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Relevance of your thesis topic

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It’s important that your thesis topic is relevant, as relevance demonstrates that your study is useful.

If the topic is not relevant, it has no value. But for whom must it actually be relevant?

The answer is simple: the topic should be relevant for all of the parties that are involved in your thesis. You and your educational program are just the starting point.

If you are writing your thesis about an organization where you are interning or working, it should also be relevant to that entity.

Finally, your thesis may also need to have scientific, social or practical relevance.

You

Because you will be dealing with your thesis for a long period of time, it’s important that the topic you choose has some relevance to you as a person. If it doesn’t, it will be much harder for you to maintain your momentum until the end. Writing your thesis will become less interesting, which will in turn make it difficult for you to stay motivated.

It’s therefore key that you first choose a subject that is a good match for you.

Your educational program

Of course, it’s also important that you connect your thesis topic with your educational program. If you fail to do so, your topic is not likely to be approved. However, some fields are very broad, which implies that many different subjects are possible. It really depends on the discipline.

Make sure to have an open discussion with your supervisor about what is and is not possible in relation to a thesis topic.

Your professional experience

Many students write their thesis in connection with an internship or job. If this is the case for you, the organization in question may want to have a say in your topic. Be sure to be in touch regularly with your contact point about your research plan, as he or she will know what is relevant for the organization and help to ensure that your results are ultimately helpful for it.

Scientific relevance

If you are studying a scientific discipline, the scientific relevance of your thesis is also very important. This means that your research should fill a gap in the existing scientific knowledge. You can ensure that it does by reading extensively on your topic and identifying what hasn’t been investigated yet. It’s important that you also find the research topic stimulating.

One way to find a relevant topic is to look at the recommendations for follow-up studies that are made in existing scientific articles. However, be sure to check carefully that these studies have not already been carried after an article was published.

Example of scientific relevance
A study by Jansen (2015) recommends undertaking further research into the link between X and Y in a controlled setting. This research has not been conducted yet, which means that a gap concerning subject Z exists in the scientific knowledge. Examining the relationship in a controlled setting enables some of the variables that may have impacted Jansen’s (2015) results to be controlled. The current thesis therefore conducts further research in a controlled environment to contribute to the existing scientific knowledge.

Social and practical relevance

Most theses are required to have social relevance, which basically means that they help us to better understand society.

However, in some disciplines it may be more important that a thesis have practical relevance. Research that has practical relevance adds value; for instance, it could make a recommendation for a particular industry or suggest ways to improve certain processes within an organization.

Example of practical relevance
The results of the research carried out on the effect of X on Y are important for company Z. They will enable the company to introduce several process improvements that will increase the production rate and thus help to grow the company’s profits.

Choosing a relevant topic is not the end of the story

Once you’ve made sure that your research is relevant, it’s important that you subsequently transmit this relevance in the thesis itself. This can be done in the introduction to your thesis, where you should discuss how your research contributes to society and/or the theory.

Remember, too, that relevance is only one of the criteria that your topic must fulfill. We have identified some other issues that you should consider when choosing a thesis topic and a step-by-step guide that you can use to further define it.

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Article by Sarah Vinz

Sarah’s academic background includes a Master of Arts in English, a Master of International Affairs degree, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. She loves the challenge of finding the perfect formulation or wording and derives much satisfaction from helping students take their academic writing up a notch.

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