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Brainstorming Techniques

12 Nov

Have you ever had difficulty getting started on an assignment? You might sit at your desk and stare at your pen and paper or computer for hours as you try to decide where to begin and what to write about. Brainstorming ideas can help to generate ideas for an assignment, which can help you decide where to begin and how to structure your assignment. Different students have different preferences when it comes to brainstorming – and different assignments may even require different approaches. Today, we will review some common brainstorming techniques and how to use them.


Freewriting is one of the easiest brainstorming techniques. To freewrite, you just have to write. Don’t know what to write about? Write about anything that comes to mind regarding your topic! This can help you generate ideas, decide on a direct for your assignment, and determine what you already know and what you don’t know about your topic. Some tips for freewriting:

  • Set a goal for yourself. Write for five minutes straight. Write 500 words. Just write!
  • Do not worry about your spelling, punctuation, or grammar. You can address that later!
  • Do not worry about if your sentence ‘sounds good’ or not. Get the ideas down first, and you can work on your word choice later.
  • Try to turn off your inner editor or critic. Don’t worry if you jump around; it’s all about getting those ideas out there!


Researching is another common brainstorming technique. This can be helpful if you are having difficulty choosing a topic, or if you know what you need to write about but you are having trouble picking a direction. Conducting even preliminary research can help you determine what has already been said on your topic; this can make it easier to decide what you want focus on in your assignment. Some tips when researching:

  • Keep your assignment requirements in mind. If your assignment calls for research, this brainstorming technique will help you to generate ideas and acquire possible sources for use in your assignment.
  • Know what you’re working with and what you need to do. If you need to use scholarly sources, stick to academic journals and books. If you are free to use whatever sources you would like, consider not only academic journals and books, but also magazines, newspapers, internet articles, and even films! There are even a number of documentaries on YouTube that can provide you with good information or ideas.
  • Keep track of your research! Keep a list of the information that you come across or any points that you find interesting. Keep track of any information that you may want to include in your finished assignment – this will make it easier to develop your Works Cited or References page later on!
  • Don’t just look on Google! Utilize the online library to gain access to library databases, books, and more!
  • If you are having trouble researching your topic, set up an appointment with a research librarian. They are always happy to help students navigate through the many available resources. 


Clustering and Webbing can work well for more visual learners. With either technique, you draw a cluster of circles or a web of shapes and use your visual representation to help you generate ideas. Some tips for clustering or making a web:

  • Start with your main idea in the center. This main idea should represent the focal point of your assignment. It may be your research question, your overall topic, the term or concept that you were instructed to write about – whatever is at the heart of your assignment.
  • Branch out from your main idea using clusters of circles or by expanding your web. After you have developed your main idea, try to develop supporting ideas and examples. For each supporting idea or example, branch out again to include major and minor details.
  • Try to include every possible supporting point or example that you can think of and brainstorm ideas for each point. Then, when you have finished your cluster or web, go back through it. Select the points that you know that you want to write about. Eliminate the points that you do not want or need to include.
  • Use your finished cluster or web to help you structure your assignment. Arrange your supporting points in a logical manner, and use your major and minor details to help you as you write. Try to focus at least one paragraph on each supporting point (although you may need more than one paragraph in some occasions).


When cubing, you are approaching your topic from different perspectives to better see the whole picture. Cubing can be particularly helpful when you have an assigned topic or you already have an idea. The cubing process helps you to brainstorm different ways of approaching your topic, which can allow you to decide the scope and focus of your essay more easily. Tips for cubing:

  • Consider your topic from all perspectives. Ask yourself:
    • What is it?
    • What is it like or unlike?
    • What does it make you think of?
    • What is it made of?
    • How can it be used?
    • How can you support it or oppose it?
  • You could also break your topic down according to three categories:
    • The topic & its features, parts, challenges, etc.
    • The history of the topic & its evolution 
    • The topic’s influences, & things the topic has influenced

These four brainstorming techniques can help you to develop ideas and even decide on the scope and focus of your writing. Use these brainstorming techniques to generate ideas and avoid Writer’s Block! If you are having difficulty starting an assignment or you are having trouble brainstorming ideas, feel free to schedule an appointment in the Writing Center for help!