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First Step in Essay Writing:
Choosing a Topic

When you need a topic to choose for an essay, there are several ways you could do that. It all boils down to selecting the right method and then fine-tuning the available options. To start with it is a good idea to think about that what might be suitable for the type of essay you are about to start writing. Topics for an argumentative or persuasive essay, for example, are sometimes of a more controversial nature while a creative essay is unlikely to require as much in-depth examination. Our team has devised the following list of ideas showing the different methods that can be used to choose the most appropriate topic for your assignment.

When You Have Been Given a Topic

You should start by looking through the instructions or guidelines your tutor provided. Some classes may require you to base your essay on a particular topic chosen by your tutor. So your first step should be to check the instructions you have been given. If a topic list has been provided, this at least narrows the task down from an unlimited choice. If a topic has not been provided, then read on to find out what other options available.

Selecting the Right Topic

Consider Your Interests
If you have not been given a topic or you do not have a list of possible topics to choose from, you could select something that appeals to your instincts and interests. Selecting a topic that you are interested in can have many benefits because it:

  • Can make you feel more enthusiastic about your project
  • Provides the opportunity to discover more about a topic that interests you
  • Allows you to learn about and acquire knowledge that may help in the career you hope to pursue.

If, for instance, you hope to embark on a nursing career, then the topic of abortion could prove a good choice because it covers both the health and ethical issues pertaining to the practice, which may be beneficial to your career in the long-term perspective.
Research Materials Availabilty
While there may be a certain amount of appeal to selecting a topic you find interesting, it is more practical to select one that has plenty available source material. This is especially applicable if your essay requires a lot of research work. Consider, for instance, that you have to decide between same-sex marriage and the rate of suicide in Kenya. While the latter subject may be more appealing to you, it is quite likely there is a greater quantity of research material available on the former topic. Having access to a plentiful supply of information will make your research work and the actual writing process quicker and easier. If numerous previous students have researched a topic and given their opinion on it, then the task of collecting material and writing about it will require less effort on your part.
Therefore, topics of a more general nature are better for you. Your tutor, however, may require you to choose a very specific topic so that you can acquire in-depth knowledge in a specific area. You may want to avoid doing this and may have to do some negotiating with your tutor until you find something you are both agreed on. In any case, it is important you check what source material is available before committing yourself to the assignment.

Consider Topics You Previously Covered

It is also a good idea to consider topics you have studied or written about previously. Look at it from this perspective: the material is already something you are familiar with and you may have previously written an essay on it. If this is the case, you may be able to recycle existing work and reduce your overall effort. But take care if you are thinking of reusing some material you submitted before. A lot of tutors and professors always check papers for plagiarism or previously written work using systems like TurnItIn. Hence, it would be best to eliminate this worry and just recycle thoughts, ideas and sources if possible. You can save even more time if you can to write on the one topic for different classes.
Topics that should be avoided
There are actually some topics that are best to avoide. It is advisable, for instance, to keep away from topics your tutor is very familiar with. The reason is that they know the subject matter inside out and even a small error in your work could cause them to downgrade it. Additionally, if that person has a pre-formed opinion on the subject, then you may not be doing yourself any favor if your viewpoint in not aligned to theirs. While this might seem unfair or immature, you must remember that tutors are also human and are prone to being biased. One possible means of avoiding this scenario is to check the staff pages of your academic institution’s website. This will list the fields of expertise and other credentials of each staff member, including your tutor’s. If your chosen topic is akin to one they are an expert in or even have a PhD in, then it is best to avoid it unless you want to make your project extra challenging!

