Dissertation problem page

23 Oct

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a final year student in possession of ambitions must be in want of a dissertation topic. Certainly, I’m talking to more students on this subject than have been allocated to me to supervise. So let’s turn some of these private conversations into a public forum…

What subject should I study? You’ll be living with the topic for several months, so pick a topic that interests you. Pick a topic with some existing literature, and pick one where you can add something in terms of research. Once you have your topic, ask a specific question about it (one you can attempt to answer).

Say you’re interested in the relationship between public relations and marketing. There’s plenty of literature here. But you can’t research this topic as it’s too broad and generic. So ask the question of a specific industry (eg the motor industry).

Is the dissertation purely academic? To do well, you will have to follow an academic approach charactersised by a rational methodology, objectivity and critical thinking. But your dissertation will set you apart from hundreds of other graduates, so can be a surprising asset in the job market.

Can I study celebrity endorsement? Yes, but you may regret choosing this topic. If your dissertation reads like Hello magazine it will fail. While it’s easy to find case studies, it’s hard to prove the effectiveness of this approach, so you will have to read across the sociology, psychology and evaluation literature. Bet it doesn’t sound such a ‘fun’ subject now.

What if there is no academic literature? You can go ahead, but you’ll have to work hard to distinguish between sources that haven’t been edited (eg blogs) and those that have (eg newspaper articles). Not all sources have equal validity.

English isn’t my first language. Is this a problem? Most public relations literature is in English; but PR in many other countries is under-researched. So you can turn this to your advantage and take an international perspective.

What’s a good topic to study? One involving uncertainty and change that has a body of literature. For example:

  • The value of a PR degree
  • Gender in the PR industry (either the glass ceiling, or why PR is predominantly female)
  • How social media is changing PR and media relations
  • Is public relations a profession?
  • Measuring the effectiveness of PR
  • Internal communications
  • Corporate social responsibility and community relations
  • The development of the PR industry in [name your country or sector]
  • Viral, guerilla and word-of-mouth marketing: are they PR tactics?
  • PR and democracy
  • The ethics of ‘astroturfing’

17 Responses to “Dissertation problem page”

  1. Richard Millington 23/10/2006 at 12:21 pm #

    “How social media is changing PR and media relations.”
    That was going to be mine.
    Though i’m increasingly tempted to do something more specific e.g.
    – The value of Second Life as a marketing tool,
    – Blogging ROI
    – The impact of PR within the green agenda
    – Do search engines and SEOs need eachother to survive?
    – Will the web 2.0 bubble burst?

  2. Kate Kilday 23/10/2006 at 3:32 pm #

    My dissertation seems so far away; I have just started my second year and have a whole year of placement to go but this has given me something to think about!

  3. Stuart Bruce 23/10/2006 at 4:29 pm #

    I think Richard’s idea of ‘something more specific’ is a good one. I get a lot of approaches from students researching blogs/social media and at first I helped them all. Now because of the numbers I am more selective and only offer to participate if the student has chosen a very specific niche – many are far too general.

  4. Karel Mc Intosh 27/10/2006 at 7:06 pm #

    It’s also a good idea to start thinking about a dissertation topic from day one, as your topic may change or as you read literature on your topic, your perspective expands and this may change your research slant.
    What also helps is having a very project management oriented approach since it keeps you on schedule, and helps to decrease stress. Surely, you’ll have stress, but do what you can to decrease it from now. That approach worked quite well for me.

  5. Martin Ayres 28/11/2006 at 8:07 pm #

    I’ve just started my dissertation at the University of Westminster and am considering an ethical approach to the public relations industry, specifically, how far PR professionals are prepared to set aside personal ethical considerations and lie for a client. I found the Journal of Public Relations Research really helpful here if anyone is stuck for literature to review and further reading.

  6. Eliza 02/05/2008 at 11:19 pm #

    I just met that blog but i already love it! I am doing a MA in International PR in Cardiff University and I have one week to decide what my dissertation topic should be!
    I really want to make a research and write a dissertation on the “social benefits of PR”, but i can’t find any literature on that topic:( It would be great if you can help me, by providing me with the names and authors of relevant articles if you happen to know some!
    I think PR really needs a research in that field to boost its own reputation!

