The cursor blinks idly as you stare at the blank screen.

The paper is due soon and you have no idea what to write about.

Besides, what is critical thinking anyways?


Although you might be tempted to stress out, eat a bag of cookies or go out for happy hour, just remember that one of the simplest ways to be more efficient, productive and less stressed is to just come up with that initial idea. From frazzled to finished, Hudson Valley Tutor has broken it down for you with thought provoking ideas to help you get started on that paper now.

Look around yourself, in local cities and towns. Are there any local events or stories that you're interested in? If your brain feels like mush when you try to think of a paper topic, you're not alone. Writers block is common among everyone; the trick is to inspire yourself! Who are you and what do you and what do you like? For example, I'm from the Hudson Valley, New York, and think that so much of the architecture in the area is beautiful, historical and fascinating, and I'd like to use my interest in building design as the basis for my paper. Because I'm already interested in the topic, it'll become much easier to tackle.

In an art class, I could compare and contrast the different styles of building used throughout local history as the grand Victorians and charming farmhouses of Dutchess County have given way to the more utilitarian ranches and new neighborhood Colonials. Present movements to either restore or remove historical buildings could also be examined. Are existing structures removed to make room for more modern (in functionality as well as design) buildings, or does expansion crop up around and mold to existing styles of architecture? Does old and new design exist in tandem? What does the future hold for local design (e.g., white painted roofs on Manhattan's skyscrapers)?

In a criminal justice class, I could look at whether or not (and if so, how) local prison architecture and construction are suited to local geography, environment, economy and history. What building techniques are used in Green Haven as opposed to local jails? Does the design at Ossining's Sing Sing reflect its early nineteeth century construction, as opposed to the architecture of Downstate Correctional Facility, opened in 1979? Do the economy and demographics have an effect on construction?

Writing about what you like works like a charm nearly every time, and you can use this technique no matter what you're interests! Taking economics but like baseball? Write about the economic impact of the Hudson Valley Renegades on the surrounding areas. Do food and beverage vendors make more when the Renegades win? Does the overall benefit (in actual monetary but also environmental, social and political terms) of the stadium outweigh its cost? How do economic cycles affect the overall cost/benefit analysis of the stadium?

What's popular now? Another great way to get inspired is by looking at what's popular. Psychology got you stumped? Search on Google Trends to get an idea what other people think about it.

psych (26207)

Looks like you're not the only one wishing you'd started that psych reading earlier. After experiencing its peak in around September every year (aka the beginning of the Fall semester, when you're probably feeling a little more optimistic than you may be now), the search phrase "Psychology" decreases into the holidays, dropping off like a cliff on winter break. (I don't want to think about anything on my vacations, either.) Then, in spring, searches for "Psychology" pick up again, only to repeat the pattern of the fall semester until the end of finals in May, bottoming out again in the summer. A paper could explore the reasons for these drop offs in search popularity. Is it as simple as school schedules, or are there other factors at play? Are people in general, happier when they're either on vacation or in warm, sunny weather during the summer? Could these environmental changes cause people to be less concerned about mental health issues?

As modern, tuned-in people, its ironic that the bottom table, indicating news reference volume, seems to be increasing over the years, while search volume is steadily decreasing. With countless magazines, tv shows and movies relating to psychology, a good paper idea could explain the reasons for this dissonance. Are we becoming fatigued of the issue due to overexposure? Does economic downturn prevent people from seeking out counseling services due to cost?

Look at current events. One of the hallmarks of great academic writing is the ability to take a step back from a heated issue and investigate it from all sides equally. This doesn't mean that your paper can't have an opinion, but if you're writing a pro health care reform position piece for your poly sci class, explain the alternative point of view. The political system was in a deadlock, divided fairly equally among party lines. Explain why the Republicans thought their voice wasn't being heard, and what, if any, alternatives they brought to the table. Did any third party ideas shape the legislation?

Tip: If you choose to model your paper on a current event, be specific. Again, stick to something you're interested in. If you work for a small business, investigate specific challenges health care reform brings to corporate America. Concerned about the environment? Bring it home – here in the Hudson Valley, hydrofracking is a big issue. If you could talk to a neighbor or a friend about an issue or cause you're passionate about, you can probably write about it, and even tailor it to different subjects. A research paper on hydrofracking could, depending on its focus, fit into a science, political or economic mold. Hudson River dredging could be a historical paper, depending on its context. Don't limit yourself to the obvious.

To sum up, if you're stumped for paper ideas, follow these three tips to get on the path to inspiration:

  1. Look locally

  2. What's popular?

  3. What's going on in the news now?

Remember, don't just show your own opinion, provide the well researched opposite position. Stick to what you know and like. Be specific and don't be afraid to experiment with applying your interests to subjects they might not normally be found in. Now get writing!