Lutz Hendricks - UNC - Department of
Finding a Topic
It is hard to overstate how important it is to find a good topic. It is crucial, essential, make or break. So spend time on it.
A good topic poses a specific question. If you cannot state your topic as a question, you are in trouble.
- A good topic: “What fraction of cross-country income variation is due to human capital?”
- A bad topic: “What are the effects of more schooling on a country’s outcomes?”
- This is too broad (effects on what?).
- This is too vague (how does the “more schooling” come about?).
- A very bad topic: “I explore the implications of banking regulations in Europe.”
You need to understand the literature before you can identify a topic.
- You need to know what questions have been answered. What do experts agree and disagree on?
- You need to understand appropriate methods and datasets.
- This is why a literature review is one of your first tasks.
- Most topics are bad (too hard, not doable, already done, too vague, not interesting). Expect to go through 10 candidate topics before you find a good one.
- Talk to people who know what they are doing early on; before you spend too much time on a bad topic.
- It is fine to ask potential advisors to suggest topics.