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for one to write anything of value unless he have a theme in his mind on which his thoughts are steadily fixed.
In the selection of a subject the following cautions are important:
1. Select a Subject which you can Discuss. It is foolish for a writer to attempt to discuss a subject about which he knows nothing. Leave such subjects as Evolution, Freedom of the Will, and the like to such as understand them more thoroughly.
2. Be Careful not to Select too Broad a Subject.— It is much easier to write on a topic that carries you along in one line of thought than on a topic in which the lines of thought have a constant tendency to diverge. For this reason a topic like Coeducation is better than the subject of Education in general.
3. Avoid Trite Subjects. It is not probable that a young writer can say anything either new or interesting on a subject already worn threadbare. But, independent of this, the writer will not find it interesting, even to himself, to be saying over what others have already frequently said.
4. Select a Subject in which you are Interested.-One cannot write well on a subject in which he has no interest; but, on the other hand, if the topic be one which is personally interesting to the writer, thoughts will come rapidly and freely. Composition on uninteresting topics always makes task-work.
5. Select a Subject in which you Believe. This is especially important in argumentative writing. Earnestness on the part of the writer will go far toward convincing those to whom the composition is addressed.
6. Suit your Subject to the Occasion. Even the best of subjects may fail of its purpose if unsuited to the occasion which calls forth the essay. The subject should be in harmony with the feelings proper to the occasion, including the character and sentiments of the persons addressed.
7. Select a Subject of Present Interest if possible.—The attention of those called upon to listen to an essay is always more easily secured and held when the topic is of interest at the time.
8. Suit your Subject to the General Intelligence of the Audience.-Even scientists sometimes make the mistake of discussing publicly before promiscuous audiences subjects which are understood by but a small percentage of those who listen. To secure the attention of an audience, and hold it, such topics should be chosen for discussion as that audience fully understand.
9. State your Subject Intelligently.—They who are to read your productions or listen to them have a right to know what ground you propose to cover. The mental effort of the reader may thus be economized, instead of being spent in trying to understand what the author is attempting to show.
Some popular authors have violated the provisions of this caution by giving to their books such titles as The Past, the Present, and the Future, Sesame and Lilies, Chips from a German Workshop, and the like.
10. Limit your Subject to the points to be covered. If your topic is The Benefits of Commerce, don't give it the broad title “ Commerce.”
Note. It is, however, difficult to induce beginners to adhere to rules like the foregoing, when even such writers as Ruskin and Max Müller violate them by giving fanciful titles to their books.
2. Accumulation of Materials. Next in order to the selection of a subject is the gathering of materials—thoughts, facts, proofs, and illustrations. The young writer who has nothing to say but what has frequently been said before will claim the attention of but few. It is necessary that he should hare new facts to present, new proofs to offer, new illustrations to give, and new and original methods of presentation, if he hopes to enlist the interest and attention of those for whom he writes. In order to accomplish this the following cautions are suggestive:
form, that it may be carried in one's pocket without inconvenience. In it the writer should note whatever facts, thoughts, or illustrations may come to his mind after the subject has once been chosen.
2. Observe Closely.-Whatever the subject chosen, the writer should be a close observer of such incidents and facts as have a bearing on the subject. This will add not only to the writer's originality, but also to the interest of the manner in which he treats the subject.
3. Reflect.—When one thinks closely on any subject, he is almost sure to have something original to say, especially if he be interested in the subject which he proposes to discuss. Such thoughts as suggest themselves should be noted in the blank-book for future reference.
4. Read on the Subject.—When one's subject is such as has been written on by others, the essayist should read what others have said, not for the purpose of quoting or catching their ideas, but because the thoughts of others will awaken thoughts in our own minds. These latter
should be noted down as they suggest themselves to us, and not what others say or think. Should the subject not be one on which others have written, there may still be collateral subjects on which it may be profitable to read because of the thought likely to be suggested.
5. Conrerse with Others.—Much that is not found in books may be gleaned from conversation with persons of intelligence. One should never fail to get all the information possible from every available source before he attempts to express himself; and conversation with persons of intelligence is one of the richest sources.
Gibbon's View.–Gibbon, in speaking of his own habit of reading, says: “ After a rapid glance on the subject and distribution of a. new book, I suspend the reading of it, which I only resume after having examined the subject in all its relations-after having called up in my solitary walks all that I have read or thought or learned in regard to the subject of the whole book or of some chapter in particular. I thus place myself in a condition to estimate what the author may add to my general stock of knowledge, and I am thus sometimes favorably disposed by the accordance, sometimes armed by the opposition, of our views.
Dr. Arnold, the great English teacher at Rugby, gave his opinion as follows: “That is the best composition which shows that the boy has read and thought for himself; that the next best which shows that he has read several books, and digested what he has read; and that the worst which shows that he has followed but one book, and that without reflection.”
3. The Arrangement of Materials. The materials having been gathered, the orderly and harmonious arrangement of these materials is necessary to make a beautiful and impressive literary production. The important step next to be taken is the construction of a framework or outline of the theme. This is done by selecting the leading thoughts from the materials
collected and arranging them as topics for paragraphs. The following suggestions will be found helpful in arranging an outline:
1. Search for the Leading Thoughts.—The material which has been gathered should furnish a number of leading thoughts. These should be selected, and each should be made the basis of a paragraph, and the subordinate thoughts, facts, and illustrations should be grouped under these as additional proofs.
2. Place the Leading Facts in a Logical Order. - A systematic composition, in which each main thought follows its predecessor in a natural order, will be much more effective than one in which the natural order of development is disregarded; and this is particularly true where time is an element.
3. Reject Weak Materials.—The arrangement of an outline will help greatly in presenting only those thoughts and illustrations that are most effective. The weakness of many productions may be traced directly to the fact that weak materials, while they add nothing to the strength, have been retained to swell the size.
Independent of the foregoing, the following may be claimed as the important advantages of an outline:
1. It enables the writer to compose within prescribed limits. 2. It enables him to write more easily.
3. It enables him to confine his preparatory reading to the subject in hand.
4. It furnishes valuable mental discipline.
5. It makes the composer systematic both in his methods of thought and in his mode of expression.
These advantages are so obvious that they need no argument to show their truth and importance.