Rock Valley College


Explore ideas for anassignment

Brainstorming allows writers to discover and define potential topics for an assignment. This step is very important since you need a good topic to write a quality paper. This process can help whether you are just starting and need a paper topic or if you already have a thesis and are looking for body paragraph main points. Freewriting, Listing, Clustering, Questioning, and Talking and Listening are helpful brainstorming strategies. Let’s take a lookat each technique:

1. Freewriting

Freewriting is just like it sounds. Write freely and let your ideas flow. Start by writing for five to ten minutes nonstop. Explore any opinions, questions, and initial thoughts you have about the assignment prompt. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, punctuation, orany technical aspects. You can write one big paragraph or just in phrases. The key is to generate as many ideas as possible. By writing nonstop, you can avoid writer’s block and see where your writing leads you. Oftentimes, freewriting can lead you to an idea you would like to pursue.

2. Listing

Listing entails jotting down any and all ideas, questions, quotations, opinions, events, and images that come to mind after reading an assignment prompt. Write down both serious and silly ideas since one of these could leadyou to a new topic that you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. By generating a long list, you can cross out ideas that you don’t like. The remaining points will show you which topics may be most useful for your assignment.

3. Clustering

Clustering is a visual way to explore your thoughts. Start by writing down the main idea of the assignment prompt in the middle of a page. Then draw lines to related, more specific subtopics. See if you can continue to narrow down these subtopics into more particular ideas and connect them with lines as well. Whichever topic has the most satellite ideas may be one to explore as a paper topic.

4. Questioning

Questioning is another way to investigate a potential idea. Begin by listing the journalist’s questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Then apply them to the assignment prompt. For example: Who is involved? What is the main event? When does it take place? Where does it happen? Why is it an issue? How will people be affected? By addressing these questions, you can gain a better understanding of the assignment and a possible topic.

5. Talking and Listening

Talking and Listening is an especially helpful brainstorming strategy for auditory learners. Tell a friend about your assignment and then have a discussion about your ideas. Explain your thoughts, concerns, and hopes for the assignment. Once you have an idea in mind, describe this topic and see if you can answer your friend’s questions about it. If you can discuss the topic, then you may want to pursue it. If you can’t answer your friend’s questions, then you know what you need to research in more detail. Talking and listening is an effective way to test out and explore ideas in conversation.

Feel free to try more than one of these brainstorming strategies. You may discover that you prefer the more visual method of clustering over freewriting or vice versa. The key to brainstorming is that it should be fun!

You will be surprised at how creative you can be when you give yourself a chance. For more on these prewriting techniques, checkout the handouts on Clustering, Freewriting,and Listingby visiting the Writing Center’s Resource Library at:

Download Brainstorming information here!