Choosing a research topic

It's important that your topic inspires you and will keep you motivated throughout your research journey.


If you've been considering a research degree for some time, you probably already have an area of interest. You will be exploring your research topic for a considerable amount of time so it's important to invest time and effort in choosing the right topic.

Explore your options

There are generally two main ways you might develop your research topic:

  • Propose an original research topic. This option is most common in the humanities, business and law study areas.
  • Choose from a list of available research topics provided by a supervisor. This option is not always available but is most common in science and engineering.

Discuss your ideas with a potential supervisor at an early stage. They will be able to let you know which of these options may be best for you, and can offer advice on writing your research proposal.

Learn more about how to find a supervisor

How to develop an original research topic

If you plan to propose an original topic, here are some tips to guide you:

  • Read a wide range of materials to find a subject that you are passionate about.
  • Immerse yourself in journal articles and theses associated with your topic.
  • Narrow your focus to a single research question. Be specific, original and realistic about what you're able to achieve.
  • Take a flexible approach. As your research develops it is likely that some of your initial ideas will be challenged. You might need to change or modify your question if necessary.
  • Make sure you stay up-to-date with the most recent developments in your field. This will ensure your idea is achievable and that it has not already been addressed by another researcher.

Again, it's essential to discuss your idea with your potential supervisor. They will have the experience and expertise to guide your choice of research topic and provide ideas for your research proposal.

How to write a research proposal

Before you apply for postgraduate research, you'll need to write a research proposal. The purpose of your proposal is to outline your project and develop an argument for the research topic you are proposing.

Here are some elements you might like to include in your research proposal:

ElementDescription
IntroductionProvide a brief overview of your research project. Include your aims and objectives, and outline the question your research will address.
BackgroundOutline a specific theoretical foundation for your research project. Prove you are familiar with major theoretical and empirical contributions by other researchers and frame your own research question in this context. Remember to cite landmark studies in your field.
SignificanceExplain why your project is unique and how the new knowledge generated by your research project will contribute to existing knowledge in this field.
MethodologyOutline how you plan to conduct your research project including your sources, research methods and how you plan to analyse and report data. Be clear about the boundaries and conditions of your research. Discuss the potential limitations of your methodology and show that you have thought about the ethical issues involved.
ReferencesYou may like to cite similar studies to yours or landmark studies in your field.

Your supervisor will be able to provide you with guidance when writing your research proposal. Learn how to choose a supervisor who is right for you and your research project.

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