t’s that time of the year when MSc students around the world start thinking about their marketing dissertation topics. A few years ago I wrote a post on “How to choose a dissertation topic in marketing” for INYIYD. I decided to create an updated version of that post to give further advice to those having to write a dissertation in 2020.
1. Keep minding the gaps. One of the best advice that I ever got from my PhD supervisor was to focus on identifying the gaps first. You need to remember that this is an academic piece of work, and academics give significant importance to the contributions that your piece of work will make in terms of theory, context, and practice. To be able to make an excellent contribution, first, you need to identify research gaps in the literature (I’m sure your dissertation supervisor will keep pushing for those at many of your supervisory meetings). This by itself can be a daunting process, and that’s why I created a list of sources that I think can be helpful to get you in the right mindset. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, and maybe none of the topics mentioned here make you feel particularly passionate about them. That’s completely OK. Hopefully, they will still guide your thinking in the right direction.
SO, WHERE TO FIND GOOD DISSERTATION TOPICS?
My first advice would be to look at the research priorities in your field of study. Since I am in the field of marketing, I will give you marketing examples, however, if you’re interested in different areas of management, or science in general, the same principles apply. A good source to find information can be the Marketing Science Institute Research Priorities, which are updated every three years (the latest one is for 2018-2020). Within those teams, you will find more detailed topics and even some initial questions that you could develop further. There is even a section with related content within each of the themes that will take you to relevant research articles.
Another place to look at is literature reviews in your field. For example, Lamberton and Stephen (2016) conducted a comprehensive analysis of 15 years of research in digital, social media and mobile marketing; and they came up with a list of question for future research. This is pure gold for a student having to find relevant questions in this field. Below some of the questions that they list in their paper:
- Why do people use social media? How has it affected their lives?
- When is social media marketing preferable to traditional marketing?
- What are the key elements in a successful social media strategy?
- Should marketers still be differentiating among consumers (i.e., doing work to identify influencers and hubs), or is this segmentation irrelevant?
- How important is viral content in driving sales? What is the sales elasticity of social transmission vis-`a-vis, for example, advertising?
- What makes a digital marketing initiative a success for firms or consumers? Are there metrics beyond ROI that matter?
- How has the consumer’s fundamental decision-making process changed due to digital experiences and environments?
- What is the optimal balance between online and offline marketing?
- What is the optimal balance between human and technologically enabled interaction?
Other papers that you might be interested in reading depending on your area of interest:
- Brand Communication in Social Media: A Research Agenda
- How artificial intelligence will change the future of marketing
- Reflections on customer-based brand equity: perspectives, progress, and priorities
Another source of ideas is to look at recent call for papers. You can be sure to find topics on recent marketing challenges, plus there is a higher likelihood that this will also interest your supervisor. There is a Facebook page called Marketing Scholars that will publish the latest call for papers in marketing. Most of them have a list of questions or areas they suggest scholars give more focus.
2. Don’t get too obsessed with the context of your research, at least not at the beginning when you’re trying to find dissertation ideas. This keeps being one of the most common mistakes of many students. I often hear questions like: “Should I focus my dissertation in the tourism industry or the film industry?” It’s easy to focus too much on the context when you don’t have an idea of where your theoretical research gaps are. And this is understandable, theoretical gaps are hard to find. However, it’s worth spending that extra time finding a good theoretical gap as it will increase your likelihood of having a better mark when your theoretical contributions are clear (assuming you get the other parts of your dissertation right). So once you have identified your theoretical gap, then it is time to think of your context and your contributions in this area.
3. Pair your dissertation with your dream job. To me, this is a no-brainer. You have to do a dissertation, which means that you will spend 2-3 months working on a project that will challenge your cognitive and project management skills. You also are doing a postgraduate degree because you want to find a job after it. Hopefully, one that you really like. Once you have found an interesting theoretical research gap, why not let your search for that dream job guide the context of your dissertation. If your theoretical gap is relevant, chances are that companies in the industries you would like to work at are also interested. So there you have it, your context and the prospect of meeting people that potentially could give you a job after it. Especially if the findings of your research are the result of a well-executed research project.
I hope you find all these tips useful. And good luck with your dissertation journey. Remember: A good dissertation is a done dissertation. A great dissertation is a published dissertation. A perfect dissertation is neither.