Getting Ideas to Write About
Some of the most important writing activity occurs before any actual composing starts.
The time you spend gathering ideas to write about, as well as the way you spend that time, is essential to good writing, whether you are writing a memo, a short paper, or a dissertation.
Writing textbooks suggest a variety of ways to get ideas. Consider trying any or all of the following:
- Talk the topic over with
someone. Often the act of explaining what you need to write
about will help you figure out the kind of information you want to
- Read the scholarly
literature on the topic. Lincoln's ONLINE DATABASES can help you find information quickly and efficiently.
- Brainstorm ideas on the
topic. Just make a list of every idea you can think of,
without censoring any of the things that come to mind. Generally, writing things down will be more
effective than just brainstorming mentally. (Note:
brainstorming (listing ideas) seems to work especially well for
those "left brain" types who like to create the big picture after
they have all the individual, separate pieces.)
- Try mapping or clustering.
Put the topic in a circle in the center of a blank page and draw
lines out to possible sub-topics, with more lines branching off from
these. You can find a number of online mind-mapping tools,
like BUBBLE.US, if you
prefer to create your webs at the computer. (Note: clustering
works well for those "right brain" types who like to see the whole
picture at once, the relationships between all separate ideas.)
- Do some freewriting.
Write (on paper or at the computer) for a set period of time,
usually 10 or 15 minutes. The only rule is that once you start
writing you have to keep writing until the time is up. If you run
out of things to say, write anything that comes to mind until a new
idea occurs. The theory is that the act of writing and the
need to keep going gets you past those first "easy" ideas and on to
ones that are lurking farther away in your subconscious.
- Try "invisible" freewriting. Open your word processing program, get to a blank page, and then turn off the monitor of your computer. (Not the whole computer, just the monitor.) Now do your freewriting. When you're finished, turn the monitor back on and see what you've created. This is especially good for "perfectionists," writers who have trouble brainstorming because they keep stopping to think about what they've just written or correct a word. If you can't see your words, you can't be distracted by them, so you can just keep moving forward.