Gitika from Birmingham sent this plea for help: I am a student on a non-fiction writing course and I have to submit articles to my tutor, but I really struggle to find things to write about. Everyone else seems to come up with topics easily, but not me. Can you help?
Searching for article ideas can seem impossible, but in truth there are always new topics to write about.
Listen to the news
The news is a constant stream of information on a variety of subjects ranging from world affairs to new technology, from celebrity gossip to climatic disasters, from fashion to religion. Next time you listen to the news, jot down any item that catches your fancy. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t knowledgeable on the subject – that’s what research is for.
Join in forum debates on subjects which interest you. There is nothing like a healthy debate to get your brain cells working. Keep paper and pen to hand. It might not be the actual subject which sparks an idea, but a word or phrase used by one of the other members.
Anniversary articles are always worth considering.
Good starting places to search:
Do bear in mind that anniversary pieces need a longer lead time than other features, so you would have to query at least six months in advance.
Go on search engine home pages and see which subjects are currently hot. Look back through the archives and try to find a way to link the old information with the new to create a different slant. Editors love new ways of looking at existing ideas.
Read articles written by others
Read extensively on topics of interest to you. Ideas for new articles will come to you if you study with a questioning mind. Why has the author said this? Why did the interviewee say that? What will be the consequence of his or her actions? Ask yourself the famous W questions: who, what, where, why and when?
If you question what you are reading, you can get a different perspective and be able to use someone else’s ideas to spark articles of your own. Running with someone else’s idea is fine, but never copy their words, not even if you change them to hide the fact, as that is plagiarism.
Think of a topic about which you know very little (or one you have a passing knowledge of) but about which you’d like to know more. Research the subject, read all you can, and then pass that knowledge on in the form of articles – always looking to find your own way of dealing with the topic.
Why not make a list of:
• The problems you’ve encountered recently
• How did you solve them?
• What makes you angry?
• What makes you happy?
• Which TV shows do you like and why?
• Which ones drive you insane and why?
• Who do you know who has overcome adversity and how did they do it?
• Reasons to make a living will
• Reasons not to make a living will
• Who is your least favourite politician and why?
• Holiday destinations you’d love to visit – good for travel articles
• Funny things you’ve heard people say
• Odd coincidences in your life and that of others
If you do just a quarter of the things I have outlined above you’ll have enough topics to write on for the next year at least.
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