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Simple and Professional Advice on PhD Thesis Topic Selection

Don’t Try to Come Up with An Overly Original Topic

Everyone makes one very common mistake when trying to select a topic for a master’s or doctoral thesis. They assume that they have to have an idea so original that no one has ever had it before. In fact, some students even call topic formulation “my original idea. “ But do you know what will happen if you select a completely original idea? You will be sorely lacking for people to engage with throughout a thesis so original. For this reason, you want to select a topic that yes, has been done before, but do it in your own original voice with your own unique slant on an older topic.


What You Want is a New Idea on a Slightly Older Topic


Let’s say I’m writing a thesis on some new book by a new author who has never written anything quite like this before. What writers would I compare them to? How would I place them in a literary tradition? How would I find critical interpretation about the work that I could dialogue with, quote, cite, and paraphrase (all of which take up much hard to get rid of space)? You couldn’t. And that’s why I would never write about an author for a literary doctorate thesis that had not already had a significant body of scholarship published upon it—and neither should you. You want and need a significant body of scholarship published on anything you write about so that you can engage in a critical thinking dialogue with it. Period. And you’ll need lots of research to quote, and, for scientists and like researchers, you’ll want tables to input and other big space users like these. Otherwise, you’re like walking a balance beam without a board and nothing to guide you.


Check Out Models in Your Topic Area to Use For Research Guides and Topic Ideas


One of the best ways to come up with a great idea for a doctoral thesis is to look in the dissertation abstracts for what other graduate students have tackled that is within areas of interest that you are debating writing your thesis upon. See how they tackled the topic. See what angle they threw upon say, the topic of Lean Management Systems, for example. This way, you can see what other students have done with the topic you’re debating writing upon. You wouldn’t believe how many ideas you will have just by reviewing the extant scholarship on your topic.


After You Narrow Down Your Topic, Embrace the Libraries, Dissertation Abstracts, and Dissertations Themselves


Interlibrary loan is a friend you need to become more familiar with. As a student at any university, you have access to published dissertations at your school that are bound in your library that you can take home with you and look at for examples. And everyone needs an example to truly help them envision a project and for ideas for further research to find as well.

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