Writing Well: Subjects vs. Topics
Subjects vs. Topics
So now you have a subject, and it's a lulu. The only problem is size—this baby's as big as a 747. So you narrow the subject into a topic by finding smaller aspects of the topic within the subject area to use as the basis of your research paper. First, let's make sure we're all on the same page when it comes to subjects and topics.
A subject of a research paper is the general content. A topic is the specific issue being discussed.
Your teacher likes your topic, your parents like your topic, your buddies like your topic. Even your dog likes your topic. The problem? You don't like your topic. So get a new topic!
A subject of a research paper is the general content. Subjects are broad and general. For example:
- Stocks and bonds
The topic of a research paper, in contrast, is the specific issue being discussed. Here are some possible topics for a research paper developed from the previous subjects:
assessing fad diets
arguing the merits of AIDS testing of health care workers
arguing for or against the V-chip in televisions
taking a side in the cable wars
- Stocks and bonds
showing that day trading is profitable (or not)
persuading readers to use e-trades rather than brokers (or vice versa)
arguing that surcharges for solo travelers are unfair
arguing the merits of e-tickets
Consider all facets of your subject as you develop topics. You may wish to speak to other people about the subject or just let your mind free-associate. Let those ideas bubble up!
Cut Down to Size
To get that beast of a subject tailored to an appropriate size, try phrasing the subject as a question. You can also list subdivisions of the subject to create topics. Can't find subtopics? Consult card catalogues, reference books, and textbooks for ideas. Here are some examples:
|space exploration||Should the space program be drastically cut back?|
|social services||Is workfare working?|
|violence||Do violent video games, movies, and songs influence children to commit violence?|
|antidepressants||Are antidepressants being over-prescribed?|
|intelligence||Is intelligence determined by nature or nurture?|
Goldywriter and the Three Bears
So the porridge is too hot, the porridge is too cold. How can you make sure the porridge—and your topic—is just right? Try this checklist:
- Is my topic still too broad? Check your sources. How many pages do they devote to the topic? If it takes other writers a book to answer the question you've posed, your topic is still too big.
- Is my topic too limited? Is the topic perfect for a 350- to 500-word essay? If so, it's too narrow for the typical research paper.
- Is my topic tedious? Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. If your topic bores you before you've even started writing, you can bet it will bore your audience.
- Is my topic too controversial? If you're afraid you're going to offend your audience with your topic, don't take the risk. Start with a new topic that suits both your audience and purpose.
- Is my paper one-sided? If there's only one opinion about your topic or the vast majority of people think the same way as you do, there's no point in arguing the issue. Save your breath to cool your porridge.
Here's where the rubber meets the road, you driving machine. You can't cut corners with this stage; answer all the questions to make sure you're on the right track.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.