Strategies for Finding and Selecting an Ideal Thesis or Dissertation Topic: A Review of Literature

Article excerpt

Choosing an ideal master's thesis or doctoral dissertation topic is probably one of the most important decisions students will make while in graduate school. Some graduate students may spend a year or even longer looking for potential topics before finally selecting one for their thesis or dissertation. There are a number of successful strategies to find such a topic regardless of students' academic discipline. Finding a research topic involves looking at various types of literature, while selecting a research topic involves identifying the most critical factors and weighing their importance against the large quantity of choices available. The purpose of this study was to briefly describe the process of finding and choosing an ideal thesis or dissertation research topic using previously published literature. With the full approval and support of faculty advisors, the final topic selection should closely match the personal, academic, and career goals of graduate students.

Introduction

A graduate school can provide students with an opportunity to pursue their interest in a particular field of study, and can develop knowledge and skills for their future career (Poock and Love, 2001). One of the most critical decisions that graduate students are facing is to decide which master's thesis or doctoral dissertation research topic they will select, and present the best fit for them both academically and personally. Many graduate students nationwide view the research topic selection (decision-making) process to be quite stressful and time-consuming (Poock and Love, 2001).

There are many ways to find and choose a research topic that may be right for students; there are many critical sources and factors to consider before making the final decision. Graduate students with different academic backgrounds need to think about which ones matter most to them and tailor their investigation accordingly. Regardless of their academic backgrounds, all students should initially make a list of variables that factor into selecting a research topic, and then decide how important each variable is to them (Olson and King, 1995). The final research topic selection is a personal one, and the reasons to select vary widely from individual to individual (Olson and King, 1995). In general, the final decision should be based on careful reflection and clarification of graduate students' personal, academic, and career goals.

A thesis or dissertation is very formal, extensive, highly focused, and addresses a specific, well-defined research problem or question. The decision-making process for selecting an ideal thesis or dissertation topic is a complex one, involving critical sources and factors that both students and their advisors are considering. This article reviews the process of finding and choosing an ideal thesis or dissertation research topic. Specifically, this article addresses 1) successful strategies to find a thesis or dissertation topic, and 2) identify and briefly describe critical factors that influence students' final topic selection during a graduate school study.

Strategies to Find a Thesis or Dissertation Topic

Use Advisors, Professors and Scholars Ideally, students should commence the process of finding and identifying potential research topics during their first semester in graduate school (Table 1). There are two ways to find a thesis or dissertation research topic--either the topic can be provided to students or students find and choose by themselves, in consultation with their advisor (Peters, 1997). Many students are afraid of finding and eventually selecting a topic completely on their own. Students must find out what professors and scholars have commented on a topic, perhaps this topic is exciting enough to capture their attention for further research in the next several years (Choosing a Topic, 2009). Professors and scholars may comment on areas that have not been sufficiently studied in their own research or from other researchers, implying that certain topics ought to be further investigated. …