You’ve spent three years writing essays with a set title, and scribbling in exams where you were told exactly what the question was. Then, at the end of your second year, your department turns round and tells you they’d like 10,000 words on – well, whatever you want. The Dissertation. Don’t panic. We’ve all been there, and Enterprise are here to help. Here are some great tips on how to choose your dissertation topic:
Don’t pick something that switches you off from the start.
Chances are, you’re going to be working on this for a year. You’ll start researching at the end of your second year, or the beginning of your third year, you’ll work on it for six months or more, and it’ll be one of the last things you hand in, right before you graduate. So, if you aren’t interested before you start, this is going to be an uphill struggle. Even the most passionate people get tired before the end of their dissertation, and if you start out with a topic you’re not fully interested in, it could be worse further down the line.
Don’t rule out your hobbies.
Your dissertation topic is open to so much possibility, particularly in arts subjects, and sometimes the best dissertations come from a student’s passions outside their department. Think about what you’re really interested in, and see what options are open to you. If you’re a football aficionado, say, then you might look at writing a History dissertation on the development of a particular club. Or if you’re writing a Politics dissertation, you might write about how the World Cup is impacted by the political environment of its host nation. Your dissertation should be a study of your passion, as well as making a new contribution to academia, and it really is up to you to decide what that contribution should be. Whatever you’re interested in, think about how it might relate to your subject, and see where your passion leads you.
Before you commit yourself, make sure you know your field. Make sure there’s enough research out there, and that you aren’t going to run out of material two pages in. Above all, make sure that your dissertation hasn’t already been published by someone else. This is more common than you think, so don’t be the person who realises the day before their deadline that someone else already wrote exactly the same paper. It’s alright if someone else has written about the same subject, but you at least need to offer a new opinion and new research.
Talk to your supervisors and lecturers
If there’s a particular topic that you’re really passionate about, and there are experts within your department, then talk to them. Approach them and ask for their opinion on the field: are there any areas where there’s a gap in research, or is there any established research that could do with being challenged? If you have a good relationship with your supervisor, talk to them about the department’s research, and see if they can guide you to a great topic, or if they can point you in the direction of someone who can. Take advantage of all the expert advice you can get. Your lecturers are there to help you, and they’ll be happy to talk to an enthusiastic student who shares their interests.
Plan your topic in advance
We can’t say this enough. Do not – repeat: do not – be the student who decides on their dissertation topic two weeks before the hand-in, and who attempts to do both the research and the write-up in a matter of days or hours. This will be the biggest project of your university career, and you should treat it that way. If nothing else, do it for yourself. This dissertation should be the highlight of your course – the moment when your lecturers let you loose to explore your passions and add something to the department’s body of research – so don’t waste it.
Your dissertation should be one of the most challenging and most enjoyable parts of your university life, where you gain your independence, and realise your way as you manage your own projects. At Enterprise, we look out for those bright graduates with a sense of challenge and independence, so if you think that’s you, look today at our graduate management trainee and internship programmes.