Writing your dissertation - developing a research question

Posted in: Dissertations

Once you have shortlisted and selected your research topic, the next stage of the process is to sharpen, refine and define your topic, and identify a specific problem that is worthy of investigation. Here you need to set out:

  • the issue that you will investigate and why it is important to do so
  • the argument or thesis (what you want to prove, disprove, or explore)
  • the limits of your research (i.e. what you will not be investigating)

What's the problem?

It is vital that you establish your research problem as soon as possible. Your research problem is the anchor that keeps your research from drifting off course, and ensures your dissertation is moving in a logical and coherent direction.  When conducting your research reading and note-taking, you can then ask yourself, "Does this help me address the problem? If so, how and why?"

As you investigate the problem in more depth, you should always be open-minded and ready to revise, amend or change direction.  You might find for example that evidence is unavailable to support critical analysis, or new evidence points to another more serious or topical problem. You might discover that you start to question your own assumptions, your views, or your stance regarding the problem. If you are thinking about changing your focus or problem, you should always talk to your supervisor. She/he will advise on the best course of action.

In the example below, the student has refined and improved their initial research topic to create a highly effective research problem.

As you may have guessed, the research problem can then be used as the title of your dissertation.

Adapted from: https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ld/all-resources/writing/writing-resources/planning-and-conducting-a-dissertation-research-project

Posted in: Dissertations


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  • What if after trying to narrow the topic it losses its meaning?

    • Hi Adam,
      Tom here from The Skills Centre. Could you explain a little more?