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How to Find Your Thesis Topic

Are you one of those people starting their thesis seminar in the near future, maybe already in the next period? If you are, you have probably already started to think of interesting research topics. Whether you are about to write your Bachelor's or Master's thesis, this is probably the biggest academic undertaking you have had to tackle so far, so getting the right topic is important. However, just like your forthcoming thesis writing process, it should not be life-consuming. To help you out, here are some tips from a Master's thesis survivor, because yesit is possible. 

Think about your (research) interests
You might enter the first session of your thesis seminar afraid of being the only one without a topic idea. However, you probably still have ideas on what field you want to study or at least what you definitely do not want to study. Perhaps you were inspired by a recent course and want to do something related to that, maybe an extension of a previous coursework. For the best outcome, combine the topic with a personal interest of yours. For example, maybe you are a social scientist interested in studying people's perception of a societal issue, but you also like to watch vlogs on YouTube. Could you use vlogs or YouTube comments as data? 
 
Be prepared to learn a new method
Unless you are set on writing a paper on the method itself, your method is just a tool for answering your research questions. Choosing a method before the research question is putting the carriage before the horse. It is better to first decide on the topic: deciding on the method should be secondary. However, for this to work you might have to be prepared to learn at least the basics of the new method. For example, you might be more comfortable applying a qualitative method, but to meet your research questions, it might be useful to learn some basic statistical thinking and tools. Talk to your supervisor about whether you should apply a certain method—if they are not an expert, they can still help with finding literature or whom to ask for details.                                                                                     Image: Pexels
 
Remember the practical constraints
Good news: you will most likely only spend 7-12 months working on your thesis. No matter what topic you have picked, you will eventually be done with it and be ready to move on to new things. Bad news: you will most likely only have 7-12 months, and you should use your time accordingly. For example, you may not have time to do any fancy research designs with longitudinal interviews or experiments, and the more data you collect, the more time you will spend annotating it, playing with Excels, contacting copyright holders... before you even get to the analysis itself. Many research projects begin with a preliminary schedule for how long you might need for a certain phase, and it might be useful to draft one already at the beginning. It is okay to need an extended deadline, but try to go with a topic that can realistically be completed within the given timeframe. Also, remember that the page count you are aiming for cannot contain everything on the topic of your choice. Sooner or later (most likely sooner) you will have to limit the scope of your topic, perhaps by cutting down your research questions or focusing only on a sub-set of data. Again, a good supervisor should be able to guide you in this. Ultimately, however, it is up to you to make the final decision.
 
It is just a thesis
Even though the thesis grading rubric (which you really should read at some point) might contain buzz-words like innovative applications or increase the knowledge in the field, no one is expecting your thesis to actually change things in your field. "My topic is not very interesting," you might think. Your topic is interesting when you yourself find it interesting. If someone else in your research seminar class is working on a similar topic, do not think of it as a competition but as an opportunity to support each other, for example, by sharing the relevant literature or finding weaknesses in each other's data collection or research designs. Even if you plan on continuing in academia, your Master's thesis topic will not forever determine your specialization or even the topic of your PhD.