Thursday, July 31, 2014

Choosing a Thesis Title: The relationship between topic, title, thesis and hypothesis

You probably gave your thesis a title when you wrote out you PhD application proposal, but you are now 18 months into the task and your research has turned up all sorts of interesting stuff and your original title doesn't seem that relevant.  What do you do? Well I am at that point, my title changes almost daily. I came across an interesting post on The Thesis Whisper blog whilst looking  for stuff about Mind Mapping. It was a blog post about the book  ‘Mapping your Thesis’ by Dr Barry White.  Thesis Whisperer had been given the book to review and was struggling (a) to read it and (b) deciding if it was a book a PhD student should purchase. After much deliberation she suggested that to her it was becoming increasingly useful as a source of material for courses she presents and was prompted to share an example.

Thesis Whisperer found the Chapter "The relationship between topic, title, thesis and hypothesis" proved useful as a source of information on how to come up with a title for your thesis. She uses an example based on her sons hypothetical interest in doing a PhD about rocks! As follows:
 Thesis Whisperer Jnr (aged 10 and 1/4) wants to do his PhD about “rocks” (with a side interest in gold). “Rocks” is a topic area, but there are a range of theses Thesis Whisperer Jnr would write on this topic depending on how he phrased the title, to whit:
  • As a question: “What do school children know about rocks with gold in them?”
  • As an exploration: “Rocks in ‘scrap heaps’ found in the Victorian gold districts”
  • As a statement: “Why most school kids are not interested in rocks (even if there’s gold in them”
  • As an investigation: “Rocks with gold in them: places they are most likely to be found”
  • As a hypothesis: “If rocks have gold in them, they are more likely to be dug up”
  • As a thesis: “rocks are cool, especially if there is gold in them”
I have since used this example to help hundreds of students re-write variations of their thesis title in my workshops and it’s become a crowd favourite. It’s amazing how simply re-writing your title can help you refocus and give direction to a paper, a chapter or even a whole thesis. Ever since I have used this book to help me make all kinds of workshop material. In fact it has become my ultimate authority on everything thesis related, up to and including supervision and presentations.
I found this simple example quite helpful in rethinking the title for my own thesis:
  • As a question: Why do we take snapshot photographs?”
  • As an exploration: “Snapshots in family albums.”
  • As a statement: “The reason we take snapshots is to remember.”
  • As an investigation: “Snapshot photographs: why do we take them?”
  • As a hypothesis: “If snapshots are memories can we forget them?”
  • As a thesis: “The snapshot is a sociotechnical construct.”
Time will tell...