When you begin your studies with a postgrad degree, remember that you are committed to produce and pass a thesis or dissertation before you graduate. Choosing the all-important thesis topic may well be the very first challenge you encounter at this stage of the programme.
What is a thesis topic?
A thesis is an idea or theory that is expressed as a statement, a contention for which evidence is gathered and discussed logically. However, at its core, the thesis is nothing more than a simple question that requires a long-detailed answer.
Aim for relevant research instead of groundbreaking
Many students start out with lofty ideals of writing a groundbreaking paper that will get recognized as a published piece in an academic journal. But the clock ticks loudly, and too much time spent thinking up “the next best thing”, simply for the sake of it being ‘the next best thing’ can be debilitating. What you should be focused on is solving a real problem that contains solid theoretical work, as well as empirical results. It should be both connected to existing research and centered on a meaningful topic.
How to get started
Start wide by simply choosing an area of study within your field. Based on your own interests and issues you know exist in this area, narrow the field down to a niche that is has a specific problem to be solved, but also already has research from which to draw.
Begin by brainstorming and doing some free-writing exercises to get your mind moving in the right direction. Talk to others about your ideas and research your topics to determine the potential availability of information. This will help you create a shortlist of potential options.
Test the viability of your thesis topic choice
Do the simple but effective exercise of listing all the ideas you’ve had for a thesis topic. Don’t hold back. Think hard. Then rate each of the topics on a scale of 1-10 using these ten criteria. The topic that scores highest in one or more of the criteria below, should be duly investigated as a serious option.
- My topic aligns with my academic and personal interests.
- My topic is compatible with my academic objectives and background.
- My topic motivates me. I am passionate about it.
- My topic is feasible – time, resources, money.
- My topic lends itself to a realizable collection of data in my field.
- My topic represents a key learning objective for me.
- My topic is influenced by my personal experience and traits which promises authenticity.
- My topic validates the need for further research.
- My topic is current and will contribute to trends in my field.
- I am excited to get started.
Once you’ve chosen your topic, the next challenge is staying married to it. Yes, you will end up having an intimate relationship with your thesis topic. Expect to feel frustrated at times but never forget that it’s okay to take a short break and practice some self-reflection and/or self-compassion. The key is simple: never give up and aim to make some progress on a daily basis.
Here’s my professional advice on how to succeed
DON’T WAIT FOR INSPIRATION, JUST GET STARTED. Topic choices will not appear out of nowhere. You will find that ideas are generated as you get involved with the work in your field. When you work in a methodical fashion, you will find that ideas come effortlessly and you will start to get a feel for what is out there and what you need to do.
THE PROBLEM DRIVES THE PROCESS. Don’t jump into your investigation before you understand and define the research problem and the thesis statement. The research problem is the foundation for your research and will drive the whole process.
YOUR TITLE WILL EVOLVE. It is not necessary to finalize your thesis statement right at the beginning. Let it evolve as you dig deeper into the research out there. Your own personal and academic objectives will gain clarity and be highlighted during your preliminary research actions. You will have “aha” moments during this time, let them flourish.
AVOID PERFECTIONISM. you will not find the “perfect” topic for yourself in your field. Perfectionism is a form of procrastination and at any stage of your thesis journey is an enemy. Avoid it right from the start.
SIMPLICITY IS KEY. We all want to change the world. At some stage, you may consider a research project that feels big and bold: remember, these amazing, beautiful and altruistic ideals can set you up for failure.
DON’T READ TOO MUCH. Continual reading may become an excuse for procrastination, which is another thesis journey enemy. A quick review of available sources will suffice to reveal your thesis topic. This is not a literature review. Scan read your sources to get a general overview of what other academics have studied, researched and written.
ASK FOR HELP. Your supervisor, peers, faculty members and your coach will accelerate your process.