Rodrigo Perez Vega is an Assistant Professor in Marketing in the School of Management and Languages at Heriot-Watt University Dubai Campus. His research interest are around 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. Prior to his PhD, Rodrigo had marketing experience in several digital marketing and brand management roles within FMCG and service industries.

That time of the year when PG students will have to choose their dissertation topic is quickly approaching at Heriot-Watt University. Writing a dissertation is part of the examination process at many undergraduate and postgraduate programmes across the world. So I decided to write this quick guide with a few tips on how to choose a marketing dissertation topic:

  1. A strong dissertation will identify a research gap that then the student will try to fill with their research work. Many students struggle to find the gaps in literature, despite the fact that several hints are already out there. Have a look at what research bodies have already identified as research priorities in your selected field (e.g. Marketing Science Institute publishes research priorities every 3 years). Another good approach is to go to well-ranked journals for ideas. Many journals publish literature reviews, research syntheses in specific areas, as well as research priorities guidelines; all these papers are full with research avenues for future examination. For example, the Journal of Marketing published a paper where several theory development opportunities in computer-mediated environments were identified and they are there for you to go and grab them!

  2. Your context is important, but don’t let it distract you! A common mistake is to be distracted by the context where you’re intending to do your dissertation and not spending enough time planning the academic element of this task. At the end of the day, you are doing a piece of academic work, so you are better off finding a clear research gap, with well-defined aims and objectives than by spending a lot of time trying to find a ‘cool’ or ‘interesting’ context in which you will conduct your research. I will expand more on context just in a minute.

  3. Look to the research that the academic staff in your university are currently doing. It is very likely that you will get a supervisor from the pool of professors already working at your department. You may find that your potential supervisor will be more excited about certain fields and topics, and he or she is very likely an expert on a certain field. So why not take advantage of that latent expertise and try to find common points of interest between your research interest and theirs.

  4. Match your research with your future career goals. You will spend a couple of months working on a project that will require you to read a lot about a certain topic and to collect primary data in relation to it. The ultimate goal for many, is to go out there and land that dreamed job. If this is your case, why not think strategically about your dissertation and focus on a topic that may get you where you want after you graduate. You may find yourself working with potential future employers while collecting your primary data, or you could be doing research in the industry that you would like to then move in. I have had the experience of supervising students that did this with very positive outcomes at the end of their dissertation. So why not giving it a try too.

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Picture by Khalid Albaih under CC license.