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Choosing a Dissertation Topic: Top Tips


Finding a dissertation topic is not an easy feat. You need to be interested in the topic and spend hours reading and writing about it. Your dissertation is a showcase of your knowledge and research skills. It will be something with your name on it. All your hard work bounded into a book (and at Oxford with gold writing!) Not all subjects require you to write a dissertation, but it is usually a significant component of your degree (undergraduate, masters, and Ph.D.) and it may be anywhere between 10 thousand to 100 thousand words! If you are really stuck on what to choose, I can offer a few tips that have helped me and a few others.

1. Before searching for any dissertation topic, check the requirements of your department. How long do I have to complete my dissertation? Are there any restrictions? Maybe you would love to do overseas fieldwork, but this can take considerable time, and there may be lots of forms or requirements that you must meet before you can do this (although it is certainly an option, especially if you are an international student and want to carry out your research in your home country). 2. I would write out the subject areas that you enjoyed most during your degree. Look back at your notes or any materials and see if there was an area that you found fascinating. It is a good idea to choose something you are familiar with, so you don’t have to start entirely from scratch.

3. If you are still looking for inspiration, go to the library or search for dissertations online, from your department and other universities, to get an idea of some of the things you can do. Remember, always consider the restrictions (e.g., if you only have a couple of months to collect data, you will not be able to carry out a longitudinal study).

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from your tutor. Some tutors have data collected and have potential research ideas that they haven’t had the time to work on themselves, and you may be able to use the secondary data for your own dissertation. You may also want to consider analysing existing data from public records and achieves.

5. Okay, so now you have an idea of the topic you want to do, you need to narrow down the research area! If there is already a lot of research carried out in this area, you may find it difficult to justify its relevance. Are there any gaps that have not been addressed, or do you think a study could have been carried out with a different population?

6. Get your topic approved! Discuss your topic with your supervisor before you start! It may seem obvious, but it is very important to check the idea with them. You would be able to change your topic, but you want to have enough time if your idea is not approved. Have a backup!

7. One handy tip I have learned is to work backward from your deadline. Plan precisely when each section needs to be completed. You may be required to submit a full draft to your supervisor a month before the deadline, and you want to make the most of that. Being aware of timing is very important. You want to make the process go as smooth as possible because it is not an easy thing to do, and there may be some setbacks along the way. If you can be prepared for this as much as you can, it helps massively.

8. Finally, make the most of any workshops that may help you during the writing process. These may be offered by your library, your department, or the university, so it is worth checking for any extra help that is on offer. If English is not your first language or you struggle with academic writing, there are usually classes offered by the language centre.

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