At times, writing your first sentence can become a roadblock to completing the project. Luckily, there are brainstorming techniques you can use to fire up your creative thinking and get your essay off to a fast start.
2. Remember the five Ws and one H technique
It is common for journalists to be trained to include the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” in their reports. This strategy can work well for brainstorming your essay too, because it helps you ensure that you are answering all the vital questions.
Some of these questions will be easy to answer, while some will be more difficult (often the “why” and “how”). But this technique is a great way to quickly wrap your mind around all of the key points and assess how you can focus your writing without forgetting any of them. Here is an example of what your first pass might look like if your assignment is to write about a social or cultural impact resulting from the “Harry Potter” book series:
- Who: J.K. Rowling, author of the series.
- What: Contributed to wider tolerance in society as a result of themes in her books.
- When: Originated in the 1990s and has continued to build strength over the decades since.
- Where: Worldwide, but focusing on societal attitudes and changes in the United States for the purposes of this essay.
- Why: Because of the important role the themes of diversity and outsider status play in the series.
- How: The wide popularity of the books has made them extremely influential, to the point where studies have shown they changed the outlook a generation of readers has on discrimination and tolerance.
3. Experiment with mind mapping
Starting your mind map is simple: Write a few words summarizing your topic in the center of a blank page, and draw a circle around them. Then, list your key points around that circle, radiating from the center and connected to the main topic via lines. You may see relationships between certain key topics, and you can connect those as well with lines. Keep adding lines and new topic circles until all of your ideas are on paper. Then, go through and make more connections and highlight the areas you want to focus on in your essay. Try color-coding to help organize the ideas that can logically be grouped together.
This technique should help you focus on key topic sentences to form the main structure of your essay.This is a more visual exercise, so if you prefer working with images, this may be the perfect technique. It is a simple way to outline your main thoughts and to see how they may connect in various ways.
Mind-mapping is a simple way to outline your main thoughts and see how they may connect.
You can find lots of templates for mind mapping online, but it is also fine to freestyle it. You may find it more valuable to let your mind go in various directions, rather than trying to stick to a specific grid. And you can even do this exercise in physical space with index cards or colored sticky notes that are easy to move around on a wall or table top.
Lora Wegman is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.
Image of writer writing on paper sheet courtesy of Shutterstock.