How to find a dissertation topic

Before you set up camp in your library to write your dissertation, first you must jump over your first hurdle: picking a topic to write about. This part may not seem as daunting as writing the literature review or conducting your primary research, but it is certainly the most important step towards producing a high quality dissertation.

There are many aspects which must be considered when decided upon a dissertation topic. This will also apply to those writing a thesis topic or thesis title.

1.       Avoid picking something that will bore you. A dissertation is not an ordinary essay; it is a long piece of writing that takes a great deal of time and commitment to complete. Therefore, it is advisable to pick a topic that interests you so that you will not lose your motivation. The more interested you are in the topic, the better the quality of your research will be as you are more willing to probe deeper into your subject. Just think to yourself, what topic of your area of study inspires you?

2.       Keep in contact with your supervisor. Make sure you visit your supervisor regularly to discuss your topic. Your supervisor has seen enough dissertations or theses to know when a topic sounds good or could potentially be a disaster. Make sure you also bring plenty of preliminary reading and evidence to your meetings in order to convince them that you are capable of conducting the research.

3.       Be as specific as you can. The key to a great dissertation title is all about keeping it focussed. Students often think that a long piece of work needs to have a broader topic and there is a temptation to waffle on in your writing and drift off the topic. In fact, the more specific your topic is, the easier it will be to write and to find relevant research and the easier it will be for your marker to read and understand it. For example, you may want to write about war journalism, but even this is very broad topic which has many aspects to it. Therefore, you would need to narrow it down to something more specific like the ethics of war reporting or how a particular conflict was covered by the media.

4.       Try and keep it current. Picking a topic of the dissertation that is developing at the moment, for example if it is in the news or it is being discussed by politicians or committees, can make writing your dissertation much easier. This is because the data you collect will be fresh and easier to find, and if you intend to conduct interviews, the people you talk to will have more interesting things to say as it is a current issue. Read periodicals such as the Economist or look at the latest headline in the major national newspapers for inspiration and to see what is a hot topic right now.

5.       Look at existing dissertations. Originality is the key when deciding on a topic. You do not want to end up writing something that has already been researched to death as there would not be anything worth contributing to the field of study. To avoid this, look at existing dissertations to see what research is missing, a methodology that has not been tried yet, or research that is so out of date that it could use a new and modern perspective.

6.       Choose a topic that can be tested. In other words, be realistic. If you choose to do a dissertation with primary research that compares UK Prime Ministers in the past 30 years, those Prime Ministers will probably not be available for an interview. Make sure that your topic is something that you can research yourself without a great amount of difficulty and does not incur a huge financial cost to you (think about the cost of travelling to conduct interviews, phone bills and printing).

By following these tips, you will be well on your way to finding a topic and constructing a question for your dissertation or thesis. Do not underestimate the importance of finding the right topic, as this will form the foundation of the work you will produce and could be the difference between a fantastic body of work or a potential disaster.