Before you get to choosing a topic, you need to decide whether you’re carrying out qualitative research – which is concerned with description, qualities and observation or quantitative research – which is concerned with measurements and numbers. Once you’re clear on the distinction, you can start to formulate ideas for your dissertation topic.
Choosing an appropriate dissertation topic will contribute a great deal to the success and quality of your final written paper and it is therefore essential that your topic receives proper advance consideration. If you’re not interested in what you are writing about, this will be apparent in your written work and will affect the quality of your paper.
A good way to come up with a dissertation topic is by researching the subject areas you’re interested in against current news, journals for the topic area and magazines. Jot down any current issues that stand out. Is the area of research under development already? Is it in need of development? If the latter is true, this will give you plenty to write about as you’ll be able to look at possible ways that this development might take place.
Bear in mind that if your dissertation topic is highly abstract and very narrow, it may be difficult to get information and resources to produce a quality paper. Producing your own qualitative or quantitative research is time consuming and complex – it may be more desirable to choose something simpler where research has already been done for you. Similarly, if the chosen topic is too broad, you’ll find there’s simply too much to write about and again the quality will deteriorate. You won’t be able to come to any firm conclusions if the subject area is too wide.
“A good dissertation topic concentrates on a certain problem and keeps research organised. Wandering around or trying to squeeze out more means that your dissertation topic is either too wide, or too narrow.”
Come up with three or four possible topics and run them past your tutor or lecturer, with very brief notes about how each could work. They’ll be able to advise you on the workability of each idea and highlight any problems that you may encounter where the topics are too wide or narrow.
Top tips for choosing a dissertation topic
Write down ideas in advance
If you get into the habit of writing down any ideas or interesting issues that you come across in the news or magazines, in your daily life or in your studies, you’ll have plenty to go on when it comes to choosing a dissertation topic.
Review your ideas critically
Are your ideas appealing to you? Would you want to read a paper on this subject? How much practical value do they have? If they add nothing further to the material that is there already, this will be very little. If they are merely a summary of everything you know about a particular issue, they are not really research and are of little use. What significance will findings in your chosen area of research have? Are the results you produce worth someone’s time to explore?
Discuss your ideas with your tutor
Your tutor or lecturer will have a wealth of experience in dealing with choice of dissertation topic. Ask their help – take your shortlist of subjects with brief notes to them. They may be able to modify or adapt your ideas.
Broaden or narrow your dissertation topic
You need to make sure that you’re not writing too generally, but you also need to make sure the topic is not so narrow that you can’t find any existing material to analyse. You may need to be flexible while working over your paper, adjusting the topic as you go – broad topics can turn out to be too vague, without any particular focus, while the narrow ones will not suggest sufficient field for investigation, and so be ready for later adjustment.
Try to pick something relatively unique
You may not be working for your PhD but choosing something fairly unique will make your paper more interesting and readable. If you do something that 30 other people in your year are doing, you can guarantee that whoever gets to mark your paper will be ready to throw it out of the window and not so ready to award a great grade, having read the other 30 similar papers prior to reviewing yours.