The UVic Writer's Guide

Narrowing Your Essay Topic

The first step in writing an essay is finding something to write about. Whether you are working from a list of assigned topics or selecting your own, try to find something which sparks your interest: not only will working on the assignment be more stimulating, but your commitment will also help you write a more convincing essay. Some preliminary reading may help determine how deep your interest goes, as well as letting you know what kind of material will be available as you write your essay.

A common problem of beginning writers is wallowing around in a topic too wide for their purposes. General words such as "media,""war," "life,"or "nature"are often incorrectly used as if they were topics (even "dragons"is too broad). However, students often begin to write essays with nothing more in mind than a general concept, and the result is a vague and generalized essay, of little interest to the student and less to the instructor. If you start with a broad area, concentrate on narrowing your subject„it will also help you deal with your topic within the length of the paper assigned and the time you have been given to complete it.

You can narrow your topic by considering a particular approach to the subject, or a sub-topic within it. You might ask yourself key questions, such as the following:



In deriving a workable topic from your subject, be careful not to narrow it too far; your topic must provide scope to develop a sustained presentation and argument.

General subject: Media

Narrowed topic: Commercials

Specific topic: How commercials manipulate their audience

General subject: Dragons

Narrowed topic: Fire-breathing dragons

Specific topic: Problems in fighting the medieval fire-breathing dragon.

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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated April 5, 1995