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Exercising Intentionality in Dissertation Topic Selection

Exercising Intentionality in Dissertation Topic Selection
Photo: Duke.edu

By Micah Natale, ABD |

The title suggests it all; however, the age-old adage cliché of easier said than done rings true.  As I draw near to the completion of my dissertation, just having completed and defended my proposal, I reflected on the process of dissertation topic selection.  I am sorry to report this daunting task has no crystal ball nor an easy way to accomplish.  A dissertation topic does not come to you in a dream nor from some mystical creature.  Topic selection is a process that one must be intentional throughout the coursework of the program.  With regularity, 2-4 topics will peak your interest, but it is through intentionality you will settle on a single topic.  This was my experience and noticed this trend developing throughout each course.  This was vital to the development of a single broad topic and then the narrowing of that topic.    

I was first exposed to the topic of public subsidies early in my master’s program at the United States Sports Academy and was astounded that such a funding tactic is legal, never mind practiced.  At this point, I had three potential broad topics.  The more I researched the topic, the more it became evident that this would be part of the discourse, to what capacity was still in question.  Knowing the topic of subsidies had been studied extensively, narrowing the broad topic was of utmost importance. 

The topic ultimately chosen was determining the social impact of a professional sport subsidy.  This topic and subsequent quantitative study are the first of its kind in that it exposes a gap in knowledge.  The gap is that sport subsidies have been studied from nearly every angle extensively, focusing primarily on the economic benefits.  Likewise, the social impact of sport has been studied from various viewpoints, including hosting sporting events, both mega and non-mega in size, and from a general sense of sport.  However, the study is the first to examine if a positive impact or negative impact exists on local social factors as a result of a professional sport subsidy.  Social factors studied include Social Capital, Well-Being, Collective Identities, Sport Participation, and Disorder and Conflict. 

The development and selection of this dissertation topic were accomplished by approaching each assignment, where applicable, in each course to address the subsidy topic. By taking this intentional approach you uncover every angle of a broader topic.  Furthermore, every completed assignment and course, you further funnel the topic until you ultimately identify a gap in the current literature and research landscape.  While this approach was beneficial throughout, perhaps the most concentrated dose of narrowing the broad topic and identifying a gap was during the Selected Readings courses.  These courses require an intense investigation of peer-reviewed journal articles in which you are charged with critiquing and applying the material to your dissertation topic.  This allowed the freedom to investigate various pathways or directions the dissertation topic could take. 

In conclusion, congratulations, you have been intentional throughout your coursework and have funneled your broad topic into a narrow topic resulting in the identification of a gap in knowledge that will serve as the purpose of the study.  What about all that material you research, critiqued, and ultimately throughout because it did not fit into your dissertation topic?  It is not wasted time; rather, it is essential to take note of those various pathways filtered out as they will later serve as a potential research portfolio for publication.

Micah Natale is the chairperson of the sport management department at the Ledbetter College of Business at Shorter University. Natale is a doctoral student at the United States Sports Academy.


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