Selecting
Suitable
Subjects
A mini-workshop to teach students to invent suitable topics
for critical essays and to design appealing thesis statements
Student Support Services
Troy University; Troy, AL
1
Primary Sources
Reference Department; Instruction, Research,
and Information Services (IRIS); Cornell
University Library; Ithaca, NY, USA.
Purdue University online writing lab [OWL] at:
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/workshops/hypert
ext/ResearchW/assig.html
The information herein is provided for
educational, non-commercial purposes only.
2
First, Let’s Consider
the Writing process
•
•
•
•
•
•
Invention
Collection
Organization
Drafting
Revising
Proofreading
Slide Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab or Power Point
3
Selecting a Suitable
Subject requires
• Invention - coming up
with ideas.
• A subject (topic) starts
as a writing idea or
invention.
Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab or Power Point
4
Subject Selection
Objectives
1) To Select an appropriate topic for
research
2) To Generate questions from a topic
3) To Broaden or Narrow a question
4) To Identify key concepts and vocabularies
related to a topic
5) To Broaden or Narrow concepts and
vocabularies related to a topic
Source: http://www.conncoll.edu/is/research101-tutorial/HTML/Topics/topic01.htm
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Important Invention Step:
Analyze the “Rhetorical Situation” –
Writing/Writer’s basic concerns

Writer -- The inventor and evaluator of
the invention
 Audience – Evaluators of the invention and
sometimes of the inventor
 Purpose -- Does or Will your invention appeal
to the targeted or expected audience?
 Topic – Subject that is relevant to writer,
purpose and audience

Context – Appropriate selection and use of
vocabulary – Is communication clear?
Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab or Power Point
6
Why Analyze the Situation?
• Because . . . You need to be aware that a
rhetorical situation exists EVERY TIME you
write.
• Because . . . You need to adapt your topic and
approach to meet your purpose and
communicate clearly to your audience.
• Because . . . You do not want to spend your
writing energy in vain.
Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab or Power Point
7
One of a Writer’s Main Concerns
must be “Purpose”
– A writer’s reason for inventing, researching
and presenting a topic
•
•
•
•
•
•
Your Purpose will most
likely be one of the
following:
to inform
to persuade
to educate
to call to action
to entertain
to shock
Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab or Power Point
8
Another of a Writer’s
Main Concerns
must be for “Audience”
-- The Ones to whom the topic and writing should appeal
Your audience may include:
• You
• Other people:
Instructors
Teens
College Peers
Business Associates
The General Public
Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab or Power Point
9
Remember: Invention is the first
step in the Writing Process:
Invention
coming up with a topic and writing ideas
One of the Most Common Invention Techniques
Brainstorming:
Getting your ideas on paper so you can give
yourself the widest range of topics possible
Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab or Powerpoint
10
One Brainstorming Technique is
Listing:
Paper Topics
Brainstorming
Political apathy
Animal abuse
NFL instant replay
Air pollution
Telemarketing scams
Internet censorship
NBA salary caps
Slide Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab or Power Point
11
Another Brainstorm Approach is
Clustering: mapping out ideas
Flag
Burning
sportsmanship
Amendment
NBA
salary
caps
ME
animal
abuse
three-party
system
political
apathy
First
Amendment
Internet censorship
NFL instant
replay
Telemarketing
scams
Slide Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab or Power Point
12
Other Places to Find Suitable Subjects
• Casual conversations (online or face-to-face, formal lectures, or
television.)
• Textbooks. Textbooks introduce a topic and generally include a
bibliography of books and articles consulted.
• Encyclopedias. A general encyclopedia covers the entire range of
human knowledge in brief. A search for a basic concept recalls
every mention of that concept in the encyclopedia, indicating
different contexts for it and some of the fields of study that have
explored it.
• Periodical Indexes. Searching a simple term in a general
periodical database like InfoTracOneFile retrieves articles from
magazines and journals that include your topic.
• Electronic book reserves (e-books) such as those available at
the Net Library database http://www.netlibrary.com/
(Go to Troy University library -- Troy campus -- Remote Services – General – scroll
down / click on net library.
