Developing the Essay Topic

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  • 0:01 Developing an Essay Topic
  • 0:24 Analyze Prompt
  • 1:57 Brainstorm
  • 3:20 Create the Thesis
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Social Studies, and Science for seven years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

The backbone of any essay is a strong and engaging main idea. Learn how to turn an essay prompt into a well-developed topic by watching this video lesson.

Developing an Essay Topic

Throughout your schooling, you will most likely have to write numerous essays on a wide variety of topics. Some of these essays will have a very specific main idea, while others are more open-ended. The open-ended ones will require you to develop your own topic. Let's discuss how you can create your topic for an essay.

Analyze Prompt

Before you decide on your essay topic, you must analyze the prompt. The prompt is the piece that introduces the broad subject area for an essay and gives some sort of direction for the essay. Here is an example of an essay prompt: 'Some public schools have considered adopting a dress code similar to that of private schools. However, some of the students argue that a dress code interferes with their rights and limits their freedom. Write an essay on this issue outlining your opinion.'

This prompt gives you a general topic of what the essay must be about - dress codes in public schools. From here, you need to develop your own specific topic under this general idea. To narrow your topic, start by reading the prompt very carefully. Some prompts will ask you to compare and contrast, provide information on a concept, or even describe a situation. In this sample prompt, you are asked to form an opinion on dress codes and to convince the reader. You need to persuasively argue your case.

Another example of an even more open-ended prompt could be 'Choose a current political issue. In an essay, describe the issue and explain your viewpoint.' Even though this prompt is much more general, the steps for choosing your topic are the same.

Whatever the prompt, analyze it by asking yourself, 'What is it asking me to do?' Once you recognize the exact direction of the prompt, then you can begin to form your essay topic.


After you have analyzed the prompt, you need to brainstorm. This means you should write down all ideas you can think of relating to the prompt. Write down everything. Even if you think the idea is not great. Sometimes the not so great ideas can lead to the great ones. Also, it is important to write these ideas down and not just think. Writing them down will ensure you won't forget any ideas, and it will help you with the next step of developing your topic.

A great way to help you brainstorm is to use a graphic organizer. A graphic organizer is any visual organization method to record your ideas. For example, you can create lists, webs, Venn diagrams, flow charts, or anything else to help you brainstorm. Any type of format that helps you organize your thoughts should be used during brainstorming.

In the example prompt about dress code, you are being asked to choose a side. In the brainstorming process, you should write all your ideas for both sides. You can create a list, or even use a Venn diagram. For the political issue example, choose a few issues and brainstorm for each one. If you are unfamiliar with any political issues, read a newspaper or go online to find some. Whatever the prompt, the more information you write down during brainstorming, the easier it will be to write the essay.

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