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A Quick Primer on Illustration Essay Topics

Unlike other more formal essays, illustration essays offer the writer an opportunity to express and elaborate on a single, usually highly detailed and visceral concept or experience. As such, finding a topic for this type of essay is a very internal process. Essentially, you are 'illustrating' your experience of a particular incident for the reader. Since most of your research will be based on your feelings and thoughts, when choosing a topic for your illustration essay, try to pick an incident that elicits strong memories and emotions from you, but is not so intense that you cannot write about it with a degree of objectivity. Without the objective ability to select and omit details your experience, your illustration essay will be in danger of becoming a diatribe.

What Makes For an Interesting Topic?

So what makes for a good read? Sometimes, what is a seemingly fascinating experience for you may not necessarily translate well in essay form. Writing about the danger of slippery kitchen floors may seem like a good idea, but can you hold someone's attention for five paragraphs, if not more, just on this single concept? Determining if your topic is interesting enough to sustain an essay is easy if you try writing the main points of your essay in bullet point form. The first bullet point should be your thesis, the following three bullet points should be the supporting examples, and the last bullet point should be the conclusion. So, to take the above example and write it down in bullet point form:

  • Slippery kitchen floors cause injury, regardless of age.
  • I slipped on a recently waxed kitchen floor when I was 5.
  • I had to go the hospital.
  • My siblings also slipped on the kitchen floor, although they were older than I was and just ended up with bruises.
  • Slippery kitchen floors do cause injury!

Although you have a basic thesis, supporting proof, and a conclusion that backs up your premise, the topic is somewhat weak and will require a great deal of talent in keeping the reader's interest.

The Thoughtful Essay Topic

In the above paragraph, we've seen how to structure the basic outline of an illustration essay. But what about improving the topic? Adding depth and thoughtfulness to the essay topic will greatly enhance the essay and both the writer and reader's experience.
Instead of focusing solely on the kitchen floor, why not use the kitchen floor as one of several examples of household accidents? This way, you will illustrate your revised thesis (“Injuries sustained in the household account for the majority of accidents for children under 15”) with a wonderful personal example, backed up with researched, statistical data. You now have the essential ingredients for a captivating, well-thought out essay.

Use of Language

The language you employ in your illustration essay should be slightly more vivid and personal than the language used in other essays. However, this is still an academic paper, so you do not want to start using slang or other inappropriate words.

The goal in an illustration essay is to support your thesis while conveying your particular sensibility. Therefore, use language that would sound natural coming out of your mouth. You want the reader to become deeply involved in the experiences, and not any peculiar syntax or verbiage. The more a reader has to work at understanding your sentences, the less he or she will be engaged with your topic, which ultimately will impact the grade of your illustration essay.