Finding Your Topic
Your professor just assigned a paper. It seems easy enough: only 4 pages and only 3 sources. There’s just one massive problem.
What are you going to write about?
My favorite essays were always the ones with really specific questions to answer. Respond to this book, argue this point, and focus on these details. I knew exactly what I had to do and didn’t have any big choices to make.
When the topic is open-ended, I panic.
How do you choose between all of the important social issues in the world? How do you choose what historical figure you’d like to write about? There are so many options, and you can’t even begin to narrow them down.
1. Write what you love. You’re going to be spending a lot of time researching and writing. Do you really want to read up about something you don’t like? Picking a topic you’re passionate about makes the whole process a lot more fun, so write about what gets you excited.
Bonus: If you care about your topic, it shows. Your professor can usually tell when you’ve written about something you love, and those papers are a lot more fun to read.
But… be careful not to let bias get in the way.
2. Be curious. What do you want to know more about? If there’s a topic you’ve always wanted to explore, why not do it now? Working on a paper may give you the chance to learn something new.
But… make sure to do some pre-research. You’ll need to know a little about your subject to make sure that it will fit the assignment.
3. Talk it out. Some of our best ideas occur when we’re talking to other people. One of your classmates might have chosen a topic that gets you thinking. Your professor may be able to help you narrow down your options. Someone who knows nothing about the class can sometimes provide a valuable new perspective.
Bonus: The Writing Center is happy to help you brainstorm. Our student writing consultants are great sounding boards for your ideas, and we’ll work with you at any stage of the writing process – even if you haven’t started.