  7. Chantal Ochola 19/06/2008 at 3:15 pm #

    Hey, I did a MA in Media and Communications management and my current researchtopic was rejected my supervisor.
    I want to have a new Topic on the Effects international media has on political reforms. Is that a good topic or will it be very extensive?

  8. Lauren 23/06/2008 at 1:47 pm #

    I’m starting my third year in September and I’m just in the process of formulating a research proposal. With the current shift in PR, I want to focus my dissertation on Social Media and the effects it has on PR. After reading advice given in one of the replies, I am wondering whether or not to focus this on the Private Sector and brands and discuss how the changing media environment has opened up new opportunities for brands to interactive with their target audience and enabled them to develop more specific campaigns aimed at niche audiences. I want to look at the effect this has had on PR (the changing PR environment), how they engage with the new media and the detrimental effects it has on the industry such as losing contacts to agencies and if the PR industry is able to keep up with the changes.
    I am struggling getting a question together. Has any one got any tips?

  9. Nick 22/07/2008 at 12:06 pm #

    I’m about to enter my final year of PR at Leeds Metropolitan University. Throughout my studies I gathered a deep interest in CSR and Internal Communications.
    I’ve decided to do my dissertation on CSR and it’s role in gaining competitive advantage for an organisation.
    I have based this on the interest I have gained, as well as building contacts throughout my second year who are willing to give specialist advice, as, and when needed.

  10. Chantal Ochola 16/08/2008 at 7:21 pm #

    Hey thank you very much for all the help. My research topic was approved and I’m half way gone with the thesis.

  11. Samantha 11/09/2008 at 8:47 pm #

    My dissertation will be around the topic of ‘women in PR- why is it predominantly female’. What things can I read on for my literature review?
    Thank you.

  12. carlin 23/10/2008 at 1:10 pm #

    Hi, I am in my 4th year studying BA Public Relations.
    I am due to come up with a proposal and I know what I want to do my dissertation on but I am finding it very hard to come up with the actual question!
    I want to research into the different methods and models public relations is taught and what methods certain institutions use, how effective these methods are in the pr workplace and if the methods have any relevance to how a pr person actually works!
    As you can probably tell my idea is a bit scrambled just now, which makes it difficult to turn it into my proposal!
    If any one has any ideas or guidance I would be so grateful!?

  13. Supriya 21/01/2009 at 10:34 am #

    i really like that article. i am in my final semester and supposed to submit a dissertation towards the end of it. i have been thinking a lot about word-of-mouth-marketing, and how much more effective it seems compared to advertising. the suggestion on gender in pr also seems interesting.
    thanks for writing all that!

  14. malabika 18/02/2009 at 2:24 pm #

    Actually i am in 1st year den also i am very worried thinking of selecting the topic of dessertation but now i am bit relaxed as now i have understand what kind of topic shud i take..

  15. Ross Stirling 19/02/2009 at 2:10 pm #

    Please Help!
    I’m about to submitt my MSc dissertation outline and have decided on CSR.
    Any possible suggestions on what would be a good CSR research topic whilst working for a voluntary organisation??

  16. kate 25/02/2009 at 9:31 am #

    Hi I am a 4th year btech student and im having such a hard time settling on a topic for my dissertation!
    Everything is so broad and quiet hard to break down.
    I was looking along the lines of “how do companies market products?” then i was going to incorporate new media and it would be a case of cellphone messaging.
    If anyone would like to give me some input or advice i will be greatful!

  17. kate 25/02/2009 at 9:32 am #

    Hi I am a 4th year btech student and im having such a hard time settling on a topic for my dissertation!
    Everything is so broad and quiet hard to break down.
    I was looking along the lines of “how do companies market products?” then i was going to incorporate new media and it would be a case of cellphone messaging.
    If anyone would like to give me some input or advice i will be greatful!

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