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Finding the topic of your doctoral dissertation

The development of a good topic for a doctoral dissertation is not an easy task. You should start from your interests and qualifications: Which field of research do you find interesting? In what field do you already have broad knowledge? You should also pay attention to the following criteria:

  • The topic of your dissertation should be connected to current research debates. Pay therefore attention to the questions that have been debated within the field of your research during the last years. What positions have been defended, and what are the most important works in this debate?
  • The dissertation must be innovative within the current research debate: It should add a new aspect to the debate, cover new research material, apply a new method or develop new arguments for a certain position.
  • It must be possible to finish the research on your topic within three years. Therefore, the topic has to be well distinguished from related, but different topics and questions. The amount of material on which you plan to work must be selected accordingly, and the methods you plan to use must be such that you will get substantial results within three years.
  • The topic should have potential to remain interesting in several years.

In order to decide whether these criteria are fulfilled, you should repeatedly ask other researchers with expertise in your field for comments on your plans, starting at an early stage of your reflections. You should of course ask your supervisor for comments, but you may get further valuable comments from advanced doctoral students and other professors. Discuss your ideas as early and as much as possible and work on your topic until you have developed a detailed and well thought-out plan for your dissertation. Often writing a research proposal will help you to make your ideas more precise and know your topic better.