23 Choosing Your Assignment Topic

Regardless of the assignment type, choosing the ‘right’ topic from the outset involves careful thought, research, and planning in advance. While some may recommend choosing the topic that is most appealing to your own interests, this can sometimes lead to biased writing or subjective claims. Nor do you need to choose the most complex topic in order to gain the highest grades. A simple, well-executed topic can often lead to a better grade overall. Weigh all of your options before carefully proceeding.

No Choice

If the entire class is given the same task question, remember that it is up to you to decide how to approach the question and write your thesis statement. Refer to Chapters 16-18 of Academic Writing Skills to better understand what the task question is asking you to do. Identify the keyword clues, break the question down, and complete a concept map. While you may have no choice of task question, you may be able to vary your approach to the question, your claims and counter-claims, and your supporting evidence. One hundred essays can be successfully written on the same topic from different perspectives, using alternative supporting evidence.

Few Choices

When your options are limited to a few topic choices, or task questions, read and re-read each question. Do not make your choice based purely on personal interests. Before settling on a topic you will find it helpful to explore to ensure you will have supporting evidence for the ideas you are formulating about the tentative topic choice. Refer to Chapters 11-12 of Academic Writing Skills to refresh your skimming and scanning techniques, to quickly peruse academic texts, plus remember annotated reading skills. Once you have confirmed your topic choice, begin to map and outline your assignment topic.

Too Many Choices

At times students feel overwhelmed and somewhat stressed when they have too many topic choices or they are directed to use a topic of their own choosing. First, it is important to narrow the field of enquiry. Examine the marking criteria for the assessment and discover what it requires you to achieve. Ask yourself “How must I treat the chosen topic?”, “What must I include/exclude in/from my work?”, “Am I limited to recent academic sources e.g., the past 5 years?”, “How many academic sources are required?”, “What type of writing is required – descriptive, analytical, persuasive, or critical?”, “What is the required word count for the assessment?”

Also, consider what you already know about the topic you are considering. Will your prior knowledge be a hinderance or a help in your writing? Will you be capable of presenting alternative viewpoints without bias or judgment?

Consistency is Key

Once you have chosen a topic, do not waver! Too many students have come unraveled close to assessment deadlines because they have changed their topic too many times throughout the writing process and inevitably the result is an assessment that is neither nor . Make an informed choice from the outset and plan your assignment carefully, before proceeding to the writing stage. Assignment questions are designed to attract an array of responses from students. Focus less on choosing the ‘right’ topic, as they are ALL right in your lecturer/tutor’s eyes, and more on researching and structuring your assessment correctly and in accordance with the marking criteria. Also worth noting, assessments are designed to evaluate what you have learnt within a course, therefore showcase what you have learnt. This seems obvious, though many students miss the point.

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Academic Writing Skills by Patricia Williamson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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