Writing Topic: Techniques for Exploring Ideas.

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

In the early stages of any writing project, preparation becomes a key element for producing a well-designed, thought-provoking, organized piece. The main stages of writing are planning, drafting, and revising, but a writer must recognize that they may sometimes need to revisit the earlier stages later in the process if the need arises.

While it is possible for a writer to just plug themselves into a first draft and work as they go, the planning stage helps the writer focus on their purpose for the writing situation and helps save time by addressing certain issues in advance. This stage gives writers the opportunity to assess the writing subject, focal points, and information available so they won’t have to circle back to weak points in the piece when in the revision stage.

Here is a general checklist for assessing your writing situation:

I like to think of it as the 6 w’s: who, what, where, when, why, and which.

  1. Subject – The what of your writing situation. What are you going to write about or argue? Do you have a strong thesis and points to back it up?
  2. Purpose – The why of your writing situation. Will your piece be for entertainment, a call-to-action, or just to inform readers. Why is it important or worth reading?
  3. Audience – The who of your writing situation. Who do you want to reach out to most? Gear your language and style to be able to communicate your work to them with ease.
  4. Sources of Information/Research – The where of your writing situation. Where are you getting your information? Personal experience? Library? Internet?
  5. Length and Style/ Requirements – The which of your writing situation. This includes fine-tuning your writing to fulfil the requirements which are expected of you. Depending on your writing purpose you probably need to be aware of the requirements for your piece such as word-count and citation guidelines amongst other things. If this is for a class, review the rubric or syllabus to fit the needs and wants for the teacher.
  6. Deadline – The when of your writing situation. When is the piece due? If there is no due date, try setting a self-imposed deadline.

Techniques for exploring ideas within your writing situation:

There are several techniques you can turn to, and it is best to choose the one that you feel works best for you and your productivity. The main idea here is to generate a plethora of ideas, some which you may not even use, but may be necessary to think about to arrive at a certain concept. Aim for quantity, not quality. By doing this you are not omitting any possibilities and are open to all concepts and new perspectives. Don’t worry about stocking up on ideas you may not need, that are too far-fetched, or broad. You will get the chance to throw them out later if they are not aligned with your goals of the piece.

  1. Browse – When you haven’t settled on a subject yet, it can help to do some “window shopping,” so to speak. Inspiration can come from surprising places! By doing quick searches on the internet or at your local library’s database you can get exposed to concepts that interest you, or find ideas you can compare and contrasts to your own.
  2. Listing ideas –  There doesn’t have to be any formal structure when you jot down your ideas in this technique, and many times you will just find yourself writing down ideas in the order they occur to you. Later you can rearrange it in a fashion that is more organized and remove ideas that seem off the point. I have always found brainstorming a highly essential part of the early stages of a writing project. A lot of times I have arrived at the themes and topics I want to write about by simply writing down the things that come to mind when I think of my subject.
  3. Clustering – This type of brainstorming allows you to form associations between concepts you have for your writing project in a slightly more organized fashion than through listing, but in a less linear format than outlining. To begin to cluster you first must write your main topic in the center of a page and draw a circle around it. Surround the circle with related ideas and draw a line to connect them. Some of the new ideas that surround the main idea will lead to smaller, more specific clusters and continue on until you have exhausted the avenue of the topic until a diagram is created. You would then return to the main topic and see if any other associations can be made, and as you create your cluster you will start to notice a “web” beginning to form. Clustering is a great way to highlight the relationships between concepts to build and expand on in your writing and can also be used as a rough outline. This procedure is also known as visual mapping.
  4. Freewriting – This technique is as sweet and simple as it sounds. Freewriting is simply non-stop, unedited, uncensored writing. You set aside some time to freely express your thoughts on your subject and write whatever comes to you in those moments. The point in this exercise is to keep your pen or pencil moving! More likely than not, you will find an honest opinion, an important expression of emotion, or line of thought worth exploring. Freewriting is hands down one of my most favorite forms of brainstorming.
  5. Annotations – This technique is helpful when you are writing about someone else’s work or doing a research paper. While you read or do research, mark up the text — highlight important passages you would like to explore further or revisit later, write down your questions, thoughts, or summations in the margins so you wont forget points you picked up on, also find moments in the text that were striking ideas which you find you want to emphasize or argue against in your work. I’m sure we hear it often enough, but here’s a quick reminder: don’t forget to use citations when discussing other people’s works and using their ideas!
  6. Creating a Thesis – Once you have thoroughly explored your ideas on your subject, you can begin to see the possible ways you can focus your material. A thesis statement is a sentence formed around your central idea which appears in the introduction paragraph to prepares the readers for the supporting points that will follow in the body of the piece. It is very beneficial to form a thesis statement early in the writing process which can help the writer focus their piece. The thesis statement can always be refined when you get to the final version of your work.
  7. Outline – Obviously I couldn’t leave this one out. A formal outline can keep the writer on track with their ideas and main points, especially if the concepts are complex. In an outline of an essay, the thesis is on top and everything else below it supports it, directly and indirectly. Your outlines will change as your drafts evolve, and it will serve you very well in keeping your ideas organized.

Overall, the early stages of a writing process is one of the most important parts in the development of a piece, and these techniques are sure to help you with the concepts and ideas you wish to deliver in your writing.

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