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1.2: Get Started – Drill Down to a Topic

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  • Topic Writing

    A “topic writing” is an exercise designed to arrive at a starting place with a topic or subject. As a practical matter, the goal for a topic writing is to write your way through a brainstorming technique to a starting sentence for the Abstract.

    Selecting a topic

    Sometimes our research problems are articulated for us (assigned) and our choices are limited.

    However, in some cases we are allowed to choose our own topic, or at least couch some assigned topic in our own terms. If this is the case, here are some questions to ask ourselves to arrive at a topic that fits our assignment and our interests at the same time.


    Make a list of items to include in a topic writing draft.

    1. Draft Checklist

    ___My topic/subject in general

    ___My background (experience, expertise) with the topic/subject

    ___Something I want to change in the topic/subject area

    ___Someone I hope to help (change, influence)

    ___Why I want this change

    ___Steps I imagine taking to make this change

    ___A summary statement about what, why, and how I want this change

    When you have given each item above some thought, answer each of the Prompt questions below in a single sentence. You are creating a draft.


    Try answering the questions below as if you are writing a draft paragraph. In other words, make each answer a sentence in a single paragraph.


    2. Prompts from Draft Checklist

    1. What am I good at,* or what do I know a lot about, or what do I have a lot of experience with?
    2. What is a problem I want to solve or a situation I want to address or something I want to change in that area or field?
    3. What group, organization, demographic, or institution do I want to apply my experience, or knowledge, or expertise, skills to?
    4. Why do I want to solve this problem or address this situation?
    5. What is a first step toward accomplishing this?
    6. What is a next step?
    7. What is another step?
    8. In other words, what do I propose to change or to do?

    *Phrases in bold are academic phrases you may use in your draft

    If you need help answering these questions, you may use the template below. The template is taken directly from the questions above.


    3. Template from Prompts

    Topic Writing

    I have* [how much?] experience [doing what?]. Something I want to change about [something in my experience] is [what?]. I want to apply [what in my experience?] to [whom? what group, institution, organization?]. I want to [do what?] because [why?]. A first step is [what?]. A second step might be [what?]. Another step is [what?]. In other words, I propose [what?].

    *Phrases in bold are academic phrases you may use in your draft

    Sample Draft

    The draft below is generated from the checklist, prompts, and template above.

    4. Draft from Template

    Topic Writing

    I have years of experience teaching writing. Something I want to change about teaching writing is how teachers who are not writing teachers assign writings. I want to apply some different ideas for assigning writing to non-writing teachers at Newman who expect a large amount of writing from their students. I want to change the way teachers assign writing because many of the assignments are self-defeating, convey faulty messages, and are downright difficult for both teacher and student unnecessarily. A first step towards changing the way teachers assign writing is to identify which ones assign large amounts of writing in their classes. A second step might be to hold a series of seminars, maybe in the summer, for talking about ways to improve. Another step is to visit with various classes to determine what suggestions might help those instructors improve their assignments. In other words, I propose to hold summer writing workshops for teachers who assign writing in their classes.


    The last statement of the topic writing can be used to begin your Abstract.

    Most Common Question: “Shouldn’t I ‘do research’ before I begin writing?”

    Not if the issue you have chosen is already something you know quite a bit about. Doing research after beginning to write can be more efficient if you have a specific problem and key words to limit your searches. You will have to “do research” before you write if you do not choose (or are not assigned) something with which you are familiar. Otherwise, begin writing and, as questions arise, look up answers.

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