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The Action Research Dissertation

The Action Research Dissertation
A Guide for Students and Faculty

Second Edition

May 2014 | 216 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc
The first edition of this book was a first-of-its-kind reference, distilling the authors’ decades of action research experience into a handy guide for graduate students. The Second Edition continues to provide an accessible roadmap that honors the complexity of action research, while providing an overview of how action research is defined, its traditions and history, and the rationale for using it. The authors demonstrate that action research is not only appropriate for a dissertation, but also is a deeply rewarding experience for both the researcher and participants. This practical book demonstrates how action research dissertations are different from more traditional dissertations and prepares students and their committees for the unique dilemmas they may face, such as validity, positionality, design, write-up, ethics, and dissertation defense.

About the Authors
1. Introduction: What Is an Action Research Dissertation?
The Many Faces of Action Research

Toward a Definition of Action Research

The Action Research Dissertation

2. Action Research Traditions and Knowledge Interests
The Multiple Traditions of Action Research

Action Research and Organizational Development/Learning

Action Science

Participatory Research: The Legacy of Paulo Freire

Participatory Evaluation

Action Research and Community Psychology

Action Research in Education

The Teacher-as-Researcher Movement in Britain

The Practitioner Research Movement in North America

The Danger of Co-Optation

Participatory Action Research with Youth: YPAR

Action Research as Narrative: Self-Study and Autoethnography

Arts-Based Approaches to Action Research

Feminist, Post-Colonial, and Antiracist Approaches to Action Research

The Knowledge Interests of Action Research


3. The Continuum of Positionality in Action Research
Insider: Researcher Studies Own Self/Practice

Insider in Collaboration With Other Insiders

Insider(s) in Collaboration With Outsider(s)

PAR: Reciprocal Collaboration (Insider-Outsider Teams)

PAR: Outsider(s) in Collaboration With Insider(s)

Outsider(s) Studies Insider(s)

Multiple Positionalities

The Outsider-Within Stance as a Flawed Approach to Action Research



4. Quality Criteria for Action Research: An Ongoing Conversation
Delegitimizing Action Research: Opposition in the Academy

Redefining Rigor: Criteria of Quality for Action Research

Reason and Bradbury’s Discussion of Validity and Choice Points

Addressing Bias in Action Research

Are the Findings of Action Research Generalizable?

The Politics of Action Research

Institutional Micropolitics

The Politics of Redefining Professionalism

The Politics of Knowledge

The Macropolitics of Action Research Projects


5. Designing the Plane While Flying it: Proposing and Doing the Dissertation
Possibilities of a Pilot Study

The Dissertation Proposal

Introducing the Proposed Inquiry

Situating the Study in Relevant Literature

Methodological Considerations

Data Analysis and Representation

Where Do Action Research Questions Come From?

Insider Action Research

Outsider Action Research

Issues of Design and Methodology

Designing Insider Action Research

Designing Outsider Action Research

The Literature Review: Literature in Dialogue With the Data

Writing the Dissertation

Defending the Dissertation

6. What Does an Action Research Dissertation Look Like?
Lynne Mock: Carving a Dissertation Out of a PAR Project

The Entry Process

Creating Participatory Structures

Writing the Dissertation

Emphasizing the Strengths of Action Research

Researcher-Initiated PAR Studies

Initiating the PAR Study

The Emergent Design of the PAR Process

Collaborative Data Analysis

Disseminating the Results: Multiple Forms of Representation and Audiences

John Mark Dyke: Insider Action Research

First Phase of the Work

Iterative Cycles of Inquiry

The Dissertation Research

Gary W. Street: A Principal Cultivating Action Research



7. Ethical Considerations and Action Research
Working with Institutional Review Process

Ethics in Practice

Authentic Collaboration

Learning to Be Researchers

Who’s the Writing For?

Moving Beyond Do No Harm

8. Final Thoughts

Student who conducted action research dissertation finds it very helpful. Will use it again for the summer

Guofang Wan
School of Education, Loyola University-Watertower
May 11, 2022

Great text that introduces doctoral students to action research in relation to dissertation projects.

Dr Delores E McNair
Educational Admn & Leadership, University Of The Pacific
April 22, 2020

Recommended for any student or practitioner involved in research. Clearly set out and easy to follow. Used by all my dissertation students and for my own practice.

Mrs Ros Steward
Department of Education, University of the West Of England
June 25, 2015

A superb book to guide dissertation students as they undertake their action research.

Ms Shan Ashton
Lifelong Learning, Bangor University
April 21, 2015

Supports students to study the different approaches within action research; exploring their own practice and that of others. (This publication has been recommended to both our Early Childhood Studies and Education in Lifelong Learning Degree programmes)

Miss Tracey Canham
Health Care And Early Years, Swindon College
October 19, 2014

This book supports the students in the developmental stages of their research ideas and planning of their action research projects. It has also supported ongoing professional discussions between tutors and students.

Ms Linda Leith
Department of Professional Development, Canterbury Christ Church University
October 17, 2014
Key features


  • New sections in Chapter 1 reflect the changes and ongoing development in the field of action research, such as youth participatory action research and the emerging area of arts-based approaches to action research.
  • A restructured Chapter 5 offers a substantive new introduction, expanded coverage of the proposal and proposal writing, and incorporates narratives from current dissertations to showcase the real world of dissertation writing.
  • Chapter 6 includes a new composite illustration of PAR dissertations and adds a completely new case example that reflects the recent dramatic growth of EdD programs with part-time students.
  • An all-new Chapter 7 is loosely structured around Guillemin & Gillam’s work that distinguishes between “procedural ethics” and “ethics in action,” and covers the ethical issues commonly encountered in action research.


  • The text provides an interdisciplinary and thorough review of action research for graduate students.
  • Case Examples and narratives from current dissertations highlight the real world of dissertation writing.
  • Detailed tables offer comparisons of action research and other qualitative techniques, as well as different approaches to action research.

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 1

Chapter 3

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