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How To Distinguish A Good Topic From A Bad One

  1. Sources and Types of Research Problems
  2. Sources And Kinds Of Problems
  3. Sources And Kinds Of Problems 2
  4. Theories
  5. Applying theories
  6. Theories 2
  7. How To Distinguish A Good Topic From A Bad One
  8. Feasible methodology

We suggest nine criteria for judging the desirability of research problems.

Nine Criteria

The nine standards can be cast in the form of questions about your supervising committee, “true” research, the expected outcomes of your study, the feasibility of your methods, time constraints, skills and knowledge, equipment, personnel, and funding.

Committee approval

Do the members of your supervising committee approve of your proposed research problems?

When you submit your proposal to your major advisor and other committee members, it’s not sufficient to give them only a title or a question that your project is intended to answer. In addition, you need to offer a rationale telling why your problem is a good one and what methods you plan to use for gathering and analyzing your data. This synopsis furnishes the information the professors need to judge your proposal. (Ways to define your topic and support it with a rationale are described in Chapter 6.)

If any of your committee members consider your proposal unacceptable, you either need to change your problem or need to replace dissenting committee members with ones who approve of your topic.

The following standards are among those that faculty members typically include in judging the worth of thesis and dissertation topics.

True research

Is the task you propose for yourself really research, or is it something else?

As noted in Chapter 2, faculty members often differ in their worldviews. For instance, positivists and postmodernists can disagree vehemently over what constitutes suitable research topics and methods of investigation. Therefore, it is important that your definition of research coincides with that of the faculty members who supervise and evaluate your work.

Furthermore, students’ intentions, as reflected in how they phrase their project proposals, can suggest that they are not seeking an answer to a significant question but, rather, are trying to get readers to accept a belief that those students already cherish and wish to propagate. Such an intent can be implied when they introduce their project with such a phrase as “My purpose is to prove that. . . .” or “I will demonstrate that. . . .” or “This study will make it clear that. . . .” Therefore, if you know at the outset exactly what conclusions will be drawn at the end of your project, then the project qualifies as propagandizing or salesmanship rather than research.

Outcome significance

Will the outcomes of your research be considered significant by the readers for whom your project is intended?

A topic that you select may qualify as research, yet still not be considered a suitable thesis or dissertation problem. One reason is that the task you pose for yourself may be too simple, in that it fails to represent the complexity and level of expertise expected of a person who deserves a graduate degree.

A second reason is that the answer you hope to derive from your investigation appears to be insignificant, so readers’ would respond to your results with “So what”” or “Who cares”” Therefore, in originally presenting your topic, you are obliged to indicate for whom–and why–an answer to your research question is important.


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