Making decisions of any kind can be difficult, and choosing a dissertation topic is no different. Sometimes, the hardest part of the job is to get started. Dissertation topic ideas are rather like drops of water in the ocean—there are literally hundreds of thousands of possibilities.
So how do students actually select dissertation topics? Several ways, actually. Any student who has survived the dissertation process will give newbies three pieces of advice:
- Narrow your choices early
- Select a topic that interests you
- Find a faculty mentor you can work professionally with
As it’s a major writing assignment, you should never procrastinate when beginning a dissertation. Jump in with both feet and keep pushing until you’ve finished the last sentence. But before you revise, before you draft, before you research, before you outline, you need to decide how to choose a dissertation topic. Check out these great options.
Approaches to Selecting a Topic
Students learn in a variety of ways, and therefore there are a variety of ways to approach selecting dissertation topics. If your academic program demands a dissertation as a graduation requirement, start sooner rather than later to begin narrowing the search and getting approval from the dissertation review committee.
Here are four avenues to help you decide how to choose a dissertation topic.
Research is the par for the course when writing a dissertation; therefore, consider sitting down and brainstorm what inspires you about the discipline and subject matter you’re studying. What really interests you? What inspires you about this area of study? Make a list of all the topics that have caught your attention in classes. Then, develop a list of possible research topics. Writing a 30-50+ page paper on something that inspires you just may save your sanity during the research and writing process.
Seeking a topic through literature is another way to go. Comparing and contrasting methods in published work, or analyzing the relevancy of a message or technique to a particular population are good places to start. Remember: the point of a dissertation is to add a new perspective to a particular topic, so topics regarding literature should be unique and innovative.
Professional colleagues and college professors exist as vast knowledge basis when it comes to potential dissertation topics. So do scholars who’ve successfully completed the doctoral dissertation process. Mind their knowledge, respect their advice, and choose among potential topics wisely. Think through all topics before selecting one and be sure that enough published research exists to substantiate any claims made about the topic. Knowledgeable mentors aren’t just useful when deciding among dissertation topics; they are often indispensable throughout the process.
Reviewing Published Dissertations
Another source of inspiration could be recently published dissertations in your discipline. See what’s trending, and what topics people are most interested in—compile this information and begin to narrow dissertation topics by current trends and information that’s likely to be trending in the future. Reviewing previously written dissertations or research proposals serves two purposes: first, it allows you to review well-written papers and familiarize yourself with the format and second, it helps new students understand what’s trending in their area of expertise.
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Dissertation Topic Criteria
It’s key to consider interesting topics to research before making a final decision. In fact, it’s very helpful to develop a set of criteria to judge potential dissertation topics against.
Here are several questions that could be useful in developing well-rounded criteria:
- How will this topic help me further my career?
- Am I passionate about this topic?
- Does enough scholarly literature exist to support an investigation into this topic?
- Does this topic add to the current knowledge base within a particular discipline?
- Is this topic original?
- Is it practical to complete this topic within the established deadline(s)?
- Is it likely this topic will be approved the faculty board/faculty mentor?
If you can answer yes to most or all of these questions, then it’s time to brainstorm the points that will need to be fulfilled by the topic. It’s hard to get where you need to go without a map—therefore, part of any doctoral dissertation topic criteria should include a roadmap.
Whether it’s a master’s thesis or a dissertation, the job needs to be taken into serious account. So, sit down and think through what you need to write in the paper; what kind of research you’ll need to find as well as questions that will need to be answered in the dissertation itself.
Before you begin researching, create a roadmap that would lead you to find your very own dissertation topic. Mind the following criteria?:
- Current literature regarding the topic
- How your approach to the topic is novel
- Why the topic is important to the audience
- How this topic will impact people/businesses
Helpful Advice From Our Writers
- Think outside the box
Remember that the dissertation will be published, and your name is attached to it; it represents your ability to synthesize information and formulate new ideas. It can act as your entrance to the chosen field of professional being. Therefore, make a name for yourself by going big and selecting a topic that provides new, relevant insight.
- Pose an open-ended question
You’ll limit your research ability if you develop a question that can be answered with a “yes” or “no”. Instead, select dissertation topics that offer the opportunity for a thorough investigation. The entire point of a dissertation is to extend the current knowledge of a particular topic, and posing an open-ended question will help a writer/researcher accomplish this.
- Trust your mentors
If you come to your mentor with a potential topic and he or she shoots it down, trust their instincts—they’ve been down this road before and can spot potential pitfalls sooner rather than later. While the ultimate choice is always the student’s, mentors exist to offer valuable insight and support.
- Recognize the process
Writing is a process; it requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. Respect the process and follow its stages accordingly—don’t jump to the middle and begin writing. Most students narrow their doctoral dissertation topics down to four or five likely candidates and then seek feedback from peers and faculty before making a final decision.
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Drawing the Line
As with any major writing assignment, it’s important to sit down and create milestones for yourself regarding the process. Master’s and doctoral degrees require dissertations because they are higher-level degrees; students must bring their A-game to the table. Above all, students should select dissertation topics that pique their interest as they’ll be researching and writing on a singular topic for months until completion.
Finally, never be afraid to reach out and use the support available to assist your success; discuss roadblocks with your assigned mentor, and tune into our marvelous blog to find helpful advice!