Selecting a topic for your dissertation is not easy and is often not the most fun task, but it is extremely important to choose a current and relevant topic. A well-chosen topic ensures that you can more easily write a qualitatively good dissertation. This also makes the writing process more pleasant for you.
Steps in choosing your dissertation topic
Step 1: Check what requirements your study places on the dissertation. Do you have to select from a list of topics or may you make your own choice? And do you have to meet any special terms or conditions?
Step 2: Decide what type of research you want to do. Do you just want to compare existing literature or do you want to carry out practical research yourself, for example, in the form of field research or experimental research? Do you want to make use of existing data or do you want to collect the data yourself?
Step 3: Select a global research discipline. Make sure you realize that for some research disciplines there is more information available than for others.
Step 4: Within your global research discipline, look for current articles and papers. Each field has a number of top journals and trade or professional journals. At the least, always make sure that a couple of articles from these top journals have common issues with your area of research.
For inspiration, you can also enter your research discipline at the website of the primary search engine for scholarly literature, http://scholar.google.com. For more databanks, see the following article: How do you perform desk research?.
Step 5: Select a minor detail or characteristic within your research discipline. Can you explain your topic in a few words?
Step 6: Make a Top 3 list of topics.
Step 7: Show your shortlist to your classmates. If they are enthusiastic about a topic, then you know that you have a good one.
Step 8: From the three topics, select the one that you have the best feeling about.
- Pay attention to the requirements of your study. Sometimes you have to choose from a list of topics within your field.
- Choose a current topic. It is often simpler to find a lot of information about a current topic than a dated topic, about which not much has been written recently. Search via Google (Scholar) for recent articles and web blogs. Or use LexisNexis: a database where you can quickly find all articles within your research discipline. Often you have access to LexisNexis via your higher educational institution or university.
- Always make sure that there are enough scientific sources for your topic. For this, look at the best journals within your field. It’s a good idea to review the last few editions of a number of professional journals.
- Try to choose a commercial angle within your research discipline. This can be very handy later when you are trying to get a job in your field.
- Practical research takes up a great deal of time. If you don’t want to spend too much time on your dissertation, then try to avoid practical research. Instead of conducting research yourself, you could also choose to use existing databases. This saves a lot of time, but also makes your dissertation less unique.
Topic selection within a company
If you are going to write a research paper or dissertation for a company, you must ensure that your colleagues and advisor within the company support your choice of topic.
It is important that the topic is relevant to the company; in this way, you are sure that you can ask for assistance within the company when you need it.
You’ve chosen your topic. What’s next?
As soon as you know your topic, it’s time to write an action plan to outline the structure of your dissertation.
Structure action plan for writing a dissertation
You'll be amazed at how much the choice of Master's thesis will influence your long-term interest in the field, prospects for jobs within and outside of academia. I'd suggest picking up some mainstream journals or magazines in your field and see what is currently trendy in the field, and what are bread and butter topics. Having a birds eye view of what's going on in the field allows you to be strategic about your topic, with the goal of planning a successful career.
Most likely, a successful career is one that will hook into an existing community of researchers in a topic, with a reliable source of funds that pay for conferences, departments, and students to populate them. A strategic topic is one that has the potential to make an impact in the field, and has the potential to cross-over into related disciplines, or even to have practical applications to real people (god forbid).
Finally, and most importantly, choose a topic that gets your blood flowing. Your master's topic could very easily become a PhD topic, which could then become a career focus. A lot of grad student burn-out is the result of students reaching their limit of interest in a topic, and thus deciding they've had enough.
As you survey mainstream and more specific literatures, be aware of what problems and topics get you excited. Choose something that you actually get excited about, that you can't stop thinking and talking about, and that you can even get other people excited about. That's the topic that will keep you going when you get stuck in the muck of research and don't know if you can keep going for another year.