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Section 1

Writing an Effective Purpose Statement

An important step in the successful completion of an Applied Doctoral Project/Dissertation in Practice is starting off with an accurate and precise purpose statement.

This document will provide some general ideas or guidelines related to effective purpose statements.  Included will be guidance on how to compose them.  Finally, you will find some sample purpose statements from the various Schools at NU so that you can see what your effective purpose statement can look like.  All this information comes from faculty who want you to succeed in the process.

General Guidelines

Keep these in mind as you begin to compose your purpose statement

Good purpose statements:

  • Flow from the problem statement and actually address the proposed problem
  • Are concise and clear
  • Answer the question ‘Why are you doing this project?’
  • Match the methodology to your  questions
  • Have a ‘hook’ to get the reader’s attention
  • Set the stage by clearly stating, “The purpose of this (qualitative or quantitative) study is to ...”

Writing your Purpose Statement:

It is important to distinguish in your mind the differences between the Problem Statement and Purpose Statement. 
  • The Problem Statement is why I am doing the project or dissertation-in-practice
  • The Purpose Statement is what type of project or study I am doing to fit or address the problem

The Purpose Statement includes:

  • Design and Method of Study
  • Variables
  • Specific Population
  • Setting
As you are contemplating what to include in your purpose statement, remember that the purpose statement is a concise paragraph that describes the intent of the project or study and the purpose statement should flow directly from the problem statement.  The purpose statement should specifically address the reason for conducting the project or study and reflect the stated questions.  Further, the purpose statement should identify the methodology as qualitative, quantitative, or mixed.  Then, the purpose statement should provide a brief overview of how the project or study will be conducted, with what instruments, data collection methods, and with whom (subjects) and where (as applicable). Finally, you should identify variables/constructs and/or phenomenon/concept/idea.

Qualitative Purpose Statement

Creswell (2002) suggested that purpose statements in qualitative projects or studies include deliberate phrasing to alert the reader to the purpose statement. Verbs are key to indicate what will take place in the project or study research and the use of non-directional language that does not suggest an outcome. A purpose statement should focus on a single idea or concept with a broad definition of that idea or concept. How the concept will be investigated should also be included, as well as participants in the study and study locations to give the reader a sense of with whom and where the project or study will occur.  

Creswell (2003) advised the following script for purpose statements in qualitative methodology:

“The purpose of this qualitative_________________ (strategy of inquiry, such as ethnography, case study, or other type) study is (was? will be?) to ________________ (understand? describe? develop? discover?) the _________________(central phenomenon being studied) for ______________ (the participants, such as the individual, groups, organization) at __________(site). At this stage in the project, the __________ (central phenomenon being studied) will be generally defined as ___________________ (provide a general definition)” (pg. 90).

Quantitative Purpose Statement

Creswell (2003) offers vast differences between the purpose statements written for qualitative methodology and those written for quantitative methodology, particularly with respect to language and the inclusion of variables. The comparison of variables is often a focus of quantitative methodology with the variables distinguishable by either the temporal order or how they are measured. As with qualitative purpose statements, Creswell (2003) recommends the use of deliberate language to alert the reader to the purpose of the project or study, though quantitative purpose statements also include the theory or conceptual framework guiding the project or study, the variables that are being studied, and how those variables are related.  

Creswell (2003) suggests the following script for drafting purpose statements in quantitative projects:

“The purpose of this _____________________ (experiment? survey?) project is (was? will be?) to test the theory of _________________that _________________ (compares? relates?) the ___________(independent variable) to _________________________(dependent variable), controlling for _______________________ (control variables) for ___________________ (participants) at _________________________ (site). The independent variable(s) _____________________ will be generally defined as _______________________ (provide a general definition). The dependent variable(s) will be generally defined as _____________________ (provide a general definition), and the control and intervening variables(s), _________________ (identify the control and intervening variables) will be statistically controlled in this project” (pg. 97).

Creswell, J. (2002). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research.  Merrill Prentice Hall. 7. 
Creswell, J. (2003). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches (2nd ed.).  SAGE Publications.


