Some students begin the dissertation process with a clear research question to address.  Others begin with several ideas, but with no specific research question. In view of the pressure to get started quickly, this can cause anxiety and even panic. It is, however, a common situation to be in. There are several ways forward:

  • Talk to others: what topics are other students considering? Does this spark an interest? Discuss your own ideas. You don’t need to wait until you have a specific research question. The comments and questions of fellow students and staff may help you to refine your focus.
  • Look at other writing: set aside some time to spend in the library. Skim through the titles of research papers in your field published over the past five years. Read the abstracts of those you find most interesting.
  • Look through the dissertations of previous students in your department. The topics may give you inspiration or provide useful suggestions for further research.
  • Think about your own interests: which topic have you found most interesting? Is there an element that could be developed into a research project?
  • Be extra critical: is there something in your course so far that you have been sceptical about? Have you come across a topic which you think needs further study?

Remember that a research study can:

  • replicate an existing study in a different setting;
  • explore an under-researched area;
  • review the knowledge thus far in a specific field;
  • develop or test out a methodology or method;
  • address a research question in isolation, or within a wider programme of work; or
  • apply a theoretical idea to a real world problem.

Use this Scope planner to help you