Tips for Selecting a Thesis Topic

  • Combine ideas to create one in-depth concept that looks at an old issue in a new way.
  • Look for holes of opportunity in the published work of professionals and other students.
  • Embrace your creative side.
  • Before you commit to an idea, put it to the test.
  • Create a swipe file that includes a list of keywords.

The time has finally come to commit to a Master’s thesis. This is an exciting time, but it’s also intimidating because you’re dedicating the next year or more of your life to a substantial project that will have a tremendous impact on your professional life. The most common tip is to find a topic that you’re interested in, but it isn’t always easy to take a general interest and create a narrow topic that will impress professionals in your field. The following tips will help you work through the process from brainstorming to that final commitment.

1. Combine ideas to create one in-depth concept that looks at an old issue in a new way.

There aren’t many unexplored ideas left in any professional field, so don’t stress out trying to find a topic that hasn’t been covered in the past. Instead, brainstorm a long list of ideas based on topics that interest you or about which you would like to learn more. You can then play with combining those ideas to create one thesis topic that stands apart from other works within your field.

2. Look for holes of opportunity in the published work of professionals and other students.

If you can get your hands on a couple theses written by other students, take the time to read them with an open mind to holes in their work. You can do the same with published research in trade journals or industry association magazines. Researchers will often note when further research is needed for topics related to their own work, and you should add those suggestions to your brainstorm list. These ideas may or may not grab your attention, but they are leads that will point the way to topics that are trending in your field.

3. Embrace your creative side.

Many people get their best ideas while doing creative activities that have nothing to do with their professional lives. For instance, many students benefit from short freewriting sessions that allow them to think through problems and come up with solutions in a stress-free manner. You can apply the same concept to pottery, dance or any other creative outlet that influences your life. If you aren’t a creative person but are torn between multiple ideas, create a vision board or collage with images and words related to each idea. Which one pulls your attention and gets you excited? Which one do you think will make the biggest impact on your industry?

4. Before you commit to an idea, put it to the test.

Make sure that you have the resources, knowledge and ability to carry out all phases of your thesis project. If you don’t have what you need now, do some research and ensure that you can obtain it in the near future. If the resources are available, create a mini experiment or send out a survey to put your primary ideas to the test. Use the data from this initial test phase to adjust and finalize your thesis concept. This will add depth and precision to your topic while revealing any flaws or holes in your plan.

5. Create a swipe file that includes a list of keywords.

A swipe file is like a scrapbook that contains a variety of resources that will help you in the future. You may include links to webpages and blogs, clips from industry journals and quotes from your professors. If it relates to your topic, triggers deeper thought or may lead you to new ideas that add depth to your project, you should add it to your file. You also want to keep a list of keywords that represent concepts that you want to explore in more depth. Use this information to help you brainstorm topic ideas, and then use it to make completing your thesis easier.

Notice that many of these tips build on one simple tool: a list of brainstorming ideas. Every idea that crosses your mind should go on this list, even when you sense it’s far fetched or you aren’t qualified to do it justice. You never know when an idea you jot down in passing will blossom into a respectable thesis topic.