1.2 Specific purpose: distinguish between subject & topic

Specific purpose

The first rule in writing a good argumentative essay is to have a specific concrete topic.

This is the first thing your teacher or evaluator is looking for when reading your essay.


By the end of this lecture, you will understand the difference between a subject or title and a specific topic.

First, you will choose an interesting subject for you. It makes a big difference writing about something you’re curious and passionate about..

Then, you will narrow the subject into a specific topic.

Finally, you will decide on the purpose of your essay.

Choose a subject

Laurie Rozakis, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Well, offers five ideas for finding a good subject (196-197):

  1. Choose a controversial subject that allows you to take a stance. In other words, you want a subject that allows you to argue a point of view. For example, a subject like “motherhood” is not something you can argue about, I would think.
  1. Select a subject that interests you, as I mentioned before – something that you want to learn more about. For example, most people are fascinated by the a subject of “money,” and it can be approached in a number of ways.
  2. Choose a subject that has a lot of information readily available in both print and electronic sources. But be careful about choosing a subject that has so much written about it that you get lost in the content.
  3. Don’t choose a subject that is too “hot.” In other words, avoid subjects that are poorly or quickly written about or are not carefully supported by facts.
  4. Choose a subject that doesn’t have a definitive answer. This gives you the opportunity to express an informed opinion based on the research you do.

Narrow subject into a topic

Let’s say you have a broad, general subject in mind. Now you need to narrow the subject into a specific topic or issue that you want to discuss.

Here are five interesting subjects that are worth exploring:

  • social networking
  • animal testing
  • gun control
  • euthanasia or assisted suicide
  • marijuana

McWhorter, author of Successful College Writing, recommends asking wh-questions to narrow a broad subject into a manageable topic (81 – 82).

Here are some questions you can ask about these topics that can lead to a narrow topic.


Possible Topics

Why is social networking so popular?

Advantages of using social media

How is animal testing conducted?

Mistreatment of tested animals

Who is in favor of gun control?

The role of the National Rifle Association in the United States.

What are the effects of euthanasia on a sick person’s family?

Arguments for assisted suicide

When should use of marijuana be allowed?

Medicinal uses of marijuana

Rozakis recommends using a checklist for narrowing a topic (200):

  • is a topic still too broad for, let’s say, a 500 word essay?
  • is the topic boring and you will lose interest?
  • is the topic too controversial and may offend your audience?
  • is there only one point of view or position on the topic?
  • is the topic debatable or does it offer an opportunity to take a stance?

Know your purpose

Here are three points to keep in mind here.

First, there are several purposes to writing, including to inform, to entertain, or to persuade. In the case of critical essay writing, your purpose will be to persuade or convince your reader of your point of view.

Second, the audience of your critical essay is most likely your teacher or evaluator. But your teacher may not be familiar with the topic that you are writing about. So provide enough information to show your knowledge of the subject.

Third, as McWhorter points out, you’ll probably want to use the third-person point of view in your formal academic essay. (Successful 85)

In other words, you will want to use third-person pronouns (he, she, they). You should avoid first-person pronouns (I, me, mine) and second-person pronouns (you, your, yours).


In this first lecture, we laid the foundation for writing a good essay.

You learned how to find a good subject that you are excited about.

You also learned how to come up with a narrow topic that you can argue about in approximately 500 -700 words.

Finally, you looked at the point of view you should take when writing your essay.

Complete and Continue