Two Ways to Narrow the Focus of an Essay
There’s nothing wrong with starting with a broad idea for an essay. In fact, sometimes it’s a great way for students to discover something they’re interested in writing about. However, if a topic is too broad, it’s often too large for an essay, and in turn it can become overwhelming.
Students aren’t asked to write novellas for class; they simply must demonstrate their writing abilities and share their research, but usually undergrad and high school essays – even long ones – are meant to be under ten (or sometimes twenty) pages. So if a student has too broad a topic for a compact essay, what can she do to keep her original topic without overwhelming herself? Here are two ways she can narrow her focus.
Divide the Topic into Natural Categories
Some topics have natural, easy-to-identify categories within them. For example, if a student wants to write an essay about cats, he has some easy divisions. He can easily divide his topic into domestic or wild cats; from there, he can list all the breeds of cats he can think of under one of those broad categories. He could then simply decide to write about one specific breed of cat.
However, there are other ways he can narrow this topic. He can do some brainstorming to discover some things within his category he’s interested in. For example, he might realize that he’s interested in learning more about cat diseases. He can then begin to look into different diseases and focus on just one to write about. Perhaps he’s more interested in the overpopulation of domestic cats in the United States. Maybe he decides he would like to look at the role of cats throughout history, and he can focus his gaze on a particular time (such as Medieval England).
See What Research about the Subject Offers
Some students might have no idea at first how to narrow their essay focus. They truly are fascinated about the broad topic they have chosen to explore and aren’t sure where to start.
Once they begin searching, however, they might see some interesting developments. They might notice, perhaps, that there are overwhelming amounts of information on their broad topic, and the research itself might lend multiple narrowing ideas to students.
For instance, a student might think decide she wants to help me write an essay
on drug addiction, but when she begins searching, she realizes that there are literally hundreds of thousands of texts available on the subject. Obviously, there is no way she can read all of the information available to her, even if she had unlimited time. Eventually, the research materials would begin repeating themselves.
There are several ways she can narrow the focus when dealing with research:
- Look at only recent research–what does the newest information have to say about the topic?
- Look at only “expert,” credible opinion and information–what do the experts in the field have to say?
Once she has narrowed her focus to just recent, expert information, then she needs to look at the research in front of her. With drug addiction, then, does she have more information that deals with methampetamine addiction as opposed to heroin? Does she have more information about the cycle of addiction than treatment? If there is a natural way to let the research narrow the focus, the student should use it to her advantage.
Why Narrow the Focus of an Essay?
Good essays are focused and to the point. Obviously, a broad topic like drug addiction – to be given justice – needs an entire book to cover all facets. Students aren’t expected to write books. But if a student were to take a broad topic like trees and write an essay, he would have to choose an audience that is all right with just skimming the subject (preschoolers, for example, love having an overview of a topic). College and high school audiences will not be satisfied with that sort of information.
Narrowing an essay’s focus not only makes an essay interesting, but it also gives the student’s essay purpose. Further, it keeps the assignment manageable. What student wouldn’t want a more manageable task set in front of her?