Best Practices

Best Practices for Writing your Purpose Statement

  1. Always keep in mind that the process is iterative, and your writing, over time, will be refined as clarity is gradually achieved. Most of the time, greater clarity for the purpose statement and other components is the result of a growing understanding of the literature in the field. As you increasingly master the literature you will also increasingly clarify the purpose of your project or study. 
  2. The purpose statement should flow directly from the problem statement. There should be clear and obvious alignment between the two, and that alignment will get tighter and more pronounced as your work progresses.
  3. The purpose statement should specifically address the reason for conducting the project or study, with emphasis on the word specifically. There should not be any doubt in your readers’ minds as to the purpose of your project or study. To achieve this level of clarity, you will need to also ensure there is no doubt in your mind as to the purpose of your project or study. 
  4. You may benefit from stopping your work during the process when insight strikes you in order to write about that insight while it is still fresh in your mind. This pause can help you clarify all aspects of the project or study, including clarifying its purpose. 
  5. Your Chair and your committee members can help you to clarify the purpose of your project or dissertation-in-practice, so carefully attend to any feedback they offer.
  6. The purpose statement should reflect the questions proposed and vice versa. The chain of alignment that began with the problem description and continues on to the purpose, questions, and methodology must be respected at all times during development. You are to succinctly describe the overarching goal of the project or dissertation-in-practice that reflects the questions. Each question narrows and focuses the purpose statement. Conversely, the purpose statement encompasses all of the questions. 
  7. Identify in the purpose statement the methodology as quantitative, qualitative or mixed (i.e., “The purpose of this [qualitative/quantitative/mixed] study is to ...)
  8. Follow the initial declaration of purpose with a brief overview of how the project or study will be conducted, including instruments, data, with whom (sample), and where (as applicable). Identify variables/constructs and/or phenomenon/concept/idea. Since this section is to be a concise paragraph, emphasis must be placed on the word brief. However, adding these details will give your readers a very clear picture of the purpose of your project or dissertation-in-practice.
  9. Developing the purpose section is usually not achieved in a single flash of insight. The process involves a great deal of reading to find out what other practitioners have done to address the problem you have identified. The purpose section could well be the most important paragraph you write during your academic career, and every word should be carefully selected. Think of it as the DNA of your project or study. Everything else you write should emerge directly and clearly from your purpose statement. In turn, your purpose statement should emerge directly and clearly from your problem description. It is good practice to print out your problem statement and purpose statement and keep them in front of you as you work on each part of your project or dissertation-in-practice in order to ensure alignment.
  10. It is helpful to collect several project or dissertation-in-practice reports or literature similar to the one you envision creating. Extract the problem descriptions and purpose statements of other authors and compare them in order to sharpen your thinking about your own work.  Comparing how other authors have handled the many challenges you are facing can be an invaluable exercise. Keep in mind that individual universities use their own tailored protocols for presenting key components, so your review of these purpose statements should focus on content rather than form.
  11. Once your purpose statement is set, it must be consistently presented throughout the project or dissertation-in-practice. This consistency may require some recursive editing because the way you articulate your purpose may evolve as you work on various aspects of your project or dissertation-in-practice. Whenever you make an adjustment to your purpose statement, you should carefully follow up on the editing and conceptual ramifications throughout the entire document.
  12. In establishing your purpose, you should NOT advocate for a particular outcome. Your review of the literature should be done to answer questions, not to prove a point. As a scholar-practitioner, you are to inquire with an open mind, and even when you come to the work with clear assumptions, your job is to support the validity of the conclusions reached. For example, you would not say the purpose of your project or study is to demonstrate that there is a relationship between two variables. Such a statement presupposes you know the answer before your review of the literature conducted and promotes or supports (advocates on behalf of) a particular outcome. A more appropriate purpose statement would be to examine or explore the relationship between two variables. 
  13. Your purpose statement should not imply that you are going to prove something. You may be surprised to learn that we cannot prove anything in scholarly review of the literature for two reasons. First, in quantitative analyses, statistical tests calculate the probability that something is true rather than establishing it as true. Second, in qualitative methodology, the study can only purport to describe what is occurring from the perspective of the participants. Whether or not the phenomenon they are describing is true in a larger context is not knowable. We cannot observe the phenomenon in all settings and in all circumstances. 

Sample Purpose Statements

Sample Purpose Statements

Here are some example purpose statements for your consideration.

Purpose Statement 1

The purpose of this qualitative project was to determine how participation in service-learning in an alternative school impacted students academically, civically, and personally.  There is ample evidence demonstrating the failure of schools for students at-risk; however, there is still a need to demonstrate why these students are successful in non-traditional educational programs like the service-learning model used at TDS.  This study was unique in that it examined one alternative school’s approach to service-learning in a setting where students not only serve, but faculty serve as volunteer teachers.  The use of a constructivist approach in service-learning in an alternative school setting was examined in an effort to determine whether service-learning participation contributes positively to academic, personal, and civic gain for students, and to examine student and teacher views regarding the overall outcomes of service-learning.  This study was completed using an ethnographic approach that included observations, content analysis, and interviews with teachers at The David School.

