Choosing a Subject

You have been assigned a paper by one of your teachers. Why not start right away? Perhaps you decide to work on your paper five minutes after class, right? You have several problems:

  1. What should your topic be?
  2. Your teacher assigned you a really boring subject; how do you make it interesting?

Some different ways of choosing a topic include Using your Syllabus, Bubbling, Free Association, and Using your Library. Not every way will suit your needs. At least try each of these ways and you may find that one style works better for you than another. Or perhaps a combination of these approaches may be what you need. Don't be afraid to try something new!!

Choosing a Topic

Choosing a topic is a very personal step for many writers. Even though you may think that it's just a paper and that no one cares what it is about, it is your paper and you're the one that has to stare at it for hours.

Don't stress over a paper because you really dislike the topic. Make the topic interesting!

"But, writing isn't a skill that some people are born with and others aren't like a gift for art or music. Writing is thinking on paper, or talking to someone on paper. If you can think clearly, or if you can talk to someone about the things you know and care about, you can write--with confidence and enjoyment."

William Zinsser, On Writing Well

Making a Topic Interesting

When choosing a topic, one of the most important points to keep in mind is to write about what interests you. Your enthusiasm will show through your words. Why write about a topic that bores you? Needless to say, if we didn't write a paper every time it bored us, we would probably never write, so here are some ways to Make Your Topic Interesting:

Your Freshman English 101 professor hands you a really lame assignment. "Okay boys and girls, I want you to write a paper about a problem. Identify the problem, use examples of how it is a problem, and then present a solution to that problem." How do you make this interesting???? Actually there are several things you can do:

  • Relate the topic to your life in some way. Everyone has problems.
  • Write about something controversial. Try to find more than one point of view so that you can create tension in your paper. Wake up your audience with an outrageous problem!
  • Make the subject lighthearted. You don't have to be serious all the time, nor do you have to be a stand up comic to see a topic in a light-hearted way. However, when a topic deserves some modicum of decorum, this approach would not appropriate. On the other hand, if your biology professor is convinced that the little worms that live in the shells of hermit crabs are the end all and be all of biological life in this universe, wouldn't it be a little fun and a little naughty to write about their detrimental impact upon the estuarial environment?
  • One easy way of choosing an interesting thesis is to take an obvious and accepted thesis and then to invert it. For example: "In the movie Forrest Gump, what is considered the title character's bravery is actually stupidity." Now, invert the thesis: "In the movie, Forrest Gump, what is considered the title character's stupidity is actually bravery." Or, another example: "In Claude Monet's work, The Four Trees, the artist creates infinity and movement in his work by using light and brushstroke." Now, invert the thesis: "In Claude Monet's work, The Four Trees, the artist creates light and brushstroke in his work by using infinity and movement."
  • For a literature class, the most fun and slightly megalomaniacal topic to write upon is to deconstruct completely the work that you have been reading!

Using Your Syllabus

If you are completely lost, an easy way of reviewing what you have learned in class is to return to your syllabus. By reviewing your syllabi, you may find interesting topics related to material covered earlier in the term. Pick one of the subjects covered in class and try the bubbling technique.


One way of discovering new topics is called bubbling, otherwise known as webbing. Start with a blank piece of paper so that you can see what you are doing. In the center of the paper write a keyword. The keyword will help you get ideas. Inside adjoining circles, write keywords related to the central word.

If you create a satellite bubble which interests you, place it in the center of a new sheet of paper and then expand on that central idea. One of the satellites may lead to the perfect topic!

Free Association

Bubbling is just one form of Free Association. A more common style of Free Association is also quite simple. Get a blank piece of paper and write down any thought on the paper. For each preceding thought, attempt to create a more specific thought. Allow yourself some freedom; wherever your mind goes, you may find a fantastic topic!

For Example:

Your sociology professor assigns you a paper about relationships; try using free association.

  • relationships-
  • human relationships-
  • female/male relationships-
  • female/male platonic relationships-
  • middle-aged female/male relationships-
  • middle-aged female/male marriages.

This might be your thesis:

"During the past ten years, the rise in platonic marriages of men and women over the age of fifty-five is due to the increasing social acceptance of second marriages."

Of course, a certain amount of research would be required to support this thesis, but that is another section.

Using Your Library

If you are given a topic about which you have no idea, or if you don't know enough about it to Free Associate--GO TO YOUR LIBRARY!! The library is your friend! Believe it or not, a library is an excellent place to find information. The first thing to do when you walk into a library is to locate the librarian. Discuss your topic with the librarian; he or she should know exactly where to find the appropriate corresponding information. There you can look through books or periodicals to find a subject that interests you. If your librarian is not locatable or otherwise engaged, there are many places in a library where you could find the information yourself. LION, FirstSearch, and Google are among many other resources at your fingertips! From the information on these computer programs, you should be able to pick a subject for bubbling or free association.

Prepared by Lindsay Riley Carson