Assignment planning is no easy task. It is often very difficult to get started, and even harder to organize the tornado of ideas spiraling in your mind. From decoding the assignment’s requirements to organizing paragraph order, starting the writing process can be a long and arduous task. This is why brainstorming plays a pivotal role in pre-writing. Writers beginning an assignment are much like storm-chasers; storm-chasers would never enter the eye of the storm without adequately preparing themselves for the weather they are about to encounter. Similarly, writers prepare themselves when starting assignments by equipping themselves with ideas and information pertinent to the task. As a result, writers start effectively organizing their ideas by bunkering down for the incoming brainstorm.
I Storm, You Storm, We All Storm for Brainstorms!
Finnbogason and Valleau (2006) describe brainstorming as a free association activity that allows writers to organize their thoughts on the subject of the writing assignment, as well as organize a proposed structure for the assignment (p. 7). However, not all people brainstorm in the same linear way. When writers give themselves free space to creatively think about their topic and develop ideas, it could eventually lead to the synthesis of a thesis, main points and the structure for body paragraphs. The following are examples of different formats and styles of brainstorming that might benefit you when equipping yourself before heading into the eye of the essay storm!
- Good Ol’ Fashioned Lists
Lists are no longer monopolized by groceries and buckets! Quickly jotting down ideas is an efficient way to record bursts of thought. Without focussing on the order or specificity of what is being written down, lists are fast and effective (Finnbogason & Valleau, 2006, p. 7). For example:
|What are the causes of high incarceration rates among males ages 18- 25 in Canada?|
|1.||Lack of educational opportunity|
|3.||Criminalized in the youth courts|
|4.||Insufficient government programs for this age group|
|5.||High rates of violent crimes|
- Mind Mapping
Mind mapping is visual representation of the writer’s thoughts. By organizing them in a compartmentalized and structured way, it allows the writer to physically see the connections between different thoughts (Finnbogason & Valleau, 2006, p. 7). Mind maps do not always follow a specific format; instead they are merely a way for you to see how different ideas can associate within a topic. Mind mapping can often benefit the brainstorming of a thesis or main points for an essay. As seen in this example, the writer came up with four different themes that directly connect with the topic he/she is brainstorming. As well, the writer came up with three additional subtopics that are similar to the main topic, but are not as closely associated. This helped produce both a relevant research question and a specific thesis.
- Free Writing
Free writing is explained by Finnbogason and Valleau (2006) as a method of brainstorming where a person takes a short period of time to write out their thoughts (7). This allows the writer’s feelings on the topic and natural voice to emerge. Setting about five minutes of time aside to continuously write out thoughts on a specific topic fosters spontaneous and creative bursts of writing. Often people who consider themselves to be deep revisers, meaning they prefer to write out their essay without planning out the structure beforehand, find this method to suit their writing style.
- Branching Out
According to Finnbogason and Valleau (2006), branching is a variation of mind mapping. The difference between these two types of brainstorming is that branching is a more linear way of developing ideas, whereas mind mapping tends to be less methodical and more sporadic (8). Branching begins in a similar fashion to mind mapping, where you start with the topic in the middle of the page. Next, you would create as many main branches as there are main ideas that emerge from the topic. Connecting to the main branches would be any supporting points that are contingent on the main point (Finnbogason & Valleau, 2006, p. 8). Branching gives the writer a more concise visualization of how the different parts of a topic relate to one another. It also provides a visual reference of the topic, and a clear understanding if there are any gaps in between the thesis and the main points where more research is necessary.
Altogether, putting thoughts on a page can often be daunting and difficult to start. Using different types of brainstorming activities and selecting the style that best suits your writing style best will only help the writing process. You better prepare yourself; I think there is a brainstorm brewing!
All the best,
Finnbogason, J., & Valleau, A. (2006). A Canadian writer’s guide (3rd ed.). Toronto: Thomson Nelson.