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Dissertations: Choosing a topic

Choosing a research topic

Research is an exciting and impactful endeavour, but getting started can be overwhelming. This guide will provide you with valuable insights and practical advice to navigate the process successfully. We will explore the key considerations in selecting a research topic that aligns with your interests and goals, and then delve into the art of formulating effective research questions. By the end of this guide, you'll be equipped with the knowledge and tools to embark on a research journey that is both meaningful and rewarding. Let's dive in and unlock the secrets to selecting the perfect research topic and crafting insightful research questions!

Selection: Selecting a topic can be the most difficult part of doing research. Defining and refining your topic is an ongoing process. Be prepared to change the focus of your topic as you gather more information.

Interest: Select a subject you can get interested in. Since you will be spending a considerable amount of time researching your topic, you will want it to be something that holds your interest and that of the reader.

Focus: Make sure that your topic isn't too narrow or too broad. If the topic is too broad, you will be overwhelmed with information. If the topic is too narrow, you may not be able to find enough information on your research.


Next Steps

Here are some ways to find inspiration:

  • Think about your own interests: which topic have you found interesting during your lectures, and is there an element that could be developed into a research project?
  • Consider previous literature: Look at key journals in your field and skim through the titles of research papers published within the last few years. Read the abstracts of the papers that captivate your attention to identify possible topics and pay special attention to any suggestions for further research.
  • Look through the dissertations of previous students in your department: the topics may give you inspiration, and they may have useful suggestions for further research.
  • Talk to experts and peers: Seek advice from your classmates, lecturers or professionals in your field. Don’t wait until you have a fully formed research question before discussing your ideas with others, as their comments and questions may help you to refine your focus.
  • Brainstorm and explore multiple options: Generate a list of potential research topics and explore each one. Consider the feasibility, resources required, and potential impact of each topic. Narrow down your list to a few strong contenders.

To narrow down your research topic, you can follow these steps:

  1. Start with a broad topic: Begin by selecting a general area of interest that you would like to explore. This could be a broad subject within your field or a topic that you find intriguing.
  2. Conduct preliminary research: Conduct initial research to familiarize yourself with the existing literature and gain a better understanding of the broader topic. This will help you identify key concepts, theories, and gaps in knowledge.
  3. Identify specific research questions: Based on your preliminary research, brainstorm and develop specific research questions that you want to address within your chosen topic. These questions should be clear, focused, and aligned with your research goals.
  4. Evaluate feasibility and scope: Assess the feasibility and scope of each research question. Consider factors such as the availability of data, resources, time constraints, and the practicality of conducting research on each question.
  5. Prioritize relevance and significance: Evaluate the relevance and significance of each research question. Consider how each question contributes to the existing body of knowledge, addresses gaps in literature, and aligns with the research priorities in your field.
  6. Seek feedback and input: Share your shortlisted research questions with mentors, advisors, or peers to get their input and feedback. Their perspectives can help you refine your questions and make informed decisions.
  7. Refine and narrow down your topic: Based on the feedback and evaluation, refine and narrow down your research topic by selecting the most compelling research question(s) that meet the criteria of feasibility, relevance, and significance.
  8. Define the scope and objectives: Clearly define the scope and objectives of your narrowed-down research topic. This includes determining the boundaries of your study, specifying the key concepts or variables to be investigated, and setting clear research objectives.
  9. Conduct a literature review: Conduct a comprehensive literature review focused on your refined research topic. This will help you deepen your understanding of the subject, identify relevant theories and methodologies, and refine your research approach.
  10. Finalize your research topic: After completing the above steps, finalize your research topic by formulating a clear and concise research question or statement that encapsulates the focus and purpose of your study.


When choosing a research topic, it's important to be aware of common errors that researchers often make. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

  • Lack of specificity: Choosing a topic that is too broad or vague can make it difficult to focus your research. Be sure to narrow down your topic to a specific research question or area of investigation.
  • Lack of relevance: Selecting a topic that is not relevant to your field of study or the research objectives can lead to a lack of interest and impact. Ensure that your topic aligns with the current trends, gaps in knowledge, and research priorities in your field.
  • Insufficient research: Failing to conduct a thorough literature review can result in choosing a topic that has already been extensively studied or lacks originality. Take the time to familiarize yourself with existing research to identify gaps and potential avenues for exploration.
  • Overly ambitious or unfeasible scope: Choosing a topic that is too broad or complex can make it challenging to conduct a comprehensive study within the available time and resources. Consider the feasibility of your research topic and ensure it is manageable within the constraints of your project (e.g. time to complete your dissertation).
  • Limited access to data or resources: Choosing a topic without considering the availability of data or resources needed for your research can pose significant challenges. Assess the accessibility and availability of relevant data, research materials, or equipment before finalizing your topic.

By avoiding these common errors, you can choose a research topic that is focused, relevant, feasible, and aligned with your interests and goals, setting the foundation for a successful research journey.

Before you start writing your research proposal, you need to find and define your research topic. The following four steps will help you to identify and refine your topic:

Step 1: Identify areas of interest within your subject area

Step 2: Identify possible themes 

Step 3: Consider the context of your research

Step 4: Decide on a topic


Journal of Suffolk Student Research

The Journal of Suffolk Student Research is an online academic journal, dedicated to the publication of high-quality undergraduate and postgraduate student research undertaken by University of Suffolk students. The journal will showcase the most outstanding student research undertaken at the University of Suffolk. It aims to promote and recognise this outstanding student research by offering valuable early experience of academic publishing and the peer review process. 

Find out more here