Making the Implicit Explicit
Creating Performance Expectations for the Dissertation

Paper: 978 1 57922 181 2 / $33.50
Published: March 2007  

Lib E-Book: 978 1 57922 934 4 / $95.00  
About Library E-Book

Published: June 2011  

Publisher: Stylus Publishing
428 pp., 6" x 9"
Despite their and other stakeholders’ consistent demand for excellence, doctoral programs have rarely, if ever, been assessed in terms of the quality of the dissertations departments produce. Yet dissertations provide the most powerful, objective measure of the success of a department’s doctoral program. Indeed, assessment, when done properly, can help departments achieve excellence by providing insight into a program’s strengths and weaknesses.

This book and the groundbreaking study on which it is based is about making explicit to doctoral students the tacit “rules” for the assessment of the final of all final educational products—the dissertation. The purpose of defining performance expectations is to make them more transparent to graduate students while they are in the researching and writing phases, and thus to help them achieve to higher levels of accomplishment.

Lovitts proposes the use of rubrics to clarify performance expectations–not to rate dissertations or individual components of dissertations to provide a summary score, but to facilitate formative assessment to support, not substitute for, the advising process.

She provides the results of a study in which over 270 faculty from ten major disciplines—spanning the sciences, social sciences, and humanities—were asked to make explicit their implicit standards or criteria for evaluating dissertations. The book concludes with a summary of the practical and research implications for different stakeholders: faculty, departments, universities, disciplinary associations, accrediting organizations, and doctoral students themselves.

The methods described can easily be adapted for the formative assessment of capstone courses, senior and master’s theses, comprehensive exams, papers, and journal articles.

Table of Contents:
List Of Tables; Preface; Acknowledgments; Part One: The Dissertation And Its Assessment 1. Judging Dissertations; 2. Achieving Excellence ; 3. Universal Qualities Of A Dissertation ; 4. Disciplinary Approaches To Doctoral Training And The Development Of A Dissertation ; 5. Converting Performance Expectations Into Rubrics ; 6. Conclusions, Implications, And Recommendations; Part Two: The Disciplines 7. The Biology Dissertation; 8. The Physics Dissertation; 9. The Electrical And Computer Engineering Dissertation; 10. The Mathematics Dissertation; 11. The Economics Dissertation; 12. The Psychology Dissertation; 13. The Sociology Dissertation; 14. The English Dissertation; 15. The History Dissertation; 16. The Philosophy Dissertation; Appendix A: List Of Participating Universities, Dean, Coordinators, And Facilitators; Appendix B: Details On The Study’s Methodology; References; Index; About The Author.

Reviews & Endorsements:
"Lovitts’ important book seeks nothing less than to reform the graduate education process. Focusing on the dissertation, the capstone Ph.D. project which demands that graduate students make an original contribution to their disciplines, Lovitts convincingly states that graduate advisors, faculties, deans, and administrators must develop explicit objective standards and criteria for evaluating dissertations. She argues that explicit objective standards for the dissertation enable graduate advisors and administrators to assess the quality of doctoral education on an individual level as well as programmatically. Objective standards also provide graduate students with the transparent knowledge and explicit learning goals that enable them to achieve success at higher levels. Making the Implicit Explicit is a complex and highly focused work that should be essential reading for all graduate student advisors, faculty, and program administrators."
- NACADA Journal
“Perhaps one of the most helpful and enlightening contributions of this book that I found was Chapter 5, ‘designed to encourage thinking about standards and criteria for the dissertation and about the underlying concepts and principles of pedagogy that lead to those ends’. Having identified the generic characteristics of four different quality levels of a dissertation and then identifying the discipline-specific characteristics of the main components of a dissertation Lovitts begins to develop her generic, and then ten discipline-specific, rubrics. The author goes to considerable lengths to describe a rubric and its purpose, how one might develop one and might even evaluate one to ensure ongoing quality and standards.

Lovitts concludes with useful suggestions for how universities and graduate students might use and benefit from having made the implicit explicit or as she says earlier in the book, helping students get past the ‘guess what’s in my mind’ approach to the examination of dissertations.

I found this to be a compelling account of a rigorous research project that has the potential to assist universities, graduate schools and their deans, and dissertation examiners to consider what it is they are seeking in a dissertation and how that can be articulated to research students.”
- Reviewed by Margaret Kiley in Studies in Higher Education