Choosing a topic that just feels right for your dissertation or thesis can be a daunting process. After all, if you are in the last year of your undergraduate or graduate course, you’ve already familiarized yourself on a wide array of subject areas and narrowing down to one particular topic that suits your area of interest, could be taxing, and might even lead to serious existential dilemma!
It is perfectly human to feel overwhelmed when deadlines are nigh and decisions that could possibly impact us for the long term need to be taken. Hopefully, this guide will help you clear your head and motivate you to choose the topic for your dissertation writing, which will also be the best fit for your research interests.
This Article Covers:
- Key Points to Keep in Mind Before Choosing a Topic
- How to Choose a Dissertation Topic in 6 Easy Steps
Key Points to Keep in Mind Before Choosing a Topic Are:
- Understanding what a dissertation is
- Making note of the department’s expectations
- Finding broader research areas and their scopes
- Finding the necessary resources
- Filtering down to your topic for dissertation
Step 1 – Understanding the University Requirements
This is the first step one has to undertake before deciding on an appropriate dissertation topic. While this may seem obvious, this is as important as the other steps. You could lose valuable time and a lot of research could go down the drain if you haven’t read over the university’s guidelines for the dissertation before working on it. For example, working on a dissertation while employing a particular methodology that is not acceptable for the university or undertaking research that goes beyond the scope of your educational program could only cause trouble for you at the last moment.
Therefore, your dissertation should be, first and foremost, tailored to suit your study program. It is good to understand if there are any areas the university doesn’t promote research on or if there are research areas to choose from, make note of the word count and methodologies that are prescribed. Also, consider your deadline, rationally before you choose a topic. It is always a good idea to stick to research territories that aren’t alien to you if time is of concern to you.
Step 2 – Identifying Your Area of Interest
Ultimately, isn’t this what it all comes down to? That particular area of study that somehow makes you feel a bit alive and holds your curiosity, despite the sleep-inducing lectures and jaded student hood. Finding your broader research area is the first proper step if you want to write a dissertation. There is no other way to get around it; you don’t have to settle on a topic yet or start researching at this point. But you would need to find your broader area of research and the scope associated with it.
You might need a topic that interests you and can hold your interest for the long run. You are going to spend considerable time and energy on this research (hopefully) and you would want to put your original thought into it. A good dissertation can always motivate and spark scholarly endeavors in a person and many young researchers fuss about their dissertations in order to develop and research areas that they would possibly want to dig more into if they plan to undertake a doctoral course. All these make settling down to one area of research interest taxing. But the important thing is to draw from your current knowledge and identify the areas that interest you.
You could make a list of the papers or subjects you have taken during your undergraduate or postgraduate course and note down the areas. For example, if you are an English major who has read extensively or enjoyed papers offered that were related to, say, European drama or Postcolonial literature, those could be your main research areas. In other words, then you will aim for your dissertation to contribute towards or belong to that area of interest.
Step 3 – Gathering the Appropriate Resources
After you have managed to choose your research area, the next significant step is to understand the existing research in that area. Now, this is not the time to fret as this is not a difficult step or where you should spend a lot of your time. You definitely don’t have to know everything about a research area of interest if you want to write a dissertation on it. A general idea and interest in the field are just enough at this point.
At this point, what is important for you is to get a preliminary idea about the existing research on the area that will possibly help you narrow it down to your dissertation topic. You could read as much as you can about the area (without taking too much time for this as you are yet to finalize on the topic) or revisit the old concepts you know related to the area. At this point; you don’t have to narrow down to a single topic or read exhaustively, but you should find out the resources that will be useful to you in the particular area.
Make a list of relevant books and articles (not that you need to read them all at this point, it is just to ensure their availability). You could do your research online, understand what kind of research goes on in your area of interest or visit the library and see what kind of books and articles line up the shelves concerning your research area, see if anything strikes your interest.
Step 4 – Finding Your Niche
This is the point where you narrow down your area. You have already conducted some preliminary research, visited old coursebooks or the library once at this point. Certain titles could have made an impression on you and certain others could have intrigued you. You might want to read more about certain ideas or literature within your area now. This means you have been able to narrow down to particular niche within your area of interest. You might have already had one when you chose the area, but it may be clearer now that you have done some generic research.
To continue with the previous example, if your area of interest was Postcolonial Literature or European drama, now you might have filtered your interest down to, say, a certain time period or region within the area of interest. You might also have a list of authors in mind or common themes found between those authors. Finding a niche is important as it will broaden your interest within the particular area of interest you have. At this point, you should read more extensively than before, while keeping in mind the time you have to work on your dissertation writing.
Step 5 – Choose a Dissertation Topic
Once you have found your niche, finding a topic is an easy task and could come naturally to you. You have to select a topic that you find to be interesting. It should draw from your existing reading and understanding of the chosen niche. It is also important to keep in mind the following matters while choosing your topic:
Your topic should be specific:
- The title of your dissertation should be able to convey its very scope. Furthermore, It should not be generic or vague. It should be derived from the very core of your argument.
Your topic should be unique:
- A dissertation should be more than a literature review. You could put a lot of original thought and ideas into your dissertation, but if your topic doesn’t clearly indicate originality, it could be undermined regardless of what you have put into it.
It should be new:
- Your topic should be able to suggest something new. Even if most of your work draws on from an existing literature review, your title should clearly demarcate the new ideas that you have gained from your research of the existing literature. It should either add on to it or find gaps in it or altogether suggest a new methodology of thinking about a particular topic.
It should show objectivity:
- This comes with the former. While drawing on new ideas is important, it is also important to retain objectivity and not be prejudiced by your interest in your area of research. Consider whether the chosen topic has scope in the existing area and whether you could add to it in a way that is relevant.
Step 6 – Research and Research Methodologies
Once you have a more or less vague idea about your topic, it is important to research extensively. At this point you will utilize the resources you have gathered before, add more to that or remove those no longer pertaining to your topic. It is alright if your topic is not particularly unique or new at this point. Every research goes through multiple drafts and so do your main arguments and title of the dissertation. The more you research, the more clear idea you will have about the topic.
One of the most important things to do after you have settled on a topic is to find out what would be your most appropriate methodology. This is important as your research topic is also influenced by the methodology you use. Methodologies are broadly classified into three categories: literature surveys, theoretical analysis, and experimentation.
Here is a brief description of each category:
- These studies mainly involve gathering information from a reservoir of sources according to relevance so that you can add on to existing research, critically analyze them, or find gaps in them. This is mainly used in social sciences.
- Sometimes, results of a study may not be conclusive unless some theoretical modelling of data by using simulations on a computer, etc. is conducted. This is mainly employed in the sciences where new findings need to be supported by the use of theoretical modelling, etc.
- Sometimes, experimental research conducted would be the focus of research. This includes scientific experiments that are done to reach a conclusion.
In this article, we have laid out the essential points to keep in mind while choosing your dissertation topic. Keeping these in mind will help you from getting overwhelmed while choosing your dissertation topic. A Master’s dissertation is often an important step for many University students and we hope this guide will set you on the right track in choosing the right topic for your dissertation.