Topic In Composition and Speech

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Kurt Vonnegut standing in front of a door with a knocker.
"Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about." (American author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1922-2007).

Ulf Andersen / Getty Images

A topic—From the Greek, "place"—is a particular issue or idea that serves as the subject of a paragraph, essay, report, or speech.

The primary topic of a paragraph may be expressed in a topic sentence. The main topic of an essay, report, or speech may be expressed in a thesis sentence.

An essay topic, say Kirszner and Mandell, "should be narrow enough so that you can write about it within your page limit. If your topic is too broad, you will not be able to treat it in enough detail."
Concise Wadsworth Handbook, 2014.

"Whether you are choosing from a list provided by your instructor or selecting your own, you should try to work with a topic that interests you and that you care about."
​—Robert DiYanni and Pat C. Hoy II, The Scribner Handbook for Writers. Allyn and Bacon, 2001

Things to Write About

"What things there are to write if one could only write them! My mind is full of gleaming thoughts; gay moods and mysterious, moth-like meditations hover in my imagination, fanning their painted wings. They would make my fortune if I could catch them; but always the rarest, those freaked with azure and the deepest crimson, flutter away beyond my reach."
—Logan Pearsall Smith, More Trivia, 1921

Finding a Good Topic

"Any topic you choose to write about should pass the following test:

- Does this topic interest me? If so, why do I care about it?
- Do I know something about it? Do I want to know more?
- Can I get involved with some part of it? Is it relevant to my life in some way?
- Is it specific enough for a short essay?"
—Susan Anker, Real Essays with Readings: Writing Projects for College, Work, and Everyday Life, 3rd ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009

Narrowing Your Topic

"Topics with a limited, or specific, scope are easier to explain carefully and in detail than topics that are vague, amorphous, or very broad. For example, general subjects such as mountains, automobiles, or music sound systems are so broad that it's hard to know where to begin. However, a specific aspect of sound systems, such as compact discs (CDs) is easier. Within the subject of CDs, of course, there are several topics as well (design, manufacturing process, cost, marketing, sound quality, comparison to tape and vinyl recordings, etc.)."
—Toby Fulwiler and Alan R. Hayakawa, The Blair Handbook. Prentice Hall, 2003

Selecting a Topic for a Research Paper

"You choose a topic for the research paper much as you would for any other essay: You browse the library's book collection, surf the Net, or talk to experts, friends, and fellow students. The only difference is that now you need a meatier topic, one that you can cover in eight to ten pages and back up with reference sources."

"The writer Sheridan Baker suggests that every good topic has an argumentative edge that needs to be proved or disproved. For example, the topic 'contagious diseases of the past,' admittedly overly broad and bland, can be honed to an argumentative edge by a little rewording: 'the Black Death: reducer of overpopulation in Europe.' This is now a topic with an edge that gives you something to prove. Instead of calling for a summary of major contagious diseases, it hints that they served some useful purpose by controlling the population. This is a controversial outlook that will give your paper the energy of an argumentative edge."
—Jo Ray McCuen-Metherell and Anthony C. Winkler, From Idea to Essay: A Rhetoric, Reader, and Handbook, 12th ed. Wadsworth, 2009

Selecting a Topic for a Speech

"To choose the one topic you will speak about, think about the audience and the occasion. There are two more questions you can ask yourself at this point:

- What does the audience expect? (audience)

- What might the audience expect on the day you speak? (occasion)"

"Knowing who your audience is and why its members are gathered together can help you rule out a number of topics. A speech on the fluctuating gold market could be interesting, but not to a class of seventh-graders at an assembly just before summer vacation."

"When you have removed the inappropriate subjects from your list, find the most appropriate of the remainder. Empathize with your audience. What topic do you think would be worth your time to hear?"
—Jo Sprague, Douglas Stuart, and David Bodary, The Speaker's Handbook, 9th ed. Wadsworth, 2010

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Topic In Composition and Speech." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Topic In Composition and Speech. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Topic In Composition and Speech." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2023).

Watch Now: 12 Ideas for Great Persuasive Essay Topics