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Brainstorming and Invention Strategies

An important part of the writing process is coming up with ideas to write about. Here are some brainstorming and invention strategies to help you get started.


What Is It?

Listing is an inventory of ideas. Lists can be easily adapted to a specific type of writing. For example, you can create a pro/con list to help develop an argument, or you can make a list of similarities and differences for a compare/contrast paper.

How Do I Do It?

Here are some simple rules to start listing:

  1. Write ideas down as you think of them.
  2. Don't worry about putting the ideas in a specific order.
  3. Colour code or create arrows to show connections among ideas.

Mind Mapping

What Is It?

Mind mapping is a diagram used to represent words and ideas linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. It is used to generate, structure, and classify ideas. When mind mapping, you can use words and/or images. Mind maps help you see the connections among ideas.

How Do I Do It?

Follow these steps to start mind mapping:

  1. Start in the center of the page with the main word or image of the topic.
  2. Select key words and images related to the central idea. Draw lines out from that central idea and place each key word/image on its own line.
  3. You can keep building off the central idea, or you can build off the key words and images. Keep drawing lines to show how everything is connected.
  4. When you are finished adding key words and ideas, look at what you have and decide which ideas are useful for the assignment.
  5. Begin organizing and grouping the key words and ideas together.

Other Resource

For more information on this, watch our tutorial on brainstorming: > Guides > Writing > Other Resources > eTutorial-Get Ready to Write.


What Is It?

Freewriting is an unedited, uninterrupted period of writing. You set a time limit and then write until the time is up. Freewriting is useful if your thoughts tend to come from different directions or if you are overly focused on the structure of the writing assignment.

How Do I Do It?

Follow these steps to start freewriting:

  1. Set a time limit for yourself. A 10-minute limit is a good place to start.
  2. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, or grammar. Don't worry about cohesion or unity of ideas. The goal is to simply get ideas onto paper.
  3. When the time is up, stop writing and read the page slowly. Underline the ideas that relate to the assignment you're working on.


What Is Questioning?

Questioning encourages an investigative way thinking about a topic. The goal is to start thinking about your topic from different angles. It is a great place to start when you have a broad topic to write about. The questions you ask can also help determine what kind of paper you write.

How Do I Do It?

The following chart provides a list questions that would determine the kind of paper you would produce.

For this Kind of Paper Ask these Questions
  • Process
  • How is your subject made or done?
  • How does your subject work?
  • Classification/Division
  • What are the main kinds of your subject?
  • What are the component parts of your subject?
  • What are the significant features, characteristics, or functions of your subject?
  • Cause/Effect
  • What are the causes of your subject?
  • What are the effects or consequences of your subject?
  • Comparison/Contrast
  • What are the similarities/differences of your subject?
  • Argument/Persuasion
  • What are the main advantages/ disadvantages of your subject?
  • What are the reasons in favour of/against your subject?
  • Description
  • What does your subject look, feel, sound, smell, and/or taste like?
  • Narration
  • How did your subject happen?

Adapted from Norton et al. (2015, pp. 59-60)


Norton, S., Green, B., & Dynes, R. (2015). Essay essentials with readings (6th ed.). Nelson Education.