Most students get a choice over their dissertation/project topic and while it is exciting to have the freedom to choose a topic that really interests you, the options can seem so endless that it can be difficult to know where to begin. A good dissertation topic should:

Your topic should attempt to research a gap in knowledge about your subject; shed light on existing knowledge by looking at it in a new way or attempt to solve a problem. You can only start to define what that gap or problem might be by reading around your topic and seeing what has already been done.

Your topic should not have an obvious answer and needs to present a significant enough challenge to be interesting to you and the marker. However, the point of asking a question is to find an answer. You should be able to draw conclusions from your dissertation which could include offering solutions to a problem, critiquing existing knowledge or revealing insights into an under-explored topic.

It is easier and more enjoyable to work independently on a long piece of work if you are interested in the subject and where the research involves activities you enjoy. Think back to the topics covered in your course so far – what issues inspired you to read more? What aspects of your subject do you care about? What would be useful knowledge and experience for your future career? If you are creative in your thinking, it is also possible to relate these academic interests to your personal interests.

It might seem as if you have a lot of time to complete your dissertation but there are a number of tasks involved that can take longer than you think. It is important to pick a topic that is specific and manageable enough to be answerable in the timeframe. Consider whether you have access to what you need to complete the research – this could include the co-operation of individuals/organisation essential to your project or access to documents or specialist equipment.

Your topic should be clear and concise enough to easily explain to others. A precise, well thought out and fully articulated sentence, understandable by everyone, should clearly be able to explain what the problem to be investigated is.

This advice was adapted from:

Walliman, N. (2004) The Undergraduate Dissertation: The Essential Guide for Success. London: Sage.

Video advice from students and lecturers from Brunel University on what makes a good dissertation topic: