Once we have chosen a topic, we can start writing the essay, correct? Actually, there's a lot that has to happen before experienced writers actually begin the drafting process, and much of that work falls into the category of prewriting. Prewriting is the planning and organizing that a writer does before actively beginning to write. It features several distinct phases or purposes, each of which will have to be tailored to a particular writing project.
As part of the planning and narrowing down phases of the prewriting process, brainstorming involves strategies that help generate ideas and clarify thinking. Writers use these techniques to discover and focus their thoughts about a given subject. In other words, brainstorming helps writers to discover what they know or believe about a topic. Brainstorming also helps them to generate ideas.
Once writers discover what they know or believe about a topic, they can use a brainstorming technique to search through that knowledge for related ideas and to set boundaries for their topic. By thinking outside the box during the brainstorming process, you are setting yourself up for success in generating ideas and strengthening your innovation skill .
EXAMPLEBrainstorming can help writers who have been assigned to write a five-paragraph essay about a specific topic to determine not only what they can write about, but also what they cannot.
Now that you know what brainstorming is good for, how do you do it? There are a number of different brainstorming techniques, but all of them share a similar purpose.
Though it's unlikely that any writer would use all of these techniques at the beginning of every writing project, consider how each of the following methods might help you with a writing project. It's possible that your brainstorming needs will be different each time you begin the writing process.
EXAMPLESuppose that your subject is "pie." To create a map (or cluster) of pie, write "pie" in the center of the page, and then surround it with all of the other words that you can associate with it.
Mapping helps writers to see how they can progress from a broad subject to specific examples that support the main subject.
Things about pizza:
To freewrite, just start writing. Write anything and everything that comes to mind as quickly as you can. Keep writing until you can't think of anything else (or your hand hurts from holding a pencil, or your keyboard is steaming). Don't slow down (or stop) to correct grammar or even to "make sense."
Freewriting gives you something to work on. It's much easier to work on something than on nothing (e.g., a blank page that remains blank while the writer struggles to come up with something that makes sense and is grammatically correct).
Freewriting might look something like this:
Pizza is my favorite food, but I do not know exactly what to write about it. There are so many different types of pizza, which is why I like it. Someone could get a cheese pizza or veggie pizza is she was a vegetarian. Supreme pizza is good, too. I prefer specialty pizzas from the little shop on the corner. There are so many types of pizza in the frozen food section of the grocery store. Some even cost less than a dollar.
Note that this example contains most of the information in the list example above. However, it's presented differently because it was created differently. Freewriting can be general or focused depending on whether or not you already know your chosen topic.
Here's an example of results produced by the five Ws technique:
Who: For everyone. Everyone likes pizza.
What: A delicious savory crust topped with sauce, cheese, and an infinite possible combination of topics.
When: I had some last week, but what is the history of pizza?
Where: Anywhere: grocery stores, chains, small shops.
Why: Because pizza can be customized to so many different preferences and even allergies.
Most of the writer's responses in this example did not produce useful information (in part as a result of the silly topic). In response to the last W, however, the writer made an insightful statement: an answer to a question (why) that may not have been asked without using the five Ws brainstorming technique. It also generated a possible research question: what is the history of pizza?
Here's a response to an assignment to write about what pizza means to you:
Pizza is just a food, but then again it is more. We have always eaten pizza as a celebration food in my home, so I think I associate it with happy times. As I have gotten older, pizza is a food that is very versatile: if I am eating vegetarian, there is a pizza for that. We can make cauliflower crust pizza if we are not eating carbs. Pizza is a symbol of celebrating and gathering around the table.
Note that this response sounds a bit like an essay. There may be a thesis statement in it, or an interesting narrative that might help the writer to come up with a thesis statement.
Innovation: Skill Tip