You’ve learned more about why you should earn your Doctor of Education (EdD), and now you’re ready to apply. As part of the Northeastern application process, however, you’re required to submit a problem of practice that you want to pursue throughout the course of your doctoral program.
But how do you arrive at that problem of practice and narrow your area of interest down into a specific dissertation topic? Here are some tips to keep in mind.
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What you should know before applying, from how to choose your dissertation topic to ways you can leverage your doctorate.
1) Pick a Topic You’re Passionate About
A lot of work goes into your dissertation—from the literature review, where you’re conducting a critical analysis of what’s been published on your topic, to interviewing stakeholders and actually writing the dissertation itself. Each of those steps take time, so you want to choose a topic that will keep you engaged and hold your interest.
When trying to decide your area of focus, consider the challenges you’re motivated to address and the difference you want to make both during and at the end of your EdD program. The goal is that you will continuously build off your dissertation research and leverage the work in a way that positively impacts your organization and/or community.
2) Ensure Your Topic Is Manageable
You want to select a topic you can complete during the duration of your EdD program that is also aligned with your budget. If you need to travel or perform longitudinal research, your idea might not be achievable. Find what available, attainable data you can, and use that to narrow down your research into a dissertation that’s more manageable.
3) Embrace the Unknown
Although you’re passionate about your topic and it’s manageable, there will still be lingering questions about your subject. Be prepared to explore what you don’t know and deepen what you already do know. Strong research typically results in more questions.
Be ready to ask questions of yourself, others, and the literature, and get comfortable with not knowing the answer. As you’re thinking about your dissertation, keep track of inquiries that emerge around different ideas. Those may help you hone in on a topic.
4) Leverage Your Peers
One benefit of enrolling in an EdD program is the diversity of backgrounds and opinions you’ll find within your cohort. At Northeastern, EdD instruction is primarily online, which enables students to connect and collaborate with professionals from around the world.
Vasiliki Goudanas Mavroudhis, a recent graduate of Northeastern’s EdD program, emphasized this benefit in her piece on what it’s like to be in an online doctoral program, saying:
The ability to not only have a cohort-based network, but one that crossed cohorts and continents, allowed me to have a far richer and deeper experience. I learned from students with different perspectives who came from different industries across a number of countries.
When fleshing out your dissertation, use that global network to your advantage. Ask your peers for constructive feedback. It’s likely they’ll have suggestions on how you can approach your topic from different cultural perspectives.
5) Know It’s OK to Change Your Topic
It’s natural for your dissertation topic to evolve the more research you complete and experts you interview. Actually, it’s expected.
Switching topics halfway through the program might seem like more work, but you will have already gone through the research process once and laid the foundation for your dissertation. As you approach your topic from different perspectives, it’s understandable if your own viewpoint changes a bit.
If you’re in need of inspiration, here are some examples of doctoral research Northeastern students have recently conducted:
- “The Drop Out Decisions of Latino College Students”
- “Changing the Experiences of African Refugee Youth”
- “Supporting Students Through Mindful Mentoring”
- “The Transitioning Student Veteran: Finding Your Civilian Career Through Academic Success”
- “Bridging the Gap Between Training and Educating in Adult Learning”
- “Watch out for Shards from the Glass Ceiling: A Study of Women Higher Educational Administrators’ Leadership Development Experiences”
Another common issue is the fact that full-time students often have limited time to devote to writing their dissertation; they are often forced to juggle employment, study for their classes and prepare for their exams, all whilst writing their dissertation. Fortunately, there are several guidelines that will help you with choose a suitable dissertation title, regardless of whether you are an undergraduate or graduate student.
Deciding on a suitable thesis title
Choose a Relevant Dissertation Topic
Before you even begin to draft an outline or conduct research for your dissertation, you must choose a suitable proposal title. One of the most effective methods is to limit the subject area to one relevant to your particular degree. For example, if you are an MBA student, you will want to choose a thesis topic that relates to management and business practices. This will enable you to devise the most interesting and suitable thesis title.
Choose an interesting dissertation topic
A very common mistake students make when deciding on a dissertation title is to choose one that they don’t find interesting. This may appear to be a very obvious guideline, but you would be surprised at the number of students who choose a dissertation topic they feel would be interesting to their tutor, but not themselves. If you are not passionate about the subject matter, you will find it much more difficult to write your dissertation. Your disinterest will also quickly become apparent to the reader once they begin reading your academic paper. On the other hand, if you choose a thesis topic that truly interests you, you will find it much easier to remain motivated throughout the process of writing your dissertation.
Choose a manageable dissertation topic
Since you are the person who will have to conduct all the research for your paper, it is important that you choose a dissertation topic or title that makes you feel both comfortable and confident. Don’t make the common mistake of choosing a difficult thesis topic that you believe will earn you additional marks despite the fact that you have no interest in the topic. Your final grade will suffer if you do so. The main goal is to ensure that your thesis title reflects a level of difficulty that is appropriate to your experience and skill set.
Choose a familiar dissertation topic
You should also choose a proposal title with which you are already knowledgeable. It will become unnecessarily difficult to write a thesis about a completely foreign topic. One helpful tip is to conduct research on a dissertation topic that may prove helpful in your future career. This will ensure you remain interested in the topic, and it may also help you gain employment once you have completed your degree.