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Specific Guidelines
for Topic Selection
• Choose a subject that you already know something
about or that you would like to know more about.
• Choose a subject that will teach you something new
while you are in the process of explaining it to your
reader.
• Remember: Do not undervalue the significance of your
personal experiences, especially when a particular
experience led to a change in your life or in your outlook
on life or society.
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Guidelines for Choosing
a Topic, cont.
Let necessity be your guide:
• Ask yourself: “Is there some product that I need?”
• If so, you may choose to write an essay that
discusses the different brands available, as well as
the pros and cons of each. (Comparison/Contrast)
Let Classes you are taking help you choose:
Ask yourself: “Have I briefly studied some topic in
one of my classes that I would like to know more
about?”
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Topic Selection for
Research Papers
• When assigned the task of writing a research paper,
it is also important to choose your topic wisely.
• Choosing a topic that may be controversial and
new may be a good way to gain and keep readers’
attention.
• The problem with choosing topics that are so new
is that there may not be enough resources available
to adequately cover the topic.
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Remember Objective 5:
“Narrowing a Broad Subject (slide 5)
After choosing a broad subject area either for an essay or research
paper, it is necessary to limit the scope of your subject into a more
manageable topic that can be sufficiently covered in a limited amount
of time or paper length restrictions.
• For example: Writing about the world of work is too broad to cover
completely and thoroughly in a 300-500 word essay.
• So . . . it is necessary to decide on one particular aspect of the
world of work.
Option: Cover the important benefits derived from working while
attending college; this would be a more
manageable topic choice.
Option: Choose a particular job that a busy college student might be
able to work, without sacrificing too much study time.
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Narrowing a Subject, cont.
In order to narrow a subject into a more manageable topic, a
writer may focus on one or two of these concentrations:
A Time period
(Ex: World Trade Center Reconstruction Plans Five Years After the Terrorist
Attacks of 9/11)
A Specific Occupation
(Ex: Career Growth Projections for Data Communications Coordinators)
A Cultural period
(Ex: The Living Spirit of Jazz as Depicted in James Baldwin’s Short Fiction,
“Sonny’s Blues”)
Religion
(Ex: Should the Government Recognize Scientology as a Legitimate Religion?)
Particular Economic group
(Ex: Housing Conditions of Women under age 30 in Kuwait After
Desert Storm)
Specialized discipline
(Ex: The Current Training Regimen of Delta Airline Flight Attendants)
Special Classification
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(Ex: A Day in the Unique Life of Phylum Cynidaria , the Common Jelly Fish)
Guidelines for Narrowing, cont.
As the previous examples show, you can narrow
your topic by focusing on a specific aspect such
as:
Category
Specific Example or Incident
Gender
Region or Locality
Nationality or Race
Age Group
Remember: Although you may have narrowed your subject as
much as you think is possible, it may be necessary to try again,
especially if you find something unexpected that may be of interest.
Subject Selection is a recursive endeavor, as is writing, in general.
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Narrowing Activity
Look at the broad topics listed below and narrow
each of them by using the guidelines from the
previous slides so that each can be used in a 500 1000 word essays:
Advertising
Animals
Automobiles
College
Crime
(You may need to pause this slide by right clicking the mouse and
clicking on “pause.” When you are finished with the activity,
right click the mouse and click on “resume.”)
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Topics to Avoid
Topics to avoid when writing essays or research
papers include the following:
• Topics that appear to be too easy to write about. The
danger here is that you may soon become bored, and
therefore, run the risk of not writing a very interesting
paper
• Topics with resources that are not available or up-todate (ideally within 10 years). Therefore, it is advised
that you find out which topics have the most readily
available material.
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Topics to Avoid, cont.
• Topics that limit you to a fixed position before you even start
your research. Allow your topic to develop into a thesis and do not
try to make your facts fit your thesis. Manipulating data is unwise
and leads to falsehoods and flawed logic.
• Topics that have been done-to-death. Only use a topic if you can
approach the topic from a new perspective.
• Topics that can be summed up in an encyclopedia entry or
found in any single source. College writers must think critically
and not just report the obvious.
