Choosing and Refining Topics

Arriving at Topics for Writing Assignments

In academic writing, topics are sometimes dictated by the task at hand. Consider, for example, that you must conduct a lab experiment before you can sit down to write a report. Or perhaps you have to run a statistical program to get your data. In these situations, your topic is determined for you: You will write about the results of the work you have completed. Likewise, your instructor may simply hand you a topic to explore or to research. In these situations, you are delivered from both the responsibility and the rewards of choosing your own topic, and your task is to try to develop an interest in what you have been given to write about.

More often, however, you will have a bit more leeway in choosing topics of your own. Sometimes you will be asked to find a topic of interest to you that is grounded in ideas developed in shared class readings and discussions. Other times, your assignment will be anchored even less, and you will be responsible for finding a topic all on your own. Many students find that the more freedom they are given to pursue their own interests, the more intimidated they are by this freedom, and the less certain they are of what really is interesting to them. But writing assignments with open topic options can be excellent opportunities either to explore and research issues that are already concerns for you (and which may even have been topics of earlier writing) or to examine new interests. A well chosen writing topic can lead to the types of research questions that fuel your academic interests for years to come. At the very least, though, topics can be seen as occasions for making your writing relevant and meaningful to your own personal and academic concerns.

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Introduction