Selecting A Topic For An Essay

Finding a Topic

Picking the right topic for an essay can save any writer time and can help set up the essay for potential success before beginning. A bad topic will do the opposite and can lead to a frustrating writing experience. With this in mind, here are a few elements a writer should always consider when considering a potential essay topic:

  1. Pick a topic that interests you:  The more interested you, as the writer, are in the topic, the easier it will be to write about.  If the essay requires research and the use of outside sources, pick a topic that you are interested in learning more about to make the research process more interesting.
  2. Pick a topic that you have experience with:  Having experience with a particular subject provides a foundation that can be expanded upon through the writing process. The more experience you have with a particular topic, the better.  However, keep in mind that having experience with a particular subject is not the same as being an expert (although you may, in fact, be one), but some form of experience provides a basis for writing and possible research. 
  3. Pick a topic that will interest the reader: If the topic interests you but doesn’t interest others, it may not be worth writing about. Remember that good writers consider their audience throughout the process, even at this early stage.  This often means avoiding topics that have been written about extensively and, instead, choosing topics that are more current. 
  4. Make sure the topic fits the guidelines for the essay: Even if your paper is interesting and well written, if it doesn’t fit the guidelines established by the instructor, the end result will not be successful. When in doubt, discuss the topic with the instructor and make sure it is appropriate before beginning.
  5. If outside sources must be used, make sure there are enough credible sources available: If you must perform and incorporate research into your essay, do some of this research before committing to the topic. Starting to organize or write and later finding out that there aren’t enough sources to use can waste a lot of time. To avoid this, make sure that there are enough credible sources to use before committing to a topic and beginning the actual writing. For more information on doing research, view the finding sources and effective internet searches pages.

Sometimes, instead of giving you a list of essay topics to choose from, a tutor will ask you to come up with your own essay questions. How can you come up with something suitable for the essay format?

1. Brainstorm. What are you interested in? What would you be excited to research? If you love the topic it’s going to make your research for the essay so much more enjoyable.

2. Look at books or articles by academics whose work has interested you. Do they make any suggestions about areas that could be developed into essay topics?

3. Essay writing guideDo you know of two (or more) academic authors who have disagreed with each other in print? Could you write an essay which weighs up their opposing arguments?

4. Be realistic. What sources are available? There’s no point coming up with an idea that fascinates you only to find that all the resources you need are in an archive two hours’ train journey away.

5. Is there anything in the newspapers that is relevant to your topic. Could you use that as a basis for your essay? Current affairs covers everything from new robotics to the discovery of archaeological remains. Whatever your subject, a recent discovery in a newspaper article might spark your imagination.

6. Don’t choose a topic that is too specific. If you choose an essay topic that is really obscure, finding material will be harder (although a custom essay could help you if you have already started along this path). Specialist research is something you may want to develop in a dissertation rather than an essay.

7. Maybe you have a topic, but you can’t see a way of turning it into an essay. Look carefully at the way you have expressed the question. Make sure you phrase it in a way that gives you plenty of room to express a point of view.

8. If you still can’t come up with an idea, read more. It may be that you simply don’t know your subject well enough to come up with an essay question. If you find it’s really complex, go back to basics. Look at A’ level textbooks to get a quick foundation knowledge. Or how about looking at essay examples to stimulate your imagination?

9. What if your problem isn’t thinking of an idea, but having too many? Get together with a friend and tell them the different ideas you have. When you look most excited by a topic, that could be the one you should go for. Ask the friend to observe your body language and tell you when you ‘light up’ with enthusiasm for the topic.

10. If all else fails, go back to your tutor. They may not hand you an essay topic on a plate, but they should be able to inspire you and get your imagination working.

Make sure you express your question clearly. Just as we can misunderstand a set essay question, we can also write an essay question that we fail to answer accurately. Be very careful with the wording you choose. Discuss it with a tutor if you have concerns.

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