C. Munzenmaier Urbandale, IA

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Choosing a Topic for an Informative Essay
Overview
Hints Resources

Overview
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

Some topics are interesting, but not well-suited to an informative essay because they are

Too complex 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.
Too personal If a topic has a close connection to your life or reflects strong convictions, you may find it difficult to write objectively.
Same old—
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:

Another approach is to look over a list of ideas like the ones below:

A question you have
A cause-effect relationship
A problem you want to solve
A favorite show or hobby
A long-term interest
  • What is the latest thinking on autism?
  • How do profilers link cases together?
  • I already know a lot about the Holocaust. What could I learn by focusing on what happened to children?
Something you question
A myth you want to expose
  • People believe that...
    but researchers have found...
Cutting-edge research

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.

Familiar Topic

New Topic

Pros Cons Pros Cons
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
Predictable; shouldn’t hit too many snags in research Same old, same old More challenging; less boring Requires more time and mental effort

Still have questions? See the Internet Resources below and Hints for Finding Sources.

Internet Resources

Choosing a Topic

How to Find a Research Topic (UCSC)
Finding a Topic (tutorial from Webster U. library)
Finding a Topic (includes links to successful topics and a research log entry on picking a topic)
Module 2: Choosing a Topic (help with keywords from Lesley Libraries)
Developing a Research Question (Empire State)
Choosing and Focusing a Topic (tutorial from Virginia Tech)
Framing Your Research Question (OhioLINK)

The Research Process

Steps Along the Research Path (Lesley Libraries)
Writing Tip # 19: Writing and Planning a Research Paper (University of Colorado at Boulder; discusses how your topic changes as you find more information)
Planning and Writing a Research Paper (tutorial from the University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Module 2: Choosing a Topic (help with keywords from Lesley Libraries)
Stages in Writing a Research Paper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Copyright in these materials belongs to C. Munzenmaier © 2010.
Teachers are free to reproduce or modify them for nonprofit educational use. 

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