How do I Come up with Dissertation Ideas?

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  • Written By: C. K. Lanz
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 13 December 2019
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Coming up with dissertation ideas often requires a good deal of research, legwork and thought before the list of possibilities can be culled and the final theme formed into a formal proposal and the eventual doctoral thesis. Keeping a list of ideas while studying or reading is a practical and simple way to generate many possibilities that can be evaluated later on. These possible topics can then be shared with other graduate students, academic advisers and professors who may help refine an idea, select those topics with the greatest possibility of contributing to a given academic field or suggest additional research.

The basis of promising dissertation ideas can include the work of a favorite author or intellectual, a particular historical era or figure, a geographical region or nation, a language or a political, social, intellectual or artistic movement. Doctoral candidates typically complete several years of coursework prior to the dissertation phase that expose them to many different texts, perspectives and theoretical frameworks. Maintaining a list of unanswered questions, interesting texts and other academic issues encountered while taking graduate classes can provide a boon of possible topics later on.

Conversing with fellow students as well as professors can also help generate and even refine dissertation ideas. Professors are likely aware of useful bibliographies that can aid students who are trying to determine how to best approach an academic question. Exchanges with other graduate students may provide a different perspective or suggest additional texts or resources.


Any dissertation ideas should be as original as possible. Reviewing completed dissertations as well as published academic articles and books on a topic of interest can shed light on a new approach or novel avenue of research. A professor with similar research interests may also be a helpful guide to existing literature relating to specific dissertation ideas.

When narrowing the list of potential dissertation ideas, it is important to assess the researcher’s own amount of interest in a topic as well as the topic’s practicality and the overall contribution the work will make to a given academic field. Reviewing appropriate bibliography and sharing conclusions with an academic adviser or other professor can help determine a dissertation topic’s practicality and potential. The student’s personal interest in a particular topic is paramount since he or she will likely spend several years researching and writing it.

Flexibility can be crucial when generating and considering dissertation ideas. A doctoral thesis is a work in progress and the topic is frequently adjusted as the researcher is exposed to new information. If a student selects a dissertation topic prior to completing required coursework, it may be practical to enroll in courses that focus on the probable thesis topic.


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