Topics in essays and term papers

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1. Topics are distinct units of meaning. They are normally sub-divisions of a subject, but they can sometimes stand as the purpose of an essay in its own right.

2. For instance, if the subject of an essay were ‘government’, the separate topics for discussion might be ‘finance and taxation’, ‘law-making’, ‘public health’, and ‘international diplomacy’. Each one of these however might, in a different context, be a subject on its own.

3. If ‘international diplomacy’ became the main subject of an essay, this might be considered by sub-dividing it into topics such as ‘government policy’, ‘political history’, ‘trade and industry’, and ‘foreign relations’.

4. In most essays, the subject in question can and should be broken down into a series of separate topics. These are then arranged in some persuasive or logical order at the planning stage to form your argument.

5. Remember that each paragraph normally deals with a separate topic. This should be signaled (usually by a ‘topic sentence’) at the outset. Its relevance to the subject in question should also be explained as part of the argument.

6. In the following essay plan the main subject is ‘French wine’ and the topics to be discussed are Loire wines, Bordeaux wines, Cotes du Rhone wines, and Burgundy wines.


* red wine
* white wine

* red wine
* white wine

Cotes du Rhone
* red wine
* white wine

* red wine
* white wine


7. In the following essay plan the main subject is ‘Congestion charging in city centres’, and the topics to be covered are – traffic density, ecology, economy, and politics.


Part One – In favour of congestion charges
* [traffic] reduces volume
* [ecology] less air pollution
* [economy] generates local income
* [politics] positive social control

Part Two – Against congestion charges
* [traffic] public transport alternatives
* [ecology] transfers problem elsewhere
* [economy] reduces profitable activity
* [politics] punishes tax-payers


© Roy Johnson 2003

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