PhD levelI want to apply for PhD level in English literature and I do not know from where to start. I want some help in suggesting a good title for a PhD thesis.   For instance, if I would like to...

PhD level

I want to apply for PhD level in English literature and I do not know from where to start. I want some help in suggesting a good title for a PhD thesis.


For instance, if I would like to write about George Eliot or about an author which no one talked about his/her works.


I want to apply for PhD level in English literature and I do not know from where to start. I want some help in suggesting a good title for a PhD thesis.


For instance, if I would like to write about George Eliot or about an author which no one talked about his/her works.



Many thanks for your kind advice.

Expert Answers
MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm not sure if you're asking about applying for a Ph.D. program, or writing a doctoral thesis. Your icon says "graduate student", so one might assume you're in a a master's or doctoral program already. If so, and you're asking about writing the thesis, your graduate advisor or a professor with whom you've worked before would be a good place to start. They might be able to get a better idea of what authors/fields of research interest you. You really have to know yourself and have confidence in your interests in order to write a doctoral thesis. I doubt anyone on this site could pinpoint a topic for you, but beginning with your own strengths is important. Have you written a particularly strong piece in the past? If so, you may want to use that as a starting point and move from there. Is there a certain text/author you're interested in studying further? Think about your area of interest, and study the previous criticism. Is there a particular theory or approach that is under-represented? Many people use a theory approach: Marxist, feminist, queer, post-modern, etc. Others consider a linguistic study, or a structural view, or post-structuralism. The field of literary criticism is quite rich, but you'll definitely want to consider a viewpoint that others have not. It's an interesting balance; You want an area that has enough established criticism to use for your research, but you don't want to repeat years of others' study. Also, remember that most people devote at least one year (and for many it's more like two or more) to just writing their doctoral text...not to mention the years of classes, the time devoted to teaching, and the usual requirement of learning two languages. The average length of a Ph.D. program is five years, so it is a serious undertaking.

If you're asking about actually applying for the program, and you're coming from a bachelor's program, you may be able to apply directly for a Ph.D. program, or you may have to enter a master's program and complete it before moving onto your doctorate. Either way, you'll need to have a strong writing sample and recommendations. Most programs require at least three recommendations, and a writing sample of 10-25 pages. An "A" or "B" average in your major is helpful as well, but the writing sample is probably the most important piece of your application. A personal statement is essential as well. This will detail your areas of interest, and outline your experience in the field to date. It can certainly be a difficult task. Good luck!

James Kelley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I can add a little about how I chose my own dissertation topic. Yes, I did speak a number of times with my advisor, but most of the development of the dissertaton topic came from me alone. I had to read a lot of primary and secondary works (e.g. critical studies) and, although I didn't enjoy the process, I had to write more than three drafts of my dissertation proposal before it was accepted by my dissertation chair. (The proposal and prospectus are not the same thing, at least not in my program. After writing an acceptable proposal, I still had to develop a substantial and researched prospectus, which was then reviewed and critiqued by pretty much all of the English faculty in a formal meeting.) I agree with the previous posters who recommend speaking with your advisor, but I also think that you will want to develop your own topic. Nothing strikes me as more boring or deadly than writing a dissertation on a topic chosen by someone else.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To add to the comprehensive answer provided in #2, your question doesn't make it entirely clear what your expectations are. Your chances of finding any author which has not been written about, studied, or analysed to death is remote if non-existent, especially a major author such as George Elliot. So it is much better to think of tackling a major author and their work from a particular critical standpoint such as those suggested above. You are unlikely to say anything "new" yourself about these works, but using tools such as theories and approaches might yield some interesting conclusions.

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the previous posts about identifying your passion. Many people don't even start graduate school, and many who start it don't finish because it is a lot of work and a lot of writing.

If you are working on writing your paper on something that is a passion, it will seem much less like work. You will be more likely to block out sufficient time each day to make real progress, and that is what you have to do in order to complete a thesis or a dissertation.

Good luck with your pursuit of your dream!

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree totally with both posters so far.  You're interested in doing what everyone else wants to do in a perfect world--find something no one else has found and share your observations with an awestruck world.  Truly, that would be amazing, and it's a lofty goal.  I commend you for it.  The reality, though, is as explained above.  There's very little new under the literary sun, so turning something upside down or sideways and finding a new perspective on something familiar is your best bet. 

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If you have already been admitted to a doctoral program, the first thing I would do is go and discuss these things with your dissertation advisor.  This person will be able to discuss with you what has been done to death and where you might be able to dangle a worthy literary carrot.  Go pick his or her brain, and then worry about which way your thesis and research will go from there.  Good Luck!

slchanmo1885 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What is your passion? Who is your favorite author? I would suggest choosing something that is a real passion of yours, something that you're a bit obsessive about, even, because this topic is one that you will be spending A LOT of time on. Its important to choose a topic that you won't mind really delving deeply into, something that will hold your interest for a long time. 

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Absolutely you must find a topic about which you are passionate. You can't simply base something like a doctoral thesis on something simply because there hasn't been much done on the subject. Certainly you could find something inspiring along those lines, but you've expressed your ideas rather dispassionately, so one must wonder. Good luck.

dreams99 | Student

Thanks for the useful comments. I got my MA degree in English literature lately and it was on Jane Austen.

I am thinking about George Eliot and her works, or may be other authors of her time.