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Focusing Your Essay

Focusing Your Essay

First things first, if you have a choice on the topic you’re going to write about, choose an aspect that interests you. This will help you enjoy your writing project and thus make your topic enjoyable to the reader. When you write, always be aware of your specific audience. For most of you it’s your instructor. So as you write and revise, remember, you are not the intended reader in an academic setting. You have to distance yourself from your work and ask yourself, “would somebody who knows nothing about my topic be able to understand what the heck I’m writing about?”

In order to focus your essay the first thing you have to do is come up with a topic that interests you. Here’s an example of a topic and how to focus it from a movie you’ve all possibly seen, Star Wars:

Topic – Destiny in Star Wars

This is an extremely broad topic that can be approached from various perspectives. In order to focus your topic more you need to add more words to make it specific. I know you’re thinking you can just add big words and make it seem like you know what you’re talking about, but that won’t do. You need to add more verbs (action words) to help move your topic along.

More focused topic – The conflict of free will and destiny as it relates to Anakin Skywalker’s choices.

How did Skywalker grow up? What was his relationship to his family? How does that fuel his choices? What are the differences between the Jedi and Sith, how does they way they think influence free will and destiny? [These are some questions I immediately thought of when I came up with this topic] Whenever you come up with a topic, write down whatever questions you have right away. You’ll thank yourself later in the writing process.

You should definitely narrow your topic but not so much that you can’t find any research on it.

Your job as a writer is to do more than present data or facts; all of that means nothing if it doesn’t answer a question. The research you do is meant to support the answers to your questions. Begin by asking the “W’s” (Who, What, Why, When, Where) and How.

Types of Questions you should ask…

What is the History of the topic?

-How are free will and destiny represented in religion and mythology?

-How are free will and destiny represented today?

-How have these ideas changed or stayed the same?

How does the topic connect to a larger structure?

-How do free will and destiny affect our choices? (Or the character’s choices) What drives them?

-What role do destiny and free will play in our society?

Compare and Contrast the topic

-How does free will and destiny in the film compare to free will and destiny in real life? Do you believe it to be more exaggerated in the film?

Turn positive questions into negative ones

-How do free will and destiny not affect us?

-How did free will and destiny not affect Anakin’s choices?

Ask ‘what if’ questions

-What if Anakin Skywalker never knew about the prophecy?

-What if he never left his mother?

-What if his mother went with him?

-What if the Jedi kept him informed and had not asked him to do secret missions?

Ask questions suggested by sources and refute them if necessary

(These questions would depend on the sources)

Remember… questions that ask ‘How’ or ‘Why’ require interpretation and much more thought. They also provide for more interesting answers than Who, What, When, and Where.

Name it!

I am learning about (studying) ________________________ [Fill in the blank with your topic]

I am learning about how destiny and free will affect Anakin Skywalker’s choices in Star Wars.


Because I want to discover (who, what, why, when, where, how)____________________

Because I want to discover how his belief in destiny influenced his decision to join the Dark side.

So what?

In order to help the reader understand (how, why, whether) ___________________

In order to help the reader understand how free will and destiny affect the decision we make daily.

In summary:

Say what you’re writing about.

State what you don’t know about the topic.

Talk about why you want your reader to care about it.

If you follow these steps you will definitely be able to focus your topic.

*For more detailed information and different examples read The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth, Gregor G. Colomb and Joseph M. Williams.

Source for this blog: Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb and Joseph M. Williams. The

Craft of Research. 3rd ed., University of Chicago Press, 2008.

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