How to Student

"Help!!! I Can't Write About This Topic"

While it is possible that you will be assigned a topic in some course that you cannot write for moral or ethical reasons, that is highly unlikely*. The "cannot write about that topic" problems are much more likely to be practical than ethical.

"I didn't experience that"

I often get this objection.

Consider what that means. If you can only write about things you have experienced directly, you cannot do much writing.

  1. Most students in this classroom were born between 2000 and 2002. Most children are somewhat unaware of current events and world history until they are about eight years old, so you cannot write about anything that happened before 2010. You cannot write about the American Revolution, World War II, the presidency of John Kennedy, or the September 11 attack in New York City. You have no idea why we get excited about July 4.
  2. Events outside Ohio are pretty much closed off to you as well. There is no way you can write about effects of climate change on coastal cities, economic problems of Kansas farmers, or European politics.
  3. Topics which you cannot observe directly are also off-limits, so you won't be writing about anything related to astronomy, chemistry, or economic theory.

College writing is not the same as high school writing

Apparently many high school students write a lot of brief papers about how they feel—and these papers did not require any real thought or reading. Pretty much anybody can pop out 350 words on "How do you feel about recycling?" in an hour or so.

College writing is different—get used to it.

One big assumption: You don't know everything yet

This is an enormous difference between high school and college: in university courses, we assume that you still need to learn things. College courses are not focused on what is already inside your head; we assume you should gain knowledge and skills. One of the key ways you can learn things (so you can discuss, for example, events that happened 100 years ago) is through reading.

Two key words: "Reading" and "Explaining"

If reading an extended text (four or five pages of textbook print) is a problem for you:


* Many professors, however, have restrictions about topics which are off limits. Examples would be papers advocating hate crimes, blatant homophobia or sexism, denial of historic events such as Hitler's Holocaust, or advocating practices which are legally defined as "crimes against humanity."

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.
Revised 1/31/19 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: callen@ashland.edu.