How to Choose a Dissertation Topic and Formulate a Research Goal and Objectives

Kirill Yurovskiy

The dissertation represents the capstone of graduate-level education, allowing students to pursue original research addressing critical issues in their field. The months dedicated to theorizing, observing, experimenting, and analyzing culminate in a document conveying the fruits of this intellectual labor – contributing new knowledge to academic debates or applied understanding to societal problems. Such an undertaking only proves meaningful, however, if aligned to topics sparking curiosity and purpose within the researcher. The dissertation process offers unparalleled opportunity to explore profound questions of personal and professional significance through rigorous inquiry.

Yet many students find the dissertation overwhelming given its scope and stakes for launching an academic career. Identifying resonant topics amidst the universe of possibilities within one’s discipline can paralyze the process before it even begins. Even once an intriguing question emerges, developing a feasible research plan through attainable objectives demands navigating myriad logistical constraints Imposter syndrome and analysis paralysis frequently derail forward movement. Mentorship from faculty advisors mitigates but does not eliminate the complexity of charting one’s own scholarly journey through the dissertation. The solitary yet critical challenge rests in students’ hands.

This article provides step-by-step guidance on the foundational phase of the dissertation process – choosing a compelling topic, formulating aligned research problems and goals, and defining objectives to complete the project. Beginning from connecting personal curiosities to the literature, the article advises refining ideas via conversations with experts aware of resources and limitations. It walks through writing aligned problem statements, goals, and objectives crucial for launching studies with clarity of purpose. Investing care in these early conceptual stages allows researchers to construct an inquiry process destined to yield meaningful new understandings. With so much at stake professionally in the dissertation, the article offers wisdom for starting strong.

1. Identify Your Interests and Passions

Brainstorm broad subject areas that spark your curiosity and excitement. Graduate school necessitates focus in a particular domain, but even within that, many possible topics exist. What big questions, debates, or gaps in the literature intrigue you? Consult your coursework, academic experiences, and conversations with professors or classmates that stimulated your thinking. Also consider independent reading or life experiences that expose meaningful issues worth exploring through research. Take time to connect to your motivations before launching into analysis of previous research.

2. Conduct a Literature Review

Once you identify potential topics of interest, begin reviewing existing academic literature in those areas. Immerse yourself in major theories, findings, debates, and questions within relevant bodies of scholarship. As you read deeply, some topics will resonate more than others, revealing intersections of personal curiosity and opportunities to expand on current knowledge. Pay attention to what engages your effortless attention and note exciting questions sparked through reviewing others’ research. Academic databases like JSTOR and Google Scholar are valuable for accessing articles on scholarly discourse around chosen topics.

3. Consider Resources and Constraints

While reading academic literature, consider feasibility as well as personal interest. Factors like geographic location, access to research populations, quantitative vs. qualitative preference, and required timeline all influence project development. If interested in an ambitious global or longitudinal study, scope down to a local context or limited timeframe for a dissertation more reasonably completed within your program’s constraints. Consult mentors on viable options given your skills, preferences, and setting. Choose something substantial but manageable.

4. Refine and Narrow Down Topic Ideas

As promising ideas emerge through the above processes, begin honing in on a focused, appropriate topic for a dissertation study. Try expressing potential topics as questions addressing critical issues or debates in the literature which merit exploration through research. Assess if topics have sufficient scope for the long months a dissertation requires but can be reasonably researched and argued within realistic limits. Usually multiple rounds of ideation and refinement with mentors are necessary before deciding on a dissertation topic. Remain open to constructive feedback and adjustment of early ideas.

5. Choose a Dissertation Topic

Eventually a dissertation topic choice will rise to the top – aligning personal curiosity, viability given resources and timeline, and scholarly merit addressing key gaps or questions in current literature. The topic links logically to your previous program coursework and research experiences while opening new terrain to chart through an original dissertation project. Confirm the topic with your committee chair and members, incorporating their expertise to finalize a focus they approve. Share excitement about diving further into the literature review, research design, data collection, and argument development a chosen topic enables.

