Hackneyed Essay Topics: Avoid Them or Refresh Them?

For Essay #1, I asked you to choose a classic essay topic or one with kairos.  I also told you that you should avoid topics that have been “done before” or that are “cliche.”  You can heed my advice and avoid some of these generic topics:

Classic topics

  1. Falling in love
  2. Losing a loved one
  3. My Hero
  4. First Car or job
  5. Summer Vacation
  6. Family tensions
  7. Overcoming a struggle
  8. Favorite pet
  9. Place you like to visit
  10. Success story
  11. many more . . .
Topics with kairos
  1. saving the environment or going green
  2. the news media not giving the whole story
  3. U.S. involvement in world politics
  4. The economy:  “In these tough economic times . . .”
  5. importance of college degree to finding a better job
  6. etc.

Really though, if your heart is set on writing about any hackneyed topic, then just refresh the topic:  give us a twist, an original perspective, or re-route our expectations.  This doesn’t necessarily mean keep the boring topic and then write a surprise ending; rather, it means to treat your topic from an interesting angle, with original details, or to use a distinctive style.  These topics seem hackneyed to me because students have a) written about them before and b) no one made them engaging or original for me yet.  Most times, when a student writes an in-class essay about the economy or politics, he or she has not conducted sufficient (if any) research before stating his or her thesis or opinions, and therefore, the essay rings hollow or ignorant.  I can usually identify these essays because they start with the phrase “In today’s society/economy, etc.”

However–let’s say you really feel compelled to write about a topic I have identified as hackneyed.  Let’s say, how your older brother or sister used to pick on you, but how now the two of you get along famously (family tensions).  This subject has been written about before, but you can refresh it.  You could describe original details, like the specific ways he or she used to torture you, or you could start the essay at an unexpected point in time.  You could imagine that the two of you are elderly, and that your essay about your eventual closeness is being told from an imagined, future perspective.

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