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Northcentral University Dissertation Center

Dissertation topics are a special subset of research topics. All of the previously mentioned techniques can, and should, be utilized to locate potential dissertation topics, but there are also some special considerations to keep in mind when choosing a dissertation topic.

The Northcentral University Dissertation Handbook describes an appropriate dissertation topic as one that is interesting, feasible, relevant, and worthy.  You can read more about each of these considerations in the Doctoral Candidacy Resource Guide (available on the Dissertation Center website).

The criterion of feasibility is especially important when choosing a dissertation topic. You don’t want to settle on a topic and then find out that the study you were imagining can’t be done, or the survey or assessment instrument you need can’t be used. You also want to make sure that you select a topic that will allow you to be an objective researcher. If you select a topic that you have worked closely on for many years, make sure you are still open to new information, even if that information runs counter what you believe to be true about the topic. It is very important to think about these considerations beforehand so that you don’t get stuck during the dissertation process. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when choosing a dissertation topic:

Note that published surveys and assessment instruments are generally NOT free. Due to copyright laws you will more than likely need to purchase the survey from the publisher in order to gain permissions to use in your own study. Unpublished surveys and assessments (usually found in the appendices of articles) may be freely available, but you will need to contact the author(s) to gain permission to use the survey in your research.

Looking at previously published dissertations is a great way to gauge the level of research and involvement that is generally expected at the dissertation level. Previously published dissertations can also be good sources of inspiration for your own dissertation study. Similar to scholarly articles, many dissertations will suggest areas of future research. Paying attention to those suggestions can provide valuable ideas and clues for your own dissertation topic. Note that dissertations are not considered to be peer-reviewed documents, so carefully review and evaluate the information presented in them.

The literature review section in a dissertation contains a wealth of information. Not only can the literature review provide topic ideas by showing some of the major research that has been done on a topic, but it can also help you evaluate any topics that you are tentatively considering. From your examination of literature reviews can you determine if your research idea has already been completed? Has the theory that validates your study been disproved by new dissertation research? Is your research idea still relevant to the current state of the discipline? Literature reviews can help you answer these questions by providing a compact and summative description of a particular research area.

You may find it difficult to find scholarly articles, and books in which your hypothesis is directly addressed. If so, then expand your search to theories and variables that are related, but not directly so. No matter how specific or elusive your topic is, there is research out there that is relevant, so keep looking. Look for resources that address one or two of the variables in your study, theories that are either directly or indirectly related, as well as research that relates specifically to the population of interest. By focusing on resources that address different parts of your research topic, you can combine this information in a way that is directly applicable.

The sub-pages in this section provide resources for your Dissertation Research.

Additional Resources:

I could have pursued my Ph.D. anywhere. I attended elite schools for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, and my GPAs were always high. Cost and future employment prospects are not major concerns for me. Convenience and ease to complete courses on my schedule were paramount. The reputation of the institution was not as important because of my current profession and employment stability. If I were younger, looking to launch a career change, or switching to a new employer, reputation would be a bigger concern. NCU is appropriate for the self-motivated, self-directed, self-learner. It is not for the student dependent on regular, face-to-face instruction, academic advising, or tutoring. NCU is for students who know what they want to study; know how to manage time, workload, and personal life; and have strong study skills, writing proficiency, and critical thinking. A Ph.D. is not for everyone, and if a student needs a traditional, brick & mortar institution, NCU is not a good fit. NCU was a good fit for me, and I am very pleased with my experience. I worked with very competent, knowledgeable academic and financial advisors. All but one instructor were first-class. Some instructors were very personable, and I would consider them my mentors, equals, and friends. NCU is accredited, and that is very important to anyone looking to transfer credits and receive federal financial assistance. NCU is fully online and is one of a growing list of online undergraduate and graduate programs. Some have more name recognition, but NCU has a similar approach to online instruction. NCU has a valuable library and research resources. Tutoring services work well if the student plans ahead, schedules sessions in advance, and is prepared to use tutors as intended - not to have tutors do the work for the student. After reading some NCU dissertations, a prospective doctoral student will discover there is rigor and the research contributes to the Academy.

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