How does a “topic” differ from a “subject”?

From LitWiki

“Topic” is different from “subject” in that the latter represents a problem, concern, or detailed aspect of the former. For example, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is an excellent topic, but a poor subject since it is too broad. A strong subject would have a particular point to make about the topic by examining a particular aspect of the topic. Similarly, “Football” would be too broad a subject, but concentrating on a particular aspect of the game, like players’ preseason training, would be manageable and more specific, making for a stronger essay.

Think of a topic as general direction for the essay, while a subject is a more specific aspect of the topic. Generally, a topic will contain a subject and an assertion. For example, suppose you received this writing prompt from your professor:

“A television show that should not be cancelled”

This topic contains a subject, “a television show,” and an assertion — or point of view — about the subject, “should not be cancelled.” While this topic offers a general subject and a direction you should take with that subject, you must narrow this topic further by selecting a specific T.V. show and several reasons that it should not be cancelled. Notice that you must further narrow the subject and assertion by selecting a specific show — only one show, since the prompt asks for a television show — and then taking a stance on that show using specific detail to support that stance. This detail will limit the range of your essay: the more specific your reasons, the more detailed your essay will be. The show and why the show shouldn’t be cancelled is up to you, the writer.

Both topic and subject should be evident in your title, introduction, and thesis statement. A strong essay never losses site of it's subject or topic.

Sample Topics

  • A book written more than fifty years ago that has had a significant effect upon society
  • An idea presented in modern times that has had harmful effects
  • One movement, cause, or organization
  • One game that is physically or intellectually challenging
  • A film or television show that reflects current values
  • A particular type of dishonesty that is generally tolerated
  • Desirable behaviors that sports promote in participants or fans
  • Particular appeals that advisors use to sell certain products
  • A condition that has affected the structure of the family
  • A person now living whose actions have significantly affected many people

Composition FAQ > Topic