(Last updated on: 31/08/2021)
Choosing a topic for your research project, dissertation, or thesis can be a challenging task. But it is important that you get it right (you will be working on this for months or even years!). I previously explained how to select a suitable research project topic, which is all well and good – but if you have no ideas in the first place, it can be difficult to apply these criteria. Today, I will give you some tips on how to get inspiration for your research project topic.
Inspiration for your research project topic
Favourite area of study
We’ve all studied modules/units/topics that we haven’t particularly enjoyed. It’s easy enough to persevere through a 2000 word essay and the impacts aren’t usually too severe should you not achieve the grade you would have liked to. Your research project, however, is a different kettle of metaphorical fish.
Your research project is a substantial piece of work that will take you months or even years to complete- my PhD took me three years to complete! (visit this post for tips on how to finish your research project faster). It is important, therefore, that you choose a topic area that you enjoy.
One way of getting inspiration for your research project topic is to think back to all of the topic areas that you have covered as part of your academic course and perhaps areas covered as part of other courses you have done in the past. Which aspects did you enjoy the most?
I had one student last year, for example, who enjoyed studying psychology at A-level. Her degree was in Aviation Management which didn’t really encompass any elements of psychology. She decided to combine her two areas of interest and undertake a project on the psychological impacts on local residents of the proposed third runway at London Heathrow.
Your research project probably has a relatively heavy weighting in comparison to other assessments that you undertake as part of your course. It may, for example, be equivalent to one of two modules of study. This means that your research project grade can have a big impact on your overall classification. For some courses, you are not allowed to achieve an overall grade higher than your dissertation grade. This means that even if you were to average a merit overall, if your research project is graded as a pass then the highest classification that you can be awarded is a pass. This makes it increasingly important that you achieve a good mark for your research project.
One way to get inspiration for your research project is to review the other grades for your course. Which subjects did you excel in? Maybe this is an area worthy of exploration for your research project topic. Be mindful though: just because you achieved a high grade in a subject, doesn’t always mean that you enjoyed it. This should be an important consideration when choosing your research project topic.
Area of employment
Many of my students are employed alongside their studies and choose their research project topic based on their workplace experiences. This can be beneficial for two reasons. The first is that you already have prior knowledge of the topic area. The second is that it can save time- you may already have access to research participants or literature that is required.
You do, however, need to be careful when basing your research around your workplace. If it will involve undertaking any research at the workplace itself or if it will involve the employees then it is likely that you will have to gain consent from the employer, which can be easier said than done.
I have a current example of a research project based on the area of a student’s employment. One of my students works for British Airways as Cabin Crew and has been involved in some of the recent industrial actions. She decided to base her research on working rights amongst Cabin Crew. This meant she could conduct a survey amongst 150 British Airways Cabin Crew to gain their thoughts and experiences in this area. The findings were then shared with the airline and the unions involved in an attempt to resolve current issues.
Hobbies/ personal interests
You may have an area of interest that relates to your area of study but which you perhaps have not studied theoretically before. For example, last year I had a student who was very active on Instagram and other social media channels. Whilst the power of social media was covered briefly in a marketing module that she studied two years prior to her research project, she had never studied this area in detail. She elected to research the impact of influencer behaviour on Instagram in airline marketing campaigns.
I had another student who was very passionate about Formula One. Being a tourism undergraduate, he decided to base his research on spectator perceptions of environmental commitments at Formula One events. This allowed him to focus on a topic area in which he had previously gained good grades (environmental impacts) with a passion of his (Formula One).
As a tourism and aviation academic, it is only natural that I take recent holidays or trips into consideration. Travel is a fantastic education and I personally enjoy researching areas that I have visited first hand or experiences that I have undertaken. I have had students that have chosen to research sex tourism in Thailand after visiting the country. This has been motivation to go backpacking prior to undertaking their own gap year overseas. These students have been motivated to complete their research projects because they have an interest and passion in the topic area.
My motivation for completing my PhD was professional gain. Ultimately, it would help me to get a job in Higher Education. Many research projects may have a less obvious method to professional gain, but it is there nonetheless.
What many students don’t realise, is that your research project is far more than just an academic piece of work as part of your course. In fact, it can be used in the workplace and have ‘real-world’ value beyond the paper that it is written on.
Take one of my aviation students, for example. This student decided to base his research project on queueing theory. He analysed the different queuing models (i.e. straight line versus snake) used in Gatwick Airport. On completion of his research he shared his findings with a leading ground-handling company based at the airport. They subsequently employed him in a managerial role at the airport. He now manages landside the customer experience and within two years of graduating he was already earning a higher salary than most of his Lecturers were!
Gap in the market
Lastly, you might find your inspiration for your research project topic by identifying a gap in the market. This was the case for me. After working as a TEFL teacher in Thailand I could see that many teachers were in fact more interested in tourism activities than they were in teaching. I, therefore, questioned why nobody had yet made the link between TEFL and tourism. This was really the day that the concept of TEFL tourism was born…!
Of course, you still need to ensure that you have a suitable research project topic that your supervisors support, but hopefully these points have given you some ideas! Once you have a broad idea I recommend that you also visit this post to check whether it is suitable or not- How to select a suitable research project topic. You might also be interested in my list of tourism research project topics or list of aviation research project topics.