Choosing the Topic

If you have not been assigned a topic, then the whole world lies before you. Sometimes that seems to make the task of starting even more intimidating. Actually, this means that you are free to choose a topic of interest to you, which will often make your essay a stronger one.

Define Your Purpose

The first thing you must do is to think about the purpose of the essay you must write. Is your purpose to persuade people to believe as you do, to explain to people how to complete a particular task, to educate people about some person, place, thing or idea, or something else entirely? Whatever topic you choose must fit that purpose.

Brainstorm Subjects of Interest

Once you have determined the purpose of your essay, write down some subjects that interest you. No matter what the purpose of your essay is, an endless number of topics will be suitable.

If you have trouble thinking of subjects, start by looking around you. Is there anything in your surroundings that interests you? Think about your life. What occupies most of your time? That might make for a good topic. Don't evaluate the subjects yet; just write down anything that springs to mind.

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Evaluate Each Potential Topic

If you can think of at least a few topics that would be appropriate, you must simply consider each one individually. Think about how you feel about that topic. If you must educate, be sure it is a subject about which you are particularly well informed. If you must persuade, be sure it is a subject about which you are at least moderately passionate. Of course, the most important factor in choosing a topic is the number of ideas you have about that topic.

Even if none of the subjects you thought of seem particularly appealing, try just choosing one to work with. It may turn out to be a better topic than you at first thought.

Before you are ready to move on in the essay-writing process, look one more time at the topic you have selected. Think about the type of paper you are expected to produce. Should it be a general overview, or a specific analysis of the topic? If it should be an overview, then you are probably ready to move to the next step. If it should be a specific analysis, make sure your topic is fairly specific. If it is too general, you must choose a narrower subtopic to discuss.

For example, the topic "KENYA" is a general one. If your objective is to write an overview, this topic is suitable. If your objective is to write a specific analysis, this topic is too general. You must narrow it to something like "Politics in Kenya" or "Kenya's Culture."

Once you have determined that your topic will be suitable, you can move on.

Here are a few guidelines to help you through the process:

  1. Pick a topic that you are interested in. You will express yourself with more clarity and insight if you are interested in the topic that you are writing about.
  2. You should pick a topic based on the assigned texts that you understood. While writing your essay, the majority of your energy will be focused on explaining and supporting your individual perspective and thesis, so it is important that you understand and feel comfortable talking about the primary (and possibly secondary) material that will form the basis of your essay.
  3. Select a topic that is challenging and thought provoking. You want to write about a topic that is interesting to you. Your essay should reflect your own individual and unique perspective on your chosen topic. It should not be a mere restatement of the already existing academic ideas on the topic. So, you should choose a topic that challenges you and allows you room to express yourself in relation to the primary source text, and the secondary sources (if they are applicable to your assignment).
  4. Your topic should be specific enough that you can form an opinion about it, but general enough that you can find enough information to support your perspective and write a comprehensive and substantial essay.
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