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How to Choose a Topic for Your PhD Thesis

A PhD is a degree that can not only boost your career ambitions but also help in improving your overall profile. Achieving such a degree involves the completion of several important tasks. One of the fundamental tasks is to choose the right topic for your PhD thesis. Without the right topic, you simply cannot expect fruitful results. The topic that you choose needs to be different from the existing research in your field of study, and at the same time, it should be realistic in terms of data availability as well as the research scope. This guide will help you in understanding how to choose the right topic for your PhD thesis, and at the same time make a clear distinction between PhD topics and Masters Dissertation topics.  

Think about what interests you

In order to arrive at the topic, it is important to conduct a thorough study of previous academic research in the field that interests you. This can help you in gaining knowledge and at the same time help in shortlisting a few broad areas of interest that have gaps in research.

Consider your Masters’ Dissertation

It is often a good idea to choose a field for your PhD study related to the field of your Masters’ thesis. For instance, if you wrote a Masters Dissertation in Physics you may look into related but more advanced areas in Applied Physics to choose as a potential area for your PhD research. Previous research can also often be very helpful in giving you new ideas for a topic of research.  

Research previous studies

Students are often worried about choosing the right PhD topic since they know it could have a great impact on their future career. The criteria for assessment of the PhD thesis can differ across programmes. However, one common factor is that the work should be original and not similar to previous research. Thus, the most important factor is that your topic and the field of study should be uniquely different and contribute to knowledge. This will also ensure that your PhD thesis will make a significant contribution to the reputation of the university you are applying to. It is often helpful to scan through limitations of previous empirical studies to find out what others failed to account for or research. Then, you need to assess if you have sufficient resources to fill in the existing gap.

Formulate a strong question

If you formulate your PhD topic in the form of a research question, it will raise the probability of being accepted. However, you need to note that not all questions are equally strong. When you formulate your research question, make sure it cannot be answered with yes or no answers. Thus, the questions that start with “Are” or “Is” are usually weak questions. Strong questions will begin with words such as “How”, “To what extent” and “What”. Also, keep in mind that if you already know or can guess the answer to your question, it is most likely a weak question.  

Check the availability of data and scope of research

Your PhD topic, while being challenging, must be researchable, and this depends greatly on data availability and the scope of research. Many times, students choose topics or even write proposals that are unrealistic to accomplish. In these cases, proposals will be rejected by universities. So, before you formulate your final topic, check all the available data at your disposal, make a list of all possible variables you can realistically access and then start looking for connections between the variables to come up with the final topic for your thesis.    

Ensure flexibility in your topic

While your PhD topic should not be broad, it must have sufficient flexibility to be adjusted if your research encounters obstacles. For example, if you have chosen a specific phenomenon to be studied in the context of a specific country, you may want to consider formulating your research topic in the context of a region of this country. In this case, if your research meets a dead end or insufficient data for the country, you would have sufficient flexibility to compensate for this by looking at other countries in the region you mentioned in your research topic.  

Check with the experts

Before submitting your PhD proposal with the topic you have developed, it is a good idea to talk to experts. People with experience such as professors, senior students, and professional writers will provide a fresh look at your topic and share their expertise. They will also be able to notice inconsistencies and weaknesses in your topic. This will allow you to make timely changes and increase your chances of being accepted. 

How unique and original is your proposed topic?

A PhD is a unique degree in the sense that it is extremely comprehensive. When you choose a topic, a PhD thesis usually covers all aspects related to this particular topic and involves thorough research. On the other hand, a Masters Dissertation is often associated with more narrow research, and it is not expected to bring as much originality and contribution to knowledge as PhD thesis. During your PhD, you will be expected to do independent research, and this is often spread out over a longer period of time. This time is needed to include as many relevant details as possible in your thesis.

PhD thesis vs. Masters Dissertation

On the other hand, a Masters Dissertation is usually submitted in the last semester of your degree and the research is not as deep as in PhD. In terms of the topic, many Masters’ dissertations are written on topics that are not 100% unique. For example, Masters’ dissertations could explore an existing topic in new contexts with new methods, and this will be considered a contribution. However, this is not enough for a PhD topic as more originality is required.  

Final Note

To sum up, choosing the right topic for your PhD can be a really tricky task. It needs to be carried out with great care since this can often impact your career in the long run. In order to arrive at the right topic all the steps discussed above need to be taken into account. This will ensure that you arrive at the right topic and achieve success in your quest for a PhD. 

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