How to choose a proper theme?

  • what is the "theme"

  • what kind of theme is proper

  • The basic principles of theme selection

Have you ever faced the problem that: your teacher asked you to write an essay, however he did not give you any topic at all. So you think of the topic day and night. Every time when you choose one topic and begin to write, another come into your mind and you again hesitate about which one to choose. In Chinese, there is an idiom that: well begun is half done. When it is used to wring an essay, the very first is to choose a proper theme. So what theme is proper and how to choose one?
  • What is the “theme”?
A theme refers to the thing you are talking about or considering in a conversation, discussion, book, film etc. (Longman dictionary of contemporary English P1994). All you write in the essay is try to explore and explain it to your writer. Take building for example, the first thing you should know is the function of this mansion, whether it is a hospital or a school. And subject is the “function” of your essay.
  • What kind of theme is proper?
What is the proper subject? Actually, there is no specific definition. Some choose the topics they are interested in, for they explore it with full enthusiasm. Others prefer the topics they are good at. For them, that one is much easier. Of course, these are both good way to choose his subject. However, the problem is, if you have many interests or really do not have something good at, then what you can do?

  • The basic principles of theme selection.
First of all, the theme should not be too general. For example, the theme of “how to choose a proper subject” is much better than “how to write a good essay”. The former is more specific, which means you can elaborate it deeper and more explicit. While the latter concludes so many fields such as “theme, skill, emotion” and so on. It is impossible for you to explain clearly in every aspect, nor can writer understand it at once. Choosing this subject just make your essay shallow and full of empty words. Therefore, you should narrow your subject, so that you can deep you thoughts.

Sample 1

General topic: The American Civil War

Restricted: Causes of the Victory of the North

More restricted: The Support Given to the Union Army by the people

Topic chosen: Black Soldiers in the Union Army

Sample 2

General topic: Elizabethan Drama

Restricted: Shakespeare’s Tragedies

More restricted: Hamlet

Topic chosen: On Hamlet’s Insanity

Secondly, the theme should be novel. The new thing is always shine. I have heard of a story from a friend who is a chief editor in a well known newspaper. He told me that the first thing he focus on when he choose the paper among thousands of submit materials is whether it is a new subject. No matter how skillful and deep one write, inventiveness is the first thing that readers looked at. On the other sides, new theme will also help you jump the trace of predecessors, in which way you are more likely to create new things.


Boring topic: The influence of nuclear explosion in Japan

Ordinary one: Japanese deal with this accident calmly

Novel; Japanese have different actions facing this accident

However, along with this problem, another problem occurred, that is if the theme is new, and then there will be fewer materials for the writer to refer to. Is it possible that you can choose a new theme with rather sufficient materials?After all, if you can find only one or two books or articles related to your subject, it is highly probable that your conclusions will not be well-founded.

Thirdly, try to grub a new aspect through old topic. There are indeed many topics have been discussed many times by many people. It proves, in any point of view, that these topics are regarded as important and valuable. So you will not be blamed if you are also interested in one of them, just try to explore it in a new aspect. For example, if most of your classmates choose the “liberation and endeavor of women” as topic of Jane Eyre, why not write it on the topics of “the equal class” or “benefit of miserable childhood’ , for both two topics are rarely dealt with when writing essays about Jane Eyre.

Another way of creating new theme is try to criticize. There are a lot of essays indeed, which also provide you a space to find the opposite point to the writers and then study it.

The last one but not the least is the topic should be meaningful and serious(丁往道、吴冰等P221)
In other words, you should not choose a topic that may initially seem to be interesting but actually has little significance. Keep in mind that you are doing a serious academic work; you need to show your depth and insight in your analysis.

1)Longman dictionary of contemporary English P1999
2)"A Handbook Of Writing" 丁往道、吴冰等,外语教学与研究出版社