I come from a Management and Organisational Studies discipline. Some of the tips here will be directly applicable, some indirect, some perhaps not at all.
- Familiarize, even subscribe to the top journals in your field – set the bar high from day 1 (e.g. Journal of Management Studies, Academy of Management Journal, Administrative Science Quarterly);
- If you’re taking a sector studies perspective, similarly, subscribe the top journals in your field (e.g. I examine the tourism industry and visitor economy, so: ‘Tourism Management’, ‘Annals of Tourism Research’ and Journal of Travel Research for example);
- Everything you write needs to be qualified in some way, shape or form – suspend your own thoughts and ego, especially in the earlier stages of shaping up your PhD;
- Isolate the concepts, methods, key authors etc – and systematically identify everything written on your chosen focus. Organise these in separate folders and go through, one by one;
- You’re not trying to change the world per-se. Don’t go too off-piste – evolution, not revolution. Incrementally develop key concepts, ideas and/or lines of argument. Most groundbreaking research comes after – not during – the PhD process.
- To do this you typically have to: get to know several strands of literature (and keep up to date with them), understand a context, devise a method (get to grips with epistemology and methodology), get hold of (or ‘construct’ depending on your epistemology) some data – often you’ll have to negotiate access, carry out the analysis etc
- Stop worrying about thinking you have to reach a certain standard – as you read you will realise, slowly what the accepted standards are for not only the PhD but when you decide to publish your work;
- PhD is part-training programme in terms of skills, knowledge, capabilities etc (i.e. that’s why many UK universities use the ‘Researcher Development Framework’) – and part-becoming an expert in your field of analysis.
- Keep the research focused. Formulate clear, simple research questions aligned against the phenomena you’re looking at. Use these questions to organise your literature review and ONLY focus on the areas agreed – this requires significant discipline and focus;
- Read Burrell and Morgan’s (1979) Sociological Paradigms work – it’s a real game changer in my eyes and provides your with a line of argument to justify your positionality, philosophical and methodological focus;
- Put the issue at the heart of the PhD. Indeed, some may disagree but rooting your focus in a real life societal issue is a sure fire way to enhance the ‘SO WHAT’ factor of your work. Here, you may also think about who are the exact stakeholders you either need and/or will be affected or interested by your work. You may use this to consider ‘research impact’ and/or you may use this as a start to develop your ‘Methodology’ section, especially ‘Sampling’, ‘Key Informants’ and ‘Gatekeepers’;
- Start with the end in mind. Vernon Trafford’s (2002) paper with Lesham is a great read: “Starting at the end to undertake doctoral research” ;
- Clearly define what the aim of the paper is, who it is for, how it will make impact i.e. one guy 1 year down the line thought he could make generalisations from a qualitative study of 10 people. Know what your PhD is trying to do and the potential limitations of your approach.