Choosing a Dissertation Topic
When you are about to choose the topic for your academic paper, be it a dissertation, thesis or research project, you should consider some crucial factors that can make it either a success or failure. These factors involve:
- the length of your paper and timeframes available for it;
- your interests and fields of knowledge;
- possible access to reliable sources and information;
- requirements of your educational institution or department;
- practical, social, and academic relevance.
However, you may not have an exact idea of what your paper should be about. You cannot start paper writing until you define some themes and narrow them down. This article will tell you how to do it most easily and appropriately.
Start with Checking Requirements
Your educational program may have some academic requirements for research projects you should be aware of. These requirements can determine your choice of the topic and what it should cover.
Among such demands, consider:
- the deadline;
- orientation - either a professional or academic one;
- the minimum and maximum word count;
- methodological conditions and techniques (e.g., fieldwork or laboratory experiments);
- whether the topic is predetermined by the list provided by your department, or you will have to create your topic.
Some academic programs follow much stricter requirements than others. You need to find out all the available information from your coordinator or supervisor.
Choosing a Broader Research Field First
You can consider some broader areas of interest first, for example, online marketing or twentieth-century literature and then narrow them down in the preliminary research process.
Avoid starting your paper entirely from scratch but pick out the field with which you are at least familiar. Remember that you are not required to be an expert. It may not be interesting for you to do further research if you already know everything about the topic. Though, you need to have read just something about the theme to make sure that you can start from somewhere.
Searching for Relevant Articles and Books
Choose some top journals in the field of your interest and skim through their recent issues. Pick out the most cited articles. Use Google Scholar, databases on your subject, and materials from your institution’s library.
While looking through the articles, pay attention to their reference lists. They contain other resources you may find useful. Take notes while reading. Then, you can list topics that are especially inspiring for you.
Picking Out a Niche
Now, you have formulated a broad idea and can start narrowing it down. Do it gradually, making your topic more specific.
Let’s take the mentioned above broad themes to see how it works:
- ✔️ Online marketing - marketing in social media - engagement strategies in social media marketing.
- ✔️ Twentieth-century literature - Irish literature of the twentieth century - post-war poetry in Ireland.
The received topics are also rather broad. You can still find a lot of sources on them. Now, it is time to look for some very specific niche, for example, some ideas or facts that have not received much attention so far. It can be some author who has been underestimated or some results of research that have been neglected. That can also be a debatable question or unresolved issue.
Try to keep a reasonable balance between the amount of research that has already been done and strong conclusions made on it and the available number of materials for a strong basis of your unique research. If many consensuses have been achieved, it will be challenging to identify the relevance of your topic.
You can have a couple of supporting ideas at this stage. You may use them if you need to change a topic. It can be required when you do not see how to make the next step in the research. Then, you will narrow down the topic again while making up a problem statement and, possibly, research questions.
Thinking About the Methodology of Research
Types of research can differ, so you can start considering the most appropriate approaches for researching your theme. Think about:
- methods of the existing data analysis - using archives, official statistics, or public information;
- ways to collect unique data, for example, field research or experiments;
- comparison of scientific ideas and approaches - methods, theories, and their interpretations;
- deeper research in cultural evidence, such as paintings, literature pieces, or films.
You can combine different approaches in your dissertation. For some specific topics, the choice is obvious. For example, if you have picked out the Irish poetry of the post-war years, your method will involve researching and analyzing poetry.
In some events, you can use several approaches. For instance, if your topic is engagement strategies in social media marketing, you can either use interviews and surveys to collect data or analyze statistics or public records.
This stage does not require finalizing your methods or research design. However, defining the type of research will guide you through the main aspects of the topic. So, keep in mind the research design when you think about narrowing down the niche.
Consider the amount of time needed for gathering original data. If the time for your dissertation completion is limited, you should concentrate on a deep analysis of the well-researched data from the primary or secondary sources you have already picked out.
