When you’ve put in the time and paid the fees for your graduate degree, the pressure to get that last hurdle – the dissertation – right is immense.
However, choosing the perfect dissertation topic is not always as straightforward as you would think.
If you are struggling to choose a topic for your dissertation, these three tips will help set you on the right path.
Tip 1: Your Topic Needs to be Specific
A good dissertation topic needs to narrow in and focus on a specific problem or question that has not yet been adequately addressed within your field.
What you want to avoid is a topic that only scrapes the surface of a particular issue. If your topic is too broad, too fuzzy, or too general, you will find it difficult to formulate research questions, establish a problem statement, and prove a research gap.
Here’s an example of a broad, general, fuzzy topic: Racism in Higher Education.
Yes, it’s an important topic – but it’s too broad for a dissertation. There are undergraduate classes and popular courses and pop culture documentaries that already cover this topic. Where would you start? What about racism in higher education?
Here’s an example of a specific, narrow topic: The impact of peer-mentorship on race-relations in Newfoundland higher-education institutions.
See how it focuses in on a specific aspect, place, and solution? This topic will be much easier to research and explore.
Tip 2: Your Topic Needs to be Relevant
Remember what we said about the research gap? This point is particularly important to remember – there is no point in answering a question in your dissertation that has already been adequately answered by other researchers!
At the same time, the answer or solution needs to be relevant to someone or in some way. For example, it’s likely that no one has ever answered the question “What would happen if you fitted shoes to a centipede?” However, in the grand scheme of things, answering this question adds very little to the sum total of human knowledge. This topic is specific, but not really relevant.
As you think about your topic, ask yourself this question: why is this research necessary? Who is going to benefit from my findings?
Tip 3: Your Topic Needs to be Achievable
Not every question that urgently needs to be answered can be, and not every problem that urgently needs a solution can be solved in the scope of a single research project.
This means that once you have determined a topic that is specific and relevant, you also need to narrow it further to something you can realistically tackle within the timeframe of your course and with the resources you have access to.
For example, the question of how quickly the polar ice-caps are melting this summer is both urgent, relevant, and specific, but if you don’t have the time and resources for a trip to the North Pole, then this probably is not the right topic for you.
Think carefully about what you can realistically achieve in terms of time, costs/funding, access, and so on as you formulate your topic.
As a final note, it’s worth remembering that your dissertation topic needs to be something that you feel really, really, REALLY passionate and excited about. A dissertation is hard work, so don’t pick a topic you are going to hate spending time and effort on!