UCL School of Management

Ashleigh Topping | 4 July 2024

Student Blog: How to Select Your Research Topic, Set Research Questions and Conduct a Literature Review

To support students during their final term at UCL School of Management, Student Journalist Ho Man Hee shares his top tips for dissertation writing.

As noted in my previous article, high-quality work often takes time, but the clock is certainly ticking. Hopefully by now, you will be roughly half-way through your dissertation and, for those who haven’t, I’ve compiled a list of my personal tips that might be helpful in getting you going.

choosing your research topic

Interest and passion: Interest is always a key factor that often leads to your passion and, consequently, the quality of your work. Your research topic should align with your interests. The thesis requires extensive research from the first step. If you choose a topic you are not really interested in, you will not enjoy the research process. Your curiosity will drive you to conduct an in-depth analysis.

Relevance and Significance: As mentioned in the previous column, select a topic that is related to your future development. Make the most use of your dissertation as a powerful tool to distinguish yourself. It is a valuable opportunity to enrich your knowledge in the area you really want to explore.

Feasibility: Never choose a topic with tight restrictions. For postgraduate students, the topic should not have data scope limitations and should not be too niche or too broad. Students are expected to manage their work well within time constraints.

Originality: Aim for originality, which is the most challenging element. Remember, students are expected to add original or innovative elements to their dissertations or business plans. It is worth spending some time on various scholarly platforms and taking advantage of those publications to create your own originality.

Setting Research Questions

The next step is to formulate research questions. These questions guide your investigation and frame the direction of your study.

Clarity and Precision: Setting clear and precise research questions helps avoid common mistakes. A well-defined question narrows your focus and maintains a structured approach.

Specificity: Specific questions highlight the analysis perspective. Students should address particular aspects, such as the target audience, for further in-depth examination in the upcoming parts.

Researchable and Practical: Research questions must be answered through qualitative or quantitative methodology. This is the first part for researchers to gain insights from data analysis and literature review. Ensure that the research questions align with the subsequent parts.

Conducting a Literature Review

Generally, the literature review is vital to understanding the current level of knowledge and understanding on your topic. In the literature review, students are expected to highlight research gaps and potential areas for further exploration.

Comprehensive Search: Utilise a wide range of sources such as academic journals, books, conference papers, and reputable online databases. Use effective keywords related to your topic to save time finding relevant literature. This process is essential because a poor literature review often harms the subsequent parts (theoretical framework, research design, and methodology).

Critical Analysis: Use your own critical analysis to review each piece of literature. Previous researchers can make wrong conclusions even after conducting literature reviews, analyses, or experiments. In the academic world, especially in the sciences, this sometimes happens. Do not just reference existing research. Students are responsible for critically analysing the methodologies, findings, and conclusions of each literature review to identify strengths, weaknesses, and biases. This helps in identifying research gaps, trends, patterns, debates, and controversies in the theme.

Identify Gaps and Opportunities: Once you find any limitations or insufficient research areas, you can use them as research gaps to formulate a theoretical framework and conduct an in-depth analysis.

How to Develop a High-Quality Theoretical Framework

After completing the literature review, you are expected to define the theoretical framework, which can differ from existing formulas or be a “re-defined” theoretical framework for your research. The first step is to select relevant theories: choosing theories and models that are relevant to your research questions. Students are responsible for building models and diagrams to illustrate the correlation between concepts and variables.

After that, the theoretical framework usually integrates with your research design and methodology, including hypotheses and research questions. Then, students should demonstrate the rationale of the framework to formulate their particular hypotheses and research questions. Of course, you need to understand the limitations and strengths of the framework before choosing the appropriate theoretical framework.

conclusion

To sum up, choosing a good research topic, setting clear and precise research questions, conducting an in-depth literature review, and formulating a theoretical framework are crucial steps in the research process. Stay tuned for past 2 of Ho Man Hee’s tips on dissertation writing.

Please note: Ho Man Hee is a current MSc student at UCL School of Management. If you have any questions surrounding your current dissertation project, please speak to your advisor.

Last updated Thursday, 4 July 2024