How to Select a Topic for a Thesis Dissertation, or a Research Paper

Architecture: Word Cloud

For most of those who are new to academic research, the process of zeroing–in on a Topic of Research can quickly get confusing and daunting. Here are six steps to a more focused and happy outcome:

1. Identify a Broad Area that Holds your Greatest Interest, or which you feel Most Sympathetic Towards

Drive Your Focus on the Topic

  • by Geographic Area
  • by Culture or sub-culture
  • by Timeframe
  • by Discipline, or Speciality (Sustainability/ Green Building, Adaptive Reuse, Biomimicry, etc)
  • by Demographic group (such as: Gender, or a socio-economic group)

For a more focused approach, remember that broad and interdisciplinary topics can become too much to research — you may become overwhelmed with lots of extraneous or superficial information. Consider whether you can afford the requisite resources, or the time needed to sift through a vast body of data, most of which may not be directly relevant to your research. Do you have the guidance of a good mentor who can dedicate the time and mental faculties to help you successfully wade through this?

2. Make a List of Useful Keywords”

Which are the terms you encounter most when a discussion of you topic of interest comes up? Make a list. Examples include: Sustainability, Rammed Earth building, Vernacular, Regionalism, Charles Correa, Biomimicry, Santiago Calatrava, etc.

Here’s an interesting read from ArchDaily: 150 Weird Words That Only Architects Use

3. Try to Define the Topic as a Focused Research Question”

For example:

  • IDEAS: Vernacular Architecture, Sustainability, Nature Resorts
  • RESEARCH QUESTIONS: Do vernacular forms of construction align better with principles of Sustainability? Is vernacular architecture relevant in modern design?
  • FOCUSED RESEARCH QUESTION: What sustainable design principles from Vernacular architecture can be used in the design of contemporary Nature Resorts?

4. Research and Read more

Use the keywords” that you have shortlisted previously to generate your initial research, which in turn will allow you to further add to, remove from, and fine-tune your keywords list.

5. Create a Design to answer the Research Questions

6. Write down your Research

Every step of the way, keep structured notes of your research, the keywords, data sources, extracts, your observations, and your thought processes. These will eventually become the backbone of your research paper, or dissertation.

Diagram: Starting the Research Process
Starting the Research Process. Source: Scribd

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