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’