Choose a Great Thesis Topic in 4 Easy Steps!

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No matter how much you enjoy the research process, choosing a great thesis topic is always a challenge.

What is a thesis topic anyway?

A thesis is a long, in-depth research paper that focuses on one specific subject. A thesis topic is just what it sounds like—it is the subject you aim to write your thesis about.

Theses are usually shorter for undergraduate students and book-length for PhD students. However, one thing is always true. Regardless of whether you are an undergraduate or a graduate student, finding the right thesis topic isn’t easy!

Since you are reading this article, you are clearly wondering how you can choose a great thesis topic. We’ll walk you through some simple steps, give you insider tips to find the right thesis topic, and help you begin your research journey with confidence.

What makes a thesis topic great?

The search for a good thesis statement begins with a good research question. Your thesis is the answer to that question. As the thesis is a relatively long research paper, a good research question should be sufficiently broad. In general, this will mean avoiding “yes/no” questions or reframing such questions.

For instance, instead of asking 

“Does race influence standardized testing in high schools in the UK?”

Reframe your question as

“How does race influence standardized testing in high schools in the UK?”

This will allow you to explore different aspects, analyze interactions among variables, and write a longer, more substantive paper.

While your thesis topic should be broad enough, it should never be vague. Your thesis topic will need to be clear and address a clearly defined research question. At the same time, the answer should contribute to a broader understanding of the research field.

If you create a thesis based on research questions like “How many kinds of fungi are there in the world?” or “What is love?,” you are going to end up writing a long, frustrating paper. A good thesis topic will answer a much more specific question, like:

What kinds of fungi grow in the vicinity of drainage pipes?” or

How do people in Myanmar express love during courtship rituals?

In other words, a great thesis topic is your answer to a:

  • Somewhat broad
  • Very precise and
  • Somewhat open-ended question.

While yes/no questions can be acceptable on rare occasions, you should avoid them or rephrase them, especially in science fields.

Finally, a great thesis topic fills a niche in a research field where research on the topic already exists, but there is still more to be discovered or new aspects to be explored. Alternatively, thesis topics could offer a fresh take on an old topic or rebuttals to a well-known theory. You don’t need to necessarily perform groundbreaking research; however, a great thesis topic will always offer a unique element that could make your thesis stand out.

Step 1: Choosing a thesis topic - Getting started

Although thesis topics should ideally be chosen based on the relevance of the topic and its academic merit, requirements related to your assignment/program should also be taken into consideration before finalizing the topic. While this seems quite basic, it is in fact key to choosing your thesis topic. The requirements of your program or class will determine the scope of what you can research.

Every program differs in its requirements, which is why it is so important to check these details beforehand. Some programs might have a specific list of acceptable topics and a narrow range of allowable methodologies. Other programs might just have a minimum word count and a final deadline. This is why knowing the requirements is so important before you move on to the next step of brainstorming.

Step 2: Brainstorming thesis topic ideas

Once you know the limitations and requirements for your thesis, it is time to begin brainstorming specific ideas. This is often the hardest part of choosing a thesis topic! Especially if your program or school doesn’t narrow down your topic choices, you may find yourself gazing out the window with a hazy mind. So where should you begin brainstorming?

One of the first places to look for a thesis topic is your own past work, such as papers you have written or assignments you have completed. What courses have you particularly enjoyed that are related to your major field of study? What topics have you written about already?

You must make a list of papers you have written as part of your program and rank them on a scale of most to least interesting. You can do this even if you are in a program that is not very writing intensive. Cross the boring half off your list and focus on the more interesting topics. Do any topics catch your eye? If you aren’t feeling excited about anything you’ve already researched, talk to your classmates or colleagues. What areas in your field are you interested in or passionate about? Do your friends, classmates, or peers have any ideas? You can also skim some articles from popular journals in your field to see the current trending research topics. The more you read, the better the chances of you stumbling on an interesting thesis topic.

Once you have come up with some potential thesis topics, it’s a good idea to rank them in order, so you at least have a list of your top three topics. You then need to do some preliminary research and consultations before you finally settle on one topic, and it’s always important to have backups in case your favorite choice isn’t viable.

Step 3: Preliminary research - Reviewing the literature

Now that you have shortlisted your potential thesis topics, it is time to conduct some preliminary research on each topic by finding out what other research studies have been conducted so far. If you had chosen your potential thesis topics from papers you previously wrote, you might be familiar with the literature already. However, that doesn’t mean you can skip the literature review. Any thesis based on a shorter paper will be longer and more involved than the original version. The thesis is expected to cover new angles, which means you need to do some preliminary research.

Where can you find articles for your preliminary research?

Google Scholar is a great resource, and so is the academic library available at your institution. If you are a student, you may have access to a journal database like JSTOR through your university. Even if you don’t, more and more articles are freely available via open-access journals these days, so a quick Google Scholar search will help you find the relevant information. If you find a particularly good article, check out the sources the author(s) have referenced for relevant articles to read.

It’s very possible that you will find yourself completely wanting to change your thesis topic once you start the literature review. That’s ok! If you come across something interesting or inspiring, you should read more about it to see if it would be a good thesis topic. However, you should set yourself some limits. If you take the freedom to simply read what interests you, it is possible you will never be able to decide on a thesis topic. Always remember to limit the time allowed to read about a potential new research interest.

Step 4: Finalizing your choice

Once you feel confident that you have narrowed down your potential thesis topics to a handful of options, it’s time to decide. This choice should not be made lightly—your thesis can take over your life. Even the most interesting topics can become tortuous after spending enough time reading and writing about them. With that in mind, you need to make sure your topic meets the following requirements:

  • Is your proposed research feasible?
  • Can you access all of the necessary research materials? Will you be able to obtain all of the necessary resources for conducting a research study? Will you be able to travel if it was required?
  • Do you find the thesis topic interesting? Do you expect the interest to be sustained over the duration of the study?
  • Is your topic meaningful and relevant in your field?
  • Has anyone already published a paper on your thesis topic from the perspective research question?
  • Do you have a suitable advisor willing to oversee the project?

You will need to extensively consult with your advisor, who will hopefully be able to give you the extra bit of guidance necessary to finalize your choice. If your advisor will be chosen depending on your thesis topic, see if you can consult with your potential advisors. Otherwise, talk to a trusted faculty member or mentor to get feedback on your proposed thesis topic. Your thesis topic will need to be approved by your advisor before it is finalized.

Selecting a thesis topic can be daunting, but once you have made your decision, you are ready for the real work to begin. No matter what topic you choose, you are about to embark on a great endeavor. Check out our site for more tips on how to write a good thesis, where to find the best thesis editing services, and more about thesis editing and proofreading services. 

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