Choose a challenging dissertation topic
Another element of choosing a good dissertation topic is to choose a challenging subject that poses a complex question, which needs to be answered in a number of ways. Many students choose a thesis title that is merely descriptive. Unfortunately, this will not merit a passing grade, as you must be able to include both positive and negative arguments within your dissertation. You can choose to adopt one side of the argument within the conclusion of the document.
In addition, you must be able to answer the question. If there is insufficient data available or the question is too difficult, you will fail to accomplish this task. This is often the principal cause of failing a dissertations. Just be sure that sufficient resources exist for your particular thesis topic. There is no point choosing a dissertation title for which only out-of-print books or outdated information will become your available research material.
Choose a current dissertation topic
A good dissertation topic is also one that is current. The academic world is constantly presenting new research and information, so you should choose a dissertation title that reflects the world today. There is no point choosing a dissertation title that is no longer relevant. You may also have trouble finding current resources for an outdated topic.
Choose an original dissertation topic
Many students believe they have to create a completely new dissertation topic, which is certainly not the case. You may be able to approach an existing topic with a new perspective. Originality can still be maintained if you choose to alter your angle of vision or switch the emphasis of a previous dissertation topic. If you are unsure of the originality of your proposed thesis title, discuss it with your tutor or supervisor.
Other ways to choose a dissertation title
There are many methods you can utilise to help you create a good dissertation topic. One option is to reflect on current issues discussed during your programme that you and the reader would find interesting to address. Reviewing previous dissertations can also prove very helpful; you may be able to identify any gaps in previous documents and expand on them when you choose your particular dissertation title.
In addition, you can create a list of all your favorite authors or books or review some of the academic papers you have written that earned you the highest grade. You may begin to notice an emerging trend that can help you formulate an appropriate dissertation topic. Industry journals and magazines are another effective resource that can help you create a current and relevant dissertation topic that is related to your field of study.
Narrow your subject area
Once you have narrowed down your subject area, you can decide whether you prefer to choose a specific or more general topic within that field. The next step involves further narrowing down the subject matter. It is often very helpful to take note of several questions that you will attempt to answer in your dissertation. As you begin to increase the number of questions, you will soon notice a main question continues to emerge. You should focus on this principal question as your dissertation title.
Simplify your subject
When you have decided on a good dissertation topic, you should simplify it. Many students choose an overly ambitious topic that becomes too difficult to answer. A more effective approach is to expand on a simple idea by reviewing both sides of a particular argument. However, you should be careful not to choose a dissertation topic that is too narrow, as it will make the research much more difficult, if not impossible, to complete.
Seek advice from your tutors
Another common mistake students make when choosing a dissertation topic is failing to choose a suitable tutor. The relationship between you and these individuals is very important so you should look for someone who is approachable, knowledgeable about your particular dissertation topic, and most importantly, available to meet with you. Your tutor should have a solid grasp of the subject material you are proposing, and will be willing to assist you throughout the process of writing your dissertation. This is why it is imperative you choose your tutor carefully, if you are given a choice.
Finding a suitable tutor
You can often find a suitable tutor who can help you choose a dissertation title by searching your university’s website or talking to professors who have conducted research in your particular area of interest. If you’re having trouble choosing a suitable topic, meet with your tutor to obtain helpful advice and guidance. You can discuss more than one thesis topic until you are able to find the most suitable choice. Be prepared to present valid arguments for your choices. You should also confirm whether the dissertation topic you have chosen is suitable if you wish to obtain a first-class distinction.
Changing your Dissertation Title
Throughout the process of writing your dissertation, you may end up changing or revising your dissertation title. This is perfectly acceptable, as you may encounter new challenges and information that warrants a change in your initial topic. Students often mistakenly believe they must continue with the original dissertation title they devised. Whilst this is not the case, it is important to stick with your original topic.
Determining your preferred research method
Once you have chosen a good dissertation topic, you must decide which research method you will utilise to present your arguments. The method will formulate the manner in which you approach your particular thesis topic. You have a choice of conducting primary or secondary research, the latter being a fast and inexpensive way of obtaining relevant data.
Primary and secondary research
Secondary research can also be more accurate than primary data, although primary data is more popular and is designed to help you solve the current problem addressed by your dissertation topic. Primary research is more time-consuming and requires more planning than secondary research, so you need to ensure you have sufficient time available to conduct the necessary tasks. Action research, focus groups, questionnaires, one-on-one interviews, project methods and protocol analysis are just some of the methods you can use for collecting primary data.
You can choose to adopt a case study method, especially if you feel uncomfortable with conducting a quantitative analysis or if there is insufficient data available. Talk to your tutor about your chosen method, as your university may favour a particular approach. One particular method may also simplify your task of conducting research and writing your dissertation. If you are unfamiliar or have little experience conducting quantitative research, you can utilise a statistical package. This program can help you interpret and perform statistical analysis.
Remember that choosing a good dissertation topic involves finding a current topic that you find interesting, and can be effectively argued. Be sure sufficient resources exist to help you conduct the appropriate research, and choose a simple topic upon which you can expand. Your goal is to choose a thesis title that is challenging, but not so difficult that you will have problems conducting the required research. You want to find a dissertation topic that is relevant to your field of studies, and with which you are confident and knowledgeable.
You should also carefully choose a tutor who is very familiar with your particular subject area, as it will make the process of choosing a suitable proposal topic much easier. If you feel comfortable and well informed about your chosen dissertation title, you will have a much better chance of obtaining a high final grade.
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