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Tips on How to Choose a Ph.D. Research Topic in English Literature

The initial task of making a research thesis interesting and informative is to choose a new and innovative topic for exploration.

In subjects like English literature, where the scope of applied research work is relatively fewer than the subjects like science or economics, it is of great importance that the researchers opt for a research topic that grabs the attention of the supervisors instantly.

If you are thinking about how to choose a Ph.D. research topic in English literature, here we are providing you with some useful tips:

Understanding your comfort zone

While you are speculating about how to choose a Ph.D. research topic in English literature, you need to be very clear about your own individual comfort zone. The entire canon of English literature, if divided chronologically, can be categorized into different literary periods or ages.

Each of these stages of the development of English literature has its own distinctive features that make them dissimilar to each other. Let us have a look at those stages:


Literary age/period


Old English period c. 450–1066
Middle English period 1066–1500
Elizabethan period 1558–1603
Jacobean age 1603–1625
Post-renaissance age/Puritan age 1625–1660
Restoration period 1660–1700
Augustan period 1700–1750
Age of sensibility 1750–1798
Age of Romanticism 1798–1837
Victorian literature 1837–1901
20th-century literature/beginning of modernism 1901-1940
Post-modernism 1940-2000
Contemporary period The 21st century


Categorizing the genre of your paper

People, who are searching for tips on how to choose a Ph.D. research topic in English literature, are recommended to opt for their preferred genre first. Choose your favored one among the following:

  • Poems
    1. Allegory
    2. Ballad
    3. Burlesque
    4. Elegy
    5. Epic
    6. Limerick
    7. Lyric
    8. Narrative
    9. Ode
    10. Pastoral
    11. Sonnet and many others


  • Fictional prose
    1. Classic
    2. Detective
    3. Fable
    4. Fairytale
    5. Fantasy
    6. Folklore
    7. Gothic
    8. Graphic novel
    9. Historic
    10. Magic realism
    11. Metafiction
    12. Mystery
    13. Realistic
    14. Romance
    15. Satiric
    16. Science fiction
    17. Short story
    18. Swashbuckler
    19. Western and much more


  • Nonfictional prose
    1. Biography
    2. Essay
    3. Journalism
    4. Memoir
    5. Narrative nonfiction
    6. Reference book
    7. Speech
    8. Textbook and others


  • Drama
    1. Comedy
      • Black/dark comedy
      • Comedy of errors
      • Comedy of humor
      • Comedy of manners
      • Comedy of menace
      • Commedia dell”arte
      • Farce
      • Pantomime
      • Parody
      • Restoration comedy
      • Romantic comedy
      • Sentimental comedy
      • Slapstick
      • Theater of the Absurd
    2. Tragedy
      • Domestic tragedy
      • Heroic tragedy
      • Revenge tragedy
    3. Tragicomedy

Themes that may attract attention

When it comes to the selection of a research topic, the most important part becomes the method through which you are going to critically analyze the matter. While providing you with some valuable pieces of information regarding how to choose a Ph.D. research topic in English literature, we are now going to discuss some of the themes that the modern researchers are paying their attention to:

  • Gender

Discriminating gender roles as reflected in various literary texts are one of the most significant themes in the modern-day research. The first and second-wave feminism has affected the literary analysis process drastically and the practice is still going on with the intention of exploring both old and new texts from this particular perspective. Possible examples are:

  1. Whether Chaucer’s Wife of Bath is the earliest example of liberal feminism
  2. Whether it is justified to claim that Shakespeare’s heroines when they appear in comedies, become bold and assertive compared to the rather dumb and effeminate male characters, and become stagnant when they appear in tragedies
  3. Whether Thomas Hardy wanted to convey the idea that women’s choice of free will eventually result in their moral deprivation and consequently, they should be condemned to death
  • Race

Racial identities and the discriminations made on the basis of it has been a much-debated topic in the arena of English literature and several authors and theorists have contributed more than a few texts and articles on this topic. While thinking about how to choose a Ph.D. research topic in English literature, you may take this theory into special consideration.

In the light of such theories, we may speculate how much justified it was on the part of Prospero to evacuate Sycorax and turning Caliban into a slave in Shakespeare’s Tempest; or, whether Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park truly reflects her abolitionist fervor.

  • Political history

The political and socioeconomic history of Britain, as well as of the entire world, has shaped and reshaped the structure and mode of expression of English literature since ages. A completely distinct genre of English poetry has been named as War poetry as a consequence of the effect of the two devastating world wars taking place within a gap of merely 20 years.

The industrial revolution in England and the subsequent socioeconomic occurrences affected English literature to a great extent. It is largely a topic of debate whether Milton would compose his Paradise Lost as a tragedy rather than an epic if he was an exponent of the Elizabethan literature and not the Puritan age.

  • Psychoanalysis

With the advent of modern psychoanalytical theories, literary texts have been started to be analyzed in the light of Freudian and post-Freudian premises. The modernist texts and the stream-of-consciousness novels are the most significant parts of English literature to be analyzed psychoanalytically.

  • Application of literary theories

While you are getting the details of how to choose a Ph.D. research topic in English literature, possessing certain knowledge of the literary theories are indispensable. Some of the most frequently applied theories for the English literary texts are:

  1. Deconstruction
  2. Eco-criticism
  3. Gender theories
  4. Formalism
  5. Marxist literary criticism
  6. New historicism
  7. Postcolonialism
  8. Postmodernism
  9. Post-structuralism
  10. Psychoanalytic literary theory
  11. Reader-response criticism
  12. Realism
  13. Semiotics and so on.

These are, in a nutshell, the basic guidelines of how to choose a Ph.D. research topic in English literature. Whatever topic you choose, make sure it does not violate the standard research ethics and sufficient resources are available for continuing the research.

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