Choosing a Great Essay Topic: What works?

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By: Marie Fincher

February 05, 2017

We are going into a semester filled with the promise of getting good grades. The one grade that we all want to try to get that elusive A on is the English paper.

Whether the style the professor requires is argumentative, critical thinking, narrative, or research we want the topic to be one that no one else has chosen in our class, and we want it to be fresh and new in its delivery.

Help in Numbers

One of the tools that we suggest you use to make sure that you have an original work is the study group. Put up a notice that you are forming a study group with the time and place pre-determined.

During the study group, the first thing on the agenda will be topics. Have a poll or vote among your peers to see what they are writing about and agree that you will all do something different. Your professor will be happy to have papers that are diverse in their delivery.

Available Information

Choosing your topic is tricky. You want to make sure you have a topic that has been thoroughly researched by many, to gain the most critical analysis possible. This may seem like it’s too much information, but the more abstract ideas you can read on a subject, the more subjectivity you can put on it from your own point of view.

You do not want to choose a topic that does not have enough information for you to glean from. Keep this in mind for all your papers. Writers piggy-back one another. It is good to have an original idea, but it must have a basis.

The best place to find well-studied information is your school's library. Ask for journals written by former students and professors on your subject. They have been published for their in-depth study of a subject.

Meet with Your Professor

Your next important tool is your professor. No matter how much you think he is stoic or unapproachable, do it anyway. Your professor may be more approachable than you think once you get to know him or her.

They give you their office hours at the top of the syllabus, use those hours to your advantage. Your professor is looking forward to meeting with you to help you become the best student you can be.

Discuss with them your topic and ask for pointers. See if they think it is a good subject to cover. They may have some suggestions and steer you in the right direction.

Always look at your Professor bookshelves and ask if you may have or borrow something from his collection. You will be amazed how many books I have because of this. When you are asking about your topic, many professors may instinctively give you a book they have based on that very topic from their collection.

You Choose, Or They Choose

Sometimes your topic is chosen by the professor, this is usually in 1st-year classes. If this is the case utilize your study group to bounce off the idea of the material that is given in class. Ask your peers what do they see in the reading. Be mindful that there are no wrong answers. The reason for English study groups is to be able to accept critical thinking and become a better writer.

If you get to choose then you might try some of the following topics:

  • Argumentative - This type of essay must get the reader engaged in what you think is the best way to handle a specific topic. You want them to walk away agreeing with you or coming up with a counterargument to your thesis.
  1. Malls or online shopping? What is better for the economy?
  2. Online college or brick and mortar schools. Which is better?
  3. Are we wasting money on space exploration?
  4. Should voting be mandatory in the United States?
  5. Are the United States gun laws too slack?
  • Comparison Essays - This essay will be fun researching with your group. You will be amazed at how so many diverse people can sometimes come up with the same ideas about different subjects. Laugh on!
  1. Presidency v. Presidency
  2. Sugar v. Sweeteners
  3. Book v. Movies
  4. Eat meat v. Vegan
  5. Electric v. Petrol
  • Descriptive Essays -  This is usually a writer’s favorite type of essay besides the personal story. You can get your imagination juices running wild when asked to do this type of essay
  1. Holiday meal
  2. Family reunion
  3. And old blanket
  4. Your mother’s scent
  5. A street in your hometown you frequent for shopping
  • Personal Essays - Although some people find it hard to write about themselves, this essay is one of a writer’s favorite. You are the only one that can give the account from your point of view. This is what makes it original and fresh writing. Although, for academic papers, professors rarely ask for personal papers.
  1. Who are your family members, describe each?
  2. Have you ever sacrificed anything for your family?
  3. Has a friend ever hurt your feelings, and they don’t know?
  4. What do you struggle with within your personal life more than in school?
  5. Your first ah-ha moment, and why you needed it.

Read Other Essays

A reader writes well. If you are having trouble trying to figure out what topics are the best to use, read what another essayist has written. Look at how they formed their introduction. How it led to their body of work, and how they seamlessly came to their conclusion. Learning from other writers is the best way to learn to write.

It won’t make you a novelist if that is not what you are studying to become, but it will get you through the college days of having to write essays for your English courses. 

Marie Fincher

While being committed to a number of charitable causes, like volunteering at special events or giving free art lessons to children, Marie doesn’t forget her vocation – writing. She can write about almost anything but has focused on time management, motivation, academic and business writing.