We're (I've been using the editorial "we" freely this past week, not to be confused with the majestic plural, which I also quite like) launching a passage-writing project, which means, among other things, that the coffee cup is never empty and the day is never done.
A new passage project also means a marshaling of the brain cells and assorted Inner Resources for my favorite of all possible types of work: thinking of topics. In the past week I've offered up 35+ topics for reading passages. It's a barrel of monkeys.
I'm working with a few veterans, some intermediates, and some writers so new to assessment they are a bit dazed by the change in the atmosphere. And in working with new writers, I'm answering the kinds of questions new writers would have--which is all to the good. The best of all possible worlds, in the immortal words of Voltaire.
A question that should come up, at least in the writers' minds, is "What makes a good topic?"
The writers on this project are fortunate because rather than simply saying no when we reject a topic, we're explaining our decisions, thus providing a level of training that isn't typically offered in this business. We're also letting them see all of the topics that are approved by the client: even more training, especially for those possessing a willingness to perform a tiny bit of pattern analysis.
So if the writers do wonder about what makes a good topic (and I hope they do), they can look at the list, see everything that's been approved by our client, and then draw conclusions.
Some basic criteria used to evaluate topics include (but not necessarily in this order)
- relevance and/or practical use
- interest level to students at grade level
- content value
- general alignment to academic subject(s), if applicable
- heft--I can't think of another way to say this, but I mean whether the topic is big enough to carry a work of writing in its entirety
And then there is the most wonderful surprise of all, when you give a writer a topic that is all right, you think, but nothing to throw a party for, and she writes a passage that she must have dipped in glue and rolled in crushed diamonds before she sent it in.
Sometimes the topic itself is secondary to the skill of the writer. A great writer can write about almost anything in an interesting way.