Selecting a Topic

How do you select the topic of your master thesis? Why is it that some topics immediately attract attention whereas others leave readers untouched? How do you know that you have made a sensible topic choice? Colquitt and George (2011) suggest five criteria to assess how effective a research topic is: significance, novelty, curiosity, scope, and actionability.

Significance is about whether your master thesis study addresses a problem that is relevant to individuals and organizations. In other words; does your study have the potential to help resolve problems in organizations that are of concern to employees, managers, and/or society? Novelty indicates whether your study contributes novel ideas and original insights to the academic literature. You also want to arouse curiosity in the reader. How to attract and maintain the reader’s curiosity? Colquitt and George (2011) suggest, among others, to question taken-for-granted assumptions and to learn from mystery novels. Why mystery novels? Because mystery novels rarely reveal the ending at the beginning (unlike many academic articles). The scope of your thesis should be adequate, that is, neither so large that your topic becomes unfeasible to research nor so small that the outcomes are meaningless. Finally, you want to study an actionable topic. Actionability indicates that your study can inform organizational practice. Can your study help managers and employees see their own reality in new light and/or find flaws in their practice? If yes, then your topic may be actionable.

These recommendations provide a starting point for assessing whether you have found the right topic. Go beyond this starting point and read more detailed recommendations. Start with Colquitt and George’s  (2011) article before moving on to some of the work that Colquitt and George (2011) reference.


  • Colquitt, J. A., & George, G. (2011). Publishing in AMJ-part 1: Topic choice. Academy of Management Journal, 54, 432−435.

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