Identifying an essay topic can be quite tricky! It is the crucial first step to take before writing an essay – it gives your essay a purpose. If you are not happy with your essay topic or do not understand it, this will affect the quality of your essay. This is why it is important to be aware of what makes a good essay topic and how to identify one!
But what is an essay topic?
An essay topic is the overall subject of an essay. It gives your essay a purpose and lets the reader know what the essay is about.
When identifying an essay topic, you should ask yourself the following questions:
Which topics do I like?
If you choose a topic that you are interested in, you will be more likely to create an engaging essay that also holds the reader's attention!
Which topics am I most familiar with?
If you choose a topic that you already have knowledge of, you will find it easier to develop an argument and strengthen your opinion.
Is my topic detailed enough?
If you choose a topic that is too vague, this may lead to you not being able to carry out an in-depth analysis. On the other hand, if your topic is too specific or narrowly focused, you may struggle to find enough points to make or enough research to back up your points.
Is my topic well established?
Consider whether the topic has been researched before – is there proof of existing research on the topic? If the topic already has credible research, this will give you a foundation and credible data/sources to start with, and will also help to develop your own work.
Is my topic too popular with other students?
A popular topic is a sign that many people have taken an interest in it. You might think this is a good thing, but it may also cause problems! If you pick a topic that many other people are also writing about, this might limit the originality of your work and may become less interesting for the reader.
There are a few things you can do to make choosing a topic easier. Here are a few suggestions!
1. Brainstorm – create a mind map or list of ideas.
2. Look at existing research topics – this will give you a better idea of previous studies.
3. Look at past modules you have studied – which modules did you find less challenging? Which were more enjoyable?
4. Ask your teacher for advice – they may be able to give you some suggestions or help you narrow down your choices.
As the title suggests, a persuasive essay focuses on persuasion. You should be persuading the reader to agree with your own point of view. The reader may not always agree with every point you make, but your perspective should stay consistent and your opinion should be clear.
Persuasive essay topics tend to be more subjective and personal as there is a focus on proving your own point of view to the reader. For example:
Take the following topic:
'Is language change bad?'
If you were to write a persuasive essay, you would be able to use the topic to explore your own opinion. For example, if you believe language change is bad, your essay will focus on persuading the reader that they are. There is no need to explore another point of view, as the reader should be convinced by yours.
A discursive essay focuses on presenting an objective (unbiased) and balanced argument by analysing evidence from a variety of different perspectives. The aim is for the reader to consider a range of viewpoints, instead of being persuaded to side with a single viewpoint.
Discursive essay topics often tend to be more controversial (although this is not always the case). They may also be quite open-ended, as this gives you the opportunity to explore multiple aspects of the topic and consider more than one perspective. For example:
Take the following topic:
'How does language in the media affect the public?'
If you were to write a discursive essay, you would be able to consider multiple viewpoints and create an unbiased analysis. For example, you could write about how language used in the media can affect the public in many different ways, both positively and negatively.
You could take into account different perspectives while remaining neutral and objective. You do not need to convince the reader of your own opinion.
An argumentative essay focuses on presenting both sides of an argument, and either arguing for or against a topic. This is done through the analysis and interpretation of evidence, as well as developing your own perspective. Unlike discursive essays which give a more objective analysis of multiple viewpoints, argumentative essays should persuade the reader of your point of view, so tend to be more biased towards one side.
Argumentative essay topics should have an element of agreement and disagreement, as you should consider both sides of the argument. Think about it like a debate! What are the positive and negative aspects of a topic, and which side will you be in favour of or against? For example:
Take the following topic:
'Does slang positively affect the way we communicate with others?'
If you were to write an argumentative essay, you would be able to argue for/against the topic and back up your argument with evidence.
For example, you could write a couple of paragraphs arguing that slang does positively affect communication, and give your own opinion. You could then write a paragraph opposing this view, arguing that slang can negatively affect communication.
Some examples of different topics you could consider when writing an English Language essay (such as one of the above types) are as follows:
Do men and women speak in different ways?
Does a particular gender hold more power in a conversation?
How does the use of marked and unmarked terms negatively reflect gender roles in society?
How does gendered language contribute to negative stereotypes of men or women?
Why are some accents perceived more negatively than others?
Compare the pronunciation differences between two accents.
How do regional dialects differ from one another?
Compare the differences between the phonetic pronunciations of two dialects
What are the positive effects of regional slang?
How does language contribute to our personal identities?
Does slang positively affect the way we communicate with others?
Can language negatively impact our social identities?
Historical changes in language over time
How have language features changed over time?
What are the reasons for language change?
Are language changes bad?
Code-switching (mixing between English and other languages/language varieties)
Why do people code-switch?
What are the positive or negative effects of code-switching?
Generational differences in language use
The language used by teenagers (gen z) versus the language used by older generations.
How does language in the media affect the public?
How does social media positively or negatively impact modern communication?
How is language used in the media to create stereotypes?
Are language stereotypes in the media always harmful?
Analyse a media text and examine the ways they positively or negatively represent an event
Compare two media texts and examine the ways in which they present an attitude, opinion or idea
How does the visual language of a text contribute to its meaning?
How do children acquire language?
What is the best way for a child to learn a language?
What are the negative or positive effects of bilingualism on children's language development?
Compare the language development of two children
Which factors can negatively impact language development in children?
How can a chosen text use language to present attitudes, opinions, ideas etc?
Compare the ways two (or more) texts use language to present attitudes, opinions, ideas etc.
A topic sentence is a sentence that conveys the main idea of an essay paragraph.
There are a few different techniques you can use to make it easier to identify a topic for your essay. These include:
To determine the topic or purpose of an essay or article, you should first look at the introduction. This will let you know what the essay/article is about and the main points that will be covered.
An essay topic is the overall subject of an essay. It tells the reader what the essay is about.
To identify your own research topic, you could look at existing research to gain a better understanding of previous studies. You should make sure your topic is something that you are interested in and already have knowledge of, as this will make for a more interesting and in-depth essay!
Your essay topic should be __________________
Something you are interested in
Fill in the blank:
Your essay topic should be something you are ________ with.
Your essay topic should be really vague.
True or false?
If your essay topic is too vague, what won't you be able to do?
Carry out an in-depth analysis
Your essay topic should not be too popular among other students.
True or false?
You may struggle to find enough points to make if your topic is too what?
Fill in the blank:
Your topic should be well __________.
Which type of essay topic tends to be more subjective and personal?
Persuasive essay topics
Which type of essay topic tends to be more open-ended to allow for the exploration of multiple perspectives?
Discursive essay topics
Which type of essay topic should have an element of agreement and disagreement like a debate?
Argumentative essay topics
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