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3 Preparing to Write

Stuck for a topic?

Many students get bogged down on the topic of topics.  What are you supposed to write that 1000 word essay on, exactly?  To make matters worse, teachers often give vague guidance.  This is because they want you to think.  Some of the things you need to think about are:

  • The type of writing you are being asked to do.
  • What the requirements of the paper are.
  • What interests you.

The type of writing is the first thing to examine.  Are you writing fiction, non-fiction, history, debate, compare/contrast, argument, or one of a hundred other possibilities?  Understanding your basic objective is the first step in any project.

The requirements are your next step.  You may have specific research guidelines.  Are you required to use newspapers, medical journals, legal findings, primary sources, public records, or something else?  Often just opening a general source within the requirements will help you see what possibilities exist.

Making a Choice

Now we are getting into the more nebulous areas of topic choice.  What interests you?  Fortunately, there are a few ways to go about figuring this out.

1.  Surf Wikipedia.  Once you think you have a general idea what you want to write about, open the main Wikipedia page on the topic.  Reading it will give you general background information that will help as you develop the details of your topic.  It will also allow you to examine some of the subtopics more closely through link-hopping.  You won’t be allowed to use Wikipedia as a source, but all those blue links are fascinating. 

2.  Consider the relationship of this paper to your ultimate goals.  Do you want to be a veterinarian?  How can you incorporate that into this assignment?  How about nursing, architecture, or welding?  It never hurts to go down an obscure path related to your future. 

3.  If your teacher provided a list, look at those ideas.  You may not be familiar with most of the topics, but one point of the paper is to learn something new.  Again, check out Wikipedia to get overview information.  Remember you are not limited to items on the list.  Your professor gets tired of reading the same old topics all the time.  (And is more likely to know the minute details you could get wrong.  Using a new topic teaches you both and makes it less likely you will get called out for incorrect facts.)

4.  Do general searches in the internet.  Of course, you need a starting point for this, but, like reading the overview in a Wikipedia article, a general idea leads to more specific ideas.  In the case of the general internet, take advantage of the tabs below a Google search, such as images, videos, or news.  Check the MORE button for maps or books.  Look in the SETTINGS button for the advanced search.  Here you can narrow down your choices even more.  TOOLS let you decide how current the articles can be. 

All of these tips are about finding something interesting.  Once you get a general idea, you do have to narrow it down to specifics.  Most general topics cannot be clearly explored in the type of paper you will be writing as a college student.  The typical 1000 words is not a lot so you will need something very specific to focus on.  Visit our guide our guide on determining keywords for more information.

Please contact us at 254-647-1414 or library@rangercollege.edu.