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What can you write about in a literature dissertation?

What are you actually supposed to write about in a literature dissertation? I’m writing my undergraduate dissertation on Chinese literature at the moment, and one issue I keep coming back to in these early stages is what sort of content is supposed to go in it.

Literature dissertation (Source: guides.library.jhu.edu)

I’m typing up a lot of my notes and research here as I go (it makes it easy for me to find again later, plus it might be helpful to someone else). If you have more content ideas for a literature dissertation, or think the ones here are ridiculous, please share your knowledge in the comments at the end of the page.

Quick-fire literature dissertation content ideas

  • How does AUTHOR differ from TREND? Why?
  • How is AUTHOR a good example of TREND? Why?
  • What are the assumptions AUTHOR makes in PIECE? Why?
  • What paradigms does AUTHOR seem to exist and think in? Why?
  • How did AUTHOR view TREND? Why?
  • How did PERSON view AUTHOR? Why?
  • How does AUTHOR A relate to AUTHOR B? Why?
  • Is it reasonable to group AUTHOR A with AUTHOR B? Why?
  • How does FEATURE OF AUTHOR show up in PIECE BY AUTHOR? Why?
  • How does FEATURE change over AUTHOR’s life? Why?
  • Why did AUTHOR write PIECE?
  • How did EVENT influence PIECE? Why?

More general approaches

As well as the mini content ideas above, you might want to have a look at the more general themes listed below. They’re huge, huge topics, so I won’t go into detail here, but they might provide inspiration as angles to approach literature from in your dissertation.

  • Intellectual history
  • Moral philosophy
  • Social prophecy
  • Structuralism
  • Marxism
  • Feminism
  • Deconstruction
  • Semiotics
  • Literary history
  • Literary theory

This is just a rapid list of ideas that might help you approach the issues in your literature dissertation from a new angle, or help you get started with an essay topic. If you’ve got any more suggestions (and there’s a universe of potential), please share them in the comments at the end of the page.