I was taught the topic of an essay is like a “how” question. “How has VR Technology evolved since its creation?” “How does The Great Gatsby represent the failure of the American Dream?” Once you have the headline, you can start turning out pages like a printer. The tricky part is finding the right question to ask.
While I don’t have a comprehensive list of essay topics for every subject, I do have a list of tactics for coming up with your own! I’ve used several of these methods myself and can’t praise them enough. If you don’t know where to start, pick a tactic and prepare to write!
Write What Speaks to You
The best essays come from the heart. For a topic you’ll feel invested in, write about what you know or what you’d like to know. If you have experience or a unique view on the subject, put it in the spotlight. This gives your essay credibility since you have the inside scoop.
Even if you’re not particularly acquainted with the subject, you should try to write yourself into your essay. This assures that you’re doing more than just regurgitating another person’s research. Just be aware that the word “I” is often illegal in the essay world. Instead, incorporate yourself by bringing new evidence to the table, or making new connections.
If you can’t think of anything to add to the subject, ask yourself what stands out. Do you have an unanswered question? What about the subject bothered or intrigued you? Have an opinion! Say a book you were assigned pushes a theme throughout the reading that you strongly disagree with. This could make for a unique and interesting argumentative essay you’ll feel personally engaged in. As a bonus, if you feel passionate about your topic, the reader (aka your teacher with the grading pen) will feel it too!
Forget What You Know
This tactic throws the one above out the window. Instead of writing what you know or what is commonly known about the subject, flip it on its head. Look at things from a different perspective. What’s often ignored about the subject? How might someone other than a bored student forced to write an essay view it? You’re not dictated to take a certain stance. Rid of your biases and be open to exploring new points of view.
Search for Context
There’s often more to a story than what’s been told. For example, in history class, we’re given the highlights. There were other playwrights than Shakespeare! Hitler might have been a professional painter if he had passed the entrance exam to the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. We miss out on much of the story if we only focus on what we’re taught.
Taking things out of context can also affect how we perceive the subject. Reading a classic, such as To Kill a Mockingbird, you may not understand the weight of its themes or the effect it had on society taken out of the time it was written and placed among modern works and clones.
When you’re assigned a subject, dive deeper. Ask the important questions. What’s the background on the subject and why are you expected to write an essay on it? You’ll find the crazier stories and lesser-known facts are often left out of the textbooks.
Jot it Down
If you’ve been staring at a blank page for the past hour, it’s time to switch things up. Try freewriting (a.k.a. writing without constraint). As soon as something pops into your head, put it down on paper. It doesn’t matter if it’s useful or if it even makes sense.
You can also make a mind map. Start with the subject in a bubble in the middle. Branch off into new bubbles by making connections or using word association. For example, break a book into themes, characters, relationships, etc.
If you’d rather jump into action, start writing a rough draft. Develop your focus as you go, simply writing about the subject as you know it. Sure, it will be garbage, but you might find a diamond in the rough! Form a topic based on what you’re drawn to while writing about the subject. At the very least, you’ll know what you need to research.
The only restraint you should put on yourself is to stick to a single subject. Focus on narrowing it down and exploring it deeper!
Sometimes it takes stepping out of the box to free your creativity. If you feel under pressure of coming up with the perfect topic, try writing a list of bad ideas instead. This utilizes reverse psychology, and soon you’ll be coming up with more good ideas than bad. Ask questions, such as: “how have my views of the subject changed since being exposed to it in class?” You can also try focusing on what you want the reader to get out of your essay. This helps you set the tone and know what to look for in a topic.
Apply an Abstract Noun
Applying an abstract noun to a subject opens up new ideas to explore. For example, how does the subject address fear, love, or freedom? This method is especially useful in book reflections. Instead of writing a general summary of the book, you’re questioning the deeper meaning of the work and having the reader reflect on what they’ve read. Abstract nouns focus down on a single element of the subject and make for a deeper, more focused essay.
Sure, you could just google essay topics. That is if you want something overused and that you’ll struggle to stay awake while writing. Instead, enter a few keywords and let Google autofill in ideas. You can also type in one of those abstract nouns you came up with in with the subject for unique search results. You might find discussions that have already been made on the matter, which you can use as research for your essay. This is a quick way to find research and an amazing topic idea at the same time!
Two heads are better than one. If your friend’s also struggling to come up with a concept, have a group discussion. Get together and simply talk about the subject. Maybe they know something you don’t. Start an argument and pick sides. You might find inspiration through your opposing or shared viewpoints.
Take a Break
While it might seem counterintuitive, partaking in mindless activities helps stimulate creativity. It also gives your mental batteries a chance to recharge. Your mind can go blank if you stare at a project for too long. Focusing on something else, an idea might find its own way into your head.
Go with the Generic
If you can’t think of anything original and exciting, don’t sweat it. In the end, this is a college essay, not the Declaration of Independence. You can still make it amazing through good research, writing, and a thoughtful perspective.
You have some potential topics. My final tip to you is this: use your third idea. I don’t mean this literally, just that you should go for the less obvious choice. Your first topic is what everyone comes up with. Your second is what more experienced writers might choose. However, your third idea is completely yours.
Using these brainstorming methods, you’re sure to come up with some amazing essay topics. Let’s just hope your writing doesn’t disappoint… but we’ll save that for another article!
Mild-mannered student by day, writer by night... but typically by day, I’m Bailey Werner, current junior and graphic design major at Fort Hays State University. With a passion for storytelling that stemmed from 3rd grade writing hour, I’ve been crafting worlds and characters as a hobby for over a decade. Now, as a part-time content creator for the school, I’m living out my dream of writing professionally. If I’m not in my room reading, gaming, or making art, you can find me at the lake. I strongly believe in the power of storytelling, and I’ll continue to use my writing skills after graduation, in my work as a graphic designer.