Purpose Statement 2

The purpose of this quantitative, non-experimental, cross-sectional linear, multiple regression design study was to investigate the relationship among early childhood teachers’ self-reported assessment of multicultural awareness as measured by responses from the Teacher Multicultural Attitude Survey (TMAS) and supervisors’ observed assessment of teachers’ multicultural competency skills as measured by the Multicultural Teaching Competency Scale (MTCS) survey. Demographic data such as number of multicultural training hours, years teaching in Dubai, curriculum program at current school, and age were also examined and their relationship to multicultural teaching competency. The study took place in the emirate of Dubai where there were 14,333 expatriate teachers employed in private schools (KHDA, 2013b). 

Purpose Statement 3

The purpose of this quantitative, non-experimental project is to examine the degree to which stages of change, gender, acculturation level and trauma types predicts the reluctance of Arab refugees, aged 18 and over, in the Dearborn, MI area, to seek professional help for their mental health needs. This study will utilize four instruments to measure these variables: University of Rhode Island Change Assessment (URICA: DiClemente & Hughes, 1990); Cumulative Trauma Scale (Kira, 2012); Acculturation Rating Scale for Arabic Americans-II Arabic and English (ARSAA-IIA, ARSAA-IIE: Jadalla & Lee, 2013), and a demographic survey. This study will examine 1) the relationship between stages of change, gender, acculturation levels, and trauma types and Arab refugees’ help-seeking behavior, 2) the degree to which any of these variables can predict Arab refugee help-seeking behavior.  Additionally, the outcome of this study could provide researchers and clinicians with a stage-based model, TTM, for measuring Arab refugees’ help-seeking behavior and lay a foundation for how TTM can help target the clinical needs of Arab refugees. Lastly, this attempt to apply the TTM model to Arab refugees’ condition could lay the foundation for future research to investigate the application of TTM to clinical work among refugee populations.

Purpose Statement 4

The purpose of this qualitative, phenomenological project is to describe the lived experiences of LLM for 10 EFL learners in rural Guatemala and to utilize that data to determine how it conforms to, or possibly challenges, current theoretical conceptions of LLM. In accordance with Morse’s (1994) suggestion that a phenomenological study should utilize at least six participants, this study utilized semi-structured interviews with 10 EFL learners to explore why and how they have experienced the motivation to learn English throughout their lives. The methodology of horizontalization was used to break the interview protocols into individual units of meaning before analyzing these units to extract the overarching themes (Moustakas, 1994). These themes were then interpreted into a detailed description of LLM as experienced by EFL students in this context. Finally, the resulting description was analyzed to discover how these learners’ lived experiences with LLM conformed with and/or diverged from current theories of LLM.

Purpose Statement 5

The purpose of this qualitative, embedded, multiple case project was to examine how both parent-child attachment relationships are impacted by the quality of the paternal and maternal caregiver-child interactions that occur throughout a maternal deployment, within the context of dual-military couples. In order to examine this phenomenon, an embedded, multiple case study was conducted, utilizing an attachment systems metatheory perspective. The study included four dual-military couples who experienced a maternal deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) when they had at least one child between 8 weeks-old to 5 years-old.  Each member of the couple participated in an individual, semi-structured interview with the researcher and completed the Parenting Relationship Questionnaire (PRQ). “The PRQ is designed to capture a parent’s perspective on the parent-child relationship” (Pearson, 2012, para. 1) and was used within the proposed study for this purpose. The PRQ was utilized to triangulate the data (Bekhet & Zauszniewski, 2012) as well as to provide some additional information on the parents’ perspective of the quality of the parent-child attachment relationship in regards to communication, discipline, parenting confidence, relationship satisfaction, and time spent together (Pearson, 2012). The researcher utilized the semi-structured interview to collect information regarding the parents' perspectives of the quality of their parental caregiver behaviors during the deployment cycle, the mother's parent-child interactions while deployed, the behavior of the child or children at time of reunification, and the strategies or behaviors the parents believe may have contributed to their child's behavior at the time of reunification. The results of this project may be utilized by the military, and by civilian providers, to develop proactive and preventive measures that both providers and parents can implement, to address any potential adverse effects on the parent-child attachment relationship, identified through the proposed study. The results of this project may also be utilized to further refine and understand the integration of attachment theory and systems theory, in both clinical and research settings, within the field of marriage and family therapy. 

Compiled by Dr. Darren Adamson, Department Chair, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences