A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
You reached that point in your study where you should find a research question to answer in your thesis. Finding a topic that interests you which is also worth writing academically might cause restless nights. Here are some suggestions from my experience in search of a research question.
1. Specify the area
Let’s start from the basics. First, decide upon the larger area you would like to be specialized in or you find interesting to further explore. Try to see your courses from this point of view. Also bear in mind that your master thesis will be one of the strongest evidences of your expertise in a specific area. Thus, thinking strategically how it might contribute to your future career would be beneficial.
2. Listen during the lectures
If there is a current debate in the area of the course or, for example for the law, a highly controversial recent judgment of the Court of Justice of European Union (CJEU), it is very likely for your professor to mention and even discuss it during the lectures. Sometimes, they might even explicitly say that it would be a good topic for a thesis. So, keep your ears open during the lectures for these tips!
In the end, it all comes down to this: read. In the quest for a good research question, you need to read a lot to point the discussion points in the area you desire to write your thesis in. As usual, Google is a good place to start, believe me, it is. Be greedy, try to read everything you can find. Remember, your thesis is expected to be novel and contribute to existing literature, it must be an area that is not exhausted. The recent academic journal would beneficial as articles often aim to address current issues. Usually, one article will lead to another. Thus, review the references and bibliography they use and refer to those sources as well. Again, especially for the law, keeping an eye on the recent case law from the website of the CJEU would be beneficial.
4. Ask around
Most of the professor and especially your supervisor will be open to guide you through this process and share their ideas. However, note that referring to your professor with a blank mind and asking, “What should I write about?” would not be very nice. However, after you did your research and have at least an abstract idea on what might be a topic for you, they would be priceless sources of guidance. You might also contact to PhD candidates in your faculty who are working in that area. As both professors and PhD candidates are people who keep themselves updated regarding the recent developments in their area, they would be the best people to lead you towards a proper idea or beneficial sources which might take a long time to find on your own.
Hope these steps would benefit you in your quest for the perfect research question. Do you have any other suggestions? Let us know in the comments.
P.s: Please note that these suggestions are based on personal experience and may not be completely related for any area other than the law.