Text: How to Come Up with a Topic to Write About

Many people are intimidated by the thought of writing. One of the biggest factors that can contribute to writers’ block is not knowing what to write about. If you can find a topic that interests you, your writing will likely flow more readily and you will be more likely to write a successful piece. Use a variety of strategies for coming up with something to write about to find what works best for your writing and learning style.

Colorful graffiti of the word "topic" on an urban wall

Understand the Essay Assignment

Understanding the assigned essay is the first step to coming up with a topic. Knowing the type of essay that is expected, the length of the essay, and to what degree research is expected will all determine the scope of the topic you will choose.

Evaluate the Purpose of the Assignment

The purpose of the assignment will also determine the type of topic. A persuasive essay, for example, will have a much different type of topic than a personal experience essay.

  • Look for key action words like compare, analyze, describe, synthesize, and contrast. These words will help you determine what your teacher wants you to do in the essay.

Select a Topic from a Provided List

If your instructor has provided a list of topics for you, choose a topic from the given list. It is likely that the topics have been gathered together because they are an appropriate scope and breadth and the instructor has found that the topics have led to successful essays in the past.

  • Choose the topic for which a main idea comes most naturally and for which you feel you can develop the paper easily.

Brainstorm a List of Ideas

Write down a list of ideas that come to mind. They don’t have to be good ideas, but it’s good to just start writing a list to get your ideas flowing. Just write down everything you can think of; you can evaluate the ideas later.

This video demonstrates that writers of all levels and experiences value the process of brainstorming.  Watch brainstorming in action for a television sitcom.

Freewrite for a Predetermined Amount of Time

Decide ahead of time how long you want to freewrite, then just write without stopping.

  • Most people write for 10-20 minutes.
  • Do not stop writing, even if you need to just write “blah blah blah” in the middle of a sentence.
  • Hopefully, you will write yourself towards a useful thought or idea through freewriting. Even if it does not give you content you can use in your essay, it can be a valuable writing warm-up.

Create a Visual Representation of Your Ideas

Especially if you are a visual learner, creating a visual representation of your ideas may help you stumble onto or narrow down ideas to a good topic.

  • Use a mind map. The center of the mind map contains your main argument, or thesis, and other ideas branch off in all directions.
  • Draw an idea web. This a visual that uses words in circles connected to other words or ideas. Focusing on the connections between ideas as well as the ideas themselves may help you generate a topic.

Remember What the Teacher Focused On In Class

If you are writing an essay for a class, think about what the teacher spent a lot of time talking about in class. This may make a good choice for an essay, as the teacher clearly thinks it’s something important.

  • Review your class notes and see if there is anything that stands out as interesting or important.
  • Review any handouts or focus sections of a text that were assigned.

Think About What Interests You

Writing something you care about or that you are interested in is much easier than making yourself write about things that seem boring. Make a list of your interests and see if there is a way to connect one or more of them to your essay. Writing on whiteboard. In red, central, "Why do people participate in open culture?" Clockwise, around this central question, is written Sharing accelerates progress and innovation. What do you think? Knowledge rights. "It's the right thing to do." Value. Transparency. Sharing. Freedom. Community. Connect with like-minded people. Fun! Join exciting projects. "I just love it!" Can't afford the pay-wall. Necessity. "I need this feature." No relevant materials. Accessible = creativity. #WhyOpen. [just coz']. Build self-confidence. Learn new skills. "I'm free to express my creativity." Empowerment. Develop new ideas. Several brains better than 1. "No need to reinvent the wheel." Cross-pollination. Constant feedback loops. Efficiency. More cost-effective.

Consider the List You Have Generated

Write a few additional notes next to each potential topic and evaluate whether each item would be an appropriate topic. At this point, you should be able to narrow your list down to a few good choices.

  • You may want to ask your teacher if you have narrowed down your ideas to two or three items. She may have some insight as to which topic would be the most successful.
  • Go back and look at the original assignment again and determine which of your narrowed topics will best fit with the intent of the essay assignment.