Subject, Topic

Subject is

  • what a message is about, the subject matter of a text
  • a branch of knowledge; the categories dictionaries and encyclopedias use to sort information.
  • the scholarly conversations around subjects and topics.

The term Topic is sometimes used synonymously for Subject, although more commonly Topic is a subset of Subject–i.e., a Topic may be a part of a Subject. Thus, Writing Studies is a Subject, a field of study, and audience awareness is a Topic.

Synonyms: Message, point, thesis, concept, main idea, field of study


Academic fields, academic disciplines, and scholarly conversations are organized around Subjects and Topics. For instance, Writing Commons is organized around the following Subjects/Topics:

Collaboration
Composition
Design
Editing
Genre
Information Literacy
Invention
Organization
Mindset
Research
Revision
Rhetoric
Style
Writing Studies

Subjects and Topics have histories, genealogies, intellectual traditions. Discourse communities and Communities of Practitioners develop intellectual traditions and research methodologies for discussing topics or conducting research on topics.

Subjects and Topics are a rhetorical construct. Audiences and discourse communities perceive topics through the filter of anecdotal experience, textual research, and empirical research.

Different readers have different exposures to past scholarly conversations on a topic. And the rhetorical stances of readers and rhetors impinge on their openness to a topic, their willingness to view it critically and unemotionally.

Our rhetorical stances as rhetors–our experiences with families, schools, religions, cultures, ethnicities, gender–shape how we define, talk about, and research topics.