Choosing an MBA or MSc Dissertation Topic

05/06/2015 11:21 BST | Updated 04/06/2016 10:59 BST

I would like to give you some advice about choosing your dissertation topic. There are many factors to take into account, including your own interests and the industry and company where you work. In addition, there are broader considerations applying to everyone, especially regarding academic literature and evidence. There must be an academic discussion or debate around your chosen topic. If this is absent, it will be difficult to do a literature review, one of the biggest components of the marking scheme. You may have a topic in mind, but you must adjust or refine the topic so that it touches on a scholarly debate of some kind. For example, you may start with an issue in your workplace, but this starting point needs to be developed and shaped in a way that links with academic debate.

You need to check the availability and accuracy of evidence. I do not mean you have to collect all the evidence at the start, but, you need to check that you can gain access to the evidence. Share price data is a favourite of mine, but if I am looking at smaller companies, I will check the share price data is available. It is dangerous to rely on interviews and surveys because people may be too busy to talk to you. Equally, they may be unwilling to discuss certain issues. If I may be blunt, secondary sources of data are superior to primary in a dissertation because the data already exists and your role is to capture it and shape it. Collecting primary data is time consuming and things can go wrong. You may not agree, and you should take the opportunity to explain the benefits of primary data in your methodology section.

Having read many dissertations, I can see that certain topics have inherent limitations and problems, either in the literature or data. Some students have tried to compare Islamic finance with capitalist. This is an important issue, but the problem is the literature is small and superficial, and it is difficult to identify a large quantity of data. The extent to which managers act in investors' interests is a fascinating topic, closely linked with financial instability, and the literature is vast. The problem is that the issue is so broad it is difficult to find evidence that does justice to the question. A huge gap appears between the literature (vast) and the evidence (relatively small). Another superficially attractive topic is 'risk management'. It has a huge literature, but the exact definition of risk remains elusive, so it is difficult to decide on the type of evidence that is appropriate. The literature does not generate a well-defined question that you can collect data about. A favourite concept of mine is 'value', and students have been drawn to compare value as a marketing concept with financial definitions of value. This is interdisciplinary research, which is challenging as the disciplines have different underlying assumptions. Value is difficult to define so, like risk, the type of evidence can be used is hard to define and collect. Many students have examined the impact of borrowing on share price, and here the literate is vast and data freely available, the perfect combination, but a linear regression technique is needed and many students find this challenging.

Let us now discuss factors that are specific to your location or industry, be it British Virgin Islands, New Zealand vineyards or London's financial services industry. Finance and tourism are important industries and they are both growing rapidly, providing an ideal context for dissertation research. Within finance, the causes of the financial crisis are being debated, and the need for action to protect investors from fraud. The limiting factor here will be evidence, not literature, as the world of finance can be secretive. Within the tourism industry, the impact of crime has been widely debated and comparison, for example, between British Virgin Islands and with Jamaica would be interesting. There is plenty of literature and a little exploration will bring sources of evidence to light, especially crime statistics. Culture is one of the richest business concepts and the relationship between the culture of company and the culture of country is an endlessly fascinating one.

Your master's level dissertation should be substantial, original and scholarly. When you have identified a topic, develop it and shape it so that it has a scholarly dimension in the literature and it has a good grounding in secondary sources of evidence, which you can access quickly. Make sure the topic is an important one both for you personally and to your organisation and industry. In this way your dissertation can make a contribution to economic growth and well-being.