You are trying to address too many research questions and/or hypotheses

Setting a single research question can also mean that your dissertation will be too open because the goals you have set yourself are too ambitious. However, even when you create research questions that are considered reasonable, it is still possible to simply have too many research questions and/or hypotheses to answer. Supervisors will often look at the number of research questions and/or hypotheses you have set yourself and say: ?You have three possible dissertations there. Just choose one!? One of the reasons you may have too many research questions is because you are trying to address too many concepts, theories and/or variables in your dissertation. We discuss this next.

You have included too many concepts, theories, and/or variables

As discussed earlier in the article, your dissertation will need to build on or draw from established concepts or theories when choosing a topic and conducting your research.

This is a particularly challenging process when choosing a topic because unless you are building on a particular interest you have developed over the course of your degree programme, it is unlikely that you will know the literature well at this early stage. As a result, it is possible that you will try to include too many theories and concepts when coming up with a possible topic.

However, the extent to which this is a problem will vary depending on whether you are using a quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods research design. For example, since quantitative research designs generally aim to build on and/or test theory, you need to be more precise from the outset when it comes to choosing theories and variables that you will examine. By contrast, with qualitative research designs, there may be more room to manoeuvre when it comes to concepts and theories, largely because such dissertations tend to draw on these concepts and theories, focusing more on the data being collected (as opposed to building on and/or testing theory). However, this does not mean you can be loose with your choice of concepts and theories when using qualitative research designs. You still need to select concepts and theories to include in your dissertation topic using your best academic judgement.

Irrespective of the research design choice you have made, trying to address too many concepts, theories and/or variables is problematic for a number of reasons:

The population you are interested in is too broad to target effectively

Academics know what it takes to perform research in terms of the costs involved and the time required to contact organisations, sample a population effectively, and collect sufficient data from that sample. This is the case whether you are performing primary or secondary research. It is the case whether the sample you are interested are organisations, people, objects, data, or something else.

At the undergraduate and master's level, your supervisor knows what you can probably achieve (and otherwise) in a period of 6 and 9 months (give or take a few months) to do your dissertation. Indeed, probably around half of the time will be involve in data collection. This places severe limits of what data can be collected, whether this is through primary or secondary research; whether you choose to use qualitative methods (e.g., interviews, focus groups, observation) or quantitative methods (e.g., a survey).

Imagine you were doing a dissertation on the career choices of university students. If you had chosen to use a quantitative research design to address your research questions, your goal would likely be to make generalisations (i.e., statistical inferences) from a sample of university students to the population; in this case, all university students. However, to achieve this, you would need to get a representative sample of university students across all countries, year groups, ages, genders, and so forth. Clearly, this would be impossible at the undergraduate and master's level in the time you have available. Therefore, when setting your research topic, it would make more sense to state that you were going to do a dissertation on the career choices of a particular sub-set of this population. Perhaps you are only going to focus on university students in the United States. Or to reduce the sampling burden further, just final-year undergraduate students in the United States.

The important point is that if the population you are interested in studying is too broad (e.g., university students globally vs. final-year undergraduate university students in the United States), it is unlikely that you will be able to target your population effectively or use a strong sampling strategy. Therefore, your dissertation topic may be considered to be too broad if the population you are interested in is too broad to target effectively.

There is no identifiable outcome to your dissertation

Research questions, whether qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods in nature, should point either to clearly identifiable outcomes or a range of possible outcomes:

If your dissertation topic and your research questions, in particular, have no identifiable outcome (i.e., it is unclear what is being addressed/solved), your supervisor may well argue that it is too broad.

Identifying whether your dissertation topic is too broad

Without wanting to repeat what we have already discussed in the article so far, we simply suggest that you ask yourself the following questions when trying to identify whether your dissertation topic is going to be too broad:

If you are still unsure whether your topic is achievable, we can recommend the following article: How do I know whether my dissertation topic is achievable? If you are still thinking about what topic you should choose, you may find the following two articles helpful: Our top tip for finding a dissertation topic and Turning a research limitation or future research idea into a potential topic idea.

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