Rodrigo Perez Vega (@rpvega) is a Lecturer in Marketing at Henley Business School. His research interests are on digital marketing, social media, and online consumer behaviour. Rodrigo received an MRes in Management (2011) by investigating the incidence of positive and negative incidence of electronic word-of-mouth on Twitter, he also has an MSc in Strategic Project Management (2010) and a BA Hons in Marketing (2006). Rodrigo’s PhD looked at how the immediacy of a Facebook Fan page affects the level of customer engagement with that page. Before his PhD, Rodrigo had marketing experience in several digital marketing and brand management roles within FMCG and service industries.

 

It’s that time of the year when MSc students around the world start thinking about their marketing dissertation topics. A year ago, I created the post “How to choose a dissertation topic in marketing” to provide some guidance to several students that were asking for some advice on finding a good dissertation topic. I decided to create an updated version of that post to give further advice to those having to write a dissertation in 2017.

 

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. They just updated theirs in 2016, and they divided them into five broad themes. 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 those interested in digital marketing or marketing communications, 2017 is your lucky year, as plenty of material has been published in reputable journals that can help you with ideas for your research question and dissertation topic. 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?
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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 you 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.