• Topics chosen out of desperation (at the last minute). Rush jobs
are usually shoddy and only create anxiety and stress.
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Conduct a Preliminary
Bibliography Search
• A good way to find out if a topic has enough information is to conduct
a preliminary search and then compile a bibliography or annotated
bibliography.
• An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles,
and documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (less than 150
words) paragraph, referred to as the annotation.
• The purpose of the annotation is to inform the writer or reader of the
relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources.
• An annotated bibliography is a good companion to a paper (topic)
proposal, which instructors sometimes request of students.
Source: http://www.library.cornell.edu/olinuris/ref/research/skill28.htm#what
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How to Create an
Annotated Bibliography
• Write a concise annotation that summarizes
the central theme and scope of the book or
article. (Create a short note about source)
• Include one or more sentences that (a)
evaluate the authority or background of the
author; (b) comment on the intended audience;
(c) compare or contrast this work with another
you have cited; or (d) explain how this work
illuminates your bibliography topic.
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Sample Annotated Bibliography
APA format for the journal citation:
Goldschneider, F. K., Waite, L. J., & Witsberger, C. (1986). Non-family living and the erosion of traditional
family orientations among young adults. American Sociological Review, 51, 541-554.
The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National
Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that non-family living by
young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations,
moving them away from their belief in
traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were
fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased
individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by
Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of non-family
living.
MLA format for the journal citation:
Goldscheider, Frances Kobrin, Linda J. Waite, and Christina Witsberger. "Non-family Living and the
Erosion of Traditional Family Orientations Among Young Adults." American Sociological
Review 51 (1986): 541-554.
The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National
Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that non-family living by
young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in
traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects
were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased
individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by
Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of non-family
living.
Directly quoted Source: Reference Department; Instruction, Research, and Information Services (IRIS);
Cornell University Library; Ithaca, NY, USA -- Updated 20 September 2005 by Michael Engle, Reference
Librarian; URL: http://www.library.cornell.edu/olinuris/ref/research/permission.html
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“Validate”
Your Subject :
Validate means get confirmation that your subject is right for
your audience and meets the set of standards
• In class, asking questions AND taking notes that
the instructor gives regarding how the paper will
be evaluated.
• Re-reading your Writing Assignment for clues
on good subjects or on ways to narrow the
subject.
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After Choosing Subject
After you choose a
topic,
you will write an
Introduction.
The Introduction
usually, but not
always includes your
THESIS
STATEMENT.
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What is a Thesis Statement?
• The MOST IMPORTANT
SENTENCE in your paper
• Lets the reader know the main
idea of the paper
• Answers the question: “What am
I trying to prove?”
• Not a factual statement, but a
claim that has to be proven
throughout the paper
Slide Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab or Power Point
28
Role of the thesis statement
• The thesis statement should
guide your reader through
your argument.
• The thesis statement is
generally located in the
introduction of the paper.
• A thesis statement may also
be located within the body of
the paper or in the
conclusion, depending upon
the purpose or argument of
the paper.
Slide Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab or Power Point
29
Hints to the type of Thesis Can be Gained by
Asking Questions and Getting Answers
So . . . Ask Yourself and Your Instructor
What kind of paper am I supposed to write?
•
An analytical paper -- breaks down a concept into parts and
presents an evaluation (judgment) of the issue or idea.
Thesis can reflect your discussion of parts and conclusions you
have drawn.
•
An expository (explanatory) paper explains something to the
audience.
Thesis can indicate that you will explain a concept and convince
your reader that your explanation is valid.
•
An argumentative paper makes a claim about a topic and justifies
this claim with specific evidence.
•
Some types of Arguments: policy proposal; an evaluation, a
cause-and-effect statement, or an interpretation.
Thesis highlights your opinion on the controversial issue.
EVIDENCE
EVIDENCE
EVIDENCE
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Thesis Must Relate to
The Writing Assignment
Example 1-- Analytical thesis statement:
An analysis of the college admission process
reveals two principle problems facing counselors:
accepting students with high test scores or
students with strong extracurricular backgrounds.
