Writing an essay can be challenging enough, but getting started can be intimidating if you don’t know what topic to write about! Choosing your topic is an essential first step, and sometimes it’s not at all clear where you should begin. Here are some quick tips to help you pick the right topic.
BUT… Before you start thinking about your topic, make sure you read your assignment guidelines carefully. Make sure you know what your professor is looking for so you don’t veer off track with your topic choice.
SOURCES OF INSPIRATION
Determine your purpose
To choose a good topic, you need to think about the purpose of your essay. What are you trying to achieve?
- Are you explaining a concept?
- Are you trying to persuade your reader of a certain point of view?
- Are you presenting a critique of someone else’s point of view?
Whatever the purpose of your essay, your topic needs to fit that purpose.
Start with your interests
It’s hard to write a full essay on a topic you know absolutely nothing about. Start with a subject you’re interested in or want to learn more about. The process of researching and writing will be much more interesting and much less painful if you are engaged and excited by the topic.
However, try not to choose a topic that you’re already an expert in. Essay writing is about exploring new areas and discovering new ideas. If you try to take the easy way out and write about something you know already, you risk being lazy in your research and missing out on key insights that could make your paper more interesting.
Think about the topics you’ve covered in class
If you’re still uninspired (maybe you hate the subject you are studying and have no personal interests related to the class!), try jotting down the topics you’ve covered in class or that have been touched on in your readings. Look at the list and think about whether you have any questions about those topics. Maybe there are related topics that you can expand on. Maybe there are questions raised in your readings that warrant further research. Class material is always a good place to start, because you can be almost positive that the topic you choose will be relevant to the course material.
Open a fresh document (or grab a pen and paper—the old fashioned way!), clear your mind, and start making a list. Jot down any and every topic you can think of in relation to your assignment. Don’t censor yourself or try to make judgements about the quality of the topic choice—just get it on paper.
Evaluate your List
Here is where you start deleting or crossing out topics that will obviously not work. Consider each item on your list individually. Sort out which ones are most interesting to you and jot down any additional ideas or questions you have about the topics on your list. At this point, it should be clearer to you what topics are emerging as having real potential.
If you still haven’t decided, try choosing two or three of your shortlisted topics and do a five-minute freewriting exercise on each of them. It’s a great way to get your thoughts on paper. All you have to do is write for five minutes without thinking too hard. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling at this stage— just write about the topic and don’t stop until your five minutes is up. Go wherever your mind takes you.
Once you have completed these exercises, take a look at the results and see which topic seems the most interesting and the most workable with respect to your assignment. Remember that even if you’re still not sure that your topic will be a good one, once you start the research and writing processes, it might turn out to be a better topic than you first thought!
QUALITIES OF A GOOD RESEARCH TOPIC
Keep these qualities in mind when you are thinking about what topic to choose!
You are interested in the topic
The more interested you are in the topic, the more thorough you will be with your research, and the stronger your essay will be in the end.
Your topic is sufficiently specific
Think about the length of your essay and make sure you choose a question that you can actually answer thoroughly within your space and time limitations.
Your topic is original
You don’t have to choose a topic that no one has written about before, but you should bring something of yourself to the table—what is your specific take on the issue? How does your voice differ from others writing on the same or similar topics? What’s your unique angle?