Book Reviews

Book by Barbara E. Lovitts and Ellen L. Wert
Review by Comfort M. Sumida 
Manoa Advising Center 
University of Hawaii at Manoa 


An active dialogue that explicitly defines expectations is the key to a quality dissertation. The booklet Developing Quality Dissertations in the Social Sciences by Barbara E. Lovitts and Ellen L. Wert seeks to provide doctoral students with insight and techniques into how and when to begin productive conversations with their advisors and committee members. A lack of consistent and productive communication between student and advisor may lead to poor quality or incomplete dissertations which prolongs or ends a student’s entry into a professional career. 

Through numerous interviews with faculty members in Economics, Psychology and Sociology, Lovitts and Wert explore the assessment of dissertation quality and aim to clarify common areas of concern and confusion for doctoral students. These include the dissertation purpose, components and tasks, an overview of the dissertation process, and an exploration of the expectations for originality and significance.

Although faculty responses regarding quality measures were consistent overall, student understanding is assumed not to be. Students are thought to spend a significant amount of time simply deciphering, often incorrectly, the definition of a quality dissertation. To aid advisors and students with defining expectations, at each step indicators of quality are identified to form the start of a rubric and to provide both student and advisor with qualitative reference points from which to start their discussions. The authors further stress the importance of transparency in institutional, departmental, and faculty expectations and in opening the lines of communication. Simply put, students cannot live up to expectations they do not know exist.

Information is presented in both narrative and table format throughout the booklet. The clear presentation makes it a natural reference for quick questions. Guidance for each of the standard components to a dissertation, from introduction to discussion and conclusion to guidelines for distinguishing between quality levels, is provided. Although this guide targets students pursuing doctoral studies, it is an excellent resource for those who advise them, providing insight into concerns and considerations and identifying areas where improved communication and clarity can greatly assist student progression and dissertation quality.

Although brief, this booklet provides an abundance of information, and more importantly prompts dialogue which is beneficial to all involved in the process. Perhaps due to its brevity, this book lacked student perspectives which may have provided a more comprehensive picture of the possible miscommunication which occurs during the dissertation process. Tables form a succinct presentation of important information; for this reason, it was disappointing to see the repetitive nature in the content of these tables. 

Overall, this booklet is informative and provides a good starting point for the creation of a rubric of measurable quality indicators for the assessment of dissertation quality. Students and advisors alike will benefit from taking the authors’ advice and initiating discussions regarding their individual expectations and objectives, clarifying the objective of a dissertation, and making it a more productive and enjoyable process for everyone involved.


Developing Quality Dissertations in the Social Sciences: A Graduate Student's Guide to Achieving Excellence. (2008) Book by Barbara E. Lovitts and Ellen L. Wert. Review by Comfort M. Sumida. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing. 48 pp. $7.95. ISBN 1-57922-261-1
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