Picking a Topic for Your Essay

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The Problem of Topic vs. Approach

            In most classes where essays are assigned there is a great variation in the amount of leeway that is offered for picking topics. Even when an instructor assigns a given topic or offers a choice of assigned topics, there is a lot of opportunity for creativity (despite what the tone of Perdue's website might suggest). This corresponds to a great variance in student attitudes from those who "just want a little direction" (i.e. those who want someone else to pick a topic for them) and those who "would like to be a little more creative" (i.e. those who can't stand being told what to do).

            The real issue here, though, is approach. When you come to an assigned essay as a project, how you first engage with it will determine your overall experience, and most students see any assignment as an externally imposed task -- something you have to do in order to pass the course. This approach will guarantee that you will eventually hate your assignments, possibly your instructor, and when push comes to shove the whole academic undertaking.

The Solution: Choosing an Approach to Your Topic

            Deliberately choosing how you approach your topic will thus help you not only choose one that will satisfy the requirements but also ensure that you enjoy the process of research and writing. After all, no one on earth can do what you do so only you can figure out how to write a great essay in your own voice, and it all starts with selecting a topic. Thus, how you approach that selection process is vastly important, despite the fact that almost everyone (especially business schools for some reason) ignores this profoundly decisive part of writing an essay.

            The key is to identify what made you take the class in the first place. There was something that captured your fancy and made you register for that class (particularly in the case of an elective), so place that interest at the heart of your topic.

Never Trust Your Instructors

            Whatever you do, never look to the instructor to 1) make your topic interesting or 2) give you what you wanted out of the class. He or she has designed the class so that it makes good sense in the overall scheme of your education, so your interest and enjoyment are your own responsibility. It may be that what you enjoy about that topic and what they enjoy about that topic are completely different, and every student has experienced the frustration of taking a course that sounded brilliant only to be bored by the instructor's treatment of it.

            Instead, look to what you were interested in as a way of finding your paper topic! Use that initial fascination to twist the topic of your paper so that it becomes an excuse to wallow in whatever got you interested in that class in the first place. Whatever some may say, irony and sarcasm are not in fact good tools for 'making a boring essay sound more exciting,' as this post claims. Whatever cute tricks you might use, your boredom or interest will always naturally come through your writing.

Avoiding the Pit of Despair

            Whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of thinking that your work is simply a required box that needs to be checked and you can't bring any creativity to the table. Even if the class was required for your program or degree, you still chose that program. If its required coursework has no interest for you at all, perhaps you should think about choosing another career, academic or otherwise.

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This page contains a single entry by Legible Larry published on April 30, 2013 2:50 PM.

No Grammar, Please; We're Programmers was the previous entry in this blog.

Never Leave Your Paper to the Last Moment (and Other Lies) is the next entry in this blog.

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