V. Getting Your Dissertation off the Ground: Is It a Good Topic?

Every day people write to me asking for help choosing a topic or for my opinion about whether their topic is viable.  In the last blog you learned about generating a topic for your dissertation. Once you generate a topic idea that holds promise, you should ask yourself certain practical questions to determine the merits of your topic idea.

The traditional concept of a dissertation is that of a piece of work that is both an original and a significant contribution to the knowledge base in your field.  Although there is little agreement about what constitutes an original contribution, at a minimum your dissertation must not reproduce a previous work or idea, and it must be innovative in a way that distinguishes it from existing knowledge.

Again, the concept of a significant contribution to knowledge is difficult to define.  Does your question satisfy the “So What” question?  A dissertation is not simply an academic exercise or series of hoops you must jump through. It needs to address a legitimate problem or question in your discipline.  If the answer to your research question is easily attainable, there is no point in your study.  At a minimum, the knowledge gained from your dissertation has to be useful to scholars and practitioners.  Ideally, it should impact your field of study by advancing its methodology or understanding, and the findings of your study should have the potential for positive social change.

Exercise 6

Topic Goodness Criteria

Answer yes or no.

1.  Is it YOU?

2.  Is it interesting to anyone else?  (e.g., sponsors, professors in your field, funding agencies, future employers, future clients)

3.  Are you grounded in the scholarly literature so that you can position yourself within your discipline?

4.  Is it manageable, given your time frame, resources, and availability of data sources?

5.   Is it within your range of competence?

6.   Is it significant in practical and theoretical terms?

7.   Is it original?  Are the answers to your research questions found in the existing literature?

8.   Does it have the potential to lead to positive social change?

9.   Does it take you where you want to go?

After successive attempts, you will create a dissertation topic that will work for you.  Then, it is your job to convince a sponsor (advisor) that it meets the criteria for a dissertation.  Take the initiative; be prepared to address each of the questions listed above.

Dr. Sally Jensen

I am Principal and Founder of dissertationdoctor.com, which launched in 1997, to help academics achieve their goals.  At the time, I had seen many doctoral students floundering and often failing because of the lack of guidance.  I decided they needed a Dissertation Doctor to help them succeed without “bang-ups and hang-ups” (to quote Dr. Seuss).

I am a master certified coach and I help dissertators by nurturing and developing what I call the Creative Scholar.  I have guided over 200 Dissertators to successfully complete their doctoral journeys.

Contact Sally Jensen

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One Response to V. Getting Your Dissertation off the Ground: Is It a Good Topic?

  1. Pingback: VIII. Getting Your Dissertation off the Ground: The Steps to Success | Dr. Sally Jensen

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