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University Writing Center

Resources

Getting Started

Don’t Worry


You are not expected to produce a polished draft the first time you sit down to write. The process of writing a paper will produce improved results as you go through the process. If you remember this as you write, you will lower the risk you take in producing the first draft of a paper.

When starting, don’t worry about what the reader will think about what you have written. Don’t be concerned with whether or not your teacher will like what you have written. You don’t even have to show your first attempts at writing to any one if you don’t want to. Make writing as easy for you as you can by not being concerned with how good the first draft is or what someone might think about what you have written. There will be time for revising and polishing any ideas you want to pursue later. Don’t worry about it at first, just get started by writing something, anything on paper or on the screen.

Freewrite

Freewriting on a topic can generate content, provide rough material for an outline, develop main points, and help discover a thesis.

Most importantly, freewriting gets you writing and bypassing writers’ block by shutting off the critic in your mind. 
Write your topic, a restatement of it, or a key word from it at the top of a fresh page. 
Begin writing whatever comes to mind and keep writing.

If you have trouble thinking of what to write, rewrite your topic. After that, if nothing comes to you, just write that: “Nothing is coming to me right now. It’s hard to think of anything.” Eventually your writing will shift. Keep writing rapidly. Be as specific as you can, but at this point do not criticize or cut. You can do that later. Write down exactly what comes to you for five to ten minutes. Keep your pen moving or your fingers typing.

At the end of your time, bring your writing full circle by referring to what started you thinking in the first place. Look at your beginning. Repeat a word, phrase, or important thought or emotion that makes sense.

You may wish to read your freewrite aloud at this point.

Spend one to five minutes cutting, adding or making any changes that would make this piece of writing better. It is very important to leave the editing to this stage; otherwise you will be limiting free associations and new possibilities. If you have enough direction or already have generated all the ideas that you need, you may wish to skip the next stage.

Depending on the type of assignment and your background in the topic, essays or reports may be written by linking chunks of edited freewriting. You can freewrite major or minor points and link them with transitions and on a different, smaller scale, you can generate a thesis statement by condensing a freewrite to one statement or position. Similarly, outlines can be obtained by breaking down a freewrite into manageable parts or points.

- adapted very loosely from Writing The Natural Way, Gabriele Lusser Rico (J.P.Tarcher Inc., Los Angeles, 1983).

Cluster

Clustering is a type of prewriting that allows you to explore many ideas as soon as they occur to you. To begin to cluster, choose a word that is central to your assignment.

For example, if you were writing a paper about the value of a college education, you might choose the word “expectations” and write that word in the middle of your sheet of paper. Circle “expectations,” then write words all around it–words that occur to you as you think of “expectations.” Write down all the words that you associate with “expectations,” words that at first may seem to be random. Write quickly, circling each word, grouping words around the central word. Connect your new words to previous ones with lines; when you feel you have exhausted a particular avenue of associations, go back to your central word and begin again.

Brainstorm

Brainstorming is a method for developing creative solutions to problems. It works by focusing on a problem, and then deliberately coming up with as many deliberately unusual solutions as possible and by pushing the ideas as far as possible.

One approach to brainstorming is to seed the session with a word pulled randomly from a dictionary. Use this word as a starting point in the process of generating ideas.

During the brainstorming session, there is no criticism of ideas - the idea is to open up as many possibilities as possible, and break down preconceptions about the limits of the problem.

Once this has been done, the results of the brainstorming session can be analyzed and the best solutions can be explored either by using further brainstorming or more conventional solutions.

How to Brainstorm

The following rules are important to brainstorming successfully:

  • A leader should take control of the session, initially defining the problem to be solved with any criteria that must be met, and then keeping the session on course. He or she should encourage an enthusiastic, uncritical attitude among brainstormers and encourage participation by all members of the team. The session should be announced as lasting a fixed length of time, and the leader should ensure that no train of thought is followed for too long. The leader should try to keep the brainstorming on subject, and should try to steer it towards the development of some practical solutions.
  • Participants in the brainstorming process should come from as wide a range of disciplines, with as broad a range of experience as possible. This brings many more creative ideas to the session. 
Brainstormers should be encouraged to have fun brainstorming, coming up with as many ideas as possible, from solidly practical ones to wildly impractical ones in an environment where creativity is welcomed.
  • Ideas must not be criticized or evaluated during the brainstorming session. Criticism introduces an element of risk for a group member in putting forward an idea. This stifles creativity and cripples the free running nature of a good brainstorming session.

Writers should not only come up with new ideas in a brainstorming session, but they should also come up with new ideas from associations with other people’s ideas and develop other people’s ideas.

A record should be kept of the session either as notes or a tape recording. This should be studied subsequently for evaluation. It can also be helpful to jot down ideas on a board which can be seen by all writers.

Individual vs. Group Brainstorming

Brainstorming can either be carried out by individuals, groups, or both. 
Individual brainstorming tends to produce a wider range of ideas than group brainstorming, but tends not to develop the ideas as effectively, perhaps as individuals on their own run up against problems they cannot solve. Individuals are free to explore ideas in their own time without any fear of criticism, and without being dominated by other group members.

Group brainstorming develops ideas more deeply and effectively, as when difficulties in the development of an idea by one person are reached, another person’s creativity and experience can be used to break them down. Group brainstorming tends to produce fewer ideas (as time is spent developing ideas in depth) and can lead to the suppression of creative but quiet people by loud and uncreative people.
Individual and group brainstorming can be mixed, perhaps by defining a problem, and then letting team members initially come up with a wide range of possibly shallow solutions. These solutions could then be enhanced and developed by group brainstorming.

Updated 1.12.2012