Techniques to Get Started
Mining Your Intuition
Intuitive techniques are often choices for writers who tend to discover information through concrete experiences and their own feelings. These techniques—brainstorming and webbing and chaining—appeal to students who don't always know where to begin and who are comfortable generating their own ideas and approaches. They tend to generate a lot of ideas and enjoy the process of discovery. Some students just work better when they are able to let their imaginations run free and express their idea associations.
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. In any case, when you brainstorm, you create a list of ideas and associations to help you think through your topic. In brainstorming:
When your time is up, take a break from your brainstorming for a few minutes. When you return to your list, circle the ideas or phrases that interest you or that suggest something you might like to pursue. This preliminary list can give you key phrases, words, and ideas for still another brainstorming session. The more you brainstorm, the more material you will generate for your writer's mind. You can brainstorm until you are satisfied that you have the ideas you want to work with.
When your brainstorming session is over, you can then consciously begin analyzing and organizing your ideas. Circle the ideas that might be related and that might interest you. Can you organize these into a topic for your writing assignment? You can even try freewriting to form some good ideas for your assignment.
An added benefit of brainstorming is that you are bringing your own personal perspective, knowledge, memory, and creativity to your writing assignment. When you work from your own viewpoint, you are more likely to generate original material.
Webbing and Chaining
Webbing and chaining are very similar, using the free association of ideas discovered in a visual kind of way. Begin webbing by putting your topic idea in the center and drawing radiating lines 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. An example of webbing might look like this.
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. An example of chaining might look this.
Keeping a Journal
Many writers keep a journal in which they brainstorm ideas or even freewrite for future use. In fact, keeping a journal is a very old technique writers have used to practice thinking in writing and to keep records of what they learn. Journals can be repositories of seeds of ideas for writing assignments in any class and a place to practice thinking in writing. If you struggle to think of ideas in different classes, keep a journal from the start of the class. In the back, designate a section for recording your ideas, thoughts, and possible topics for papers.
Many students resist keeping journals because they seem like a lot more work. The rewards are generous, however, when you are stuck for an idea for a paper and succeed at mining your journal for just the right topic.