Start your thesis with success: smooth topic selection
Learn how to select a topic that fits your personal interests, expertise and goals. Discover essential tricks and methods in this free video tutorial. Lay the foundations of your academic success!
Welcome to the tutorial “Find a top topic for your thesis“. The success of an academic text depends not least on the topic on which it is based. While the topic for term and seminar papers is often predetermined, students usually choose the topic for their theses themselves. It is not uncommon for this to result in poor decisions that can make their writing lives miserable. To prevent getting lost with your topic, you should follow some essential steps. In this tutorial, we will show you what's important in finding a thesis topic successfully.
Depending on the type of thesis, you may spend weeks, months, or even years on a topic. This is the case, for example, with a dissertation or habilitation. To keep you motivated during this time, it's crucial to choose a subject area that interests you personally. This could be, for example, an area that came to your attention in a course, in a conversation with your supervisor, or in a technical article and that you would like to look into more closely. However, it would be helpful if you already had a basic knowledge of the field and did not have to start from scratch. This way you save valuable time. For example, you could pick up on a previous term paper topic in which you had a strong interest and cover it in greater depth as part of a bachelor's or master's thesis. Another option is to combine a topic you know with a new topic area.
Useful methods: Brainwriting & Mindmapping
Once you have selected a topic, the next step is to specify it and identify possible subtopics. For this purpose, various idea collection techniques are available to you. Well-known and proven examples are brainwriting and mind mapping.
Brainwriting – the written version of brainstorming – initially involves jotting down as many thoughts as possible about a topic in keyword form and in a value-free manner. The ideas you jot down can in turn inspire further ideas. If you can't think of anything else, it's time to sort through the ideas you've collected and evaluate their relevance. Of course, you can also involve other people in brainwriting by, for example, asking your fellow students for their spontaneous ideas on your potential topic and putting them down in writing as well. In the best case, you will get hints on how to look at your topic from a different perspective.
Another creative method for finding ideas and organizing thoughts is mind mapping. In contrast to brainwriting, the collection of ideas is not linear in the form of a text, but visual. Mindmapping is a three-step process: In the first step, you determine the topic by thinking of a key term for the respective topic and place it in the center of a sheet of paper laid out in landscape format. Then you connect with lines all subordinate terms that you associate with the key term. Finally, you work out the mind map. You will establish relationships between the noted terms and highlight them visually using colors.
Finding a thesis topic the easy way
While you are collecting and organizing ideas, you should also already familiarize yourself with the technical literature. When reviewing the literature, it is first important to get an overview of how much literature is available on your potential topic. If a large amount already exists, this could be an indication that the topic has already been dealt with exhaustively; if no literature exists, you should consider that your topic is not suitable for scientific investigation for various reasons.
Furthermore, it is advisable to check the accessibility of the literature. This includes, first, finding out if the literature is available in a language you know. In addition, you should make sure that you can obtain the literature in a timely manner and that the explanations in the literature are understandable enough to work with. Finally, you should get an idea of how the topic is treated and viewed in the specialist literature. Look at the literature of the last ten years and find out what status your topic has in research, what the main focus is, and whether or in what respect there is a need for further research. Often you will find references to research gaps in the literature, which you could make the topic of your thesis. Another possible starting point are argumentative objections that occur to you during your study of the literature and that you would like to raise in your thesis.
On the basis of the reviewed and organized sources, you formulate the guiding question that you claim to answer with your work. It serves to specify and determine the topic. The question must be formulated in such a way that it can be answered precisely, and answering the question should contribute to a gain in knowledge.
Based on the central research question, you must determine the individual aspects to be addressed in order to answer the question appropriately. To do this, you need to narrow down the topic. In this context, there are several options: You can, for example, focus on one main aspect, concentrate on a subsidiary aspect and leave out other aspects, or specify the subject area by using an example as a basis for your investigation. You can also make connections between different aspects, highlight an individual case or emphasize new aspects. It is crucial that you narrow down the topic to the extent that you can deal with it in the given time frame and with the chosen methodology.
Before you further elaborate the topic and start writing, you must finally agree on your topic with your supervisor or examiner. Clarify whether your proposed topic is suitable and to what extent you may need to modify it. Your supervisor will also be able to give you valuable tips on methodology as well as source references. The study and examination regulations also provide information about the specific formal requirements that your work must fulfill.
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