Finding Topics by Asking Questions

What happened?



Why? What caused it? What were the reasons?

How can the subject be defined?

What does it imply or entail?

What limits should be set to it?

Are there exceptions and qualifications?

What examples are there?

Can the subject be analyzed into parts or aspects?

Can these parts be grouped in any way?

What is the subject similar to?

What is it different from?

Has it advantages or virtues?

Has it disadvantages or defects?

What have other people said about it?

These are general questions, of course; and they are not the only ones you might ask. Particular subjects will suggest others. Nor will all of these questions be equally applicable in every case. But usually five or six will lead to topics.

Suppose, for example, you are interested in how young adults (20 to 30) in the 1990s differ from similar people in the 1960s. Try asking questions. Consider definition. What do you mean by "differ"? Differ how? In dress style? Eating habits? Political loyalties? Lifestyle? Attitudes toward love, sex, marriage? Toward success, work, money?

Already you have topics, perhaps too many. Another question suggests itself: Which of these topics do I want to focus on? Or, put another way: How shall I limit the subject? The choice would not be purely arbitrary; it would depend partly on your interests and partly on your ambitions. In a book you might cover all these topics. In a ten-page paper only one or two or three. We'll imagine a short paper and focus on love, sex, and marriage.

Now you have three major topics. How to organize them? Sex, love, and marriage seems a reasonable order. Next, each topic needs to be explored, which you do by again asking questions. How do the attitudes of the sixties and the nineties differ? Why? friends, popular culture

(songs, advertisements, magazine articles, films), literature, sociological studies? Can you find useful quotations or stories or movies that support your points? Are there virtues in the attitudes of the nineties? Disadvantages? How do you evaluate those of the sixties? Was a comparable generational shift in values evident in other places and other times?

You're not going to get answers off the top of your head. But at least you know what you're looking for. You can begin to collect information, interviewing friends, studying magazines and movies and television shows, reading novels and stories, looking into scholarly studies of changing social attitudes.

You've got a lot to write about.

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