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Tips for Choosing Good Essay Topics

written by: Amanda Smith • edited by: Noreen Gunnell • updated: 1/5/2012

Choosing the right topic for your essay is one of the most important things you can do. It will ultimately make or break your grade on the assignment. Here are some tips to help you come up with a great essay topic.

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    One of the most important things you can do as a writer is plan your assignment. We often overlook the most important part of the planning process -- coming up with a good topic. Without a well thought out and planned topic, your assignment will have no structure or framework. This is one of the most common mistakes that young writers make.

    Say, for example, you were assigned to write an essay on a piece of literature from your English class. There are a million different things that you could write about that work. It would be impossible, and definitely confusing to the reader, to write about all of these things at once. When you come up with a specific theme that you are going to focus on, you start to give your essay some direction.

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    Make it Your Own

    It is safe to say that you will probably write best about a subject that grabs your attention. It will also make the assignment a little less boring for you. Choosing good essay topics starts with identifying your own thoughts about the assignment. Here are some questions to think about when trying to identify what sparks your interest.

    If it is about a literary work:

    • Was there a character that I identified with? If so who?
    • What was my favorite part of the story?
    • What did I remember the most about it?

    If you retell the story to yourself, notice what you focus on. Have a classmate tell you their perspective of the story and then compare. Chances are you will have put more emphasis on certain parts or themes than your classmate. This is usually a good indication of what interests you. For example, if you are reading a book about going to war and your classmate tells the story with focus on the combat scenes, while you mostly remember the love story, you may want to focus on the relationship between characters in the story instead of the setting or events.

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    Be Specific

    Once you have a general idea of what interests you, it is time to formulate it into a specific topic that will be the framework for your entire essay. The importance of making it specific is to keep you on track and help prevent you from going off on a million different tangents. Let's use the example in the previous section. You have figured out that you are interested in interpersonal relationships between characters. This is the foundation of your essay topic, but don't stop there.

    • Which relationships interest you the most?
    • What is about the relationship that interests you?
    • Are their any relationships that are similar between characters?
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    Connect it

    This is an important step. It is great that you have identified what interests you and been able to break that down into specific parts. However, you cannot leave out the rest of the work. You must now find a way to relate your topic to the story as a whole. Continuing with the example, say you have now decided that you want to write about the relationship between the two lovers in the novel. Think of how the rest of the story has an effect on their relationship.

    • Was their relationship made better or worse throughout the story?
    • How did the war play a part in their relationship?
    • What were some of the struggles that the story put in place for them?

    These are the kinds of questions to ask yourself in order to connect your thoughts to the overall work.

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    Check it

    Once you have come up with your topic and thus crafted your essay, it is important to review your work and make sure that every paragraph relates back to the topic in some way. If you find that you have many paragraphs that do not relate to your topic, that may be a sign that you need to change your topic or that your topic was not specific enough. Oftentimes rereading a first draft will give us an idea of what we really wanted to write about in the first place.