Selecting and Limiting Your Topic

Effective writing depends on the writer’s ability to limit the scope of a subject. We are never able to write everything that could be said about a topic; most writing assignments include specified length limits. College writing in all disciplines requires students to decide what is really important about a subject. Writing situations after graduation impose similar limits. Business reports, scientific articles, research grants, and dissertations have limits, and readers have limits; they have limited time and massive amounts of information to absorb. Our task is to provide important information in the space we are given.

Limiting your subject begins with answering certain questions:

What subjects interest you as a writer?

What do you think will interest your readers?

What information can you find regarding your subject?

Your Interests as a Writer

Which aspects of your subject are most interesting to you? Often, we write with more enthusiasm when we feel strongly about a topic. View your topic from a variety of perspectives and find the angle that interests you most. Readers respond positively to sincere interest conveyed in words.

Your Reader’s Knowledge of the Subject

Knowing your audience can help you develop a clear sense of purpose and direction. What do you want to tell them? What do you want to share with them that they may not know? Will you need to supply background knowledge for the audience or do you share a common knowledge base? Answering these questions defines the focus of your writing

Information on Your Subject

Most writing requires the use of accurate information from reliable sources. Although we begin with our own experiences and understanding, development of the topic depends on research. Locate information. Are there journal articles on the topic? Are there online resources? Are the sources credible? Will your reader accept information from those sources? Select a topic for which there is ample information. Consult your instructor or research librarian to refine your search skills.