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I happen to feel that the degree of a person's intelligence is directly reflected by the number of conflicting attitudes
she can bring to bear
on the same topic.
Lisa Alther, 1944 -
American author

Writing series

1. Developing a topic

Seven stages of writing assignments

If a topic is not assigned, identify a subject that interests you.
Refer to your text book, a lecture, a hobby you have that relates to the subject,
something that you are curious about.

Summarize your topic
State your thesis, theme, or objective in a sentence or two at most:

If the topic is assigned, or when you have identified your subject:

  • Note key ideas or words (search terms!) you think will be important.
    Use only short phrases or individual words at this point
    Construct a map using these words and phrases
    Refer to our Guide on concept mapping on how to create one

  • Identify what you want to do with the concepts!
    Refer to our list of terms for essays
    Pick a likely verb (or two) and write out the definition to keep before you.
    Are you to develop a persuasive or expository essay, or a position paper?
    What has the teacher assigned?

  • List out what sources you will need
    to find information for your essay:
    Start small: what does an encyclopedia say about it?
    Is there a reference librarian who can help you find sources, both for an overview and for detailed research?
    Is a search engine enough? Or too boring?
    Think big: are there experts you can talk to? an organization?

  • Analyze your topic so far
    Is it too vague or broad, or too narrow?
    Is it interesting enough? Is there a controversy to explore, or do you think you can help others understand a problem? Will you provide information from two points of view, or only one while anticipating questions and arguments?

  • Summarize your topic
    and present it to your teacher for feedback.
    Bring these first few steps with you in case the teacher will want to help you refine or restate your topic

  • Write out your opinion on, or approach to, the topic
    Remember: you are writing an essay as a learning experience and you may find information that is against your position. You will need to resolve this.

  • Keep an open or critical mind as you research:
    You may only see your side and not be objective.
    Your position could be prejudicial to, or otherwise affect, your investigation


Seven stages of writing assignments:

Index | Develop your topic (1) | Identify your audience (2) |
Research (3) | Research with notecards | Summarizing research |
Prewrite (4) | Draft/write (5) | Revise (6) | Proofread (7)