Relevance of Your Dissertation Topic | Criteria & Tips

A relevant dissertation topic means that your research will contribute something worthwhile to your field in a scientific, social, or practical way.

As you plan out your dissertation process, make sure that you’re writing something that is important and interesting to you personally, as well as appropriate within your field.

If you’re a bit stuck on where to begin, consider framing your questions in terms of their relevance: scientifically to your discipline, socially to the world at large, or practically to an industry or organisation.

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Scientific relevance

If you are studying hard or social sciences, the scientific relevance of your dissertation is crucial. Your research should fill a gap in existing scientific knowledge, something that hasn’t been extensively studied before.

One way to find a relevant topic is to look at the recommendations for follow-up studies that are made in existing scientific articles and the works they cite. From there, you can pursue quantitative research, statistical analyses, or the relevant methodology for the type of research you choose to undertake.

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Social and practical relevance

Most theses are required to have social relevance, which basically means that they help us to better understand society. These can use ethnographies, interviews, or other types of field work to collect data

However, in some disciplines it may be more important that a dissertation have practical relevance. Research that has practical relevance adds value. For instance, it could make a recommendation for a particular industry or suggest ways to improve certain processes within an organisation.

Frequently asked questions about relevance

How do I know I have a good main research question?

Formulating a main research question can be a difficult task. Overall, your question should contribute to solving the problem that you have defined in your problem statement.

However, it should also fulfill criteria in three main areas:

  1. Researchability
  2. Feasibility and specificity
  3. Relevance and originality
How do I write questions to ask for research?

All research questions should be:

  • Focused on a single problem or issue
  • Researchable using primary and/or secondary sources
  • Feasible to answer within the timeframe and practical constraints
  • Specific enough to answer thoroughly
  • Complex enough to develop the answer over the space of a paper or thesis
  • Relevant to your field of study and/or society more broadly
Writing Strong Research Questions
How do I assess information critically?

You can assess information and arguments critically by asking certain questions about the source. You can use the CRAAP test, focusing on the currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose of a source of information.

Ask questions such as:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert?
  • Why did the author publish it? What is their motivation?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence?
What is a dissertation prospectus?

A dissertation prospectus or proposal describes what or who you plan to research for your dissertation. It delves into why, when, where, and how you will do your research, as well as helps you choose a type of research to pursue. You should also determine whether you plan to pursue qualitative or quantitative methods and what your research design will look like.

It should outline all of the decisions you have taken about your project, from your dissertation topic to your hypotheses and research objectives, ready to be approved by your supervisor or committee.

Note that some departments require a defense component, where you present your prospectus to your committee orally.

What is a thesis or dissertation outline?

A thesis or dissertation outline is one of the most critical first steps in your writing process. It helps you to lay out and organise your ideas and can provide you with a roadmap for deciding what kind of research you’d like to undertake.

Generally, an outline contains information on the different sections included in your thesis or dissertation, such as:

  • Your anticipated title
  • Your abstract
  • Your chapters (sometimes subdivided into further topics like literature review, research methods, avenues for future research, etc.)

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Sarah Vinz

Sarah's academic background includes a Master of Arts in English, a Master of International Affairs degree, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. She loves the challenge of finding the perfect formulation or wording and derives much satisfaction from helping students take their academic writing up a notch.