Over the past two years, I have worked as a consultant at my school’s writing center and had the opportunity to meet dozens of English 101 students who were working on writing their essay topics. Thanks in part to the mandatory visits, first year English students are among the most regular visitors to our service, and over time more experienced consultants have become familiar with a specific set of documents that tend to appear again and again.
These articles often have many great qualities, but also the potential to make a teacher cringe before you even start reading. If you hope to make a good impression on your 101 teachers – whether for the sake of a grade or out of compassion for your teacher, who may very well be an overloaded tutor with 60 other projects to read (i.e. in-session articles, research articles, book summaries, etc.) – beware of these essay topics.
1. Legalize It paper
In almost all first-year writing courses, an argued and researched essay will be part of the curriculum. Your teacher will present it as an opportunity to really dig into something that matters to you and take a stand. For some students, who may be experiencing the liberating effects of being away from home for the first time, or may simply have considerable experience with the subject, drug advocacy often seems like the obvious choice.
Arguing to legalize weed might sound like a slam dunk: it’s a hot issue, the internet is full of reasons, and it’s a nifty way to let everyone in class know that you’re totally ready to flare.
Unfortunately, your teacher has almost certainly seen this article before. If they’ve been teaching introductory-level writing classes for long enough, they’ve probably returned to their desks a dozen or more times. Your own version of the topic may be well written and is a legitimate argument for legalizing weed, but that can’t help but be so familiar.
Changing weed laws is not an obsolete topic just because so many students have written about it, but because âeveryoneâ has been writing about it for over a decade. The qualities that make the subject seem so great at first – that it is contemporary and has already been the subject of so much research and writing – can become serious drawbacks.
At this point, anyone who has paid attention to cannabis knows the medical applications of marijuana, that it is much safer than alcohol, that it is not addictingâ¦ the list of rote arguments is long.
And, most likely, your teacher knows how easy it is to find all of these arguments with just one Internet search. A colleague of mine, who also teaches writing in first grade, described the âGoogle testâ as a yardstick she uses to gauge the amount of effort spent on finding a student. If the core of your argument can be built around the results of a single Google search, your topic may need to be refined.
2. The generic document on climate change
This is another research paper that might produce a little whimper from your professor upon reading the title. Over the past 20 years, increasingly distressing reports of our environmental degradation have become commonplace, so it makes sense that climate change should come to mind when researching essay topics. This is an important and serious question, in which everyone has an interest. But so often these journals end up being a chore to read.
You’ll notice that we’re talking specifically about a âgenericâ article on climate change here, a specific subset of all the different things you might write about the subject. A characteristic feature of such a document is that it is too wide. Climate change is a huge problem, with many different sources and impacts, each of which could probably be the subject of a strong article.
Typically, a generic article will take much more than what could ever be covered in five or seven pages and end with a cursory gloss on its topic which usually conveys some practice or industry harming the environment and should be stopped.
The other weakness of the generic climate change document is its tendency to be cautious. Its central claim is that humans damage the environment and risk devastating consequences in the process, which today is not so much an argument as a fact almost unanimously accepted by the scientific community.
In 2018, the BBC Made the decision to stop including the views of climate change deniers in their environmental coverage, a choice many claimed to be long overdue. The conversation around global warming has evolved, and simply seeking to establish that it exists and that humans are largely responsible for it is no longer too meaningful or interesting a claim.
3. The Book of Greek Life
While every English 101 course is different, there’s a good chance you’ll write about yourself a bit during the semester. These essay topics provide the opportunity to talk about your own experience – a topic in which you probably have some expertise – and give your audience the chance to read something that is new to them. So it’s a shame that students are choosing a subject that so many American college professors are already familiar with: Greek life.
As with the Legalize It article and the Generic Climate Change article, it is reasonable for someone to turn to Greek life when they are using their own experience for something meaningful. It’s exciting to be in the middle of rushing out and joining a fraternity or sorority, and a personal writing assignment is a chance to channel some of that energy into schoolwork. However, it’s worth considering that your audience might not share your enthusiasm.
The Greek Life article suffers from the same flaws as the two varieties of essay topics already discussed – the information it offers is probably quite familiar, and your professor has likely seen it before. Considering that more 800 schools in the United States and Canada have some kind of Greek system, it is very possible that your teacher was exposed to Greek life, if he did not participate in it himself. So, an article describing what it was like to become a member of a Greek organization might seem a bit boring.
The great thing about personal essays is that they rely on material that few others have access to, from a point of view that no one else can claim. The concrete details of our own experiences will almost always be new to readers and much more interesting than we realize. But choosing to focus on something so mundane in an academic setting can undermine that power and turn something that might be refreshing into a snoozefest.
If you were intending to plant your flag in one of these essay topics and now feel a little deflated, you don’t have to. As has been said, none of these topics are boring or unworthy of attention; in fact, they all have the potential to be incredibly wealthy. It all comes down to the attitude and approach to the material.
The articles considered here are too broad, or too dependent on well-known facts, or both. They must be reduced to a small piece of the big picture, which an average viewer would not be able to choose for themselves. It means more research and refinement, or more thought if you are writing about yourself. Basically it means more work.
However, it is difficult to engage in this kind of work if you don’t care much about your subject. Before you dive into researching a topic under the umbrella of climate change, it’s important to consider why you chose it. Is this what interests you, or what you think your teacher is interested in?
Another colleague of mine at the writing center, who also teaches English 101, explained that sometimes, “students think that if you give the instructor what they want, politically or morally, then they are in. security.”
An article about something that interests you sincerely will almost always be more enjoyable to read than an article that guesses what interests your teacher. The same colleague went on to say, “If you are emotionally invested … it shows up on the page … if you don’t write something that’s important to you, it won’t be important to anyone else, and you can’t. to pretend.
So really you should write whatever you want. But if you achieve any of these basics of the introductory level writing course, make sure it’s something that you really care about and be prepared to do the work it takes to convince your teacher. that he should care too. As they pull your essay off the pile on their desks and start reading, they’ll silently thank you.