Your degree is almost complete. And, you find yourself faced with the daunting task of deciding upon a topic for your dissertation or thesis. It’s safe to say that if you’re here reading this article, you’re probably wondering where the hell to start when it comes to finding a research topic.
Here’s a 4-step guide to ensuring you get a high-quality research question!
Step 1: Learn how to conduct research (and any specific requirements of your institution)
This terrible mistake is extremely common – students trip over the fundamentals into the ideation phase, skipping ahead straight to the next step and then they pay the price.
As tempting as it may be to start working on ideas right away, it is important, to begin with, the prescribed material. Examine what your department or university expects of you in the dissertation you’re writing and get familiar with the basics of research methodologies.
Step 2: Review academic literature as the starting point for idea generation
You are now prepared to initiate your ideation process, having (1) understood the research process, (2) learned what your university requires for your dissertation or thesis, and (3) experienced what a good dissertation looks like. A review of the current literature and a search for new perspectives are conducted in this regard.
What is the best place to begin your literature search? Go back to your modules for a good starting point. Go over your coursework. Identify the modules that are most interesting to you and for which you scored well (i.e., you understand well).
List the areas in which you are both passionate about and are strong. There’s no point in picking something you don’t care about – you’ll lose motivation.
Like, Caroline Ruther of Dissertation Writing Services Uk quotes, “You’ll get the hang of things once you realize that academic knowledge is a conversation!”
You can treat it like a party! Groups of people are chatting about different things in the room. Are you interested in joining one of these groups? Don’t be the solitary one by the wall, fumbling with their phone. The last thing you want is to be the nerdy hanger-on that laughs at all the big shots’ jokes and repeats everything.
Pick a couple of groups you find interesting and contribute to where you feel like you would be able to add value. The key is to ask a question that will make the rest of the group look at you, listen to you, and say, “That’s neat”.
This will be your dissertation project… setting THAT question and figuring out at least some answers to it. The key is to figure out what conversations are happening and if they are related or overlap, and if you can join in on them. That’s what we’re going to discuss in the next step!
Step 3: Think about possible research questions (topics)
As soon as you get a good sense of the state of the literature in one or more of your areas of interest, you can start thinking about potential research topics. Here, you have 2 directions, none of which must be mutually exclusive:
- Benefit from the SRIN: Most quality journal articles have a section at the end that describes further research. Following on from their research, researchers generally outline where they feel supplemental research is needed (SRIN). You will only find a few of these useful and interesting, so don’t expect this to be a magic bullet for finding a topic. Originality is the upside, but you might not find anything that you want or can execute. And, if you do go this route, look for already solved SRINs.
- Engage in U-FB: There’s also the option to bypass the SRIN and just do a mind-mapping or un-filtered brainstorming (U-FB) session based on your passion project. Keeping your voice uncensored is essential here. It doesn’t matter how illogical, unattainable, or ridiculous your topic may seem – write it down. For now, you only need to be interested in this topic. Make your topic or issue list into a list of questions. Just start writing your ideas down without holding back or trying to evaluate them.
Step 4: Get a reality check
Hopefully, you now have a good list of research topics to choose from. You may want to take a few days off from thought and ideation. Your list should be reviewed with a more objective eye after you have taken some distance from your ideas. It’s now time for a reality check after the wild ideation period.
Cameron Pritchett from Dissertation Writing Services Uk would say- consider cross-checking your list of options right now. It may no longer be relevant to you. Perhaps the topic was too broad, leading to 10 difficult questions. There might not be much compelling contemporary content in the literature you found.
The finishing line is almost in sight. It’s time to narrow down the finalists to two or three. End of story. Provide a brief analysis of each topic, taking into account the following:
- WHAT’s this study all about?
- WHY is it significant?
- HOW will you respond to the question?
Over To You!
Here’s a bonus tip: Be sure you made the right decision and stay on course! After weighing your opinion and others’ feedback, choose the one you feel the most confident about. You’ve got to start writing your proposal!