Brainstorming Potential Topics for Your Paper

Often, an instructor will give vague topics for a paper. For example, your assignment might simply be to write an effective narrative paper. Or you might be asked to write a paper about a certain geographic area.

When given this type of assignment, students often make the common mistake of picking the first topic that comes into their head. It is better to take even a few minutes to list all of the potential topics you can think of and then choose from those.

Let’s assume that I asked you write a paper on the Middle East? What is the first thing that comes into your head? Now ask yourself if you would really like to write on that topic? Could there be a better topic?

Results of Brainstorming
Potential Topics on Middle East

Following are a list of potential topics that I generated after five minutes of brainstorming. This list was generated as part of “Constructing a Star Diagram”.

  • Holiday celebrations in the Middle East. Halloween? Christmas? Islamic celebrations?
  • How are birthdays celebrated?
  • What is the role of the teacher in ___________ country? Might look at several? Compare? Focus on one?
  • What is is like to build a new legislative process if Afghanistan/Iraq? Differences? Similarities?
  • What does it mean to have an Islamic nation?
  • What types of agriculture are available?
  • What is the history of the hanging gardens?
  • How does one teach at a bombed out university?
  • What are the educational opportunities for women?
  • What types of agriculture are there?
  • Specific poet or author to study?
  • What about the woman who just won the Nobel Peace Prize? (No disrespect was intended, but the author could not remember her name and during brainstorming is not the time to look things up.)
  • Hanging gardens of Babylon?
  • What are family relations like? Marriage? Co-habitation before marriage? Same sex couples?
  • What are views on homosexuality?
  • Study an artist? Type of art?
  • Because there is so much history in the region, it is hard to know where to begin?
  • What is the fertile crescent?
  • Why do we have a Red Cross and a Red Crescent? Similarities? Differences? History?
  • What psychological impact with the December 2003 Iranian earthquake have on that country? the region?
  • What role are international agencies playing in the region?
  • What is the government run in _________ country? Pick one? Compare to United States? Pick two and compare? Maybe write a profile of a politician? religious leader?
  • What role do pets play in the culture?
  • How is alcoholism viewed? Treated?
  • Is the myth that Jews are culturally immune to addition found in Israel? AA in Israel? another country?
  • What are death rituals?

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Snooki in my garden

As part of Resources for Writers, there is a tutorial on "Getting Ideas in Your Own Back Yard" which is a guided brainstorming exercise.