Choosing a Dissertation Topic

As your final year of undergraduate study approaches you may be starting to think about what exactly you want to…

As your final year of undergraduate study approaches you may be starting to think about what exactly you want to write your dissertation on. This can seem like a daunting task as, whilst some people immediately know what they want to specialise on, for others it may take a bit more thinking. Here are a few tips from a current third year writing my dissertation to help you make the right choice for you.

Narrowing it down

At first you may have a lot of different ideas swirling around in your mind which can make it difficult to pinpoint one thing, it is therefore important that you take the time to carefully consider the different options. A good idea to begin with is to write a list of the topics which interest you the most, this might involve looking back on your degree, different modules you’ve taken, assessments you enjoyed etc. Once you have a list you can then start to evaluate each one, remember that the topic has to be something that you think can hold your interest throughout the entire year, personally I think that it is important to try and include things you are passionate about related to but outside your subject with something you have studied closely. This in my experience helps create a topic which genuinely interests you even if you weren’t studying it. This will probably leave you with one or two topics which you can choose from, at this stage you can then try and expand these ideas thinking of different ways you would approach the subject in a dissertation, what questions would you ask? Why is the topic important to research?. From this hopefully you will have a starting point that you can further develop.

Consider your strengths and weaknesses

Another important thing to consider when choosing what to base your dissertation on is what you are personally good and bad at. Just note that bad is not necessarily a negative thing but helps put your current skills into perspective. For example, you want to try and pick a topic you think that you can excel at based on previous experience with the subject area but you also want to leave some space for development in areas you feel you are not so great in. You want to be challenged by your topic so that your writing is compelling, this means that sometimes you’ll have to dig a little deeper to get what you need. Often when you are unsure where to take a topic it leads to a more nuanced response which is unique and stands out as having more meaning. Selecting a dissertation subject is a complex decision so it is important to reflect on yourself when doing so to get the best outcome for you as an individual.

Speak to your mentor

If you need a little help with organizing your thoughts contacting your mentor is a good step you can take to better understand what you would like to do. Mentors are usually lecturers themselves so they have plenty of experience with dissertations and how to approach big research projects. You can just pop them an email to see if they are available to chat about your dissertation, this can be in person or on a video call. From experience it is a big help to have somebody who knows the ins and outs of the dissertation process guide you at the beginning of your journey. They can offer suggestions on the ideas you have, how to approach those ideas, what is possible, what might be harder to do etc. This is all part of the planning process and helps massively in the narrowing down stages, for example I originally wanted to use a specific country as the study site for my dissertation on species distributions but was informed that it was better to use a different country with more accessible data. This is just one example as to why it might be a good idea to arrange a meeting like this early in the decision process.

Relax

The dissertation is a massive part of studying at University and for many is a hallmark in their lives, therefore it is important to relax, take your time and try and enjoy the process. Your topic might not come to you straight away, but eventually things will fall into the places they need to be, finding a balance is crucial for any good dissertation. You have to remember that it is a marathon not a sprint, everybody goes at their own pace, you just have to stick to yours and you will be fine.

Hopefully these tips will provide a good source of help for you in deciding the direction you want to take your dissertation.

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