Limiting Your Writing Topic

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Limiting Your Writing Topic to few factors is another important aspect that you have to keep in mind before you start writing. Many writers get into trouble because they choose topics that are too broad to treat adequately in limited space. For instance, if you were asked to write a 1,500 – word piece (Six double – spaced pages) in an ancient history course and selected a sweeping topic such as The Beginnings of Democracy in Ancient Greece, you’d quickly run into difficulties. You would have so many subtopics to cover that you wouldn’t have room to supply the anecdotes and details you’d need to make the piece interesting and informative. So it’s important to limit your scope and write more about less. One professor suggests, “Always choose the smallest possible topic out of which you can squeeze the requisite number of works." Pretty good advice.

Deciding how broad a topic you can reasonably handle in a paper of a specific length is tricky and will remain so even when you’ve become a very experienced writer. Some rough guidelines may help:

1,000 – 1,500 words (four to six pages, double spaced): A short paper, probably one several you’d be writing for a course. Some topics that might be adequately developed in such a paper:

• A biographical sketch of Ellen Malcolm, founder of Emily’s list, a political action committee that supports pro – choice women candidates for office

• The meaning of the green light at the end of the dock in the last paragraph of The Great Gatsby

• What to keep in mind when applying for a credit card

2,500 – 3,000 word (ten to twelve pages, double – spaced): A piece that covers a limited topic in some detail, giving background information and examples. You wouldn’t want to tackle
Women Artists, but you could write on the topic Rosa Bonheur : Nineteenth – Century Women Artist. Some other possibilities:

• The Heifer Project : a program that gives farm animals to poor families in underdeveloped countries.

• How the discovery of the Chauvet caves in southern France caused art historians to revise theories about prehistoric art

• How city taxpayers are subsidizing the giant sports stadiums being built in major cities.

4,500 – 5,000 words (Eighteen to twenty pages, double – spaced); such a space allows you to go into substantial detail about a complex issue. It will usually require extensive research, and may constitute a major factor in grading for a course. Here are some topics that could be adequately created in such a paper:

• How the women’s suffrage movement started in the United States

• How the gaming industry has changed the face of gambling

• The life and work of artificial Gentileschi, a women master painter in seventeenth – century Italy

Potential Pitfalls in Choosing Topics :

Hot issues such as abortion, the death penalty, or gun control : Readers are so biased that they’re not open to argument. It’s hard to say anything new.

Current events : It’s difficult to locate material in the library. The Internet may yield too much material, much of it dubious.

Religious issues on which people have strong views : It’s difficult to discuss such topics in critique groups.

Other pages on
Writing in College:

Analyze Your Writing Situation

Laying Out A Plan of Organization

Successful Writing Index

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