While choosing a master's thesis topic to write about, I usually find that it's pretty rare to find something 'totally original', I mean, is it a requirement?

I have decided what I want to write about and, while searching the net for something similar, it turned out that my topic isn't too original after all, however what makes mine 'new' is 1) a new country, 2) the chosen industry and 3) the chosen sample. Is this acceptable?

Usually, how common for one to come up with and write something totally original (e.g. That has never been done before in any context)?

EDIT: I also would like to add that, to make sure that my topic has never been done before in my chosen country and industry, I've heavily searched the net. Is this enough? I mean, I don't want to do a study and later on discover that some people have done it before exactly in the same manner as mine (country, industry, etc...) for either the study was done 1) at some obscure university or 2) simply was never published and kept in the library of a particular university. What do people usually do in such cases?

  • 1
    Which country? I know cases on both sides, depending on country/field... Commented May 3, 2016 at 19:49

1 Answer 1


Short answers: it's a requirement of sorts, it's probably acceptable (with caveats), mostly, assuming you have covered major databases and/or Google Scholar.

Long answers: One of the requirements for academic research, particularly in the context of dissertations, is to contribute to existing research. This can mean coming up with a new approach to solve a particular problem, or a new theory or idea. But it can also mean looking at a topic from a slightly different angle, or focussing on a different aspect.

Not all research (#notallstudies) has to be new and exciting. Trying to replicate and thereby confirm existing research is entirely valid and acceptable. However, the current publication process favours developing new studies and approaches over replication studies. A perceived lack of originality may therefore hamper your publication chances, which is problematic in itself. Whether this is an issue for you depends on your future career plans and choices.

Whether your slightly adjusted topic will be accepted also depends on how plausible it is that a different region / industry / sample composition would bring different results than the original study. For example, if you're looking at topics that are likely to be influenced by cultural differences / class / education background / or similar, you can reasonably expect that looking at a different country or a different sector may yield new information. However, there will be other factors where it would seem implausible that region or industry would have any bearing on them, e.g. left-/right-handedness, general IQ, neuroticism scores etc.

In checking for existing research you should make sure to cover relevant journals and databases in the fields. You're not expected to research the library of any university, but to cover relevant publications.

Lastly, a few caveats:

  • Check your university's requirements. Whatever I and other people tell you will be based on our experiences in particular contexts and institutions. Your institution's guidelines may differ.

  • Answers to your questions may also differ between subjects. My answer is based on experiences in psychology / social science research, particularly work and employment.

  • 'not very' concerning which question of mine? I do think that the choice of a new country (because of our different culture) will definitely refresh the topic, however what if I arrive with the same results? Can this still be considered valid? My instructor found no issues at all when I told her about the presence of some related studies to the topic... Yes, my topic is in marketing; so I am doing a new empirical study based on a topic that has been (not so much though) tested before in different countries/industries. I've edited my question by the way.
    – R. AS.
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 17:25
  • 'Not very' refers to your original third question, how common it is that a thesis contains something entirely new and original. It won't make a difference if you find the same results as long as your initial question is considered valid. After all, you first have to do the research to find out whether the situation in a new country is the same or different.
    – Serafina
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 18:45
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    Note that a masters thesis often isn't subject to the same originality standards that would be required of a PhD thesis or a peer-reviewed article. In some cases, exposition of existing work is completely acceptable for a masters thesis. Commented May 4, 2016 at 3:00
  • @NateEldredge but that's the issue, it's so rare to find something completely new and not written about in the literature before. My chosen topic was even chosen while I was brainstorming before surfing the web and knowing that it has been done before in different countries/industries. So in my case, can it still be called 'exposition of existing work'?
    – R. AS.
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 20:43

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