Dec 8, 2008

How To Pick An Essay Topic

A few weeks back, we covered the ins and outs of writing an academic paper. We explained the process of taking a topic from thesis to conclusion without getting hung-up anywhere in between. However, we only briefly touched on one of the most important steps of writing a paper--choosing the right topic. If done correctly, your paper will practically write itself, but with the wrong topic, writer’s block and frustration are sure to rear their ugly heads.

Here are some sure-fire ways to avoid this. Begin by looking over the assignment very carefully. Jot down some brief notes on what your teacher will be expecting. Are there any specific points or areas you will need to cover? What range of topics can you explore? Is the paper open-ended, or more narrowly focused?

Once you understand your assignment, start brainstorming some ideas. Give yourself five minutes of uninterrupted writing. Let the words flow onto the page as quickly as you can write them, and no matter what, do not stop. Many people will try to slow down because they “run out of things to say”, but even if what you are writing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, just keep going. Every sentence could lead to topical gold.

After five minutes, you should have a sizable chunk of stream-of-consciousness writing that you can use to build your topic. Choose ideas that most interest or surprise you and expand on them. Where did your brainstorm lead? Where you end up is often a good indication of what will be most interesting for you to write about. If your brainstorming session yielded no results, take a break and then come back later and try again.

While building your topic, consider what resources you have available. Some topics could be more interesting than others but require much more research or time invested. Consider long-term workload.

It is possible that another student has already come up with your ideal essay topic. Feel free to use a topic you find in your research. As long as you write your own paper, using someone else’s topic is usually okay.

Remember to refer back to the original assignment and the notes you made detailing important paper parameters. Try to juxtapose the assignment with your brainstorming. Find a balance between what you want to write about and what you have to write about.

Always double-check your topic with your teacher before you begin writing. Ultimately, you choose the topic, but the paper is for your teacher. Choose a topic that’ll make both parties happy.

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