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Topic Ideas

When you’re allowed to choose your own topic for a writing assignment, this freedom is an exciting opportunity to write about a topic you are passionate about, but sometimes having so many choices can be overwhelming. Below are some categories and broad topic ideas that you can pull from the clouds, or maybe you’ll be inspired by related ideas, either of which might get you going in an exciting direction.

Also included in this handout are examples of how to take a broad topic and narrow it, tailoring the idea to the type of assignment you’re writing, such as a narrative, an argument, or a causal analysis (causes/effects).

Topic Examples

Sex education, homeschooling, school bullying, non-smoking campus, learning disabilities, Common Core, affirmative action

Equality/Human Rights:
Intolerance, hate groups, sexism/feminism, racism, religious freedom, criminal justice

Community/Social Issues:
Urban/suburban/rural, St. Louis versus New Orleans, violence and gangs, The Gateway Arch/Forest Park, volunteerism, poverty, homelessness, materialism/consumer debt

Romantic Relationships:
Romantic love, online dating, communication, domestic violence/abuse, marriage/divorce

Parenting styles, mementos, unconditional love, personal boundaries, forgiveness

Fly-fishing, rock climbing, video games/MMORPGs, NASCAR, casinos

Networking, microlending, current or future job/career, customer service, labor unions, leadership

Body modification, tattoo art, standards of beauty, fashion trends, retro styles

Portion size, industrial agriculture, micro-brewed beers, organic food, genetically modified foods, heirloom seeds/gardening

Environmental Issues:
“Green” building, single-use plastics, alternative energy, climate change, national parks, biodiversity/extinction, animal rights

Social networking sites, digital manipulation of photos, open source software, technology's effects on children's social skills, net neutrality, screen time

Historical preservation, inventions, nonviolence/disobedience, Martin Luther King, Jr./Gandhi, women's rights/suffrage, World War II

Political partisanship, terrorism, immigration, anarchy, helmet laws, protests

Snowboarding, professional sports, Baseball Hall of Fame, martial arts, stadiums

Diseases and conditions, eating disorders, learning disorders, vaccines, health insurance, mental health

Mass transit/buses, bicycling, MetroLink/Trains, alternative fuels, Electric/Hybrid cars

Alternative/Punk/Rap music, reality TV, performance artists, cult/classic movies, celebrity culture, animé

Competition, duty/obligation, persistence/determination, creativity, resilience/perseverance, heroes

Still Stuck?

Think about what makes you feel strong emotions and what you are passionate about. Consider these questions:

  • What makes you angry? What do you think is really unfair or wrong?
  • What is a problem or solution you’ve been thinking about?
  • What are you excited about? What do you like to talk about and do?

Narrowing and Shaping Topic Ideas Based on the Type of Assignment

Below are some examples of broad topics and some ways of writing about the topics based on some
specific assignment types.

Broad Topic: Work

  • Narrative: Write a story about a work-related event that changed a way you think or behave;
  • Observation: Using concrete, sensory language, describe an interesting workplace creating a
    dominant impression;
  • Causes or Effects: Examine what caused the disappearance of unions in the United States
    and/or the effects;
  • Definition: Define and discuss various meanings of “work”;
  • Literary Analysis: Analyze a workplace scene (e.g., Sinclair’s The Jungle; Ellison’s Invisible
    Man) from fiction. What does it tell us about the society in which the work is set and the author’s
    attitude toward the topic?
  • Argument: Argue for or against the four-day workweek/NAFTA/unions/crossing strike lines.
    Broad Topic: Duty/Obligation
  • Narrative: Tell the story of a specific event involving your fulfillment of a duty and how it
    changed you;
  • Observation: Using concrete, sensory detail, describe an event that involved the fulfillment of a
    particular obligation (e.g., a military battle; caring for a sick person; mowing the lawn, etc.);
  • Definition: Define and explain various types of duty;
  • Cause/Effect: Discuss the actual or possible effects of failing to fulfill a specific obligation (e.g.,
    making child support payments; registering for the draft, perhaps during an unpopular war;
    keeping up with home repairs; fulfilling commitments to aiding foreign governments);
  • Argument: How much do we owe to our parents? Our country? Our religion? Our
    sorority/fraternity? Our friendships?

Broad Topic: Love

  • Narrative: Tell about a specific personal experience involving some aspect of love that changed
    the way you perceive or relate to the world or other people;
  • Observation: Observe couples of different generations in a public place and compare and
    contrast their generational behaviors and interactions;
  • Definition Essay:
    1. Define and discuss one or two types of love;
    2. Define “family”;
  • Evaluation: Develop some criteria for a loving relationship and evaluate the relationship of two
    characters in a work of literature;
  • Argument: Argue for or against arranged marriage, polyamorous relationships, divorce versus
    staying married for the sake of the children.
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