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What Are Some Other Ways to Get Ideas

3.1 What is a Brainstorm

Brainstorming allows you to quickly generate a large number of ideas. You can brainstorm with others or you can brainstorm by yourself, which sometimes turns into freewriting. To effectively brainstorm, write down whatever ideas come to mind. Sometimes it works better to write down each idea on a separate piece of paper. It also helps to ask yourself some questions:

  1. What do I care about or what am I interested in?
  2. What do I know that I could teach others?
  3. What irritates me?

In order to capture more of your thoughts, you may want to brainstorm a few times until you have enough ideas to start writing.


Imagine you are in a class. Your instructor says you will have to write a paper on your favorite free-time activity, and that you must also persuade your reader to try it.

First ask yourself: What do I care about? or What am I interested in?

It is easiest to write about a topic that you are interested in. This could be anything from gardening to ice skating, or from writing poetry to playing the piano. Your list, in this example, would then read:

  1. gardening
  2. ice skating
  3. writing poetry
  4. playing the piano

At this stage, every idea is good since you are trying to come up with as many ideas as possible.

Second, ask yourself: What do I know that I could teach others?

You may be able to teach someone else something that you really enjoy. Good for you! If you cannot, don’t worry; you are still just brainstorming. Perhaps you teach swimming lessons or t-ball, or maybe you bake really well and are able to offer some of your insights. Your list, in this example, would then read:

  1. swimming lessons
  2. t-ball
  3. baking

Anything is fine. You are still brainstorming.

Let’s think of another example. How about the common situation in which the instructor wants you to write about “something you care about” or an “issue you have”?

Again start by asking yourself a question. Ask yourself, What irritates me?

Everyone has things that irritates them, some small and others larger. An example of something small that’s irritating could be people in your dorm who leave trails of toothpaste by the sink and never clean up after themselves. A personal example can be useful as a bridge to a larger issue that will be your topic — in this case it could be community living and personal responsibility.

In academic writing with a less personal slant, the source of irritation is often another writer/theorist with whom you disagree. Your “irritation” then would lead to an effective piece about why you have a better conception of what’s really going on. A less direct version of this would be a writer/theorist who makes some good points but lacks something in his/her argument that you can add to the “conversation.”


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Expression and Inquiry by Christopher Manning; Sally Pierce; and Melissa Lucken is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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