Essays and Writing Topics

Developed by the English Center staff

Argumentative Compare & Contrast Cause & Effect Descriptive Narrative
Definition Process Critical Hypothesis  


As an English Coach, you will need to read and provide feedback on many different kinds of essays. It is important that you understand the different kinds of essays, and realize that different kinds of essays have different goals, and are written for different audiences. Also, there may be a time when it is appropriate for you to give your student a short writing "assignment." This file is designed to help you review different kinds of essays, and well as give you topic ideas for every possible kind of essay.

Argumentative Essays

An argumentative essay is an essay in which you try to convince the reader to agree with your point of view.

Argumentative Topics

  • Instructors believe that children in the classroom create many problems. What do you think? Should parents be allowed to bring their children to class?

  • Suppose you are at a party off campus. You see that one of your friends is drinking a lot of beer and plans to drive home. Should you let this friend drive back to campus?

  • Do you believe that the rules for dorm residents should remain in place? That is, do you believe the current dorm rules are fair and reasonable?

  • Do you believe that freshmen students should be allowed to bring their cars to campus, since it causes people to lose parking spaces and distracts freshmen from their studies?

  • Suppose a student is causing trouble in your classroom and the teacher kicks him/her out as punishment. Is this fair or unfair? Should you tell someone about it? What would be a reasonable punishment if you were a teacher?

  • Do you believe that Gallaudet Writing Exams are beneficial to students? Why or why not? If you could, what would you change, keep or modify about the tests? What efforts should be made to change them?

  • Should prayer in schools be allowed or forbidden? Is this in conflict with the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights (the right to practice freedom of speech and practice any religion)?

  • Should sex education be taught in public and private high schools? Is it appropriate? Why or why not?

  • Many parents have complained about explicit material used on TV, in movies and books, thus censorship occurred. Is censorship of books, music, and movies fair?

  • Are fraternities and sororities beneficial to universities? If they are, how so?

  • Do you think Gallaudet has strict or flexible dorm policies?

  • How can Gallaudet improve campus security?

  • Do you think all people should own cars, or do you think it is better for people to use other kinds of transportation?

  • Should mothers be allowed to bring their children into the classroom?

Compare and Contrast Essay

The compare/contrast essay discusses the similarities and differences between two things, people, concepts, places, etc. The essay could be an unbiased discussion, or an attempt to convince the reader of the benefits of one thing, person, or concept. It could also be written simply to entertain the reader, or to arrive at an insight into human nature. The essay could discuss both similarities and differences, or it could just focus on one or the other. A comparison essay usually discusses the similarities between two things, while the contrast essay usually discusses the differences.

Compare and Contrast Topics

  • Compare and/or contrast two sports.

  • Compare and/or contrast English Center to the Math Center.

  • Contrast courtship in the U.S. to your country.

  • Differentiate between two of your favorite TV programs.

  • Compare and/or contrast living in an apartment vs. living in a college dorm.

  • Compare the Deaf President Now (DPN) and the DPN 10th Anniversary celebration.

  • Compare the pros and cons of two different classes.

  • Compare and/or contrast different kinds of teachers.

  • Compare and/or contrast two different kinds of careers for women.

  • Compare and/or contrast three different kinds of shoppers.

  • Compare and/or contrast two different types of students.

Cause and Effect Essays

A cause and effect essay is an essay in which you either explain the causes of a specific event or the effects that an event had on something or someone. In other words, you could explain all of the causes leading up to a specific event. Or, you could explain all of the results that happened after/because of a specific event. The cause/effect essay can discuss causes and effects in any combination.

Cause and Effect Topics

  • What effect does education have on people?

  • What are the causes of acne?

  • What causes rain to form?

  • What problems might a bored student cause?

  • What were the causes and effects of the Great Depression?

  • What led to the Communist revolution?

  • What causes learning disabilities?

  • What were the causes and effects of Gallaudet University's DPN Rallies?

  • What were the effects of the Prohibition?

Descriptive Essays

A descriptive essay is an essay which explains how something looks, feels, tastes, smells, makes one feel, or sounds. It can also describe what something is, or how something happened. Descriptive essays generally use a lot of sensory details.

