One of the most daunting experiences while getting your doctorate is, without a doubt, choosing the topic for your dissertation. My best advice for this process is start thinking about this early – perhaps right after you are accepted into the doctoral program, and after you do a little pre research.
It is important to understand the types of research. The primary methods are quantitative and qualitative. The easiest way to think about the differences of these:
- Quantitative is quantities – think numbers and formulas.
- Qualitative is the quality of your writing.
While this is oversimplifying the entire process, it will help you consider with which style you are more comfortable with and what type of issue you will be addressing. You will go into a lot more depth of these and other research methods in your future classwork, but hopefully this will help you start thinking about your dissertation.
Choosing Your Topic
This is where the idea of pre-research becomes practical. I will never forget the advice of my committee chair when she said: this is not the time to begin brand new research. New research may take you a lot longer. Instead, save that new research for once you become a doctor and have time to plunge deeply into your passion. This advice helped me change from a topic on which I was struggling to find literature, to one with which I was more comfortable.
The section on literature review is a very important chapter in your dissertation. It is what develops the validity and understanding of your topic. If you can’t find previous research and acceptable journal articles on your topic, you will struggle with this; and it will certainly slow your process.
Focus on What Interests You
Another tip from experience: as you work on other course work, be cognizant of trends and topics that interest you. I stumbled upon my dissertation topic during a course on professional learning communities in the realm of education. Then I used this topic in other coursework so that I was building my understanding and literature reviews as I completed other assignments. I started a three-inch binder with topics and areas of my pre-research. This binder helped me organize my thoughts and lay out my literature review when I finally reached that point. After all, the whole point of writing your dissertation is that you become an expert on your topic.
My final word of advice is choose a topic for which you feel passionate. You are going to spend one or more years delving into this subject; if you don’t feel a connection, that time will be slow and tedious. On the other hand, if you have a connection with your topic, you will be more likely to enjoy your journey, as the time will pass more quickly, and you will receiving your doctoral hood before you know it!