With a master's in sustainable development, Susette helps Southern California water agencies carry out their water conservation projects.
You've been assigned to write an article about water—anything about water. How do you handle it? Sometimes the hardest part of writing is narrowing down your topic, and "writing about water" is very general. Here are some tips and some topics to give you ideas.
Writing always reads better if the writer is interested in the topic—meaning you—so interest is key. When you write, your interest shows in the words you choose and the stories you tell; in the way you organize the article and in your enthusiasm about it. Your interest makes research fun, and helps carry you through the frustrating times when you can't quite find what you're looking for or just the right words won't come to you.
In this article you will find 20 main topics, with a few subtopics for each one. That makes 60 ideas altogether. I wouldn't be surprised if you start getting ideas of your own as well. With so much to choose from, you may want a system for identifying just the right one.
The spark of curiosity you feel, when you think of it, is the main key to which topic would be good for you to write about. Many of the topics below may trigger that spark, so as you read through them, make a list of the interesting ones. Then try brainstorming them.
Brainstorming will help you discover how much you already understand about each topic, how much it interests you, and whether or not there's something more specific that you'd like better:
- If, in your brainstorm, you can hardly think of anything related, then that topic is probably not a good one for you.
- If you're writing all kinds of things in your brainstorm, but it's just getting you down (or bored), then that topic is not a good one for you.
- If, as you brainstorm, you hit on a related word phrase—a more specific one—that you're getting all kinds of hits from, whereas the other related words give you almost nothing, then choose the first one as your main topic.
At the end of this article, I'll show you how that works. Meanwhile, here is a list of main topics with some subtopics, any of which you could choose to write about. Seeing this list will show you the wide variety of water topics available, and hopefully get you excited at the possibilities.
The Nature of Water
This is about water, itself, as a thing. You could write an article about:
- The state of water—solid, liquid, gas. How each is formed, how they're different, where you find them, how they change from one to the other.
- The chemical nature of water—H2O—two hydrogen atoms, one oxygen atom. What makes them stick together? What changes if one breaks off? What if you acquire an extra atom? What stops other types of atoms from joining in?
- The feeling of water—how does it feel to touch it in its different states (ice, liquid, vapor)? How do you feel as a person around it? Do you feel different near an ocean vs skiing down a snow slope?
- The essence of water—especially as reflected in the fine arts. Poetry, music, spiritual associations with water. How does art show water? How do any of the others mediums express the essence of water?
The Hydrologic Cycle
You probably already know how to describe the hydrologic cycle—at least in general. But does it work the same now as it did years ago?
- Groundwater absorption—How does it work in nature? Now that humans have taken over the floodplains, are we stopping absorption from happening? What effect does that have on the aquifers?
- River flow—Where does river water come from? What happens when humans build a dam? Why do some rivers dry up during the summer, when they didn't before?
- Ice and snow—Why does it snow? Where does it snow and why there? Why isn't it snowing as much these days?
- Condensation and precipitation—How do clouds turn into rain? How does the rain know where to fall? Can humans make it rain where it doesn't normally? (Check out cloudseeding.)
- How have humans altered the hydrologic cycle, so it doesn't work as well anymore? (Yes, we have.)
- How can humans enhance the hydrologic cycle, so it works better?
You'll find all kinds of information about this topic, since water conservation is the new thing.
- Conservation in general—why do we need to conserve water? what does it mean to conserve? what are the different conservation methods?
- How to conserve inside the house—toilets use the most water, showers are next. What about cooking and washing dishes? What about habits, like brushing your teeth with the water on the whole time?
- How to conserve outside the house—landscaping, swimming pool, washing cars and driveways, etc.
- How do businesses conserve water, especially manufacturing? They used to use water to wash any metal they cut. What do they do now?
- What is reclaimed water? Why are the pipes purple? What can it be used for?
- What is greywater? Why isn't it more popular?
- Is it possible to conserve water in agriculture—growing, shipping, washing food?
This topic has also been written about a lot, so you'll find lots of information on it.
- Pollution of the oceans—How does it happen? What pollutes? Who is doing it? How does it affect ocean life?
- Cleaning up pollution—Teams of people clean up beaches, machines are now cleaning up the ocean. What new cleanup technologies are there?
- Pollution prevention—How do you stop from polluting in the first place?
- What are the different kinds of pollution and where do they come from? Plastics, cigarettes, oil spills, etc.
Bodies of Water
A lot of people think automatically about the nature of water, but not so much about bodies of water.
- Natural collections—Where does nature naturally collect water in certain places and why?
- Nature of water bodies—What makes lakes or oceans different colors? Different saltiness? Acidic or basic? Amenable to life or not?
- Famous water sites—Victoria Falls, the Dead Sea, the River Themes, Niagara Falls. How did these sites become famous? What are they famous for?
