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Dissertations 1: Getting Started: Choosing A Topic and Researching

A Guide

Choosing a Topic

The first step to take when writing a dissertation is to choose a topic. The following is a list of ideas that may help you to do this: 

  • Consider something that interests you 

  • Talk to academic staff 

  • Create a mind map to generate ideas.

  • Draw on reading and knowledge from modules you have studied 

  • Consider topical issues in news/media 

  • Look through dissertations written by previous students 

  • Search for academic articles and read around a topic 

  • Consider limitations and future research discussed in journals 

How about a topic that...  

  • You can investigate in your own country or area?  

  • Would help you find a job? 

Mind Maps to Generate Ideas

Mind-mapping is a simple, practical tool for improving creative thinking, planning and problem-solving abilities. It can help you to generate more ideas and make new connections.

How to draw a mind map

Place a blank sheet in landscape position and write the topic you have in mind in the middle. Draw branches from the centre, The branches are possible ideas and topics to include in the dissertation. Add sub-topics (“leaves”) and connect ideas and evidence from your reading. You can use colours and images to stimulate your thinking.

generating ideas image



Tips for choosing a good topic: 

  • Choose a topic you will enjoy. Your dissertation is an opportunity to explore, in depth, a topic of interest. It will be challenging, so pick a topic that will sustain your interest. Doing the initial research in your areas of interest will help you choose a topic that will be both viable and enjoyable. 

  • Consider the time and resources you will need to successfully complete your dissertation - be realistic!  Research, particularly gathering primary data (such as interviews, experiments or archival research), takes time and may involve other challenges such as travel, language skills, ethical considerations etc. Make sure you speak to your supervisor/tutor early on to ensure that your project is achievable. Additionally, check out the Time Management Guide for tips on sticking to deadlines.  

  • If your topic is too broad, try to narrow it down, perhaps focusing on a specific sector, country or case study.  

  • If your topic is too narrow, you can broaden it by contextualising it within the literature.  


Researching for your Dissertation

This presentation explores effective strategies for locating, evaluating, and organising sources to enable you to produce a comprehensive and well researched dissertation. It also covers where you can find further help, as and when you need it.

Link to video on Researching for Your Dissertation

Conducting a Literature Search

To find a suitable topic you will need to conduct a literature search to identify what has been done before, what information is available and what gaps there are in the research. To carry out a successful literature search, you can try the following steps: 

  1. Define your terms. Ask yourself what the key concepts of your research idea are. Then, compile a list of keywords with their synonyms to help you develop a research strategy. Google and Google Scholar are good places to start. 

  1. Identify relevant information sources. These may include libraries, indexes, archives, the internet (especially, Google Scholar) and electronic databases.  

  1. Make use of the University library. If you require help with locating texts, you can book an appointment with an Academic Engagement Librarian. Also, the British Library has a copy of every book published in the UK, which is helpful to know if you cannot get hold of a particular text.  

  1. Use journals. Journals are the best place to find the most up to date research in any field. These are now mostly published online.  

Ensure that you keep records of what you have read. You will need them to write a literature review. For more detailed information about this dissertation chapter, visit the Literature Review Guide.