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Chapter 3: Selecting a Topic

Do You Have a Choice?

-Many times your topic will be set and you have to decide how to address it

-Other time you will have a topic but need to narrow it down

Qualities of a Good Topic

Your Topic Interests You

Your Topic Interest your Audience

-Make topic relevant to audience, Keller suggests: tell audience how new learning will use
existing skills, tell how what subject matter will do for them today and tomorrow

Your Topic is Significant

Your Topic of Fresh

-Audiences dont want to heard something old

Your Topic can be Covered in the Allotted Time

-Often very controversial topics do not lend themselves to short speeches

Your Topic is Audience Appropriate

Your Topic can Easily be Researched

Your Topic is Timely

-It is relatively new or presents new information on an old topic

How to Select a Topic

-It is common to feel nervous about choosing a topic, talking about it with friend, family, etc can

Personal Experience

Personal Interests

Current Events
-Can lend themselves localizing- term used in mass communication when events that are
taking place elsewhere are examined for their status or effect at the local level
News Releases, News Services, and Newsletters
-News releases- communications from for-profit or nonprofit companies as well as
private and governmental entities directed at members of news media
-Claim to have news value but often attempt to garner media attention for new
product, event, discovery, etc.

-Also look for news services and newsletters (less frequent than news releases)

Internet Searches
-Can be a good way to narrow down topics

-Weblogs (aka blogs)- regularly updated, self-published, online journals, posts in reverse
chronological order

-Began as form of online journal, but now many newspapers, organizations and
corporations use them

-Use caution since not all professionally maintained (can be good or bad)

-Poynter Institute reports that reporters often use for stories that dont fit routine
articles, allow to publish breaking news ahead of print, can contain commentary and
opinions of author and readers in comment section

Social Media
-Since becoming more popular, many entities are turning to social media to get new out

-Good place to find out information about grassroots movements

Other Sources
-Brainstorm, go to the library and look through books

Narrowing the Topic

-Dont make topic too broad, will result in superficial treatment of topic

The General Purpose

-General purpose- the overarching goal of your presentation, effective presentation have
strong sense of purpose

-Usually fall into three categories: to inform, to persuade, to entertain

-Informative presentations- describe, explain, or demonstrate something

-Your role is that of teacher

-Persuasive presentation- influence the attitude, beliefs, or behaviors of your audience

-Your role is that of leader or advocate

-Though framework of these three types is useful, it is never that simple, ie. use
entertainment in persuasive presentation

The Specific Purpose

-Specific purpose statement- conveys what you want your audience to walk away from
your presentation knowing or feeling

-Must include the audience in statement, must be written in the infinitive, must contain
one distinct idea, must be clear and precise

Qualities of Well-written Specific Purpose Statement

Written as Full Infinitive Phrase
-Infinitive phrase- consists of the word to plus a verb

-ie. Effective: To inform my audience about the new food pyramid issued
by the US Department of Agriculture (vs Ineffective: Nutrition)

Expressed as Full Declarative Statement

-Dont express as questions or fragment

-ie. Effective: To inform my audience about the latest advance in

nanotechnology (vs Ineffective: What is nanotechnology?)

Limited to One Distinct Topic

-ie. Effective: To persuade my audience to become active in campus
organization OR Effective: To reside in on-campus housing. (vs Ineffective:
To persuade my audience to become active in campus organization and to
reside in on-campus housing.)

Clear and Precise

-Dont be too general

ie. Effective: To persuade my audience to support new additions to

Purdues Nondiscrimination Policy (vs Ineffective: To persuade my
audience to support equality)
Thesis Statement
-Thesis Statement- further refines your purpose for the presentation and is a summary of
the main idea of your presentation, announces topic and previews main points of

-Specific purpose statement is what you expect to accomplish while thesis statement is
what you will actually say to introduce your topic and main points

-If material does not relate back to thesis, it probably does not belong in the presentation

Guidelines for a Thesis Statement

Is Expressed as Full Declarative Sentence
-Dont use a question or incomplete sentence

-ie. Effective: The development of the H1N1 vaccine was a complicated

process that involved in-lab research and clinical trial. (vs Ineffective:
developing a vaccine or How was the H1N1 vaccine developed?)

Is Limited to one Idea

-ie. Effective: Destructive alien species are being transplanted to our
oceans through two primary mean: ballast water and ocean litter. (vs
Ineffective: Our oceans are being destroyed by overfishing, pollution, and
the importation of alien species. (too broad a thesis))

Fits the Speech Purpose

-Must match your plan to either inform or persuade

-ie. Effective: (with goal of informing) Hepatitis B is a serious disease that

affects the liver and can be prevented through vaccine. (vs Ineffective:
(with goal of informing) College students should get a hepatitis B vaccine
to ensure they dont contract this serious disease.)

Is constructed with Clear and Concise Language

-Avoid over complex sentences and grammar and dont use figurative

-ie. Effective: New advances in ophthalmology are leading to changes in

both prevention and treatment of eye disease. (vs Ineffective: We live in
an exciting time characterized by many new advance in ophthalmology
that are paving the way for revolutionary treatments for eye diseases that
could rob us of those beautiful sunsets we all enjoy watching)
Anatomy of a Thesis Statement
-Start with your Topic Idea
-Narrow your Topic
-General Purpose Statement
-Specific Purpose Statement

-ie. Topic: Backpacks

General Purpose: To persuade
Specific Purpose: To persuade my audience to practice backpack
Thesis Statement: To avoid back injury, practice safe backpack use
by following these four easy steps: choose right,
pack right, lift right, and wear right