How to Choose the Topic For Your Dissertation

Don’t Spent More Time Putting it Off than Working on It

Graduate students often put more effort into procrastinating, when it comes to their dissertation, than they do beginning the research or writing phase. They tell themselves, I haven’t found the perfect topic or I cannot get started, feeling they have to have some wondrous first sentence or paragraph. That’s because they were thinking about it as a book—some great book they would write instead of what it really is, a long research paper that your professor’s simply expect you to finish to prove two things: your research skills and your ability to finish a long project In other words, they know you’re not Albert Einstein. This is not about winning a Nobel Prize.

There is No Perfect Topic Except the One That Works

Even geniuses will tell you to “work smarter, not harder.” This is the mantra to keep in mind when writing your dissertation. You’ll want to pick a topic that interest you and if you already know a lot about it, that’s even better. You’ll be reading about this topic in at least 200 journal articles, possibly 50 books or more, so don’t pick a topic too dense to consistently read about. Think — a topic that works, not the perfect topic. In fact, with dissertation writing, get the word “perfect” out of your head entirely—you will be setting yourself up for a big critic sitting on your shoulder criticizing every word on the page.

Pick a Topic That Is Well Published About

I remember graduate students wandering the halls at the university talking about finding the perfect, so-original idea. Weeks later, they would dejectedly realize that it is impossible to research a “new idea” that hasn’t been published upon in excess, right? Contrary to popular belief, what you really want is “a new slant or a researched and comprehensive slant on an old topic.” Often trends in theory will help you apply a new perspective to your topic as well. But keep in mind one thing, even if you write on a topic that’s already been approached, but you want to approach it as well, that is okay. You will be saying something new about this writer, artist, and scientific theory.

Start With a Chapter You Want to Write

Any writer will tell you that once they begin getting words on a page, the next sentence becomes easier, and then the next one, even easier. And keep in mind, this work will not be you talking for 200 pages, you will be fusing in lots of quotes, block quotes, paraphrases of complex theories, and etcetera. A dissertation is really a compilation and a collage of research held together by the thread of your insights and voice.

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