Essay Topics: Successful Strategies for Picking a Topic for Your Essay

Date: September 9, 2013

Picking Your Essay Topic

To pick your essay topic, first, consider what type of writing you are doing, and explore what will make it effective. For example, your diary has different purpose and audience than an essay, just as a research proposal has different purpose and audience than a white paper. The better you understand the task at hand, the more successful will be your writing.

Pre-Writing Stage

Writing is a process, not just a product. Even a professional writer can’t sit down at their computer, write, and call it a day. The quality of your writing will reflect the time and forethought you put into the assignment. Plan the assignment out by doing some pre-writing. The pre-writing will allow you to be more productive and organized each time you sit down to write. Writing needs 100% focus and therefore is a draining task. Schedule your writing time in blocks so you can walk away from it for a while and come back later to make changes and revisions with a fresh mind.

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Two strategies for picking a topic

A writer will encounter one of two situations when it comes to choosing a topic. The first is when someone else chooses provides topics from which the writer must pick. These topics are deemed worthy by someone else and the writer must be confident in the choices laid out by an authority. This arrangement eliminates the stress of having to decide on a topic.

However, it is not uncommon for writers to have a topic in mind that does not fit with any of those provided. It is generally always accepted for a writer to approach their editor or client with ideas. As long as they are respectful, and ask if the topic they have in mind would be a possible option for the assignment. If they do not like the idea, a writer should not take it personally.

Methods for choosing a topic

Thinking early leads to starting early. If the student begins thinking about possible topics when the assignment is given, she has already begun the arduous, yet rewarding, task of planning and organization. Once she has made the assignment a priority in her mind, she may begin to have ideas throughout the day. Brainstorming is often a successful way for students to get some of these ideas down on paper. Seeing one’s ideas in writing is often an impetus for the writing process. Though brainstorming is particularly effective when a topic has been chosen, it can also benefit the student who is unable to narrow a topic. It consists of a timed writing session during which the student jots down—often in list or bulleted form—any ideas that come to his mind. At the end of the timed period, the student will peruse his list for patterns of consistency. If it appears that something seems to be standing out in his mind more than others, it may be wise to pursue this as a topic possibility.

It is important for the student to keep in mind that an initial topic that you come up with may not be the exact topic about which you end up writing. Research topics are often fluid and dictated more by the student’s ongoing research than by the originally chosen topic. Such fluidity is common in research and should be embraced as one of its many characteristics.

Tips for the writing process

There are some definite Do’s and Don’ts for everything that comes after picking the topic. Following these simple rules will keep your grammar and style tight and uniform. The rest of the magic is up to you.

 DO NOT use contractions (like “don’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t,” etc.). Spell out both words fully e.g. “do not,” “would not,” “should not,” etc.

DO NOT use slang. If you absolutely cannot live without slang, at least place it in quotation marks (eg “Like hey man, lose the groovy lingo. You dig? Later man.”).

DO NOT use cliches. Overused and hackneyed old expressions are usually too vague and need to be put to rest. Cliches are viewed with dismay by most intelligent readers. Using your own words leads to more precision in your word choice and more meaning for your sentence.

DO NOT use the words “really” or “very” to try to emphasize a point (e.g. It was “really, very” important.) These are almost always unnecessary filler words in spoken language and the written sentence will sound better without the unneeded redundancy (e.g. “It was important.”)

DO NOT make up words by turning nouns into verbs e.g. “journaling” instead of the more correct and older “journalizing.” Use your Merriam-Webster dictionary.

DO use page numbers and a title. Make your title interesting rather something dull like “Written Assignment 57.”

DO say exactly what you mean using precise word choices and giving specific information to support your proposition or thesis. Define your terms.

DO tell your reader something new about the subject. Say something significant and important. Do not blather on. Say something thoughtful and intelligent. This will usually require some brainstorming, list making, outlining, and other pre-writing.

DO start off with a clear thesis statement of the main idea. Make sure the first paragraph leaves a good first impression with a thesis statement, fluent writing, and no mechanical errors.

DO write better than you speak. With writing, you have the opportunity to catch and correct all of those sloppy little things we tend to do in our spoken English.

Examples of writing assignment topics

Writing can have many different purposes. You could be observing your school cafeteria to see what types of food students are actually eating, you could be evaluating the quality of the food based on freshness and quantity, or you could be narrating a story about how you gained fifteen pounds your first year at college.

You may need to use several of these writing strategies within the assignment to make it more compelling. For example, you could summarize federal nutrition guidelines, evaluate whether the food being served at the dorm fits those guidelines, and then argue that changes should be made in the menus to better fit those guidelines.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Summarizing is presenting the main points or essence of another text in a condensed form
  • Arguing/persuading is expressing a viewpoint on an issue or topic in an effort to convince others that your viewpoint is correct
  • Narrating is telling a story or giving an account of events
  • Evaluating is examining something in order to determine its value or worth based on a set of criteria.
  • Analyzing is breaking a topic down into its component parts in order to examine the relationships between the parts.
  • Responding is writing that is in a direct dialogue with another text.
  • Examining/Investigating is systematically questioning a topic to discover or uncover facts that are not widely known or accepted, in a way that strives to be as neutral and objective as possible.
  • Observing is helping the reader see and understand a person, place, object, image or event that you have directly watched or experienced through detailed sensory descriptions.

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