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How do I Choose the Best Dissertation Topic?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Choosing a dissertation topic is a critical step in working toward a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Among the most important factors to consider as you try to choose the best dissertation topic is your interest in your topic. In addition to that, you may do well to choose a topic that is neither too narrow nor too broad. In most cases, it also helps to choose an original topic, or at least a different angle on an already-explored topic. You may also prefer to choose a dissertation topic that all of the members of the dissertation committee support.

One of the most important parts of choosing a dissertation topic is selecting one that really interests you. This is critical, as you will likely spend more than a year working on it. If you lose your excitement for your topic early on, completing it will likely become a chore. Sometimes people choose dissertation topics that their professors are covering and then feel lost once they move to another topic. The same may hold true when a person chooses a topic based on a professor's interest and then comes to feel that it is too complicated, or even boring, later.

The best dissertation topics are personally interesting to the student.
The best dissertation topics are personally interesting to the student.

When you’re trying to choose the best dissertation topic, you may do well to select a topic that allows you to focus your dissertation without being too tightly focused. It’s important for your dissertation to be focused, so you‘ll be able to finish working on it on time. If your topic has too many points of distraction, you may find it difficult to complete your work and provide the appropriate level of depth. At the same time, you’ll likely want to avoid topics that are so focused that you won’t have enough material to explore.

Try to avoid dissertation topics that are so focused that you won’t have enough material to explore.
Try to avoid dissertation topics that are so focused that you won’t have enough material to explore.

Originality is also important when you’re trying to choose the best dissertation topic. Often, doctoral students are expected to come up with unique topics or different angles on a new topic. For example, while you’re reading about a topic that interests you, you may find that you have unanswered questions that spark your interest. You may decide to seek the answers to those questions through your dissertation research.

The dissertation process typically involves conferences with an academic advisor or instructor.
The dissertation process typically involves conferences with an academic advisor or instructor.

You may also consider the interests of those on the dissertation committee when you’re working to choose the best dissertation topic. If you choose a topic that the dissertation committee members disagree on, you could have trouble getting it approved. Getting feedback may not only help as you attempt to choose a topic, but also as you work toward completing and defending your dissertation.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments

Lostnfound

Choosing a topic for a master's thesis was bad enough. I can't imagine doing a whole dissertation -- and defending it -- right now! I think I'd look for a degree program that didn't require a dissertation. Some degrees don't -- it just kind of depends. Some programs have students present several research projects throughout their time in school, and they also have to do practicums and write papers on them.

But a topic would have to interest me enough to want to write 200 pages of research on it, and then collate all the sources and works cited into another 100 pages of stuff, including an index. Gracious. I don't know that I'd want to do a dissertation on chocolate, and that's about my favorite thing in the world!

Grivusangel

I'd say you'd have to find a topic that is broad enough that research can be done on it, but also narrow enough that you're not going all over creation, looking for something specific to focus on.

I've had that problem with research papers. Of course, with 10-15 pages, you have a much, much smaller field, but you've still got to narrow the topic to something that merits focus, and also hasn't been absolutely researched to death so that there's really nothing new to say about it. It can be a fine line to walk. I think most doctoral students do get guidance from their advisers on topics that meet the requirements for the degree, and are fertile for research.

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    • The best dissertation topics are personally interesting to the student.
      By: Tom Wang
      The best dissertation topics are personally interesting to the student.
    • Try to avoid dissertation topics that are so focused that you won’t have enough material to explore.
      By: Nazzalbe
      Try to avoid dissertation topics that are so focused that you won’t have enough material to explore.
    • The dissertation process typically involves conferences with an academic advisor or instructor.
      By: Monkey Business
      The dissertation process typically involves conferences with an academic advisor or instructor.
    • A student may receive help choosing a topic from her academic advisor.
      By: Tyler Olson
      A student may receive help choosing a topic from her academic advisor.
    • A dissertation can be hundreds of pages long and may take years to complete.
      By: bramgino
      A dissertation can be hundreds of pages long and may take years to complete.
    • Doctoral candidates are typically required to defend their dissertations in order to complete their programs.
      By: Dmitry Goygel-Sokol
      Doctoral candidates are typically required to defend their dissertations in order to complete their programs.