a Topic for an Informative Essay
• Overview • Hints • Resources
When you write an informative
essay, your goal is to share knowledge
with your reader. A good topic would be one that
- is interesting to you
- provides new information (either an
update on a familiar topic or information that most
people don't already know)
- can be explained in 3–5 pages
- can be supported by credible evidence
As you look for a topic, you can start with your interests. Perhaps
you have a question: What causes autism? Perhaps you have
a problem: What is the best way to stop smoking? Perhaps
you want to learn more about an idea that intrigues you: Could
watching ants help us solve traffic congestion?
You may have to explore several
topics before you find one that fits your interests
and the criteria of the assignment. The Hints below
will help you identify possible topics.
Topics to Avoid
are interesting, but not well-suited to an
informative essay because they are
||You only have 3–5 pages,
which isn't enough to allow you to explain
a complex topic like the theory of relativity.
|Dependant on faith-based texts
|| “Use of such texts assumes
your audience shares the same belief system” (The KU
Handbook for Writers, 2008, p. 10). People who do not share
your beliefs will not accept sacred texts as evidence.
||If a topic has a close connection to
your life or reflects strong convictions, you may find it difficult
to write objectively.
same old topics
|Your teacher has probably read far
too many papers on abortion and capital punishment. To write an
interesting paper on an overdone topic, you must find a new angle:
Hints for Finding a Topic
One strategy is to browse
until you find something that catches your interest. Here are some
places to look:
- Browse the magazines displayed in the library
or check out these recommended
a news organization's or
print magazine's Web site; try CNN or PBS (especially Frontline or
the Nova archive), Psychology
Today or Prevention.
out the subject-area
resources in the left sidebar.
- Type a word into KwMap (http://www.kwmap.net)
and get a map of related ideas.
- Visit sites that cover controversial issues,
such as ACLU, Debatabase, Hot
Topic Supersites, Public
Agenda Research Reports, The
Annenberg Public Policy Center, or Psychology
Matters. (For an argument paper, you'll need to take a position.
For an informative paper, you can write a briefing
paper, giving background on an issue and summarizing various points of view about it.)
- Look for something offbeat at New
Scientist or Psychology
your teachers for ideas of what you might research.
Another approach is to look over a list of ideas like the ones below:
Making the choice: Familiar or unfamiliar topic? Should you pick a topic you know well or a topic you know little about?
The chart below will help you weight the advantages and disadvantages.
|Quick; no need to do background research
||Can be difficult to distinguish between
common knowledge and what needs to be documented
||Chance to learn something new, different
||Harder to predict difficulties you
might run into, such as not finding enough material
hit too many snags in research
||Same old, same old
||More challenging; less boring
||Requires more time and mental effort
have questions? See the Internet Resources below
Hints for Finding Sources.
Choosing a Topic
The Research Process