How to Choose a Suitable Topic for Your Essay

Choosing the right topic for your essay, balancing between making it easy enough to work on and challenging enough to satisfy your teachers or professors – all this can be a tough job. Sometimes it may feel that the amount of time and effort that goes into selecting and narrowing down the topic is comparable with those spent on actually writing it. However, if you make the right choice, all this effort will pay off – a good topic can make writing easier and more enjoyable while improving your chances of getting a good grade. So how do you choose suitable essay writing topics? Here are some approaches you should consider.

Do not Grab the First Seemingly Suitable Topic

You may stumble on a topic that looks like a good fit in the very beginning of your search. Do not be in a hurry to pick it up – better alternatives may wait for you just around a corner. Do not commit yourself until you study some materials about the overall area you are supposed to be working on. Consider the following sources: 

  • Your own classes. Did you discuss an interesting topic or cover something in passing that looks like a suitable topic for your writing?
  • Handbooks and encyclopedias. Here you can find an overview of your general area of interest as well as the most important keywords you can later use when searching databases;
  • Your class textbook. Go through the table of contents in search of a suitable topic;
  • Online news on subjects related to the overall area of knowledge you study.

Gauge Your Interest for the Topic

After you have roughly defined what you want to write about, ask yourself whether you are interested in this topic. Most people find it easier and more pleasant to write when they feel a connection to the topic on a personal level. If you do not feel particularly interested in the subject matter, try to change your perspective. Can you write about it in a way that will make it interesting?

Check if the Topic Is Suitable for the Task

Essays can be different: a 5-paragraph high school essay shares little with a 4th-year honors paper. Is the topic you chose suitable for your current academic level? Can it be modified to be more acceptable? Is it appropriate to cover this topic in an essay of this length?

Balance between Being Too Broad and Too Narrow

If necessary, you should either broaden your topic or narrow it down. If the topic you chose is too broad for your assigned word count, you will not be able to cover it properly or provide an interesting argument. If it is too narrow, you will have trouble finding what to write and where to get information about the subject matter.

Check if You Can Turn the Topic into a Research Question

The purpose of writing an essay and research, in general, is not to report about something, but to answer a question or questions. For example, “Napoleonic Wars” is not a topic – it is a broad delineation of the subject matter. You cannot turn it into a question. “Reasons, why Napoleon Bonaparte lost to the Allied forces,” is another matter – it smoothly transforms into a question: “Why did Napoleon Bonaparte lose to the Allied forces?”

Recognize That You May Have to Change Your Topic

Keep in mind that your original topic is not necessarily set in stone. As you proceed with your research, you may find yourself writing about something slightly – or very – different from what you initially intended. It is natural and reflects the overall fluid nature of research. You should be ready for it and readily embrace such a possibility. If you feel that the topic moves in an unexpected direction as you proceed with your research, consult with your professor and ask to make changes to your assignment. Chances are, he/she will agree.

Be Realistic

Can you write on the topic you’ve chosen? The best topic in the world is of little use if all the sources you are going to need to work on it are in an archive you cannot access. Before you commit to anything, make sure you can obtain all the necessary information and have enough knowledge of the subject to cover the topic sufficiently.

Make Sure You Understand Primary Materials on the Topic

When you write an essay, most of your time, energy, and effort will go into explaining and proving your personal ideas and perceptions of the subject matter. This means that you should already be well aware of the basic information related to your topic so that you do not spend any time trying to figure things out. In other words, do not choose a topic you do not fully understand yourself – it may require too much time to achieve the necessary level of understanding for you to complete the job before the deadline.

Look for a Challenging and Thought-Provoking Topic

The previous point notwithstanding, your topic should not be simplistic and self-evident. There is not much sense in writing about something that does not require any explanation. If exploration of a topic boils down to restating existing academic materials, you will not earn much credit writing about it. A good topic forces you to stretch yourself, gives you space to express your unique perspective in the context of existing research.

Choosing a topic for your essay is a much more involved process than you may have thought; but if you approach it seriously, it can make the process of writing your paper more enjoyable while getting you a better grade.

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