Choosing Your Topic

You may have a clear idea of the topic you wish to investigate. However, if you are struggling to think of something, ask yourself the sequence of questions below.

Which part of your degree interests you the most and why?

E.g. local history, because I feel close to the people of the area in which I live.

Now you have identified the subject area you are interested in, can you think of an issue which could be explored effectively?

E.g. the role of women in the growth of trade unions in the cotton mills of Bolton.

Will this issue be sufficiently academic to engage both you and your examiner?

Hopefully, if you include evidence from relevant primary sources. You may wish to carry out a preliminary literature review to explore existing work on the topic.

Can you now pose a question based on the above?

This will be the basis of the title of your dissertation.

E.g. how effective were women in influencing the growth of the Trade Union movement in Bolton before the Great War?

If you are still unsure, try thinking about the following approaches:

Choose a theory relevant to your subject area and explore its significance.

E.g. are Talcott Parsons’ theories of the family still relevant in the 21st Century?

Compare your subject with something else happening at the same time or with something that is similar in nature.

E.g. which was the most influential in the improvement of the daily lives of the Lancashire mill workers in the early 20th century; the Trade Union movement or the Co-operative movement?

Re-evaluate existing research.

E.g. has Britain moved closer to Young and Willmott’s ‘symmetrical family’ in the last thirty years?

Address a topical issue or problem and discuss what the implications are or how they can be resolved.

E.g. to what extent is binge drinking a modern disease and is current legislation adequate to deal with the problem?

 

Once you have thought of some possible topics you can then brainstorm for ideas. Discard any ideas or options that you feel would be unsuitable or too narrow/broad to develop. Pattern Notes are useful for developing ideas.

Setting Aims And Objectives

The requirements for setting aims and objectives and where you present them will vary according to academic discipline. Use the information below to guide you, but make sure you complete your work in accordance with the guidelines given by your supervisor.

Aims and objectives may be required at various points in the dissertation process, such as the research proposal or the dissertation introduction or they may be required by your supervisor before you are given approval to begin your planned investigation.

There is sometimes confusion between aims and objectives.

 

Aims and Objectives in Broad Terms

Aims are what you hope to achieve by the end of your dissertation. They should be clear and concise statements, but expressed in general terms.  

Objectives are how you intend to achieve those aims. They will include the specific means of answering the research question that you have posed and details of the key issues involved.

 

It can be difficult to develop realistic research objectives. There are common pitfalls such as the scope being too broad, not including enough detail, being too simplistic, being too ambitious, etc. 

Use these S.M.A.R.T. guidelines to try and develop your objectives:

  • Specific – avoid general statements, include detail about what you are going to do.
  • Measureable – there should be a definable outcome.
  • Achievable – be realistic in what you hope to cover, don’t attempt too much. A less ambitious but completed objective is better than an over-ambitious one that you cannot possible achieve.
  • Realistic – think about logistics. Are you practically able to do what you wish to do? Factors to consider include: time; expense; skills; access to sensitive information; participant’s consent; etc.
  • Time constrained – be aware of the time-frame of the project.   

 

Example

Title

An investigation into the student use of e-books at Bolton University.

Aims

Many academic libraries have expanded their library provision by the acquisition of e-books. Despite this strategic direction, the literature reveals that relatively little is known about student perceptions and attitudes towards e-books. Consequently, this research aims to narrow this research gap and conduct empirical research into student perceptions towards e-books and their frequency of use. The results will be used to provide recommendations to library management to improve the quality of service provision regarding e-books.

Research Objectives.

The above aim will be accomplished by fulfilling the following research objectives:

1. Review the literature concerning the student uptake and experience of e-books in academic libraries.

2. Investigate perceptions and attitudes towards e-books and the usage of e-books at the University of Bolton.

3. Compare usage statistics between various user-groups, e.g. full-time, part-time, course type, etc.

4. Identify if any improvements or alterations are required to facilitate a high service quality provision in relation to the e-books service at Bolton University library.