Is time approaching for you to select a research topic? Maybe you are applying to MA or PhD programs and want to begin approaching faculty you will work with. Perhaps you are already in a program and are about to prepare a proposal. The question of what you should complete a thesis or dissertation on might seem deceptively simple. Then why is it so hard?
We propose that there are actually many considerations a student should address before selecting a thesis topic. Here are some questions you can use to begin your process:
- What are you passionate about? This is a topic you will be spending the next several years with. Make sure it is something you care about, and feel is important.
- What do you feel is cutting-edge and innovative? This goes hand-in-hand with the first point. Ask yourself what fields you find stimulating and how you could get involved. Not finding anything too interesting lately? Plug into social media and see what academics are talking about.
- Who do you want to work with? Ask yourself if you’ve read any articles lately that you found riveting or exciting. Explore more works by these academics and see if there is anything you feel you can build on.
- Where are you willing to travel? Though travel funding is available for most trips, make sure you are able to go to where the archives are for your topic. You may be able to access some things online, but if lengthy trips to a far-off place seem daunting, you may want to consider this when making a decision.
- Where is the literature on this topic? Before making a decision, you should be aware of what other academics are writing and where you will fit in. You may find that the field has been done to death, or that few sources are available. Either way, this should help to shape your topic.
- What language are the sources in? Want to study the classical world, but don’t know how to speak Greek or Latin? Plan to learn the language, make sure some sources are available in English, or pick a different topic.
- Where do you see your career going? A student getting a Masters to become a better high school teacher might want to focus on the history of education. Alternatively, someone who wants to become a lawyer might try legal history. If you are a dedicated academic, make sure your topic is something you want to research further on in your career.
- What topic makes use of your skills and knowledge? There is nothing wrong with jumping into a new topic you have never studied before. But at least consider areas you are strong in; either because you did research as an undergraduate, or because of your vocational understanding.
- What methods do you want to employ? Do you want to focus on a single individual to make larger arguments? Use statistics to support anecdotal evidence? Utilize cultural sources? Make sure this makes sense with your topic.
- What sources are available? Conduct some preliminary research, talk to academics in the field, and see what the primary sources look like for your topic. If there seem to be few things available, consider changing or broadening your research question.
We would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for other students! Tell us the story of how you settled on your topic.