Writing Papers: Picking a Topic
The first step in writing a paper is choosing a topic, and your paper will be doomed from the start without a good topic. This may sound melodramatic, but it’s true. You want to get off to a good start, and this means spending some time deciding on your topic. This article defines what instructors mean by a “good” topic and also explains how you can come up with interesting topics for your papers.
Is the Topic Interesting?
To start, a good topic should be of interest to you. If you don’t care about the topic, you can’t expect your readers to. You’ll be more motivated to do your research and really think about your topic if you choose something that’s relevant to you. You may, for example, focus on your favorite author, country, hobby, and so on.
You can also select a topic that’s relevant to your family, your hometown, or your goals in life. For example, suppose that you want to be a TV weather forecaster. You can look for weather-related aspects of a topic, such as how weather affected certain battles in World War II. Or you can compare and contrast how weather affects people’s outlook on life; are people happier when it’s sunny most of the time?
Is the Information Available?
When considering a topic, you also want to make sure you can find the information you need to adequately discuss this topic. (In some cases, you won’t find out there’s a problem until you do the research.) If you want to write about how Kurt Cobain’s journal writing predicted his tragic life, you need access to those journals. Part of choosing a topic is making sure you can find enough sources that discuss it.
Is the Topic the Right Size?
This may sound funny, but the scope of your paper needs to be the right size. That is, your topic can’t be too big or too small. Like Goldilocks in “The Three Bears,” the topic must be “just right.”
When you do your research, you can get a good idea of the scope of your topic by looking at what’s available. If there’s an overabundance of material, your topic is probably too big. For example, it would be hard to summarize the history of rock and roll in a three-page paper. On the other hand, writing about the use of the sitar (an instrument) in rock and roll probably isn’t big enough. Writing about Eastern musical influences on rock, though, may be just right.
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