Choosing your thesis topic

Your course leader may provide you with ideas for topics or give you a specific project or research question to answer. If you are already in work, your employer might have specified a topic for you to examine.

In some cases, however, you may need to think of and refine the topic yourself.

Don’t panic! Have a think about the following points to help you focus:

  • Look back at what you have been taught during your Cranfield course and consider if there is a particular topic or assignment that you found interesting or had questions about. It really helps to pick a topic that is of genuine interest to you.
  • Are there any topics that might benefit your future employment plans? Will it add anything to your CV? Will you be able to talk about it in job applications?
  • Examine the research interests of academics in your School. Is there something here that you could build on?
  • Is there a hot topic in the news that relates to your subject area?
  • Is there anything you experienced on a work placement, or study abroad, that would make an interesting research subject?
  • Are there any potential topic areas which fit with your wider interests or future study plans?

Want further ideas on how to refine your topic? Look at Chapter One of the Information Literacy Tutorial: Focussing your research question.

Look at what others have done

It’s a good idea to have a look at what has already been done, especially by previous students on your course. Use them not just as a source of subject information, or an inspiration for a research topic, but also as a guide to the layout and the approach so you know what is expected of you.

If you cannot find a specific thesis, it may be subject to an embargo or security restriction. Please contact us for more advice.

Want to look wider? Look here for theses from the rest of the UK and around the world.

Our tip: Great news! We also all have free access to ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global until the end of June 2020 during COVID-19.

Your literature review

We are aware that many of you have been asked to do a structured literature review at short notice in place of laboratory work. Don’t panic, we can help!

Think about what you are looking for and where to find it

Look through our help pages if you need some basic search tips. If you are looking for specialist information have a look through our databases. If you need help with formulating search terms and search strings (especially important if your thesis requires a structured literature review) or where to search, please contact your Information Specialist.

In addition to all your usual online resources, there are others currently on free access to everyone during Covid-19.

Brush up on essential skills

Refresh your knowledge on finding, evaluating and using information using our online Information Literacy Tutorial:

Our tip: Learn more about various research methods in our research guide.

Keeping up with new research in your area

In order to keep up to date with what is happening in your subject area, consider setting up RSS feeds or email alerts based on your searches in our databases. This will keep you informed of any new research in your area. We have advice on Keeping up to date on the Library website.

Our tips:

  • “The app that I use on my phone for RSS feeds is called Feedly – I find it very helpful!”
  • Netvibes is another good tool for RSS feeds, available on the web and as an app. Scopus also provides a direct link when you save searches”.

Get organised

Reference management software can be your friend. In the Library, we’re keen on using Mendeley – this allows you to store, group and annotate articles. It can also be used to help format your references and reference list in a specific format.

Our tips:

  • “I use it most to write messages to my future self by using the notes function so I can remember why I read an article in the first place.”
  • “When reading the literature, I have by my side a list of the review questions I have identified that need to be answered in order to achieve my overarching research aim. I number the questions so that when an article I am reading proves relevant, I tag it in Mendeley with the number of the relevant review question e.g. one. Then, when I am writing up the chapter/section that covers question one, I sort my articles by tag ‘one’ to return the relevant annotated papers”.

Advice on referencing and Mendeley:

Formatting and submitting

Here is a guidance document on the layout of your thesis.

The IT Training Team provide thesis templates.

See the intranet for more thesis formatting and submission guidance.

Stay connected

Always check with your thesis supervisor if you need specific advice and to check you are meeting School requirements.

Please remember we are always here to help you as much as we can. Do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions, or if you just need to see a friendly face.

We are working to get more information on thesis writing onto our website as soon as possible.

Contact us:


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