Many first-time writers are terrified of specifics. Writing a focused essay may feel like solitary confinement, but in practice selecting a vague topic is like working on an intellectual chain gang. Consider the amount of information available on a general topic like global warming: laws, incentive programs, green technologies and effects on ecosystems, to name a few. Consider now, the more manageable topic of rising sea levels on coastal communities. The topic of rising sea levels will require far less research, but it is more likely to reveal new information than the vague and tired topic of global warming.
Things You'll Need
- Scrap paper
- Pen or pencil
Brainstorm to refine and narrow the topic for your essay. Basic writing guides, often provide numerous examples. The four most common brainstorming techniques are: idea maps, free-writing exercises, lists and critical questions.
Construct an idea map by circling the general topic and draw lines and smaller circles out from the center bubble. Record any thoughts that occur, even if they seem unrelated to your topic, and continue the process by expanding out from other bubbles.
Write continuously without censoring your thoughts. If you cannot think of something, simply write, "I'm stuck" until a new thought occurs. It is common for your writing to wander in a free-writing exercise, but the key is to write continuously.
Create a list of ideas related to your general topic. From this list, select one word or phrase and create another list. Continue this process for 10 minutes or until the page is full.
Ask critical questions about your topic, beginning with: who, what, where, why, when or how. Answer the question and ask additional questions about your answer.
Highlight only the most specific topics developed from your brainstorming. For instance, if you created a list of words related to global warming, review the sublist you created, then the sub-sub-list, and so-forth.
In this example, the most specific topic is: Threat to Coastal Cities
Topic: Global Warming > List: Melting Ice Caps, Carbon Emissions, Ecosystems
Sub-Topic: Melting Ice Caps > List: Polar Bears, Rising Sea Levels, Desalination
Sub-Sub-Topic: Rising Sea Levels > List: Threat to Coastal Cities
Examine the topics you've highlighted. Circle the topics you find most interesting and compare them with each other.
Create a list of at least five topic groups before committing to a single topic. For instance, consider these samples from an idea map on global warming:
Global Warming > Melting Ice Caps > Rising Sea Levels > Threat to Coastal Cities
Global Warming > How to Prevent? > Green Technologies > Solar Power
Global Warming > Government Programs > Cash for Clunkers
Global Warming > Government Programs > Levees
It is unlikely that "Solar Power" and "Cash for Clunkers" would lead to a fruitful paper, as there are few solar-powered cars and the program is now defunct. However, if you were to combine "Levees" and "Threat to Coastal Cities" into a single topic, you could explore the practical possibility of reducing the damage caused by global warming.
Create a list of at least three of your combined subtopics.
Formulate a thesis statement for each of the combined subtopics. The thesis should be a single sentence, not a question, and answer a critical question about the topic.
Underline the topic with the most compelling thesis statement, as this will be your topic of choice.
Write the essay.
- Photo Credit Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images
How to Narrow a Speech Topic
You have to give a speech. That's frightening enough. It's even more scary when you consider that you have nothing to say....
Essay Writing Brainstorming: How to Narrow Topic
Narrowing your topic for an essay plays a key role in appropriately sizing your paper. Too broad of a topic will result...
College Research Paper Topics
Writing a college-level research paper often begins with a broad subject that needs to be winnowed down to a manageable level. The...
General Topics for Essay Writing
In the event that your teacher has assigned an essay and said, "Write about anything you want," you might be wondering how...
Global Warming Topics for a Research Paper
Global warming is a controversial topic, debated for decades, making it an interesting subject for research papers. When choosing your topics within...