Writing essays

Choosing an essay topic

Pick a topic that suits you

  • Research around your interest to create a precise and limited topic.
  • Don't be overly ambitious.
  • Identify a gap in the existing knowledge.
  • Don’t be shy about focussing on a topic interesting to your tutor; it can only be beneficial to write about something that will engage them.

Ask yourself:

  • What has come up during your course work that sparked your interest?
  • What have you heard or read about that grabs your attention?
Talk to your tutor/department
  • Get your tutor’s advice on what is interesting, what you can do well
  • Talk to other students about their interests
  • Find out if you can have a look at old essays or dissertations

Go to the library

  • Read research journals
  • Take a look at the questions in past exam papers
  • Seek out any lists of theses titles accepted for higher degrees at various universities

Know how to write an effective title

1) Decide which kind of essay you are going to write

Choose the process word you use in your essay title carefully. Is it descriptive, critical, evaluative?

  • When presenting information about a single subject in a linear structure you could use: ‘describe’, ‘explain’, ‘outline’
  • When showing two sides of a subject you could use: ‘compare’, ‘contrast’, ‘consider arguments for and against’, ‘differentiate between’
  • When developing an argument around a particular topic you could use: ‘evaluate’, ‘argue’, ‘justify’, ‘criticise’.

2) Mind-map ideas related to the main theme

Mind-mapping helps you find a selection of topics from which you can pick out an idea that:

  • interests you;
  • is broad enough to write a paper on;
  • is restrictive enough to be controllable.

3) State your topic clearly

Use a simple noun phrase to state the topic clearly.

Example 1: “What is meant by shock advertising? Evaluate the arguments for and against the use of shock advertising by marketers.”
Question analysis: No ambiguity: the topic is ‘shock advertising’.

Example 2: “Critically analyse the major areas of risk in general contracting and construction management.”
Question analysis:
Not quite so succinct: pick out ‘contracting and construction management’ as the topic.

4) Set your limits carefully

Ask yourself ‘How much can I write about this topic?’

Example 1- Original essay question: “Critically analyse all major areas of risk in general contracting and construction management.”
Adapted in order to restrict your scope: “Critically analyse two major areas of risk in general contracting and construction management.”

Example 2- Either: “Account for the emergence of ‘Left Realism’ during the 20th Century.”
Or
:“Account for the emergence of ‘Left Realism’ in the 1980’s.”

The two questions have different limits. Provide yourself with broad enough limits in order to have sufficient depth.

5) Write your title in the correct format

The purpose of any essay or dissertation title is to help you examine a topic that will engage the reader and understand your points.Your title can consist of :

  • an introductory question
  • a statement
  • an instruction

Example 1: Titles showing an introductory question or statement providing focus or supporting information.“What is meant by shock advertising? Evaluate the arguments for and against the use of shock advertising by marketers.”

“Shock advertising has become much more prevalent in the last two decades. Evaluate the arguments for and against the use of shock advertising by marketers.”

Example 2: Title showing an instruction. “Critically analyse the major areas of risk in general contracting and construction management.”