Descriptive Essay Topics

Favorite Things Experiences Activities Scenes

A vacation spot

An accident


Volcanic explosion

School subject

Getting lost

Hiking or jogging

Ocean environment

Home town

Happiest moment


A beautiful spring day


Losing a pet/ friend/ relative


 Baseball field


Making a big mistake

Sky Diving


Kind of flower

Starting a new job


Road traffic


Most romantic moment

Flying for the first time



Playing a trick on someone

Building a house


Narrative Essays

The narrative essay tells a story. It can also be called a "short story." Generally, the narrative essay is conversational in style and tells of a personal experience. It is most commonly written in the first person (uses 'I'), but could be written from a different point of view. This essay could tell of a single, life-shaping event, or simply a mundane daily experience.

Narrative Essay Topics

  • Falling in love

  • Surviving a natural disaster

  • A family vacation

  • Going shopping for clothes

  • Meeting a new friend

  • Waiting in line at the Post Office

  • Your first day at college

  • Your first visit to Washington, DC

Definition Essays

A definition essay attempts to define a specific term. It could try to pin down the meaning of a specific word, or define an abstract concept. The analysis goes deeper than a simple dictionary definition; it should attempt to explain why the term is defined as such. It could define the term directly, giving no information other than the explanation of the term. Or, it could imply the definition of the term, telling a story that requires the reader to infer the meaning.

Definition Essay Topics

Defining Specific Words Defining Abstract Concepts
How would you define evil? Beauty is...
How would you define good parenting? Adolescence is...
What is the difference between time and eternity? Ambition is...
How would you define a genius? Charm is...
What defines a good person? Conscience is...
How has the term "innocence" come to have negative connotations? Courage is...

Process Essays

A process essay is an essay in which you explain how to do something in a step-by-step manner. A process essay might feel like an instruction book or it might seem like a short story. The essay could simply describe how something is done, or it could incorporate narrative details.

Process Essay Topics

  • How to make fried chicken

  • How to design a theater set

  • How to set up your computer

  • How early Disney animation worked

  • How to write a research paper

  • How Napoleon planned the invasion of Russia

  • How to safely extinguish a fire

  • How the Supreme Court operates

  • How gravity works

  • How a bill becomes a law

  • How to receive an injection without crying

  • How to lose a job through incompetence

Critical Essays

A critical essay is an essay that analyzes the strengths, weaknesses, and methods of someone else's work. Generally, you begin these essays with a brief overview of the main points of the text, movie, or piece of art, followed by an analysis of the work's meaning. You should then analyze how well the author makes his/her point(s). A critical essay can be written about other essays, books, movies, plays, characters, speeches, work of art or poem.

Critical Essay Topics

  • How Shakespeare presents his character, Polonius, in his play Hamlet.

  • The strengths and weaknesses of Children of a Lesser God.

  • The use of color in Salvador Dali's Narcissus.

Hypothetical "If . . . Would" Essays

These are essays that discuss what might or would happen if a specific situation occurred. When you use if and would, you should write in the conditional verb tense. If a situation occurred, what might/would happen?

Sample "If . . . Would" Question and Answers



If Josephine arrived tomorrow, what would we do? If Josephine arrived tomorrow, we would have a big party in her honor.
If you won a million dollars, what would you do? If I won a million dollars, I would pay all my bills and spend the rest on my family and myself.

Hypothetical "If . . . Would" Topics

  • If hired by The Buff and Blue, what position would you take?

  • If you could rule the world, how would you arrange it?

  • If you were dying, what would be your last wish?

  • If you had only one day left on earth, how would you spend it?

  • If you were a doctor, would you practice euthanasia?

Some "If . . . Would" questions are formatted in reverse word order.

  • Would you go out with someone if you knew they were dating someone else?

  • Would you marry someone if they were not rich?

  • Would you obey your parents if you knew what they were asking you to do was wrong?

Some "If . . . Would" questions do not actually use the word, "if" in the question, but its meaning is implied.

Question Implied "If"
Would you drive a car with an expired license? Would you drive a car if your license was expired?
Would you be friends with someone who lies? Would you be friends with someone if they frequently lied?