Choose a Dissertation
Exploring Dissertation Ideas
Research shows some graduate students take over
two years to choose their topic — this does not
have to be you.
Don't wait until you are finished with your qualifying or comprehensive exams. Start
gathering ideas for your dissertation right away during your graduate
courses. You will throw your graduate career into gridlock if you procrastinate in selecting
your dissertation topic. Without a topic, you can't begin writing or defending the proposal
phase. And more importantly, you can't begin researching or
writing your dissertation without a topic.
Tips to Selecting Dissertation Topics
1. Don’t Panic — Keep
Things in Perspective
Let’s face it, not too many people will read a dissertation.
A dissertation is not the type of document that piques the general public’s
interest mainly because of its academic rigor and writing style.
The topic is generally of interest only to the student, experts
in the field and the student’s advisor and committee
2. Be Organized — Maximize
In order to maximize your research efforts, you must be
organized and efficient in your search efforts. The more organized
you are in the beginning, the more time you will have to write
your dissertation. Be diligent about keeping track of your files
in the early phases of your research to reduce your stress levels
later on when your enthusiasm begins to wane. If you have to back
track on your research efforts, being organized from the beginning
will help make the process less painful.
3. Choose a
Subject Area First — Then
a Dissertation Topic
The more information you consume in your broad subject
area, the more patterns will emerge. In your coursework readings,
you may notice repeated results and conclusions by more than one
source, or facts that favor one view more than another. Paying
attention to these patterns should help you become more conversant
with the relevant literature as well as help you to narrow your
focus. Narrowing your topic should be done with help from your
advisor and committee members.
4. Consider Expanding a Masters
Thesis Into a Dissertation
If you’re working towards a PhD and you wrote a dissertation,
consider expanding on that topic for your dissertation. You already
are familiar with the topic and much of the research is done. This
approach can accelerate your progress towards your goal: Completion!
5. Make Sure The Topic Is Interesting
It is imperative that both you and your advisor are interested
in your dissertation topic. Some advisors are reluctant to suggest
topics because of the implicit responsibilities associated with
guiding a student through the process from start to completion.
Your advisor’s enthusiasm for your topic will determine
his or her willingness to read, support, fund, and provide timely
feedback and direction to your work.
6. Choose a Solvable And Manageable
It is important to select a problem that is narrow enough that
you can address it or solve it in a reasonable period of time.
You should select a topic that can be completed within a two-year
A longer time frame
could allow many unexpected and competing events to occur. If
you find yourself spending an exorbitant amount of time pursuing
and identifying a research problem, it is possible that the problem
is not solvable.
With a longer time frame, you also run the risk
of someone else identifying and solving the problem before you
do. Hence, the concept of “original” contribution
to the field is lost and you might have to start over. Moreover,
you run the risk of your enthusiasm diminishing.
7. The Research Problem Must Be
Worthy Of Your Time
Finding a topic that is compelling enough to sustain further
research is critical. Employers evaluate potential employees
based on the student’s ability to not only finish the dissertation
but also make future contributions to the field.
8. Make Your Research Topic Is Original -
Has It Been Done Before?
The prerequisite for finding a new research topic is to be informed
because most things have been studied before. Staying on top of
the current debates in your academic field puts you in a position
to identify the gaps in knowledge. After identifying the gaps,
all you need to figure out is what kinds of information will fill
9. Hone Your Research Skills
One way to evaluate your research skills and make sure they are
up to par is to pursue a potential topic in your Research Methods
or Statistics courses where you can get immediate feedback from
an instructor. You can use these courses to work out potential
problems in your methodology or your review of the literature;
thus allowing you to work out any kinks earlier in your academic
career rather than later.
10. As You Read — Ask
the Following Questions.
- What is the Research Question in the
- Did the Researcher Focus on the Wrong
- Did the Research Leave Some Group/Something
- Is the Methodology Faulty?
- Were the Findings Faulty?
- Can I Pursue the
for Future Research?
- What Are the Limitations of the Study?