Lesson 3: Choosing A Topic
In this first part of our class, we discuss how to pick a subject for your thesis.
- To enumerate the different steps to take when choosing a topic for thesis
- To point out why choosing the right topic is crucial for a thesis paper
- To illustrate what makes a good thesis topic
Quick Navigation through the Lesson 3:
A thesis topic determines most things about the final outcome of your thesis paper—what will you write about? What are your scopes and limitations? What literature is relevant to your topic? How do you formulate your methodology? Because of this, it is important to know which factors to consider when choosing a thesis topic. If you choose the wrong topic or if you either underestimate or overestimate your abilities, you could end up writing a paper that doesn’t get passed because it doesn’t offer any new insight or you could fail your thesis because your methods were insufficient to answer the questions which your thesis topic proposes.
When choosing a thesis topic, the more specific, the better. Always try and pay attention to certain things which are specific to your study: a particular environment, condition or variable.
In this lesson, we’re going to be discussing the three factors which you need to take into consideration when writing your thesis: novelty, context and competence.
When we say novelty in terms of a thesis, we mean a new insight or a fresh look at an otherwise “already done” subject. This is very important because as we highlighted in our first lesson, your thesis is your way of contributing knowledge to the educational institution’s pool of information. If you pick a topic that has already been written about extensively before, then you won’t be bringing anything new to the table.
One good way of trying to look for novel ideas is oddly enough, looking at old ones. A lot of the time, to figure out what hasn’t been done yet, you have to look what has been done. Looking at different studies help you determine what else can be done. In modern times, looking for a fresh topic is more difficult because there is already so much knowledge which has preceded us. However, this is by no means impossible: we always have the option of putting our own spin on an old topic. For example, if you’re a chemistry major you could have the option of developing a new chemical from an already existing one.
While novelty is important, choosing a good thesis topic requires more than just the new-ness or freshness of an idea. It also needs to be within the context of your thesis paper: for example, you want to study the behavior of sea anemones in captivity—particularly in children’s aquariums. Let’s say that yes, no one else has done this before but let’s also say that you’re a literature major and your thesis requires you to write something creative like a novel or a collection of poems.
That said, you can’t study the sea anemones (at least not for your thesis) because it’s completely unrelated to your major and to the reason why you’re writing the thesis in the first place. Context is very important when choosing a thesis topic because it’s the first thing that your panelists will question you about: how is your study relevant to your field of study? How will the knowledge you’re compiling be useful to the field you’re offering it to? It’s always useful to ask yourself these questions before settling on your thesis topic.
Just because a topic is fresh and just because it falls within the realm of your study, it doesn’t mean that you should necessarily choose that as your topic. There is still the third and final (and perhaps most detrimental) question of competence—do you have the skill and the resources to study this topic? Remember that ultimately, a thesis is a test of how well you can showcase your skill. And so you have to pick a topic which matches your skill level or else you run the risk of failing.
For example, let’s say that you’re an undergraduate biochemistry major and you want to study radioactivity from the debris of satellites. Yes, it is a novel idea and yes, it falls within your major because it has to do both with chemistry and biology. However the next question to ask yourself has to be: do you have the skills required to go up into space and collect (more so, study) the debris from those space shuttles? Another thing to consider is funding and whether or not you will be able to attain the resources required for you to execute the study.
Another good question to ask yourself when choosing your topic (and a good thing to do research on) is why hasn’t this novel idea been done before? This may open up new topics for you to consider as well as (if you’re already set on a certain topic) bring to light certain risks that you may encounter should you push through with that specific study.
In this lesson, we were able to discuss why a thesis topic is so important as well as the different things that we need to consider when choosing a thesis topic. We were able to discuss how an idea that merits a thesis should be novel, within the context of our major and also within our skill set or range of competencies.
Next up we’ll be discussing what makes a good thesis. We’ll be looking into the different things which delineate a good thesis from a bad one: what makes the difference between an excellent thesis and a mediocre one? What makes the difference between something which will garner you top marks and one that merits a failing grade? Keep reading and be one step closer to mastering how to write your thesis well!