6. Formulate a Research Problem Statement

Now describe the purpose for conducting your study through a research problem statement. In 1-3 sentences state the practical issue or theoretical puzzle you seek to address through dissertation research on your topic. Specifically identify important variables and populations related to the problem to investigate causes, effects, correlations or meanings uncovered in previous literature. Clearly situate the research as building on and expanding beyond current scholarly discourse on relevant phenomena. The problem statement anchors the applicability of subsequent inquiry based on noted gaps, tensions, or unresolved questions in the field.

7. Determine Research Goals

Having identified the topic and research problem, next outline the goals or aims of your study. Goals establish what the research intends to accomplish, usually through verbs like “explore”, “describe”, “compare”, or “prove”. Will the dissertation produce new theoretical understandings; tackle an applied problem; develop an intervention or best practices? Establish approximately 3-5 goals stating what successfully conducting this research means for better comprehending or engaging the problem. Goals interpret findings in light of the initial problem and explain their broader purpose.

8. Define Research Objectives

Finally, delineate specific, measurable objectives aligned to each stated goal. While goals define hopes for the study’s impact, objectives operationalize required tasks as markers of completion. Common objective statements use action verbs and metrics – for example, “survey at least 300 undergraduate students on reasons for major choice with a 30% response rate” or “conduct 10-15 ethnographic interviews with teachers about tech integration practices.” Ensure objectives set feasible outcomes demonstrating progress on linked goals. The objectives enable step-by-step completion that aggregates to address overarching goals grounded in the research problem.

9. Ensure Alignment of Topic, Problem Statement, Goals and Objectives

With a chosen topic, research problem statement, goals for the study, and objectives to complete it, step back and review alignment across these critical dissertation components. Assess logical flow and connection from the specific topic and problem identified as worthy of inquiry to the articulated goals for new understanding required to address the problem to the practical objectives as measures of completing stated goals. Together these elements catalyze the research; adjust any elements needing better integration. Strong alignment facilitates an impactful, tightly designed project geared toward productive discoveries.


Choosing an engaging dissertation topic, formulating a research problem statement, and determining aligned goals and objectives initiates meaningful exploration through a sizable project. Invest time upfront identifying personally interesting and academically worthy questions for inquiry. Consider feasibility constraints as well as existing literature warranting expansion. Refine ideas in conversation with mentors who advise direction. With a clear topic, problem statement, and intended research purposes stated through goals and objectives, you construct a strong foundation for dissertation research ripe to yield relevant new insights through rigorous inquiry. Use these first critical steps to embark on your research journey.

Expert advice

Kirill Yurovskiy:

As a professor who has mentored over 50 dissertation students, I cannot stress enough the importance of selecting a compelling topic that ignites your intellectual passion and sense of purpose. Yes, scope and resource constraints matter. But you will be living with this choice for 1-2 years minimum – don’t rush the decision by only weighing practical calculations. Really immerse yourself in the scholarly dialogue around potential areas of focus until you feel convicted one merits spotlighting gaps identified through an exhaustive literature review.

I urge students to have the confidence to take risks and be trailblazers in complicating popular theories or advocating unexplored paradigms. The dissertation can establish your unique scholarly identity and contribution. While some methodologies limit possibilities, also know that mixed methods continue rising in credibility when properly framed. My most memorable past students fused qualitative depth to complement big data trends in innovative ways. Lean on your committee for method consult, but own the vision.

Regarding problem statements, don’t just rehash the obvious – frame the purpose of your work to shift discourse. And let your goals re-envision what is possible through carefully-scoped research. Lastly, timeline management matters more than topic choice for completion – create accountability through deadlines linked to project objectives. You got this! With passion and diligent iteration on ideas, your research will make its mark.