Choosing a Topic for Your Research EssayTuesday, May 25th, 2010
Topics in research essays must be chosen carefully
A research essay is a more advanced task that other essay types. In fact, few students know how to write them well. Many of them fall into the most common mistakes such as plagiarism, not choosing a research question, quoting bibliography not suitable for their topic, etc. The concept of research essays is not as simple as it seems: at first, the student believes all they have to do is choose a topic, do some research on it and then, write the essay based on such a research. The sad truth is: it is not simple at all.
One of the worst mistakes you can make while working on this kind of essays is choosing your topic wrong. Since all your essay will be based on the topic of choice, a bad topic translates into a bad essay. How can you avoid this? Be extra careful when selecting your topic, and pay attention to the following advice.
Essay topics and their risks
Of course, every research essay must have a topic. The question is, what kind of topic? While some teachers may be willing to provide students a list and ask you to choose one, others are reluctant to topic suggestions, since they believe it is part of the student’s work to find a suitable topic. In that case, you as a student may end up with nothing but general guidelines. For example, you might be taking a course on “American Literature” and be asked to write an essay on an important writer of the 20th Century, showing how his/her work influenced in others.
You should start by assuming that the topic is probably too broad, since it will require you to deal with too much information for just one essay. That is why, when trying to respect a certain word count, a broad topic will be quite superficial: you can say many things about this topic, but everything you write will be at a very basic level.
The answer is narrowing your topic: that is, choosing to deal with only a part of it. For example, instead of writing about Hemingway’s life, you may want to choose something as Hemingway’s years in Cuba, or Hemingway as a journalist. This way your analysis will get deeper into it.
The need of an essay question
Research essays should be structured not only through their topics, but also around answering a certain essay question the student must choose. Remember the basic fact about this kind of essay: it is not just writing a report on everything you have read about the topic, instead the main purpose is to answer a question or controversy related to the topic you are researching. Do not choose more than one essay question, since it will be very difficult for you to manage two or more at the same time in the very same research. For example, following the previous example, you may write answering this question: “How was Hemingway’s book A Moveable Feast influenced by his years in Cuba?”.