Student Life

How to Choose a Thesis Topic

The Academic Support Team (AST) helps students in their research is creating several documents to guide you every step of the way. The Graduate Press publishes the first article by Gris, AST’s Mascot, here:

How to choose a topic


We welcome you to the start of our common journey. I believe that the first steps into the unknown are more a matter of guts than of skills. Even so, having some skills can bring out the necessary courage – and end the excuses – to start.

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We have made a compilation of commonly referred texts on how to choose a topic, you can see the list below. We looked at Ivy League blogs, classic books, and the forefront of academic knowledge. Mostly, they share the same formula. Your topic must be something you love, and it has to be workable. Honestly, ending the AST_Entry01 here would cover 50% of what is out there. But we are not most sites and we need to justify our budget – just kidding, we don’t have a budget 😅💸.

Let’s unpack what is a “workable thesis” first.

Also, the Academic Support Team would like to make one thing clear: these are recurrences, they are not rules.

A workable thesis is:

  • Well delimited.

A Brief History of Time (Hawking, 1988) would probably receive a failing grade, had it not been written by Hawking. A work that is too broad is vulnerable to every sort of objection, I mean, how could a member of the committee resist the temptation to showcase his/her knowledge over a minor event absent from a student’s work? Be bold, but be humble.

For example, if you want to discuss “violence against women”, you can delimit one specific instrument that is helping combat it and analyse how it is working in practice. You know that your thesis will not be a final word on the matter, but should be meaningful and delimited to the constraints of efforts and time.

  • Capable of being completed in time

Draw a realistic timeline. Do not assume you will read post-colonial-econo-anthropology as fast as you read the Prisoner of Azkaban (and you won’t have a time-turner).

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  • Non-colonialist

This point comes from Eco’s “How to write a thesis”, where he states that to have a workable thesis, you must understand the main languages related to it (so if you will write about Kant, you must know German).But he makes a notorious exception to “non-western languages”, so you could write about the Tunisian Revolution without knowing any arabic. We invite you to question his opinion!!! This is both an ideological and a pragmatic approach. However, if you are interested in “why”, or if you really want to work in a theme that the core bibliography is in a language you don’t speak, have a look at this note.

Now a thesis that you love ❤️

A thesis that you love is:

Much harder to be put in bullet points. 😕

  • Let’s begin by saying that thesis have meanings

To say that a thesis you love is meaningful is pretty much part of a pep talk, because I believe that is quite obvious. One of the meanings of the thesis is that it is an outcome of two years of your life. Even with the expectation of a thesis by the end of your studies, your time here has many other meanings, and ideally, your topic will correspond to those meanings.

  • A thesis you love is a thesis you are happy to include in your life story

When you talk about all the sh*t you’ve been through; all your accomplishments, conquests, challenges and passions, if you don’t mention the topic of your thesis, you probably don’t love it. Choose something that made your eyes glow (?) when you talked about it.

  • You found a topic you love beyond any questioning!? Beware of conflicts of interest!

It is something that touches your heart deeply. The perfect policy to cure all problems of the world, designed by someone you love with all your heart. Even better, it was created by your late grandfather. Then, in the middle of your thesis you discover dirt on the policy that directly implicates the person you love, writing about it would bring a major quarrel in the centre of your family.

And then, because the topic involves someone you love so much, you have a nice conflict of interest to handle, and while suffering through the usual trials and tribulations of a normal thesis.

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So maybe you want to think about that. AND DECIDE WHETHER YOU WANT TO CHANGE THE TOPIC.

It is worth saying that a thesis that is only a compilation of flyers and propaganda isn’t much of a thesis either. Putting in Eco’s words: “A politician who approves a development plan without sufficient information on the community’s situation is simply a fool, if not a criminal”. Similarly, one can betray their agenda by writing a political thesis that lacks scientific rigor.

This is not to say that your topic cannot be politically engaged, but it has to be responsibly engaged.


After reading these 700 words, you already have your topic figured out, right?!

Sh*t? No?!


Of course that’s normal. Many people change their topic over and over. What is important is have a general idea.

So you have to sit down and put one word after the other.

It is that easy and that hard.

So you write

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And write

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And when you think you got it, go talk to someone (a friend, your supervisor, or the AST)

And things might change a little

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And this is good. That is how you acquire the skills you need to be a master.

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Hope to see you there.

Yours sincerely,

Gris, the AST Mascot

1 comment on “How to Choose a Thesis Topic

  1. Pingback: An (Unofficial) Graduate Press Guide to IHEID – The Graduate Press

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