What to consider when choosing your dissertation topic

Defining a dissertation topic is an important first step in making sure your dissertation research will go as smoothly as possible.

Your subject should not be too broad, as because you’ll have too much to investigate in the limited time that is usually available for writing a dissertation. However, it also shouldn’t be too narrow, as your research will end up being too superficial.


Overall, your subject should:

  1. Fulfill institutional requirements
  2. Be relevant
  3. Make you enthusiastic to get to work

1. Fulfilling institutional requirements

Before you start exploring possible topics, it’s important to make sure you understand any requirements that have been set by your academic program or supervisor. Requirements commonly exist in the following areas:

  • Topic domain
    For example, marketing, pedagogy, EU law, etc.
  • Orientation
    Should the research have a scientific or professional orientation? Scientific relevance is very important in the former, whereas practical relevance may play a more central role in the latter.

2. Ensuring relevance

The relevance of your research topic is an important part of defining your dissertation. Among other things, it ensures that your research adds value.

Your topic must be relevant to all parties that have an interest in your research. How this relevance is defined depends on the orientation of your research.

Scientific relevance

In scientific studies, the focus is on filling a gap in the scientific knowledge that currently exists on your subject. Gaps are identified by determining what’s missing from the literature.

For example, you may determine that moderator or mediator studies have not been conducted to determine the impact of social media on a certain brand image. If you fill this gap, your research will be scientifically relevant.

Professional orientation

Some programs and disciplines require a dissertation topic that has social or practical relevance; for instance, you may need a topic that is relevant to an organization where you interned. The corresponding research is then usually conducted using an action-oriented approach.

With this kind of orientation, it’s important to find a practical application for your research. For example, you could explore how social media engagement affects a particular brand. You could then use your findings as the basis for offering practical recommendations to the company.

3. Choosing something fun!

This requirement is often the most difficult. Exactly how do you go about finding a topic that is also fun?! The most important thing is to give the process some time. Looking into subjects that fulfill your academic requirements and are relevant will often lead you to interesting new topics that you’ll enjoy working on.

Steps for choosing a topic

To make the topic selection process easier, we have created a roadmap for choosing a dissertation topic.

Topic chosen. Now what?

Once you’ve chosen a subject (and your supervisor has approved it), it’s time to move on to formulating a problem statement and objective by defining the problem.

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Bas Swaen

Bas is co-founder of Scribbr. Bas loves to teach and is an experienced thesis writer. He tries to help students with writing clear and easy to comprehend articles about difficult topics.

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