Choosing a Topic

There are an infinite number of good thesis topics in the world, far more topics than there are budding thesis writers. The only problem is choosing one!

The following suggestions are designed to help you select and focus on a topic for your thesis, and determine whether your topic is feasible.


Where to look?

Topics don’t just arrive; choosing a topic is a process. First you have to read, think, talk and write about your ideas. Keep a notebook for jotting down ideas, questions, and references. Start with a fairly broad focus. Until you begin reading, researching, and writing, you can’t begin to narrow your focus. Try to formulate your topic into a question that explores a relationship between two or more ideas, variables, concepts, phenomena, events or things. You don’t need to know the answers before you start. Also, don’t drift along waiting for the perfect topic to arrive! Almost anything you choose, once framed in terms of a feasible academic project, can become a good thesis topic.

A good thesis should contribute to the field or subject area. Determine a gap in the existing scholarship, such as a question that hasn’t yet been addressed, or a new application of established methodologies. Look at recently published journal articles and books as well as recently completed theses in your department, because authors often suggest questions and areas for further research arising from their work. Alternatively a topic will come out of previous university assignments or work-related issues, so investigate the kind of projects you have enjoyed working on in the past.

Since you will be devoting a great deal of time and energy to your thesis, pick a topic that you feel passionate about, or at least genuinely interested in. It could be applicable to your career or be purely based on interest. You may be given a topic by your department, or be part of a larger research project (this is common in the sciences, but less so in the humanities). Your supervisor may make suggestions or assist in focusing your ideas, but will probably expect you to show some independent thought.

Your thesis should pose questions that are not only answerable, but worth answering. You may need to seek advice or feedback from other more experienced scholars. Consider the following:

· Is the topic possible? Will you be able to find subjects to interview, samples to study?
· Can it be done within the time available?
· Are there expenses involved? How will you gain funding for these?
· Is your research ethical? If you are planning to conduct research with human subjects, ethics approval must be completed before research commences.
· Is the research within your range of competence? Can you actually do it? Graduate research projects should be challenging, but if the project is too ambitious you may be setting yourself up to fail.

A good thesis topic is firmly located in current literature, asks useful questions, and addresses these through original research. Is there an existing field of literature in which you can work? Is there enough literature available? Does your topic allow you to show knowledge of the field? Search the literature to answer these questions.

Is your research original? Does it make a contribution to the field? Even if you discover that someone else has published exactly on your topic, your focus may pose different questions or use alternative methodology.

Madsen, D. (1992). Successful dissertations and theses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Peters, R.L. (1997). Getting what you came for: The smart student’s guide to earning a Master’s or Ph.D. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.

© Copyright for this article belongs to University of Auckland.

This document was re-printed with the kind permission of Emmanuel Manalo. Original Source of the article is located here: