Selecting a perfect topic is an important and complex part of the research process. Doctoral students invariably look for the help and guidance while selecting a good research topic for their Ph.D thesis which is available at a premium. Hence, the idea to find a readymade topic has always been enticing. The motivation is to get away with the research work timely, gracefully and effortlessly.
I, really, do not understand how to handle such a situation when the students ask for a hackneyed topic. What I suggest is that there are no established rules for getting hold of a good research topic. A lot depends on the scholars own initiative, creativity, inspiration, insightfulness and energy.
The more I read, the more I realised that there is no mechanical way of solving this perplexing enigma briefly outlined in the “the 03 key challenges in selecting an interesting research topic”, this blog post shall provide some useful insight for the novice researchers stepping into this fascinating area.
Selecting a clichéd topic is the worst folly ever committed by the researchers. The idea is captivating but it is not without a price. Some of my friends are still struggling with their doctoral research who applied the readymade recipe.
I personally think it takes some decent amount of time to find “gaps” in the existing body of knowledge, to fill in and hence, selection of a research topic needs a great deal of homework. Some might find inspiration in his profession. Some might get insight into the academics and some might find inspiration in personalities. There are no hard and fast rules for it. Traditional guidelines may be helpful.
How did I select my research topic?
While pursuing my Ph.D. research, I had inspiration from my professional life. During the course of my professional career, extended over a decade and a half, I happened to come across numerous problems that demanded a scientific investigation. Initially, I chose a broader area in my field of specialization.
I started reading extensively about the area of my interest. I identified numerous gaps in the existing body of knowledge. At the very outset, I had a rough idea about those gaps but could not substantiate it with sufficient evidence from the literature. The more I read, the more I got refined my thoughts and the border area went on narrowing down, culminating in a research topic that sounded pretty convincing.
How can you select a good research topic?
The research scholars, essentially, are required to take the charge. At the undergraduate level, possibly, the supervisor or advisor may assign a specific topic to the scholars, or the scholars may become part of the research project of the supervisor so in that case, they need not to worry about it. However, most often instructors require them to select their own topics of interest. And this is, in fact, the most widely used approach-the rule of the thumb.
How to select a research topic of your interest?
The more literature I reviewed on the topic of my interest, the more I learnt, how important it is for the doctoral candidates to select a topic on their own. The authorities and experts in their respective fields always make a point that selection of a topic that interest the scholars does matter. It is the scholar, who is supposed to be responsible for his/her synopsis, research work, dissertation and public defence, hence, they should select their own topics with the utmost care and due diligence.
Necessary guidance ought to be taken from the supervisor, from time to time. However, the scholars should not select a topic blindly on the mere advice of a supervisor or a friend or colleague. There are numerous ways in which useful guidance can be found while choosing a research topic. For instance, any Ph.D thesis offers a rich source for potential topics, providing direction for future research, as per the tradition of other scholarly work. But these used to be broader areas and the scholars should refrain from selecting a topic recklessly.
How to go about selecting a research topic of your interest?
While choosing a topic, doctoral students should make a list of several probable topics of interest. They should reckon an array of areas that they have a remote interest in looking at it. They should write down these diversified broader areas on a piece of paper. They should finally choose the one that is intriguing. Then break down the broader subject area into smaller chunks of topics. Get down to the most suitable alternative. Discussion with the advisor has always been productive. Positive critique of the colleagues, mentors and academics should always be appreciated.
Narrowing down a broad research area
As the scholars proceed with the broader area, changes might be required on the way towards narrowing the area down. The final topic should be as narrow and focused as possible. This is a common practice but it is important that the scholars should have a broader area in mind to capitalize on.
Exploring the research frontiers
At times, many questions in the proposed area, to be pursued by the scholars, have already been answered or explored so exhaustively that it is nearly impossible to identify a topic or narrow down the area further. Contrary to this, there are often sets of questions that the leaders in the subject area (we call them authorities) have currently been struggling to find plausible answers to. These are fertile areas, “the research frontiers” for further exploration.
Exhibiting flexibility while selecting a research topic
The scholars should remain flexible while making a decision regarding the selection of a topic. They should always be open to suggestions, newfangled ideas and divergent opinions.
At the beginning of my Ph.D coursework, I picked a topic, reviewed piles of literature, read extensively about it and wrote one or two working papers on it. But later on, I changed my mind. I changed the course of my research direction, altogether while I was making the final selection of a topic for my Ph.D. thesis.
I did it with logic, sound justification and rational and the examiners were fully convinced. Novelty is crucial but the availability of reference material, rich literature and previous research work are crucially important.
While selecting a topic for PhD dissertation, the research scholars must undertake necessary brainstorming. I found discussion with the academic community, peer researchers and colleagues enormously useful. Elucidating the concepts to others has always been exceedingly beneficial in consolidating them in one’s own mind. My frequent and extensive discussion with the supervisors had always been stimulating.
Like anybody else, I always found tremendous help from the various search engines, particularly, Google. Attending conferences, seminars and workshops have been enriching in many ways.
The bottom line is that the PhD thesis topic, on the one hand, should be narrow and focused enough to be captivating and on the other, should be broad enough to be able to find sufficient literature on.
In the next blog, How to write an effective research proposal? necessary guidance has been provided for the novice research scholars to help them in writing a perfect research proposal.