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Online Guide to Writing and Research

The Writing Process

Prewriting

Mining Your Intuition-Techniques to Get Started

If you enjoy the process of discovery, the intuitive techniques ahead—brainstorming and webbing and chaining—will help you discover information through concrete experiences or feelings.  You might work better when you can let your imagination run free and express idea associations. In addition, both sides of the brain are used to process information when brainstorming. Using both allows us to look at the logical side as well as the creative. 

Brainstorming

Write whatever you want, no matter how silly, ridiculous, or unorganized. Brainstorming is basically that: a storm in your brain expressed on paper, totally free and informal—and nobody has to see it. Brainstorming enables a writer to find ideas that may be submerged in the mind, memory, and intuition. It’s a form of free association in writing to stimulate a chain of ideas—a technique that teaches you how to think in writing. You can brainstorm with others or by yourself. Do whatever is most comfortable for you. 

We often use both sides of our brain to sort out ideas and make associations while preparing to write. Allowing yourself to utilize both your left and right brain to brainstorm and generate ideas will provide strong perceptions and flexibility to your approach. The left side of your brain prefers linear strategies, such as lists and outlines and reporter’s questions. The right side engages in visual-spatial strategies, such as idea maps or webs and Venn diagrams. Click on the tabs below to learn more.

Left (Linear) and Right (Visual-Spatial) Brain Strategies

  • Lists and outlines: A list can lead to an outline, and an outline creates a written shell or path that mirrors your paper’s organization. Because this is one of the most popular strategies, we'll discuss more on this ahead.

  • Reporter’s questions: Revealed in the Classical Strategies section earlier, this strategy allows you to use the typical who, what, where, when, why, and how questions to dig deeper.

  • The idea map or web: This is essentially a visual outline. Draw a circle in the middle of the page, where your topic will live. Arrows can stem from the middle of the page with circles, where the main points will be housed. From there, you can have as many circles or shapes as you want and fill them in with outside support or your own explanations. 

Creating such a visual document allows you to pause and observe what you have. Is there anything missing? Does each main point have a balanced amount of explanation or outside evidence? This can be done on a blank sheet of paper or an online application. 

  • Venn diagram: This strategy fosters a closer look at relationships between ideas and, again, allows you to visually see circles, but this time, it is two big circles, which reveal an obvious comparison/contrast, plus an overlap between the two topics. Visually seeing the similarities and differences is pleasing and makes the balance or imbalance of ideas obvious, which holds space for revisions.

To create a Venn Diagram, draw two large circles that overlap. This will create three spaces. Write the different perspectives in each circle and leave the middle circle for common ground or shared components.  

When choosing any brainstorming strategy, consider giving yourself a time limit, at first. Five to ten minutes will do. Suspend your critical mind that edits and censors ideas. Commit yourself to writing without criticizing what you write for the entire time you set. Just keep writing until your time is up. When your time is up, take a break from your brainstorming for a few minutes. When you return to your strategy, circle the ideas or phrases that interest you or that suggest something you might like to pursue.

Formal Writing Habits

Webbing and Chaining

Webbing and chaining are like brainstorming, on a spider web. Like brainstorming, these employ visuals to encourage free association and aid in the discovery of main ideas. Begin webbing by writing your topic idea in the center of a page and drawing lines that radiate out from it. At the end of each of these lines, or rays, write down all the ideas that occur to you. Brainstorm for a period of time, such as two minutes, and generate several different ideas. Then choose one or more of these branched ideas and do the same for it, generating more ideas.

Chaining is a bit more structured. Start by placing your idea inside a box, and then draw arrows from that box to another box, in which you write an idea that occurs to you. Each additional box may then logically suggest another idea to you.

Keeping a Journal

You might wonder if keeping a journal is too casual for academic writing, but journaling is actually very useful for critical thinking. Let’s say you are assigned to write a research paper about an issue in your field of study. Your professor wants you to take a stance on the topic, which means you need to present your own voice in the paper, as well as include outside research. How do you feel about the issue? What are your thoughts and ideas on the topic?

Journaling can help you sort out your initial ideas on the topic by writing them down. In addition, journaling can also increase your retention of the research you conduct. Try this:

Journaling Tips

Keeping an Audio Journal

Another unique way to accomplish the same journaling goals is to record yourself using your phone and simply talk about the topic and your opinions. Follow the same steps as above but record your thoughts instead. This not only provides a small break from writing or typing but also allows you to replay the recordings. Hearing and saying your opinions on the topic might help you think of more points or could help you strengthen your argument by seeking more outside support. In addition, oftentimes, when we read outside research, we have thoughts along the way. Pausing to record your reaction to what you read can help you remember everything by the time you finish the article. 

A Note of Wisdom on Journaling

Because your opinions and voice should carry your paper, the research should support, supplement, and give depth to your own argument.  Journaling helps you sort out your thinking, enough to have some strong convictions and opinions on the topic. Writing in your journal will help you grow the confidence you have in your own voice.

Key Takeaways

  • We all brainstorm differently depending on what side of our brains we favor.

  • There is no right or wrong way to brainstorm. 


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Table of Contents: Online Guide to Writing