Updated: Public relations dissertation topics
Its dissertation season for MA media and public relations university students. Here are more than 40 potential areas of study.
For the last four years I’ve been a Visiting Professor at Newcastle University, supporting the university and students through teaching and mentoring.
An MA dissertation is a 12,000-word document in which you make a reasonable argument, answering a research question, problem or hypothesis, based on evidence. That evidence is collected and the document written in a few short months.
A dissertation must be made of good, university-style writing, well-organised, consistently cited and formatted, and 12,000 words in length.
I'm frequently asked by public relations students at Newcastle and elsewhere for advice on choosing a dissertation topic.
Professor Benno Signitzer at the University of Salzburg wrote a chapter on this topic in Public Relations Research: An International Perspective. It’s worth seeking out. Thanks to Professor Dejan Verčič from the University of Ljubljana for the reference.
My answer is always to follow a passion and ideally use it as an opportunity to set yourself up for your career. The ideal is a topic aligned to a developing area of practice.
“I'd say to make it as specific to your dream career as possible. Even if career visions change in the future, you'll enjoy researching and writing it at the time and therefore won't get bored and find more motivation,” said Livi Wilkes, Digital Public Relations Consultant, Aira.
Avoid populist topics and go deep. The best dissertations are original and niche. They make a genuine contribution to the professional body of knowledge in public relations.
Your research question needs to be one that can be answered in a few short months. It needs to be simple and focused.
A good research question describes clearly exactly what you want to find out. It is self-contained, straightforward and logical. It should be modest, measuring only one or two variables with respect to your object of study.
“Explore a very small, easily defined area and use rigorous academic research methods to establish new knowledge or explore a topic from a new perspective,” said Liz Bridgen, Principal Lecturer, Department of Media Arts and Communication, Sheffield Hallam University.
“What’s your elevator pitch? I want to understand the application of your research in practice – in three minutes or less,” said Ramona Slusarczyk, Lecturer in PR and Corporate Communications, Newcastle University.
In the past two years I’ve asked my network on Facebook for suggestions for areas of study. I’ve been called out by several people for short cutting an important area of the research process.
This wasn’t my intention. Instead I wanted to share issues that are challenging practitioners.
I’ve consistently said that we need to encourage better engagement between research, teaching and practice. If that’s not your view, please look away now.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the discussion. Each suggestion is a jumping off point for further investigation.
The only way is ethics
How does post truth or fake news change the way public relations operates and how does it sit alongside codes of practice?
Should social media be held to the same journalistic standards as other media outlets?
How important is the truth versus storytelling.
We've always believed good public relations should be open, transparent etc. But what if we're wrong? What if good public relations is actually as dishonest, ugly and brazen as you can make it?
How should practitioners ensure that messages resonate in an era of fake news and post truth?
The importance of trusted brands in a post-truth world. In other words why the claims about your cornflakes are held to a higher standard than the claims of political candidates.
What does transparency in public relations look like?
Aly Sandhaus Saxe
Does anyone have the right to be forgotten?
Data and the science of measurement
How can public relations be measured more effectively; focusing on whether public relations campaigns should be treated the same as marketing ones; using the same tools such as Salesforce and Marketo.
Measuring the effectiveness of video as a means of communication in the social sphere.
Test measurement frameworks for Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned (PESO) communications and content.
How can data be used to improve the impact of campaigns? Is this a route to improving the perception of public relations in society?
Data visualisation looking not just at economist infographics and similar but a historical review of people such as Florence Nightingale who understood the importance of conveying a story succinctly in an as easy to understand form as possible.
Does reputation have a monetary value?
The business of influence
Study the behavioural economics aspects of the science of influence –influencing perceptions in order to influence market behaviour – how individual minds work, as well as the collective.
What does influence look like for the next generation?
What’s the role of social media influencers as part of a modern public relations campaign
What makes a brand invincible? How and why do some brands die due to reputational harm, while others seem to shrug off a crisis and carry on regardless?
Evidence based research showing how trust in the conventional [media] has been eroded over the past decade and the impact this has on society and business.
How do bots propagate and what are potential defensive strategies?
Characterising the public relations profession
Explore the lack of diversity in the public relations profession; LGBT, women at the top, disability, ethnicity and social mobility.
How do CEOs perceive public relations and what needs to be done to improve understanding of the strategic value it can add?
What skills and understanding does the communications advisor to the board need to be credible? Should reputation sit above sales and marketing in the corporate hierarchy?
Why are ethnic minorities under-represented in public relations?
Why do so many women leave public relations?
Is social media helping to reduce inequalities – or is everything staying the same?
Is public relations dead? We tend to work in wider communications roles now and need knowledge and skills to survive.
How do you build mental resilience in journalism and public relations, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through exposure to traumatic events and materials, as well as the wider issues around the job and its impact on mental health?
Personal versus professional expectations: where does a job and public persona end and personal life begin?
Is the news cycle dead?
Does the connected economy increase the need for niche specialism?
Characterise the rise of online and social echo chambers and the impact they have on decision-making.
How low can production values be? We're in the social media age, with Facebook Live, YouTube live streaming as video-based platforms, and Facebook and LinkedIn and lots more as type-based platforms. So how garbled can the sound be, how fuzzy can the video be, how distorted can the speakers be, and so on?
How can global, US-run social networks effectively deal with personal attacks, death threats or even define trolling, when they have a US President that is normalising [trolling]?
Explore emerging strategies as companies increasingly need to market to an algorithm [rather than a human being].
Future of public relations
What is the role of paid media in public relations programmes?
The impact of artificial intelligence on content creation and distribution. Explore ethics, impact on jobs, and the relationship between the quality and quantity of content and the role it plays in manipulating the human brain.
Explore digital as a means of genuine business transformation, compared with when it is used as a bolt on or stick plaster.
What is the likely impact of voice search and home automation devices on brand reputation?
What’s the impact of artificial intelligence on skills and workflow in public relations?
What’s the impact of artificial intelligence on media and public discourse?
Public relations education
Are we teaching students the necessary skills to succeed in the industry locally, nationally, and globally?
How do leading public relations companies and agencies perceive the value of public relations education?
Public relations in practice
Explore the fundamental changes of internal communication due to internal social media.
Explore the use of social media by parties in a political campaign.
Paula Clare Keaveney
Explore the application of social media in hospitals as part of the patient journey.
What role should public relations play in a hostile takeover? How can it be justified, and used as a positive promotion of the business?
Should public relations practitioners own or participate in the company narrative or content strategy as part of an integrated public relations approach?