One of the biggest and most exciting challenges in a young academic’s life is coming up with his first economics research topic. Knowing how much riding on the decision, it can also be very stressful. With so much to consider, we thought it would be easier to break down the decision-making process into a few key points. Considering each of them will give you the best possible chance of making sure that your Master’s thesis topic in Economics is the right one – both for you personally and for your future career.
Without further ado, read on for our advice on how to choose a topic for your economics thesis.
Browse our course listings for master’s degrees in economics
1. Make sure it’s something you care about
This seems obvious, but you should make sure that the project you choose matters to you. If you are going to work on a project for months or even longer, it should be something that you are really involved with.
The best way to stay engaged is to ask a question about your project that you want to know the answer to. Think about the lectures you have attended and the books you have read, and think about the issues you have enjoyed discussing and reflecting on. If there’s a topic you’ve come across that you’ve enjoyed studying, but didn’t have the time or resources to investigate further, this is your chance to delve deeper and become an expert.
2. Get inspiration from previous student projects
If you are not sure where to start, or do not know what type of project is appropriate for your course, it is a good idea to take a look at the projects of previous students. At most universities you will be able to access previous students’ theses in the library, so you should take advantage of this resource.
While you should never copy someone else’s idea, you can use it as inspiration. For example, someone might have undertaken a project on the economic effects of an international policy within a particular country. Your project could consider the implications of the same policy in a different country. Or you can look at a similar policy at a different period in history.
In addition, many alumni will still have links with your university, so it may be possible to contact them directly. If someone writes about a topic you’re interested in, feel free to ask a meeting to pick their brains. Most academics enjoy the opportunity to discuss their own research, so there is no reason to be shy. Anyway, it’s always great to meet those who remain in the field who are more experienced than you.
3. Ask your lecturers or supervisor for advice
Once you have one or more ideas about the dissertation topics, you’ll want to ask people who have experience evaluating projects for advice. You don’t want to put in a lot of work on a project idea, only to hear later that your supervisor thinks your topic isn’t a good choice.
Do some basic preparation before meeting with a supervisor or speaker. Make sure you understand the basic facts of the subject area you’re interested in, and that you have some ideas about what your research question will be and the methods you’ll use to study it.
Furthermore, make sure you get feedback on your idea early in the process. This advice extends to the rest of the research project as well. It is your supervisor’s job to guide you, so stay in regular contact with them throughout your research.
4. Choose something original, but not too vague
It’s common to struggle to come up with new ideas for research topics in economics, but you don’t want to do the same project that a million students have done before. Not only will it be uninteresting to you, but it will also be uninteresting to the person marking your dissertation.
Try to come up with a new approach or a new topic of study. Perhaps there is a new kind of data analysis that you can use to look at an old problem from a new angle. New data may have been made available, and an older study could be challenged or reconfirmed by examining the new data.
However, be wary of anything too obscure – you don’t want to be stuck without materials or resources to work through. To echo the above, definitely run more ambitious topic ideas by your supervisor to help avoid the pitfall of falling down the rabbit hole.
5. Choose a small and specific topic
One general piece of advice when coming up with a project or research question is to think smaller. If you don’t know much about a topic, you won’t yet appreciate all the subtleties and intricacies it contains. You might think you could produce a great project on the impact of the introduction of the euro in Ireland, for example, but that topic is too broad to be covered in a master’s project.
Choosing a topic that is too broad like the above example is a common mistake made by freshmen when they are unfamiliar with academic research. Get more specific, and not only will your project be more manageable, you’ll actually get to the heart of something.
It may seem counterintuitive, or intimidating – it may seem impossible to write 50 pages or more on a vague question. But, it is much better for the final assessment to keep the scale small and do high quality research on this small topic, than to try to explain a large phenomenon on its own and fill an entire paper with surface level analysis.
6. Consider an interdisciplinary subject
If you are considering master’s thesis ideas in economics but find yourself interested in another academic subject, you may have the opportunity to learn about this area as part of your research project. You might consider a project that touches on a topic like history, sociology, business, politics, or psychology, for example.
The advantage of this is that you can experiment with information and learning methods from another field to see if studying it will interest you. It will also help you create a unique and memorable project, as most of your fellow students are likely to be studying a subject based solely on economics.
However, this may make your project a little more difficult, as you will have more new information to understand than others – but it can be very rewarding for ambitious and engaged students. If you want to take this route, strongly consider finding a minor supervisor in the interdisciplinary field who can mentor you alongside your more economics-focused supervisor. This can be beneficial to your career, as you become well versed in a specialized set of skills that employers or PhD programs may find attractive.
7. Check the available data
If you are doing an experimental project, the success or failure of your dissertation may be due to the availability of data. It is very important to have an idea of what data to use for your study before committing to a topic. If you have the world’s biggest research idea, but the data to study it aren’t available, you’re out of luck.
To avoid this heartbreaking situation, find usable data as early in the process as possible. This research can help you narrow down your topic of focus, choosing a small-scale specific research question in your area of interest.
You may be interested in the impact of malaria prevention programs on future children’s economic outcomes, but cohort studies have not yet been completed in your area of interest. If you search for data, you may find a completed panel dataset that has studied a similar disease, or one that has studied malaria in a different country. These types of searches can help you choose a relevant, actionable, and scope-bound research question without wasting time racing to a dead end.
8. Plan your experiment meticulously
Of course, if you’re running an experiment, you can create your own dataset. This situation presents its own challenges, which are just as important.
A poorly designed experience can make your data biased or unusable even after months of work. To avoid this kind of disaster, spend as much time as you can designing the experiment, thoroughly checking all of your assumptions, and asking for feedback and approval from your supervisor to make sure the experiment is well designed.
Examining examples of experimental designs that have led to studies published in notable journals is highly recommended. Modeling your experience on successful experiences in the past is a great way to ensure your experiment runs smoothly.