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The biggest worry many doctoral candidates have is dissertation topic selection. In some cases a topic just comes naturally out of prior projects and coursework, but for most people it is a very large challenge. Why? A dissertation must be an original, substantial work that contributes to the field, and the topic chosen must support these requirements.
Selecting a topic is at the core of any dissertation project, because the topic is what drives the proposal, the prospectus, and dissertation. Not having a substantial, unique topic is what causes the ABD stalemate, since a candidate cannot proceed until the topic is identified. This causes frustration, procrastination, and the very real possibility of running out of time, making the entire dissertation process much more difficult.
However, there is a method proven to avoid the above problems.
Good project management dictates the first step in any project is to identify the project's scope, i.e., just what is involved and what has been done so far. Therefore, when starting a dissertation project, the first goal should be to assess the current state of research in your field. At this stage, you should forget about "conceptual plans", "pre-proposals", and similar complex issues. The best way to get started with a dissertation is to first select a broad study or SUBJECT area that interests you (very important) and is also pertinent to your degree. The subject area must be of strong interest to you, because you will be working with it for quite some time.
Once the subject has been selected you can now start a preliminary search for information pertinent to that subject, in an effort to narrow things down to a specific problem or question. It is that narrowly defined problem or question that will become your dissertation topic.
- NOTE: A subject area is not a dissertation topic at this point. It is a broad area in which you have strong interest, a starting point to begin the search for your dissertation topic. A good example would be "how the internet impacts business". This is much too general to be addressed by a dissertation, but it could be of strong interest to you and many other people.
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