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Choosing a Topic and Developing a Thesis Help

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Updated on Sep 2, 2011

Rules of Thumb for Choosing a Topic

The writing process involves making many decisions. You begin by deciding what to write about. To ensure that you make a good choice, follow these four rules. The topic you choose must:

  1. be interesting to you and your audience
  2. fulfill the writing assignment
  3. be sufficiently focused
  4. be able to be turned into a question

Capturing Interest

The first rule for choosing a topic is simple: Make certain it holds your interest. If it's not interesting to you, why would it be to your reader? Your lack of enthusiasm will be evident, and your writing is likely to be dull, dry, and uninspired as a result. If you are interested in your topic, you can convey that feeling to your reader, no matter what the subject. Your reader will be drawn in by your lively prose and passionate assertions.

But what if you aren't really interested in any of the ideas you came up with while brainstorming? What if the assignment is about a subject you find dull? The challenge in this situation is to find some approach to the topic that does interest you. For example, your contemporary American politics teacher has asked you to write an essay about a healthcare policy issue—something you've never thought or cared much about. Your first brainstorming session resulted in a number of ideas, but nothing interesting enough to keep you writing for five pages. In that case, it makes sense to brainstorm again, using another method.

Before you begin, make a short list of some of the things that do interest you. Even if they seem totally unrelated to the subject, you may be able to make a connection. For example, one student listed the following five areas of interest:

  • music
  • driving
  • snowboarding
  • Tom Clancy novels
  • the Internet

She then saw several possible connections with her topic, even before brainstorming again. She could write about healthcare coverage for music therapy, healthcare policy resources on the Internet, or how accident statistics affect healthcare policies.

Finding a Focus

Essay assignments often ask you to write about a very broad subject area. For example, your topic might be to write about the Cold War or about a novel you read in class. You can approach such boundless assignments in many ways.

To write a successful essay, you need to focus your topic. If, for example, you are given the topic of genetic engineering, you must find a specific issue or idea within that broad topic. Otherwise, you will have enough material for a book. You might decide to write about how genetic engineering is used to find cures for diseases, to create "super" crops, or to plan a family with "designer" children.

In other words, you need to focus your material so it can be adequately covered within the confines of the essay. If you try to cover too much, you'll have to briefly mention many subtopics, without delving into the "meat" of your topic. If your topic is too narrow, though, you'll run out of ideas in a page or two, and probably fail to meet the requirements of your assignment.

It may take time to sufficiently focus the topic. Here's how one student narrowed it down:

Finding a Focus

It took three steps, but her "sufficiently narrowed topic" has the right level of focus and can be adequately examined within the essay structure.

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