The UVic Writer's Guide
Narrowing Your Essay Topic
The first step in writing an essay is finding something to write
about. Whether you are working from a list of assigned topics
or selecting your own, try to find something which sparks your
interest: not only will working on the assignment be more stimulating,
but your commitment will also help you write a more convincing
essay. Some preliminary reading may help determine how deep your
interest goes, as well as letting you know what kind of material
will be available as you write your essay.
A common problem of beginning writers is wallowing around in a
topic too wide for their purposes. General words such as "media,""war,"
"life,"or "nature"are often incorrectly used as if they were topics
(even "dragons"is too broad). However, students often begin to
write essays with nothing more in mind than a general concept,
and the result is a vague and generalized essay, of little interest
to the student and less to the instructor. If you start with a
broad area, concentrate on narrowing your subject„it will also
help you deal with your topic within the length of the paper assigned
and the time you have been given to complete it.
You can narrow your topic by considering a particular approach
to the subject, or a sub-topic within it. You might ask yourself
key questions, such as the following:
- Am I writing of one specific species of dragon, or of dragons
- What kind of dragon do I wish to write about? Chinese? Fire-breathers?
- What activities, qualities, or myths of that particular dragon
do I wish to explore?
- Am I writing of one war or of war in general?
- Which war do I wish to write about? WWI? WWII? The Gulf War? "War"taken
more metaphorically„between the sexes, siblings, or members of
- Am I concentrating on the history of the war itself, or its causes
- What specific events or examples will illustrate my points?
In deriving a workable topic from your subject, be careful not
to narrow it too far; your topic must provide scope to develop
a sustained presentation and argument.
General subject: Media
Narrowed topic: Commercials
Specific topic: How commercials manipulate their audience
General subject: Dragons
Narrowed topic: Fire-breathing dragons
Specific topic: Problems in fighting the medieval fire-breathing dragon.
Topics About Essays
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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria,
This page updated April 5, 1995