If you’re writing a thesis in either the hard or soft sciences, you want to ensure that you’ve picked a topic that is feasible, interesting, and tailored to your particular talents as a researcher and a writer. But the sciences are a vast field, of course, and it can be challenging to focus in on one area, let alone to zero in on a particular topic or thesis question. Here’s a few tips on going about this process.
The process of selecting a thesis topic takes time, typically a few weeks or a month, though sometimes longer for graduate theses. The first few weeks of the process should involve compiling and reading a number of sources in a variety of fields. After you have compiled a number of sources, you should devote several weeks to a month to simply reading and making detailed notes about the research you have compiled. After this period is over, you should look back on your research and determine which areas of science you know the most about and have the most questions about moving forward. Following this, you should spend some time brainstorming hypothesis ideas.
Early on in the research process, you should determine which scientific area or areas you find the most compelling and the easiest to understand, and place more attention on those. Use web-based academic search engine such as Google Scholar, WorldCat, JSTOR, Science Magazine, or your library’s research archives to locate numerous articles, both recent and historical, on a variety of science phenomena. Read contemporary, popular press articles about science in your favorite newspapers or web magazines; pay attention to the headlines in Scientific American and Science, as well as medical journals.
After you have devoted several weeks to accruing and reviewing literature in a wide variety of scientific topics, take stock of your knowledge and your abilities. Which areas do you find the most interesting? Which articles were the easiest to read and comprehend? Which articles did you make the most notes and highlights on? If you have many questions and thoughts about a topic, it is probably fertile ground for future research.
After you have focused in on a topic or sub-area, collect more information that pertains solely to that topic. Spend some time reading up and learning even more about the topic, but also give yourself time to relax, think about other things, and day dream. Give your brain some time to consolidate all the information you’ve taken in, and form new hypotheses to test in your thesis.
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