Identifying the Relevance
Relevance of your academic paper’s topic means whether your research will contribute something useful to already existing research results, findings and the field as a whole.
In fact, the topic should be interesting and useful to all the parties of the process, involving you and the educational program you are dealing with. The institution you are taking this program in should also be considered, especially if you are doing your internship or research work within it.
Your paper should have practical, social, and scientific relevance. So, let’s consider all these components in a row.
1. Your Interests
It is you who should be interested in the topic to deal with for a long time of your dissertation writing. If it does not seem attractive to you as a person, it will be challenging to keep up the hard work for the entire time needed for its completion. You will not be motivated enough to finish it, so you may fail the project completely or skip the deadlines.
2. Educational Program
Your dissertation topic is sure to be corresponding to the educational program you are doing. If your topic does not match the program, your paper will not be approved. Though, it depends on the field of study. Some of them are quite broad, so the topic of your interest can easily match them.
To be sure, discuss the matter with your supervisor. Follow their advice on what is appropriate and what is not in your dissertation topic.
3. Your Experience
Writing a dissertation related to your job or internship is a good choice. The organization you work for may also need to be involved in the process. Let them know about your research plan so that the contact point from your organization can advise you on what will be relevant and helpful for them and what results they expect you should obtain for their benefit.
4. Academic Relevance
This is about how well your paper can fill the gap in the field or contribute to the scholarly debate on this topic. If you do extensive reading in the process of your research, you will see what has not been considered yet. That will stimulate your research process and the appearance of new ideas.
You can check whether your topic is scientifically relevant while you pay attention to the recommendations for the follow-up research provided at the end of existing papers or articles. If you see that your paper matches well with these recommendations, you can be sure that it is academically relevant. The only thing is that you need to check whether the recommended follow-up research has not been conducted yet by someone else.
5. Social and Practical Relevance
These two considerations intersect. Social relevance implies that your research can contribute something to the community or lead to some social change. It can help understand the main processes in society and influence them as well. Practical relevance implies that your research can be useful for solving some specific problems in real-life processes. Practical relevance will add value to your research, so it is always welcome in a particular field or industry. If your paper provides some ways for making improvements in your organization, it is still more valuable.
To be sure that your research topic is truly relevant, try to choose it in the closest connection with the current issues, debates, or gaps in your field of study or the organization you work for. You will need to define the relevance of the research problem. It is usually done in the introduction to the academic paper. Discuss how your research will contribute to the existing theory, organization, institution, field of study, and society.
If you are taking a program related to professional training, professional relevance is also important. That may even limit your choice of topics because it should be rather specific.
Check Again Whether the Topic Is The Right One
Before you make the final formulation of the topic for your dissertation, make sure that it is plausible. These are the points you will need to check again:
- the length and the timeframe available for it;
- enough time for reading the essential academic literature;
- availability of sources and gathering enough data;
- enough funding and practical access for collecting data;
- Your interest and motivation for the research on this topic.
If just one point of those mentioned above is lacking, you may need to narrow the focus, even more, broaden or shift it, or even reformulate the theme completely to be successful with it.
You can see now that the process of choosing an appropriate topic for your dissertation can be rather complicated. You should follow certain steps and stages to be on the right path. Skipping or neglecting just one of them may cause certain problems in further research work.
There is one more thing to consider we have not mentioned here yet. It is the need for your dissertation topic to be approved by your department, institution, or the organization you are working for. You may need to submit a short description of your further work before you find a supervisor, or they will assign the supervisor to you on their own. You will have to discuss all the ideas with your assigned supervisor first before the completion of a research proposal.
You can always change your mind and topic if you find it is not strong or relevant enough within the research process. However, it is better to do it at the initial stages of the process. You need to be sure that you still have enough time and resources to start again. Of course, before making such a decision, discuss the issue with your supervisor or department. You cannot do it voluntarily because your topic will not be approved this way.