The time has come: The thesis begins and the topic is halfway there and you start reading numerous books and papers. “Wow is all that interested and then I should investigate this aspect and this aspect too, and yes, that too is very exciting”. The end result is that you become less specific and in the end despair of the complexity of the many aspects in the thesis. The thesis is in danger of getting a bad grade or even having to be repeated. That is why the credo of a thesis is:

My tip: Find a clear aspect with a question and examine it deeply and comprehensibly.

In this article, I will use the metaphor of a landscape and binoculars to show you how to narrow down a topic for a thesis in a meaningful way and stay focused. I also give specific examples of how you can transfer the metaphor to topics.

My experience: As a graduate, it is important for you to be able to filter out specific parts of large and complex issues and to observe them in depth. You will be prepared for this with your thesis. An example is a large IT project that consists of 900,000 lines of software code. You have to look for specific aspects and work through them little by little. It is exactly the same in the thesis.

Choose your landscape and analyze individual aspects

Imagine your subject like a landscape with a lighthouse with a narrow strip of coast and the sea

Look at the picture. You will see a lighthouse, a narrow strip of coast and the sea. You examine a landscape that contains three elements. But that’s far too much for a thesis. It is therefore important to concentrate on one aspect. So first take a look around the landscape.

That means concretely : The landscape is an overarching theme, such as digitization. There are many aspects of the landscape that you can investigate. The lighthouse, the coastal strip and the sea each have an aspect such as technology, collaboration, IT service management, … – while the main topic (landscape) is found through brainstorming, you can find the aspects by looking around the landscape (literature analysis on digitization) .

At this point you know your main topic, e.g. digitization, and roughly know which aspect, e.g. agile teams, you want to investigate. At this point you can say that you are writing a thesis that examines something with, for example, digitization.

Find a part of the landscape that you want to study

Choose a clear aspect from the landscape and hide everything but around!

Now it is not possible to observe the entire landscape but only a section. That means, like in my example, you have to pick a part. I chose the narrow coastal strip. Now the motto is: stay focused! Even if there is a cool party in the lighthouse and the Black Pearl swims on the sea. You don’t care at all! Stay on the narrow coastal strip with the action. In any case, don’t wander.

In concrete terms this means: You will examine digitization and the aspect of agile teams or the use of software for virtual collaboration. You can hide all other aspects such as legal frameworks, frameworks or costs, etc. Of course, that’s exciting, but you can then examine it after you’ve finished your thesis.

You are now ready to say that your thesis examines an agile team in digitization or collaboration technologies in the field of digitization, for example.

Find suitable binoculars for observing the landscape

Now choose a pair of binoculars with which you want to look at the world – there is always more than just one perspective

Now it is time to look at the landscape with binoculars. But there is no such thing as “one pair of binoculars”, there are many. Binoculars 1 have wide-angle lenses, binoculars 2 darkened and binoculars 3 tele-angle lenses. Each binocular gives a different view of the landscape and shows different facets: very precise, dark, very distant, …

You can imagine for sure: if you give the binoculars to three people, each of them will tell you something different about the landscape. For example, one person would prefer to see the structure of the landscape with very little zoom and another more specific details such as plants on the coastal strip with a detailed lens.

Why are you doing that? The world is complex, and even if you have found the aspect, there are still many numerous angles to the aspect – Specifically: if you ask 10 people about agility, you will get 10 answers. So take a look at it. Furthermore, you prevent someone from saying: Well, for me the research is not right or I am missing the aspect. You can then say, for example, that the research was done from the perspective of top managers or from the perspective of costs.

In concrete terms this means: One point of view is your view of the world. From which point of view do you want to see the world or the aspect of the thesis? Examples are a group of people. Managers often see the world differently than employees. In this way, you examine agile teams from the point of view of employees, which also limits your interview partners and literature selection. Theories or certain aspects are also useful, such as conflict potentials of agile teams, cost efficiency of collaboration tools and much more.

You can now fully name the topic and also design the title. Examples are:

  • Agile teams in the age of digitalization – a view from the perspective of executives
  • Collaboration structures of virtual teams – an empirical survey of employees
  • ERP Systems in SMEs – A Study of Cost Efficiency
  • Virtual contract negotiations – a theoretical consideration based on the prisoner’s dilema

Bottom line: look at an aspect of the landscape with a specific pair of binoculars

Stay in focus: You are observing a piece of the landscape from a clearly defined perspective!

You notice that it is easy to get bogged down with a thesis. It is therefore important to define a topic very well and to stay focused. To do this, first look for a landscape that you want to observe (main topic, e.g. digitization) and look around: What aspects of the landscape are there. You choose an aspect of the landscape such as the coastal strip and observe it very closely (e.g. agile teams or collaboration technologies).

Now you should also observe the aspect sensibly. Use binoculars to do this. But there is no such thing as “one pair of binoculars”, rather many with a wide variety of lenses. The lenses represent your point of view and help to limit the aspect of your thesis in a meaningful way through a group, theory or fact. Now it’s time to stay focused!

I hope this simple metaphor can help you with your thesis. Of course, you start with a detailed analysis of the literature. I have put together two reading tips for you.

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Author

I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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