Picking a Topic
Sometimes when faced with a writing task, your topic is assigned by someone else. More often, though, you will either have to choose from a selection of themes or come up with an idea all your own. So how do you go about picking a topic? You can gather ideas from just about anywhere. Talk to your friends and family. Look through websites, newspapers, and magazines. The two most important things to keep in mind are:
First, choose a topic that interests you. If you aren’t interested, how can you expect your audience to be interested?
Second, be realistic. Don’t make your topic too broad or too narrow. If your theme is too broad, you won’t be able to do it justice. If it is too narrow, you will be tempted to use filler to beef up your work. Filler is never fun to read.
Identifying the Audience
If you want to get your ideas across, you have to figure out who your audience is. Put yourself in their shoes. Consider what your reader already knows and what they need to know. Try to anticipate any questions they might have.
Once you have determined your topic and audience, it’s time to start fleshing out ideas. There are many different ways to brainstorm. It doesn’t matter what approach you take, pick a method that works for you. Make a list of ideas and elements you wish to utilize. Create an idea map by jotting your ideas on a large writing surface. Or try some freewriting. Set your timer for five minutes and write. It doesn’t matter what you write or how you spell, so turn off your inner editor. If you use a computer for freewriting, consider turning off your monitor. Just write.
Whether you are writing a scholarly paper for your environmental science class or a short story for creative writing, research is an essential preliminary step to your project.
For research papers, you will want to identify credible sources, and be able to summarize them by putting their arguments in your own words. Categorizing or grouping your sources may be assistive later on as you organize the flow of your essay. Don’t stop with summarizing, though. In order to thoroughly address a topic for an academic theme, you must challenge and rebut your sources. Have they overlooked a part of the topic? Are there flaws to their argument? Your ability to critically evaluate the credibility of the sources you use will demonstrate to your instructor that you have a thorough understanding of your topic.
Even creative writing requires research. Let’s say you want to write a short story about two schoolgirls who are penpals. Your story is set in the year 1917. One of your main characters lives in a small town in the midwestern region of the U.S. The other lives in central France. You are going to need to do some geographical research in order to add detail to your story. You will also need to be aware of anything that might impact these two girls and their long-distance friendship. World War I would have probably affected both these girls in very different ways. Culture, cuisine, pastimes, and fashion, among others, are areas you might wish to familiarize yourself with in order to be able to give depth to your characters and settings.
Outlining Your Project
Lastly, you need to create an outline of what you want to write. An outline is a somewhat graphic method of organizing your writing project. For research papers, an outline will help make sure that your finished project supports your thesis. It will also establish the order and relationship of your main points. An outline of your creative writing project will help you to ensure that you fully develop your characters and that your plotline carries smoothly throughout the story.
Now that you’ve got your creative juices flowing, get out there and start gathering ideas for your next writing project. And be sure to check back here for the next segment of this blog series about the writing process.