Do I have the right skills?

If you are particularly keen on a dissertation topic, it can be easy to overlook the particular skills you will need to complete it. Even if you have identified the skills you will need, it is tempting to think that because you have so many months to complete your dissertation, you can just learn these skills along the way. It may be that you are good at qualitative-based subjects, but want to do a dissertation topic that would involve a lot of quantitative (i.e., statistical) work. Alternately, you may need to do a lot of interviews in your dissertation, but you know you are a very shy person. Clearly, these sorts of things should not put you off doing the dissertation topic you are interested in. However, it is important to remember that the dissertation process is a hard one, especially if you are an undergraduate student that has not completed a dissertation before. Playing to your strengths is not a weakness.

When thinking about your dissertation topic and the skills it may require, also ask yourself:

These are obviously crude questions, but hopefully you get the point we are trying to make. Playing to your strengths will inevitably make the dissertation process go more smoothly and help you to achieve a higher mark.


Will I be able to get the intellectual help I need?

It is sad to say, but one of the biggest criticisms that students have of the dissertation process is the lack of support they had from their tutor(s) and/or supervisor(s). However, sometimes it is possible to get support from other academics within your Academic Department or School. This can be particularly useful when your supervisor is not an expert in the field you are interested in. Not all Academic Departments or Schools ensure that you have supervisors that are experts in your area. Therefore, when it comes to the achievability of your dissertation topic, we strongly recommend that you pass it by an academic in your Academic Department or School who is an expert in your field. Finding a sympathetic and interested academic can also be really important throughout the dissertation process, especially when it comes to giving guidance on your literature review. Whilst we would never recommend abandoning a dissertation topic because you don't think you will be able to get this kind of intellectual help, it certainly should be a consideration when choosing a dissertation topic. It is no coincidence that Doctoral students (i.e., those studying for PhDs) apply to do research under a supervisor that is an expert in their field of interest.


Is my dissertation topic too broad or too narrow?

If your dissertation topic is based on a qualitative research design (or even a mixed-methods design), it will more likely start with a more broad perspective of whatever you are interested in, which narrows over time; especially when compared with a quantitative research design [see the section on Research Designs, if you unsure about the differences in these research designs]. However, irrespective of the research design you adopt, or the research philosophy driving it, your dissertation topic should not be either too broad or too narrow. If your dissertation topic is very narrow, it will certainly be more achievable, but it may be rejected at the proposal stage. If it is too broad, you may never be able to achieve the research aims or questions you set yourself. Since it can be very difficult to identify whether your dissertation topic is too broad (or too narrow) when you simply have an idea for a study, we have tried to explain what you should think about in our article: Is my dissertation topic too broad?


Am I interested in this topic?

This sounds like a stupid question. After all, you probably would not have come up with the topic in the first place if it was not of interest. However, we know of so many students that choose a dissertation topic because they are running out of time to submit their proposals. However, if there is one thing that past-students will tell you about their dissertation experience, it would be that the whole process can be very stressful. The dissertation is a journey, as corny as that sounds, with some ups, and plenty of downs! It will most likely be the largest and most challenging piece of work you have done to date. Having a strong interest in the topic will be one of the most important factors helping you through the lows, as well as encouraging you to spend extra time reviewing the literature, which is essential, but also very time consuming. After all, you would not want to read a book that you had no interested in. However, doing a literature review is just like reading a big book (or lots of books); it's just that the book is more likely to be a whole bunch of journal articles. If you don't have a strong interest in the topic you are doing, it will make reading these articles very difficult, and even more time consuming than it already is. So choose a topic that you are really interested in.

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