Thursday, April 7, 2011


by Griffin Moar

Some of the best sessions here at the Writing Center occur when a student brings in nothing but their assignment sheet, some rough ideas, and a week or two of slack before the paper’s due date. In these cases we can take our time and focus on brainstorming techniques that can make your writing process infinitely more efficient. 

Brainstorming is something new college writers tend to ignore, choosing instead to start their writing process with the heading on their final draft.  The fact is that sitting down with a pen and some blank sheets of paper to brainstorm will sharpen your focus and bring out your paper’s potential, all while fleshing out what the bulk of your paper will need to address. Here are some techniques that can get you started on your paper and reduce your stress level along the way:

Freewriting: Get rid of your self-consciousness! Just jot down whatever comes to mind when you’re thinking about the topic. It’s easy.  Most of the stuff on the page won’t make it into your paper draft, but as your brain is firing off free associations you will find at least a few moments of insight that can get you going in the right direction. 

Listing/Bulleting: Get down on paper all the names, dates, events, themes, words, or phrases that might play a role in your paper. As you see the breadth of your paper topic in front of you, and as you’re thinking about how all that you’ve listed is interrelated, you might be able to identify the things that will be most vital to your paper, or what you can probably do without mentioning. It might help to have your notes from class in front of you so you don’t miss anything you may not have retained from a lecture.

Clustering/Mapping: Once you’ve identified the important pieces of your topic, give each a space on paper branching off from the original, main topic. Fill in the open space on the page by jotting down many related concepts or terms, constantly expanding on what you’ve already got down. Now that your page(s) is littered with potential material, start circling concepts and connecting related ones. A circle with a lot of spokes means that you may have found a good idea on which to focus a significant portion of your paper.  

Outlining: By now you should be starting to see how your paper might play out: What will you argue? How will you go about staging your argument? What concepts will you need to spend your paragraphs on? Now you can start to put the pieces in order by outlining the direction of your paper. Remember that your thesis, and its defense, should make itself evident throughout the paper, not just by the end.

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