convey the entire breadth of a dissertation thus it would be helpful to not only read the title but also the dissertation proposal to learn more about the background and the methodology.

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