So, you got into a graduate program. Your coursework is well underway. But you know that soon you’re going to have to decide on a dissertation topic, and you don’t even know where to begin. You’re not alone! While some graduate students know from the outset what their dissertation topics will be, for others it takes a long, hard process of deliberation and thought to land on a topic.

Choose Something You Can Live With

You might end up spending a very long time writing your dissertation. Our dissertation consultants can help you strategize so that you can finish your dissertation more quickly, but a dissertation nonetheless requires a significant time investment. So pick a topic that you think you can live with for a while. Ask yourself: what are the issues and questions that I enjoy thinking about? What are the ideas that fascinate me, and that I can contemplate at length? Pick a topic that captures your interest and makes you excited, so that you think you won’t be bored with a year or two down the line. As Cynthia Verba of the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences says, it’s important to choose a topic that you love.

Find Something Fresh

A dissertation topic doesn’t just have to be something you like – it has to be something that will make a contribution in your scholarly discipline. It has to be something new. Your dissertation can’t simply rehash research that already exists. But how to figure out what would be new and fresh? The best way is to pay attention to the conversation in your discipline. Pay attention to the kinds of topics that people are presenting on at the big conferences in your field, and publishing on in the big journals. What topics are not represented? What gaps do you see in the knowledge? What unanswered questions do you have when you look at the conversation in your field? By asking yourself these questions, you can start to narrow in on subjects that may be worthy of scholarly attention, but have yet to be pursued.The Mentoring Blog of the Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities of the American Sociological Association has some tips on identifying a topic that pushes the envelope that social scientists might find particularly useful. Richard M. Reis at the Chronicle of Higher Education has some good tips for scientists looking for a research topic.

Think Small

The right dissertation topic is smaller than you think. While a dissertation is an enormous undertaking, dissertation topics need to be surprisingly narrow. I initially set out to write a dissertation about women musicians who in Britain. This topic, it turned out, was huge. There were too many potential sub-topics, too many questions, and no single issue around which I could build an argument. I began narrowing it down. Soon, my topic was women singers in Britain. This still proved too ungainly. Eventually, I ended up focusing on women singers in Britain in a very specific musical genre, in a very narrow four-year historical period. The process of narrowing it down helped me refine specific questions and arguments that I wanted to focus on in my dissertation. If you’re having trouble narrowing your topic, a dissertation consultant can work with you to help you make a broad dissertation topic into something workable.

Consider Your Goals and Consider the Market

When I was choosing my dissertation topic, I received all kinds of different advice. Some people told me that the most important thing was to choose a topic that I would be happy with and that I would enjoy thinking about for the next few years. Others advised me to think ahead to the academic job market. They suggested that I look at what kind of research was getting published in my field, and which young scholars were getting jobs, and pick a topic in line with those trends. Given the precarious nature of the academic job market, this seems like very practical advice. It can be difficult, though, to predict which research topics will be hot and marketable a few years down the road when you’re finally out on the job market. My advice, then, would be to focus on finding a topic that suits you well, but to keep your professional goals in mind. Publications count for a lot on the academic job hunt, so you may want to choose a dissertation topic that you think could easily result in an article or two. But don’t sacrifice your interests and passions in pursuit of the dissertation topic that you think will guarantee you a job, because it’s all but impossible to predict what that topic will be.

A dissertation consultant can work with you to pick the idea dissertation topic, and once you’ve got that topic down, we provide PhD-level research services that take the time and stress out of dissertation work. From dissertation editing to dissertation formatting, we’re here to help with every stage of dissertation writing.