Finding Relevant Dissertation Topics

It’s no question that many students struggle and spend a very long time trying to select a dissertation topic. The truth is that this can be one of the most frustrating stages of a dissertation because many students seek a topic that is relatable, relevant, entertaining, or meaningful to them personally. A common theme throughout our research and personal opinions you’ll see written throughout our content is that selecting a dissertation topic should be more practical than emotional. What do we mean by this? Change the world after you complete your Ph.D. You have the rest of your life to research something meaningful once you’re all done. The goal of a dissertation is to contribute to the existing literature and research; there is no requirement that says you must significantly change the world. We teach our students early on to keep a goal of completing their dissertation as quickly as possible. The sooner you have that mindset, the better. We’ve seen so many students give up completely on their dissertation because they simply bit off more than they can chew and they just can’t handle what they sought to accomplish. We are not necessarily suggesting that you find

Now that you better understand the importance of being practical when writing a dissertation, how do you go about choosing a relevant dissertation topic that’s not too boring and not too meaningful? For starters, take some time by thinking about some of your interests within your field. Not the mist interesting topics, but the topics that are somewhat interesting to you. Put together a list of 20 or more topics that are somewhat interesting to you. Next, create a column next to the topics where you can write down how new each topic area is. For example, within Psychology, the topic area of dreams is 100+ years old, whereas the topic “resilience in a time of war” seems to be more of a newer researched concept. The purpose for this is that the newer the topic, the more opportunity there is to expand the research and the easier it will be for you to select a topic. If you start thinking about topics with tons of pre-existing research that has been studied for a long time, it will be difficult to find a topic area which has not already been researched.

Once you have listed the 20+ topics with each respective age of research, select the 7 newest topic areas and from there research each topic for 1-2 hours by reading the opportunities for further research in the discussion and conclusion sections of various articles. Choose 2-3 topics which have the most opportunity for further research and start thinking and writing down 5-10 questions (per topic) that have not already been answered or researched. Finally, approach your committee chair member with your topics and questions.

1. Don’t try to change the world during your dissertation. Choose a topic that you can complete within a reasonable timeframe
2. Compile a list of 20 or more topics within your subject field that interest you
3. From the list, select the 7 newest topics
4. Research the 7 topics to determine which 2-3 topics have the most opportunity for further research
5. Begin thinking about 5-10 questions that have not been answered within each of these topics
6. Approach your committee chair member with these 2-3 topics