Are you looking for a topic for a thesis and do not yet know exactly how to proceed? You are looking for literature and want to form a topic out of it, but you can’t find anything or the supervisor doesn’t accept the topic like that? Then I would like to show you three ways to help you with this dilemma!

Tip: You should know roughly in which direction you want to go e.g. big data, agility etc. If you don’t know that yet, look at my topics on digitization as inspiration.

Prerequisite: existing literature

In the Academy, you always build your findings on other studies (existing findings). So you have to find other studies first. It is not until hardly possible to explore a subject freely without literature in the thesis. You can do this if you want to win the Nobel Prize later on, but dedicate your thesis to us first. If you want to try it, then take a look at my article on Grounded Theory.

So let’s stick to the standard case that you base your topic on literature. Look at academic databases using different search terms and try to find papers that do roughly what you want to do. I recommend the databases Sciencedirekt, Emerald, Google Scholar and Springerlink. The papers should have the following characteristics (I like to call them mother papers):

  • The papers are published in academic journals (no technical articles)
  • The papers are exciting in your eyes
  • the papers are still quite new (maximum 2-3 years old)
  • I recommend 3-5 paper (my doctoral thesis had 4)

Reading tip: Find mother papers

Now take all these papers and throw them in one pot. Then stir vigorously and you have a theme! Is it that simple? You’ll soon realize that it’s not! For this reason, I will now give you three ways to create a theme from the selected 3-5 studies.

Theme finding of the thesis: toss various studies in one pot and stir vigorously!

Limitation: I think it’s not so critical in the thesis and you can choose the papers yourself. If you are doing research at the highest scientific level, you need to show exactly why did I choose these three studies and not three others? For example, I did a complete preliminary study to find my mother’s paper. However, this is not required in a thesis. However, you are welcome to include 2-3 sentences in the introduction why you find these 3-5 studies so exciting.

Option 1: “Think out yourself”

The most common possibility is that students want to think up the subject for themselves. This is usually very difficult and also a tough discipline for experienced scientists. But you can proceed quite simply: read the outlook of the selected studies. Scientists are always encouraged at the end of the study to give outlook on further research. Look at what they recommend. If, for example, three studies say: please research work 4.0 in SMEs, then it would be great if someone does this e.g. you.

Theme finding: various studies reveal a topic

This procedure in the figure above is quite normal and is mostly used in science. You are looking for different studies, which you like and see what is recommended in the outlook.

More specifically, I would like to give an example: If one study recommends the impact of leadership on agile teams and another recommends examining the use of software on executives, you can mix a topic from it. I could imagine that you could explore how executives can lead agile teams sustainably using software.

Attention: However, be careful that you keep the mixture meaningful. I often experience that the current state of knowledge is rather blurred and thus her thesis does not continue the current state of knowledge, but explores something in between.

Danger in this approach: They create chaos instead of new insights

Option 2: Continue a study

A second option is for you to continue a single study. This gives you the advantage that you only have to read the outlook in the various studies. Look at what the studies recommend to other researchers. For example, in my study on leadership, I recommend that the results be deepened by expert interview or in my study on work 4.0 that you could now also review the results from the point of view of building concepts and agility.

You are building your study directly on another study. I did this in my doctoral thesis and generated new knowledge in a fairly simple way. In this way, they expand the current state of knowledge. The advantage is also that you can write to the author of the publication and can hope for knowledge and coaching.

Reading tip: Procedure of my doctoral thesis

Topic finding: Just continue a single study

Possibility 3: Investigate a study differently

A last and fairly simple option is that you can re-run an existing study. The big advantage is that you only have to change a little. There are three ways of thinking:

  • They do not believe the methodology of the study and check that the same results will be achieved if they are carried out in the same way.
  • They do not believe the results of the study and carry out the same research using a different method.
  • You do not believe that the results are universal and re-run the results for a particular group or industry.

You can compare this a little to a recipe. You doubt that the ingredients will get the promised food you have on your plate and cook it to make sure (result) or you think you should take a different approach to preparation (method). So you can change ingredients or the process of cooking, e.g. a little more salt or another ingredient can improve the dish. Furthermore, you can, for example, with a pudding recipe, doubt that this applies only to vanilla pudding and not to chocolate pudding.

Now you want to know for sure how a study will be carried out again in concrete terms. There are a few ways to do this, which I list below:

  • You change the research method (e.g. interview instead of interviews)
  • You change the target group (e.g. SME managers instead of project managers)
  • They carry out the research methods slightly changed (e.g. New interview questions)

Although they do not expand the current state of knowledge, they consolidate the findings and secure them. You can also continue to expect information from the author of the selected study. Perhaps he already has ideas on how to redesign his study. On the example of my publications would be my tips:

Reading tip: qualitative and quantitative research

Topic finding: Do a study again but differently!


Finding a theme for the thesis is not as difficult as you might think. It is necessary to proceed systematically and to prepare slowly on the basis of selected studies. Make a decision about whether to re-examine or build existing results. In the next step, build your research design around the found topic!

Reading tip: Build research design

Image source: Pixabay

Gibt es noch Fragen?

Falls es noch Fragen gibt, habe ich zwei Tipps. Ich habe meine Erfahrung aus 5 Jahren in der Betreuung von Abschlussarbeiten im Buch: "Empfehlungen für die Bachelor- und Masterarbeit" zusammengefasst. Dieses gibt es bei Springer und Amazon seit August 2020. Das Buch ist ein offzielles Fachbuch in kann damit zitiert werden. Weiterhin können Sie mich gerne mal anrufen. Hierzu einfach im Buchungssystem nach einen freien Termin schauen. Ich nehme mir jeden Monat einige Stunden Zeit um Studenten zu helfen.

Mein Tipp vor der Abgabe Ihrer Abschlussarbeit

Es lohnt sich immer eine Abschlussarbeit professionell Korrekturlesen oder auf Plagiat prüfen zu lassen. Der Vorteil ist, dass Sie dabei auch Feedback erhalten und den akademischen Sprachstil verbessern. Anbieter wie bspw. Scribbr helfen mit guten Preisen bei der Abschlussarbeit.

Genderhinweis: Ich habe zur leichteren Lesbarkeit die männliche Form verwendet. Sofern keine explizite Unterscheidung getroffen wird, sind daher stets sowohl Frauen, Diverse als auch Männer sowie Menschen jeder Herkunft und Nation gemeint. Lesen Sie mehr dazu.


I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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