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Ideation (Brainstorming)

This guide covers the mechanics and techniques of the brainstorming process to generate ideas for your writing.


Before you start brainstorming, we recommend that you...

  • review the assignment

Why? Making sure that you know what is required of you early in the process can guarantee that you write according to the assignment instructions! The worst feeling in the world is realizing at the end of the process that you've planned out the "wrong type" of paper.

  • identify audience

Why? Consider what terms you may need to define for your readers, or how much research you may need to do, early in the process so you can address them as you go!

  • identify style/tone

Why? The type of paper you're writing can have an impact on the way you plan your project. Remember, you can also check your paper based on certain types of assignments in Grammarly later in the process!

Pulling Ideas Together

There isn't necessarily a "wrong" way to pull ideas on a topic out of your imagination. Part of the brainstorming process is considering what you already know about something, and identifying your own biases, before you move into the drafting stage.

Some brainstorming assignments may require you to do something specific, such as:

  • Make a list

Lists may have a specific style and layout. Be sure to look for any specific instructions for the formatting of your list.

  • Create an outline

Outlines can be formal or informal, and each style has specific formatting requirements. Read more about outlines on this guide.

  • Freewrite

In freewriting, students write for a set period of time, or until the mind is empty of ideas. The freewrite may be about a specific topic, or about anything that comes to mind. There is no proofreading or editing in the freewriting process. It's okay to misspell words, or have grammatically incomplete sentences. The trick with freewriting is to just keep writing. You can analyze what you've written later.

  • Make a web, map, or cluster

Students may not immediately recognize terms like "brainstorm" or "ideation," but once they see an image of a web, map, or cluster, which displays the main idea in the center of a page and corresponding ideas in bubbles around the page, they recognize it as a brainstorming activity they may have completed in grade school. The following image is one example:

While there is no "wrong" method for generating ideas, you must always follow the instructions set forth for your specific assignment. 

Even when an assignment doesn't require you to brainstorm before you begin writing, it's a good idea to pull your thoughts together so that you don't waste time as you're constructing your assignment.