Popular Topics

If you are still reading this article, then it is possible you would just like to get down to a list of common or popular topics. Topics in this category are generally those that are often discussed and written about by various experts. The topics in this list will vary to some extent according to the type of essay and the class you are taking, but it should prove useful anyway:

List of Common Topics

  • Abortion
  • Censorship
  • Child labor
  • Crime
  • Doping in athletics/other sports
  • Driving and texting
  • Drugs war
  • Education
  • Gay marriage
  • Gender discrimination/inequality
  • Healthcare
  • How bullying should be dealt with
  • Immigration policy
  • Legal age for alcohol consumption
  • Legalization of marijuana
  • Management and leadership
  • Genetically modified foods
  • Race – discrimination and inequality
  • Rape and prevailing culture
  • Society’s handling of poverty
  • Stem cell ethics/research
  • Tackling obesity
  • Terrorism in the 21st century
  • 2nd Amendment
All of the above topics are worthy, not least because of their general nature, impact and availability of existing academic material. All of these are the most usual criteria for selecting essay topics.

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Most Recent Topics

Topics in this category are usually ones that have been in the news and relate to what is currently happening in the world. Furthermore, researching these topics can be interesting because a lot of the material is new. We update this list regularly depending on what is current.

List of Most Recent Topics

  • Censorship in Turkey
  • Drone usage
  • Gay marriage
  • Internet privacy
  • Invasion of Crimea
  • Minimum rate of pay
  • Mudslide management
  • North Korean politics
  • Nuclear weapon usage
  • ObamaCare
  • School security – shooting culture
  • Shooting of Fort Hood
  • Terrestrial oceans
  • Use of chemical weapons in warfare
Controversial or Emotive Topics

Controversial topics are suitable for persuasive and/or argumentative type of essays. Topics of this nature usually generate two-way debate where there are no definitive right or wrong answers and where analysis requires the writer to rely on their own personal opinions and values. Topics, for example, that relate to politics often generate heated debate. Similarly, topics that relate to ethics or moral values fall into the controversial category because they often depend on a person’s individual view. If you plan on using a controversial topic, make sure you choose one that is in the public domain. A good starting point is seeing what topics are in the news and finding out whether any public figures or experts have provided an opinion on it. Another potential (although not as reliable) source of topics is Facebook where you might find something useful if there is a subject that millions of users think it worth their while commenting on.

List of Controversial Topics

  • Abortion
  • Death penalty
  • Gay marriage
  • Human evolution
  • Immigration policy
  • Internet privacy
  • Legalization of marijuana
  • ObamaCare
  • Minimum rate of pay

Refining Your Options

Make a Shortlist of Seven to Ten Possible Topics

Most likely, you have been making a list of your preferred topics. If not, you should start compiling a short list of, say, around seven to ten possibilities. If you have any more, you are in danger of being held up for too long in the next stage. A shortlist also makes it easier to track commonalities between the different topics. If, for example, all your topics relate to ethics or medical matters, then it may be advisable to do further research in that specific area and exclude everything else. When you have whittled down your list to around seven to ten, you can do a little research to see if that topic is something you are ready to commit to.

Early Stage Research

Once your list is complete, you can start exploring the different topics in more depth. Do remember this stage is not full-scale research, but a basic investigation of each topic to ensure it appeals to you and that there is sufficient information available. It is possible you will find on further investigation that the topic is less interesting than you first thought. It is recommended you research your shortlisted topics on Wikipedia to learn more about them, even if your professor advised against this. The fact is that Wikipedia is a reliable source that will give you a broad understanding of any subject and save you the considerable amount of time it takes to examine more heavy-weight sources. Additionally, you are likely to find further relevant and helpful links in the citations section of each Wikipedia page.

By now, using the above methods and techniques, you should have enough information to narrow down the list to just one topic for your essay. Do not forget that your chosen topic will determine the amount of research work you will need to do. It is actually faster in the long run to start examining more topics at this stage than to press ahead with a topic that is relatively unknown in the academic world and/or scarcely documented.

Further Tips/Resources

If you have not found this quick guide helpful up to this point, please accept our apologies. We have tried to help by putting together what we believe is a relevant and useful list of topics.

There is something more we could offer though. We have made some sample essays available on our website if you simply want to have a look at some ready-written papers for more ideas.