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Finding a Topic for a Writing Assignment

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At some point, the academic essay writing intimidates every student. This is especially the case when assignments are not explicit about what and how you need to do. If you find yourself “helpless” about beginning a paper, you should get some clarification from your instructor. Otherwise, you will find yourself reading your assignment over and over again, yet being unable to find a way into it. The whole writing process should involve a series of manageable steps. By taking them, you will deal with uncontrollable anxiety and create a decent piece of work with ease.

Connecting with the Material

Before you start choosing a topic, you should have a solid understanding of what the assignment involves and what you need to accomplish with it. Do you need to write an essay or a speech? How much research is required? Is it an argumentative paper or just explorative? With a clear grasp on the purpose and structure of the assignment, you increase your chances to come up with the most suitable topic. By approaching the material, you have a great opportunity to think in a concentrated and stimulating way about the subject and articulate your own ideas. Successful writing will require the creation and framing of your own questions about the used sources. This way, academic writing puts your own intellectual development at stake.

Checking Primary and Secondary Sources

Even if you write an essay that is based on your personal beliefs and views, you will still refer to external sources of information. This is especially the case when you don’t know much about this or that subject. After conducting thorough research, you will be able to form and express your opinion. Even if you have something to say about the subject, you may still need some evidence to sound convincing to the reader. Thus, whatever kind of academic writing you are up to, you will need to use primary and secondary sources. What is the actual difference between them?

  • Primary academic sources include original documents (diaries, speeches, autobiographies, manuscripts, Congressional records, and so on), empirical scholarly works (research articles, clinical reports, dissertations, research studies, and so on), and creative works (poetry, music, video, painting, photography, and so on).
  • Secondary sources include scholarly article reviews, credo references (encyclopedias, dictionaries, and handworks), and ProQuest (book reviews, bibliographies, literature reviews, and so on).

Ambiguity is what might help you distinguish a primary source from a secondary one. For instance, if you take an original argument from someone’s speech and add it to your own piece of writing, the speech will serve as your primary source. But if you take the analysis of statistical data from the speech and add it to your piece of writing, the speech will serve as your secondary source. Remember that the academic essay should advance an original argument rather than the argument of the author of your secondary source.

Analyzing Subjects to Topics

Once you have all the necessary primary and secondary resources, you should analyze the subject. It may take the form of a huge abstraction like “American history” or “Business management.” This way, you gain a general understanding of what you will write about in your paper. Compared to the subject, the topic will be more specific like “The most tragic event in American history” or “Business management strategy applied by Google Corporation.”

Narrowing the Topic

This is an important but often ignored step in the writing process. Many students don’t know how to narrow down the research material and end up having an interesting and engaging topic. Choosing particular things to focus on in your paper will allow you to conduct a more thorough analysis. This step does not necessarily need to be done before you start writing, as you can choose the focus aspects at the beginning of the creative process.

When you come up with the topic for your academic paper, you need to be specific as much as possible. You should make a coherent argument about your topic. For instance, “The Vital Role of Women in the Second World War” is a topic that is somewhat narrowed. Meanwhile, “The Second World War” is an extremely general topic for the discussion in a writing form.

Now that you know what to do with your academic assignment, you should be ready to start. By taking these steps, you will clarify your subject, find a topic, and narrow it:

  • Check your primary source(s) in order to highlight the passages that relate directly to the assignment and to your own interests. Once you find a passage that interests you, write down the reason for its importance.
  • Annotate some of the most interesting passages by commenting on particular words, phrases, sentences. It’s not the time to be careful. Just write down whatever thoughts and ideas pop up in your mind.
  • Split all the highlighted passages into categories. If some of them don’t fit anywhere, feel free to eliminate them. In the end, you should focus on the category that has the biggest amount of connections. It will probably be the topic of your academic paper.
  • Check your secondary sources in order to get a sense of potential counterarguments to your topic. While taking notes, you will need to cite all the details. This will make the whole writing process easier.

Bottom Line

Before you start writing an academic paper, you should have a clear understanding of what you want to talk about. This will minimize your chances of getting lost in an excessive amount of information. By checking primary and secondary sources and analyzing different aspects of the subject, you will be able to choose the most appropriate topic for your essay. And this makes you halfway through the academic challenge.

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