Saturday, 21 April 2012

How to find a good/great/amazing dissertation title ?

How to find a good/great/amazing dissertation title ?

My name is Justin O'Brien  and I thought it might be a worthwhile experience to create a series of blog posts to support the project supervision work I undertake as part of my academic role at Royal Holloway, University of London. 

First up is the requirement to identify a good subject.  Standard advice here suggests you select something that you are interested in, or perhaps passionate about.  This might not be that obvious, particularly at the end of a challenging academic programme.  The dissertation road can be long and hard, having some deeper level of motivation is important.

Other more pragmatic approaches might include starting by working backwards from your career aspriation or perhaps where you have access (through family, friend or work connections) to a company or industry.

There is an opportunity on your CV/resume to include the title of your dissertation (particularly if you got a strong mark) and this can be picked up as a discussion point at interveiw as one of the easy 'warm up' questions.  This may be one of the helpful points of differentiation that makes your application stand out from the crowd. 

Clearly your topic must fit within the scope of your degree, but aside from this constraint, pretty much anything goes.    Thus there are no right or wrong topics, what is crucial is that you are interested in the subject, that there is accessible written material at least in the academic literature and ideally from wider industry too and you can link the conceptual ideas to an appropriate primary research method.
Justin O'Brien

Take a look at past dissertation titles, I have been lucky enough to supervise a very wide range of projects that include topics such as gender differences in UK and Korean computer gaming, ambush marketing at major sports events, differences between UK/Finnish males attitudes towards grooming products, even sex tourism on a Greek island !

Once you have identified an interesting topic you need to find a link between academic theory and the kind of research you will be undertaking.  It makes no sense to link marketing strategy theory to human resources staff retention in a small organisation.  Equally asking 100 undergraduates using a qualitative questionnaire about their experience of being a middle or senior manager shows a clear mis-match in expertise. 

Emotionally the topic selection appears monumental, I have seen many students in very agitated states as they go through this early stage.   Ideas change quickly, as many as 10 different topics can be considered in a few days.  Try not to exhaust your supervisors good will at this stage, use their time when you have settled on a subject area.  Talking to friends and family is helpful, even if it just about articulating your own ideas our loud.  Some people rather panic at this stage.  It is a very large part of your final grade, so perhaps not surprising.    Perhaps rather than over focusing in the early stages on the precise formulation of the title, more focus should be put on undertaking research.  Here I do not mean spending a couple of hours on Google search.

A crucial tip is to spend time using the academic journals accessed via search engines such as EBSCO, Science Direct and Emerald.  Here you will see PhD level and above papers and begin to assimilate useful vocabulary ideas for the title, start to uncover relevant models and theory and also get an understanding of the expected 'academic writing tone' (formal (not slang/spoken English), third person ('the researcher' not I), past tense, evidenced based (using in text references), objective (use shades of grey not black and white, moderated adjectives). 

Be disciplined from the start.  Try to write up paraphrased notes in your own words (note: careful referencing will save panics later) and why not start adding useful papers to your bibliography - I always suggest the creation of a shell document.  Whilst you undertake your research you may feel like you have worked really hard, but have generated absolutely zero words too show for it all !  At least creating a bibliography will give you some measure of progress.  I would expect a good dissertation to have four or more pages of references (double line spaced) that have mostly academic journals, a wide range of texts and some industry sources that may be internet based.