The first thing to consider, when deciding upon your dissertation topic, is what kind of research project genuinely arouses your interest – and can sustain it. The topic should also be manageable but also have scope for extended study. Avoid choosing a problem that researchers have spent many years trying, and failing, to solve (and on which you are unlikely to be able to make ground). Be sure you enjoy your research area. After all, you will be working on this topic for months and months, so it absolutely must be something you like. If you have no passion for your research topic, not only will this probably be evident in your work, it will also make the process into a chore. Moreover, having a sincere interest in your topic will help guarantee you do not dread working on it - or worse, never finish the thesis. At the same time, however, it is wise to avoid a topic about which you hold strong opinions and beliefs. Any such kind of emotional connection to the topic might suggest an investment in a particular outcome. This can cloud your judgement. Being too tied to a position makes it hard to be objective about it. This subjective partiality, when spending so much time wresting with an issue which is close to you, can take a toll emotionally. Avoid this pitfall by planning ahead and making sure you set off on the right foot.
With a big piece of work like a dissertation, you can save yourself a lot of time early on by asking certain questions which will guide you along. Who is my dissertation supervisor? When is the final deadline? And what is the dissertation word limit? You will benefit from tailoring your subject in line with the answers to the above questions. Do not make things difficult for yourself. Choose something which your department specialises in. Once you have the answers to these questions you can think about structuring a topic within these parameters.
Your supervisor will be a good first port of call in these initial stages. You should try and meet with them early on, even if you do not have any clear cut ideas at that stage. Even a simple conversation is likely to be valuable in some respect. Tutors have guided hundreds of students through similar waters and will very likely be able to guide you in refining your dissertation topic ideas.
When trying to identify your dissertation topic, it is useful to start with a fairly broad topic as opposed to a specific question. Narrow the subject down in line with your interests and expertise and eventually a particular research question will suggest itself. An essential stage in narrowing focus is to review as much of the available literature as possible. Gather everything that is relevant to the topics and themes you are interested in. As you continue to search for and review the literature, your scope will slowly but surely narrow to favour the concept that you find the most engaging. It is important to think critically about the literature, considering how it fits in with or diverges from the broader debates and ideas in the particular academic field. Specifically, you want to focus on learning what has already been done what methods have been used. Look for what works and what does not, identify best practice. Perhaps the most important objective, here, however is to locate a gap in the literature: an area of inquiry which has not yet been covered or has been given scant attention. Usually scholarly articles will telegraph such gaps themselves, so keep an eye out for the “Recommendations for future Research” which often come at the end of journal articles: this will be a trove of great potential research topics and questions.
Once you have narrowed your focus into a few principle themes and ideas, begin to formulate these as research questions. Next try and synthesise the research questions with the gaps which you have identified in the literature. You should by now begin to see an inroad into the topic. This is the time to go back to your supervisor and discuss your thoughts. He or she should be able to assist you in isolating a specific dissertation topic, based on the research you have already done.
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