Your thesis and dissertation are really the launching point to your academic career, so it’s important to choose the topic wisely.  It’s a long and hard journey to complete the dissertation, so it’s important to be interested and excited by the topic at the beginning.  Don’t just pick a topic so you can “just get done.”  The jobs of creating thesis topics and choosing thesis topics come with a few different tasks, but they tend to overlap with each other when you are deciding on what to write about for a year or more.  Here are a few of my tips about creating thesis topics, choosing thesis topics, and combining the two.

Creating Thesis Topics

Usually, creating thesis topics will be the first step in the thesis process after you have reviewed the literature in a field you are interested in.  My main advice about creating a thesis topic is to look back at your undergraduate and graduate career and try to remember if there were any subjects that you found particularly interesting.  These subjects can be anything that pertained to your specific major or anything that you noticed as a bigger issue in your field of study. Either way, try to narrow in on a general subject that you could see yourself being interested in for a year or more.  If you have been involved in research teams, you might consider a project that extends the research focus. 

You don’t have to be alone when creating a thesis topic.  Meet with the faculty in your department and talk ideas. Talk with faculty and grad students from other departments close to what you have studied; just remember to only consult with people you trust, people with good work ethics, and people who have shown themselves experienced in your chosen field.

Choosing Thesis Topics

After you create a few thesis topics (make sure you have a few to choose from), then you’ll be able to narrow down your choices.  When narrowing down your selections, there are good reasons to choose a thesis topic, and then there are bad reasons to choose a thesis topic.  For instance, you shouldn’t pick a thesis topic just because a lot of research about it exists.  A ton of research will be helpful for your literature review, but it might be more difficult to be innovative with the topic.  On the other hand, you may not want to choose a topic that hasn’t been researched much unless you have the groundbreaking research idea that can be your thesis or dissertation project.  Previous research should help build a foundation for your thesis, so make sure you can find more than a few pieces of literature.

A good reason to choose a thesis topic is if the topic is relevant to values, time, and location of the culture in which the thesis will be published.  For instance, you would probably not write a thesis about how certain medications affects malaria in Canada; a better and more relevant location would be to research this topic in Africa.  If you want your thesis to cater to specified audiences at certain life stages, then research how relevant your created topics will be to them.

Creating and Choosing

Combining these two tasks to finally decide on a thesis topic should come pretty naturally after focusing on each task at a time.  Don’t stress out if you’re still stuck between two or three thesis topics.  First of all, read a few pieces of literature about your final topics before settling on a topic that you’re not sure you’ll be able to write about for a year or more.  Researching thesis topics before just picking one will allow you to be more comfortable with your final decision.  This wikiHow about How to Write a Master’s Thesis has more of thesis-writing tips, including how to research your thesis topic.

When finalizing your thesis topic, another thing to think about is why you, personally, would want to study these topics.  Creating and choosing one topic to write about for a year or more can be tough because of what the topics can bring to existing research and what they mean to you.  For instance, you could be more passionate about a topic that might not contribute as much to the existing research as you would like, but you would probably be interested in the topic enough to write about it for a year or more.  However, if you are just generally curious about another topic, it might be pretty difficult to hold your attention, even though it might contribute a great amount to existing research.

Your final thesis topic that you ultimately decide to write about will be up to you.  Others can help steer you in certain directions and give you good advice about what you should or should not include in your thesis topic, but you know yourself better than anyone else, so the decision is yours. Be sure to discuss your topic ideas early with your major advisor and get their take on the most viable option. You don’t want to write 100 pages of literature review and find out they don’t think it’s the right topic for you. Through this process, just remember how long you’ll be writing about the subject so that you maintain perspective.  If you want more helpful tips about writing your thesis, take a look at PhDStudent’s Dissertation and Thesis Survival page.



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