Choosing a Topic

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Sometimes getting started with an essay or written course assignment is the hardest part of the entire writing assignment.  I've found one strategy that should get you on your way in ten or fifteen minutes. 

Deborah Dewit Marchant

 

Freewriting:

Write for five minutes, without worrying about syntax, clarity of ideas, or correctness in order to get down on paper your responses to an assigned reading.

 

Listing:

Drawing on your freewriting, list items that spark your interest. Don’t censor ideas: ideas that seem the toughest or most confusing could provide a launch for your best topic. In looking for items to highlight, consider:

an overlooked connection or disjunction

unexplained differences or similarities

what seems to be the case and is not

inability to find a pattern

inability to generalize

unaccounted for data

excessive complexity

a gap in knowledge

unpredictability

inconsistency

aberrant facts

contradiction

disagreement

discrepancy

uncertainty

perplexity

confusion

ambiguity

anomaly

conflict

paradox

 

Selection:

Looking at one or two items on your list, develop it into a targeted question using this four-step process:

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I am writing about (general topic from reading/list above) ….

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In particular, I am writing about (narrow the general topic just stated)…

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I am writing about this particular topic because I want to find out why/how … [Note: your answer to this question will be the thesis statement of your paper. Your next task will be to determine what research and thinking needs to be done to help you find the answer].

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I am writing about this particular topic because I want to find out why/how… in order to better understand …. [Note: this "so what" question will help you explain the significance of your question to the larger topic at hand. In attending to this question, you will write a paper of interest to others as well as to yourself].

Example:

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I am writing about ideology in America; in particular, about the ideology of blue jeans.

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Because I want to find out what values are suggested and promoted by blue jeans.

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In order to better understand how clothing communicates and enforces ideology.

These guidelines are courtesy of Greg Colomb, Joe Williams, University of Chicago; Karen Tracey, U. of Northern Iowa.

 

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Critical Writing Skills Philosophy of Teaching In-Class Discussion Philosophical Writing Choosing a Topic Grading Rationale UNI vs. High School

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Martha J. Reineke.     Please send correspondence to martha.reineke@uni.edu