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Writing Tutorials

An Open-ended Topic:

When given an assignment that allows you to choose your own topic, choose something that has meaning and relevance in your own life. In this way you can rest assured that you will have plenty of interest and content to include in your essay.

Questions to help you brainstorm a topic:

  • Consider some hot-button topics: How have you been impacted by the quality or price or access to education? How do you see environmental issues playing out in the world around you? What health concerns do you see in your life or the lives of a loved one? What topics of diversity are trending right now? How has technology changed in your lifetime?
  • What's the last news story you read and found interesting? This can help you identify an issue that you are passionate about or a cause that matters to you.
  • Have you recently changed your mind about something important? This topic will not only allow you to talk about an issue about which you have strong feelings, but will also allow you to present a narrative of growth.
  • What special interests do you have--sailing, chess, comic books?
  • Where would you like to travel? What additional information might you benefit from knowing about this place?
  • Browse the Smithsonian website or an Art Museum and see if you come across something interesting that you would like to know more about.
  • Browse the headlines on major news networks, or the features section, or the opinions section. Look for something that strikes a nerve or sparks interest.
  • What courses will you take in the future and what research will help you prepare for them?

Consider different thematic approaches:

As you consider your topic you may want to also consider what 'angle' you would like to take; some practitioners call this 'genre'. Sometimes we want to focus on meeting a specific goal with our writing: to inform, to persuade, to analyze, and/or to tell a personal story.

Consider how your topic might align with one of these 'angles' or 'genres':

Reflective and Personal

Compare and Contrast

Persuasive and Opinionated

Factual and Informative


WHO are the information providers on this topic? Who might publish information about it? Who is affected by the topic?

WHAT are the major questions for this topic? Is there a debate about the topic? Are there a range of issues and viewpoints to consider?

WHEN is/was your topic important? Is it a current event or an historical issue? Do you want to compare your topic by time periods?

WHERE is your topic important: at the local, national or international level? Are there specific places affected by the topic?

WHY did you choose this topic? What interest you about it? Do you have an opinion about the issues involved?


Starting big and narrowing it down.

Additional Resources

Examples of brainstorming a topic:

I recently heard a podcast about cobalt mining and how bad it is for the environment. I learned that cobalt is currently being mined in Africa under deplorable conditions and that cobalt is a key resource used in the production of lithium-ion batteries which are the driving force (literally) in electric vehicles. I think it’s a little ironic that something that is bad for the environment (cobalt-mining) is also a key resource used in something that we deem to be good for the environment (electric vehicles). I would like to explore this duplicity more in my essay.

This topic would align with a factual & informative essay overlapping with persuasive and opinionated.

I recently learned that the calming effect of the sound of running water - as experienced with waterfalls or rivers or showers - is a result of the presence of negative ions. I would like to find out more about this and consider its benefits for mental health and possibly share about my own peaceful moments in nature next to rivers and waterfalls.

This topic would align with a factual & informative essay overlapping with a personal narrative.