English 102

Developing a Topic

Many students have trouble finding enough to say to complete a paper of 3,000 – 4,500 words. Often times it’s not because they have not done the research, but because they don’t know the techniques to use or the things to talk about to make the discussion more in-depth.

One thing to think about is pacing. You can spend more time on each part of the paper than you would in a shorter paper, which gives you more room for background information, setting the scene, laying out the argument, giving examples and so on.


Consider the introduction. In a 1,000-word paper, the introduction is typically in the first 1 or 2 paragraphs—say, 100–200 words. In a 3,000-word paper, the introduction would logically be 3 times as long—300 – 600 words (1 – 2 pages). (These numbers are not hard and fast—just a rough guide.) Spend some time developing your topic before presenting the thesis statement. See below for specific suggestions on how to develop the topic.


Each major section should be developed in the same way as the introduction, whether at the beginning of the section or throughout. Here are some things you can use to develop these sections:

Definitions: Take the time to explain what you mean by your key terms. Even something as seemingly straightforward as “advertising” or “communication” might need to be explained based on how you are using it in your paper.

Examples: Tell stories, mention specific items or individuals or situations. Examples help the reader visualize what you are talking about by making it concrete and specific.

Names: Mention individuals or organizations (companies, countries/cities/towns, groups, etc.) who are important for your topic.

Numbers: The obvious one here is statistics, but you can also talk about dates, measurements, counts (e.g., how many people attended the meeting—a single number, not a statistic).

Sensory information: Depending on your topic, descriptions of physical objects/environments may be useful. Anything you can see, smell, taste, touch or hear—colors, sounds, textures, etc.—might be legitimate.

Explanations: All these types of information need to be explained. Take the time to tell the reader what it means, why it helps to prove your points.

A Technique

Some early drafts are more like summaries or annotated outlines—expanded versions of the sentence outline. If you find yourself in this situation, where you feel you’ve covered the whole topic in, say, 2 – 4 pages, try this technique:

Treat each sentence in each paragraph as if it were the topic sentence of a whole new paragraph.

Look at this topic sentence as just expressing the main idea, or point, of the paragraph. Now, flesh out the paragraph using any of the methods described above, as appropriate (definitions, examples, names, numbers, senses, explanations).

This may not work for literally every sentence in your paper. You’d be surprised, though, at how many sentences it will work for.

A Reminder

You already know a lot. Don’t assume you have to do a whole new research project to flesh out your paragraphs. You may need to do some more research, but a lot of what you need to write you already know, either from the research you have already done or because it’s common knowledge. The key to remember is that your reader is not inside your head. A lot of what you are thinking—especially the connections between your ideas—needs to be spelled out so the reader can understand it. And, you can use basic background information to frame the topic, reminding readers of what they already know but presenting it in a way that highlights the key ideas you want to emphasize, using examples to illustrate the point.