The backbone of any essay is a

The backbone of any essay is a strong and engaging main idea.

Learn how to turn an essay prompt into a well-developed topic by watching this video lesson.

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Developing an Essay Topic

Throughout your schooling, you will most likely have to write numerous essays on a wide variety of topics. Some of these essays will have a very specific main idea, while others are more open-ended.

The open-ended ones will require you to develop your own topic. Let’s discuss how you can create your topic for an essay.

Analyze Prompt

Before you decide on your essay topic, you must analyze the prompt. The prompt is the piece that introduces the broad subject area for an essay and gives some sort of direction for the essay.

Here is an example of an essay prompt: ‘Some public schools have considered adopting a dress code similar to that of private schools. However, some of the students argue that a dress code interferes with their rights and limits their freedom. Write an essay on this issue outlining your opinion.’This prompt gives you a general topic of what the essay must be about – dress codes in public schools. From here, you need to develop your own specific topic under this general idea. To narrow your topic, start by reading the prompt very carefully.

Some prompts will ask you to compare and contrast, provide information on a concept, or even describe a situation. In this sample prompt, you are asked to form an opinion on dress codes and to convince the reader. You need to persuasively argue your case.Another example of an even more open-ended prompt could be ‘Choose a current political issue. In an essay, describe the issue and explain your viewpoint.

‘ Even though this prompt is much more general, the steps for choosing your topic are the same.Whatever the prompt, analyze it by asking yourself, ‘What is it asking me to do?’ Once you recognize the exact direction of the prompt, then you can begin to form your essay topic.


After you have analyzed the prompt, you need to brainstorm.

This means you should write down all ideas you can think of relating to the prompt. Write down everything. Even if you think the idea is not great. Sometimes the not so great ideas can lead to the great ones. Also, it is important to write these ideas down and not just think. Writing them down will ensure you won’t forget any ideas, and it will help you with the next step of developing your topic.

A great way to help you brainstorm is to use a graphic organizer. A graphic organizer is any visual organization method to record your ideas. For example, you can create lists, webs, Venn diagrams, flow charts, or anything else to help you brainstorm. Any type of format that helps you organize your thoughts should be used during brainstorming.In the example prompt about dress code, you are being asked to choose a side. In the brainstorming process, you should write all your ideas for both sides.

You can create a list, or even use a Venn diagram. For the political issue example, choose a few issues and brainstorm for each one. If you are unfamiliar with any political issues, read a newspaper or go online to find some. Whatever the prompt, the more information you write down during brainstorming, the easier it will be to write the essay.

Create the Thesis

The final step to developing your essay topic is to create your thesis. Your thesis is one sentence that states the main idea of the essay, which is your essay topic. To do this, you need to first read through your brainstorming.

Decide on the strongest arguments, or examples, within your graphic organizer. For prompts where you have to choose a side, like the example on school dress codes, compare your ideas for both sides. Whichever has the most information and examples, choose this as your main idea. The same goes for the political issue example.

Secondly, you need to look for ways to combine your ideas to create a thesis. The rest of the essay should be structured from this thesis, thus you need to make as strong a thesis as possible. For example, a weak thesis for the dress code essay would be ‘I think all schools should enforce a dress code.’ You may think this thesis is fine, but it is too weak for a whole essay to be based on. A stronger thesis should include ideas that will be addressed throughout the essay. For example, ‘Dress codes should be enforced in public schools to promote a better education by reducing distractions in class and improving student responsibility.

‘This prompt is much stronger. It not only states the writer’s opinion, but gives a sense of why the writer has come to that conclusion. As the reader, you know from this thesis that the rest of the essay will explain how dress codes reduce distractions in class and how they develop a student’s sense of responsibility. Once you have a strong thesis, then you have fully developed your essay topic and can begin to write the essay.

Lesson Summary

Developing your topic is crucial to the process of writing an essay.

In order to do this, you need to analyze your prompt to determine exactly what is being asked of you. Before you can plan the rest of your essay, you need to determine the exact purpose of the prompt, which could include anything from describing to informing, or even persuading.Second, you need to brainstorm. Use a graphic organizer to record all the ideas you have for the prompt. Write down everything. You can always decide not to use certain ideas.

Next, you need to create a thesis. Look over your brainstorming and find a way to organize your ideas. Then combine these ideas into a thesis, or one sentence to describe the main topic for the whole essay. To do this, you should include several supporting details to make your thesis strong. If you follow this process, you will be able to develop a strong essay topic.

Learning Outcomes

Once you have finished this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Recall how to use an essay prompt to identify an essay topic
  • State the purpose of the brainstorming process
  • Explain the importance of a strong thesis

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