Techniques to Get Started

Where do ideas come from? For most writers, writing is recursive, even messy. Writers step into the writing process wherever they can get a foothold to begin. How students develop their own writing process usually depends on their learning styles, personalities, and work habits.

Although everyone begins with the assignment, each writer engages the writing process at a different place and gets to the finished product by a somewhat different means—depending on the assignment, purpose, audience, and what the writer already knows about the subject matter. If you are a manager in the banking industry taking the capstone course in business management, you may be able to start with a thesis and an outline. If you are a first-year student with little writing experience, you might start with the prewriting questions about audience, purpose, and topic.

Although successful writers follow different paths that enable them to think about their writing, create and frame ideas, and draft and revise their writing, there are enduring and natural ways to approach writing.

Writers have used many different techniques to generate ideas and get started. These techniques can even overcome barriers to writing, known as writer’s block. Writers can use these techniques at any point in their writing, not just at the beginning. When writers run out of ideas after a writing project is under way, these techniques can help them get moving again.

Among several widely used techniques for probing a topic and teasing out various ideas for writing, here’s the best short set of techniques to fit a variety of thinking styles.

  • Writer’s block can occur in the prewriting stage, but there are many ways to overcome it.

  • To overcome writer’s block in the prewriting stage, try making notes to explore your ideas about and understanding of the topic.

  • These are some effective methods:

    • writing some reporter’s questions about your topic and then writing the answers to the questions

    • brainstorming for a short period of time (perhaps 10 minutes) by writing very quickly, without stopping, any ideas you have about your topic

    • webbing, which consists of writing the topic in the center of a page and then surrounding it with thought bubbles containing ideas about the subject

    • chaining, which is very similar to webbing except that the thought bubbles are drawn in linear fashion, one leading into the next

    • outlining, which is a structured way of organizing ideas in groups and in sequence

  • Some writers keep a journal as a method of avoiding writer’s block at the prewriting stage.

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