How to choose a thesis topic

Choosing a topic is most likely one of the most important choices you will make in your study career.

It is the first step in a long-term process which marks the end of your study.

Choosing a thesis topic can be quite overwhelming. It is often not an easy decision and requires time you have to invest in order to decide on your topic. Choosing a thesis topic you are interested in is crucial in the completion of the process. You need to stay motivated for a longer time, this long-term motivation is mainly triggered by your topic.

The process of selecting a topic has multiple aspects to take into account; most important is incorporate all steps of the decision in your procedure. Taking a decision is actually a relatively complicated mental process resulting in a selection among multiple alternatives.

The following model by Otto Taborsky displays stages you should go through while choosing your thesis topic.

  • Realize you have to choose
  • Accept the uncertainty of the decision you will have to make
  • Freely explore
  • Compare
  • Make a decision
  • Execution of your decision


Here are some criteria to help you decide

Choose a topic you like. This may be the most important criteria. You are going to spend much time with this project, your (quality of) life will be much better if these hours are spent enjoyably. What’s more, the quality of your research, writing, and arguments will be much better if you feel a genuine passion for your work. Choose a topic you find both fascinating and significant.

Seek feedback before you start. Discuss your ideas with peers and others, make your ideas explicit and seek feedback. Know that the thesis is a major project, but it isn’t your life’s research. Adequate feedback should help you narrow down your topic to realistic proportions.

Select a topic that will be helpful in your career path. If your goal is an academic career, pick a topic that you can easily modify into journal articles and maybe lends itself well to future research. If you are going into industry, choose a topic that will make you more marketable.

Select a manageable topic. Use the expertise you have gained in you study and avoid exploring a completely new idea. Do your research and find a topic that fits into existing bodies of literature, but that builds upon theory and expands it. In doing so make sure this topic has not been done before. Finally; think carefully before you choose a controversial topic, think carefully about whether it might restrict your employment, tenure, or publishing opportunities.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

What are my major interests?What major personal experience relative to my discipline do I have?What courses where most exciting?What theories and concepts are interesting?What do I want to avoid?What data do I need?What research methods do I like?What are my career goals?(Articulate and answer your individual questions too)

A simplified but very usable technique is based on the theory of Rational Decision Making. This means listing the advantages and disadvantages of each option. The list will result in a T-model in which you indicate all the positive points of an alternative on the left side and all the negative points on the right side. Subsequently, you value each aspect by grading it with a number. Eventually, you count the numbers together for the two lists and you will see directly whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.




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