• Your Writing Responsibility for the Paper is to:
(1) explain (analyze) the college admission
process; and
(2)explain the two problems facing admissions
counselors
Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab or Power Point
31
Thesis Must Relate to
The Writing Assignment
• Example 2 -- Expository (explanatory)
thesis statement:
The life of the typical college student is
characterized by time spent studying,
attending class, and socializing with peers.
• The paragraphs that follow should:
discuss or prove that students spend their
time studying, attending class, and
socializing with peers
Slide Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab or Power Point 32
Thesis Must Relate to
The Writing Assignment
• Example 3 -- Argumentative thesis
statement:
High school graduates should be required to take a
year off to pursue community service projects
before entering college in order to increase their
maturity and global awareness.
• The paper that follows should:
(1) present an argument and;
(2) give evidence to support the claim that students
who pursue community projects before entering
college become (a) more mature; and (b) more
globally aware.
Slide Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab or Power Point 33
Which thesis statement is the most
effective for an argument about the
need for V-chips in television sets?
Tell Why?
• Parents, often too busy to watch television shows with their
families, can monitor their children’s viewing habits with the aid
of the V-chip.
• To help parents monitor their children’s viewing habits, the Vchip should be a required feature for television sets sold in the
U.S.
• This paper will describe a V-chip and examine the uses of the
V-chip in American-made television sets.
Slide Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab or Power Point
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Best Argumentative Thesis
Example Answer
To help parents monitor their
children’s viewing habits, the Vchip should be a required
feature for television sets sold in
the U.S.
Remember: Arguments require statement of
controversial opinions, not just facts. This one is
better than others because it Meets the criteria
for writing a thesis for an Argument.
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Construct a
“Working
Thesis Statement”
• Thesis -- one or two sentences stating an
essay’s focus
• Working Thesis is created first and then revised
into the Thesis for your essay.
• Working thesis is your opinion as it relates to
your topic. It helps you develop a working
outline.
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Working Thesis
Note: A Working Thesis may be revised many times.
Remember, writing is recursive (writing and rewriting).
Sample Working Thesis:
In her poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” inaugural poet Maya Angelou
compels listeners and readers to renew their minds; ironically, the poet
presents non-human images, some that pre-date the modern English
language and some that are in danger of extinction, in order to compel a
contemporary generation to treat the world differently and hopefully better.
(Revised) Thesis:
Ironically, in her poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” Maya Angelou uses
ancient and endangered images to inspire readers to renew human
conscience.
(Revised) Thesis:
Maya Angelou, in her poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” revisits devastated
images to alert the world audience to current and potential devastation.
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Activity 2 -- Create a
Working Thesis
“Marks” by Linda Pastan
My husband gives me an A
for last night's supper,
an incomplete for my ironing,
a B plus in bed.
My son says I am average,
an average mother, but if
I put my mind to it
I could improve.
My daughter believes
in Pass/Fail and tells me
I pass. Wait 'til they learn
I'm dropping out.
Right click mouse to pause or resume.
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Activity (cont.)
Revise this Working Thesis –
The narrator in Linda Pastan’s poem “Marks”
speaks of her family members’ shared habit
of evaluating her performances in various
roles; one might therefore deduce from the
speaker’s tone that she is planning a secret,
though perhaps not final departure.
Hint: Your revision could focus on any one of the
following: tone, figure of speech; metaphor;
structure (rhythm, line length, line appearance,
etc.
Right click mouse to pause or resume.
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Possible Revisions
of Working Thesis
1.
The word choices that Linda Pastan uses in
“Marks” cue readers to the speaker’s
planned, but secret escape from domestic
life.
2. In her poem “Marks,” Linda Pastan models a
spirit of non-conformity through her “poetic
prose” style.
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Conclusion
• SSS hopes this presentation has given you some useful
information concerning the task of choosing a subject
about which to write.
• Please complete a Seminar Evaluation form before you
leave and stop by SSS to complete an online Academic
Seminar Summary so that we may document your
participation.
• Also, please feel free to suggest any other topics that
you would like to see presented. Phone: 334-670-5985.
• Thank you, and have a great learning experience here
at Troy University.
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Suitable Subjects