- What can you do on bodies of water—a lake (or dam), river, ocean, a stream? Water ski, sail, fish, surf, whitewater rafting. What are these all about?
Running Out of Water
Looking at the opposite face of having water—try exploring running out of water as a different way of showing how important water is to life (as we know it).
- What happens to land when there's no water? How is water related to deserts becoming deserts?
- The Quran story of Ubar, which sank under the sand, because its populace used up all the water underneath. Is it happening now? (Look up "subsidence.")
- What would happen to our bodies, if there was no water in them? Could something else replace it?
- How does lack of water affect life on other planets?
- How does lack of water contribute to wildfires? Why does it always rain after a big fire?
How Water is Used by Humans
You may, instead, want to explore how water is used by animals or plants (photosynthesis). The subtopics here can be applied to them, also:
- Drinking—Why is it important to drink clean water? How does it affect the body? Can other drinks replace it (coffee, sodas, alcohol). Why or why not?
- Washing—What are the different ways that people bathe in different lands? How often? What would happen if we didn't wash our bodies? What about our clothes?
- Transporting—What does water transport for us? How has it affected trade? The growth of cities?
- Production—We use water for making beer, for cleaning cut metal in factories, for dusting off jewels, for washing produce . . . what else?
All over the world people have converged around water, because it has so many ways of improving our lives. What if you live further away, though? How does water get to you then?
- How did people supply water to themselves in the ancient past? Check out India's baoli—14th century reservoirs. What did they do for water in early Egypt? Or in Peru (Machu Picchu)?
- How do you get water to your home now? Who is your water supplier? Where do they get it from?
- Did dams start out to supply water or electricity? How are they being used today (or not)? What happens to nature when a dam is built?
- How do wells work? Southern California used to have a ton of wells—what happened to them? What happens to wells (boreholes) in Africa where it's sandy?
The Dangers of Water
Understanding and respecting water comes not just from its incredible variety of uses, but also from its dangers.
- Thirst—How long can a body live without water? Are there any people who have tried to kill themselves with a water fast?
- Floods—You could dive into exploring any famous flood and write an interesting article. What about Noah's flood in 2350 BC or the Great China Flood in 2200 BC?
- Hurricanes—Same with hurricanes. What causes a hurricane? How do they destroy? How do you clean up afterward? What good are they?
- Drowning—What causes drowning? What does drowning look like? Are there any famous people who have drowned (Rasputin, Natalie Wood)?
How to Brainstorm Topics of Your Choice
Hopefully, as you've read through the topics above, you've already started to discover some that sparked your interest. You may also have added your own to your list. Now it's time to choose between them.
First, look through the list you've been making. Select three or four that you're really curious about. I suggest using the spiderweb technique to brainstorm.
Get yourself a pencil and paper and sit down in a comfortable place. Write one of your key phrases in the center of the paper. Circle it. Then imagine everything you can think of that's related to it. Write those keywords down around it and draw a line to the main word that made you think of it. Keep going until you run out of thoughts. You should end up with a spiderweb diagram like that below.
By the time you've finished brainstorming your three or four choices, it should be obvious which one you'll want to write about. It will fit these characteristics:
- You can't wait to research it.
- You already know enough about it to want to learn more.
- It's something you'll probably add to your conversations with others.
- Or it's something that will better your life or that of someone you love.
From your brainstorm, you will draw an outline, then you are on your way. Don't forget to include your rationale for choosing that topic somewhere in the essay, especially if you're writing an argumentative essay. And remember to keep track of all the good resources you find. You'll want them for your reference section at the end, and maybe to look up again someday.
Questions & Answers
Question: What questions do you consider when writing on water supply?
Answer: Water supply can be addressed by asking the questions, "Where does your water come from? How does it get from its origin to your tap (or the tap of whatever or whomever the water is supplying)"?
So you're looking at the origin: In the case of Southern California, some of our water comes from the San Francisco Delta, some from the Colorado River, some from Owens Valley, and some from our local aquifer. You'd want to answer how much from each in your area (i.e. what's the balance of the mix?) and something about its quality. You could contact your local water supplier and then your regional water supplier, if you have one and ask them, and use some of what they say as quotes in your paper.
How water gets from its origin to you: In the case of Southern California, mainly through aqueducts—the first one being built from Owens Valley (and there are stories around that), the most recent being hundreds of miles long from San Francisco (and there are stories around that).
Depending upon your focus, you might emphasize a particular aspect of the water supply network. Are you more interested in history? You'll talk about it from a historical perspective. More interested in politics? Talk about it from the perspective of negotiations and power plays. Interested in construction? Emphasize the difficulties in construction and the machines and types of pipes used, the digging required, the labor. How about water quality? You'll look at what your water suppliers have to do to get the water up to drinking standards or, if you get water from wells, what you have to do.
If you're writing a long paper it is important to choose a focus, because "water supply" is a big topic, and the specific focus you give it will make the paper more interesting and also give you the length.