Choosing a Topic

At times your professor will provide you with a topic for your writing assignment. It can be a very specific topic (i.e., "Explain the advantages and disadvantages of training a dog to fold the laundry"), or it can be more general, only requiring you to stick to a broad subject field (i.e., "Write about a Records Management Issue"). Other times, however, your only guidance is to complete a certain type of paper, such as an argumentative essay in a research methods course like MALS 5400.

Except for those cases in which your research and writing are steered in a very specific direction, choosing a topic can be challenging for some writers. As with finding the perfect mate, writers can be tempted to spend an indefinite amount of time holding out for the perfect topic. Also like the perfect mate, the perfect topic likely does not exist. Unlike the perfect mate, however, you must find a suitable topic in a reasonable amount of time. What's a writer to do?

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Tips for choosing a seminar paper topic

  • Typically, a seminar paper will have an overarching theme into which your topic must fit. Think about the material you have read for class and look back at your notes. Just reminding yourself of the goal of the course might help you generate some ideas.
  • Choose a topic in which you are interested. You will spend a lot of time and energy on this paper, and you'll be far more likely to put effort into something that you like to study. If you are not remotely interested in "Issues in Office Politics," and regret having signed up for the class since day one, get creative. There is almost always a way to put a fresh twist on a dull subject. If you are into ancient Roman history, maybe you could demonstrate how the workplace is similar to Caesar's government. Is cooking your passion? What about a paper studying the politics of the office refrigerator, the break room mystery donuts, or those frequent yet always mediocre office parties? A creative paper like this is not only more interesting for you to write, but is probably more interesting for your audience to read. You just have to do a little thinking.
  • Choose a topic narrow enough that you can adequately develop your argument in the required number of pages and in the amount of time you have to work on it. For example, it is probably unrealistic to think that you can complete a paper about the role of women in World War II in one semester and in only 15 pages. At this point, you will have to focus on just one aspect of this broad subject, such as the women who worked at a particular aircraft factory during the war, or how clothing fashions were affected by real and perceived material shortages.
  • Choose a topic that is relevant to your course and to your program of study. Remember, in MALS, each course you take serves a purpose for your larger theme of scholarship. Make every research paper count - maybe even as a lead for your thesis or capstone project. (If you can't see how your course is relevant to your program of study, you have bigger problems than choosing a topic, and you should see your advisor.)



Next Topic: Determining Your Audience

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