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The Writing Process

Making expository writing less stressful, more efficient, and more enlightening, search form, step 1: generate ideas.

how to generate ideas for essay writing

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” —Albert Einstein

how to generate ideas for essay writing

In expository writing, though, even for a research paper, you will want to "generate ideas" first. Why? First, you will want to see what you already know and think about a subject. Second, you will want to see what ideas you can come up with yourself. And third, the methods below will help you define what questions you want to start your research with.

how to generate ideas for essay writing

Moreover, freewriting is often useful to non-native speakers of English who still struggle with fluency (i.e., writing quickly or relatively easily, in contrast to accuracy, which an overriding concern for at this stage of the writing process can inhibit the flow of words and ideas).

how to generate ideas for essay writing

There are four primary methods of generating ideas:

  • Brainstorming
  • Freewriting
  • Idea Map/Web
  • "Moodling "

Photo "Büro im Wasser" from Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-08112 / CC-BY-SA. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo "Ideas" ©2014 Rafal Knop

Generating Ideas for Your Paper

  • Introduction

Good writing requires good ideas—intriguing concepts and analysis that are clearly and compellingly arranged. But good ideas don’t just appear like magic. All writers struggle with figuring out what they are going to say. And while there is no set formula for generating ideas for your writing, there is a wide range of established techniques that can help you get started.

This page contains information about those techniques. Here you’ll find details about specific ways to develop thoughts and foster inspiration. While many writers employ one or two of these strategies at the beginning of their writing processes in order to come up with their overall topic or argument, these techniques can also be used any time you’re trying to figure out how to effectively achieve any of your writing goals or even just when you’re not sure what to say next.

What is Invention?

Where do ideas come from? This is a high-level question worthy of a fascinating TED Talk or a Smithsonian article , but it also represents one of the primary challenges of writing. How do we figure out WHAT to write?

Even hundreds of years ago, people knew that a text begins with an idea and that locating this idea and determining how to develop it requires work. According to classical understandings of rhetoric, the first step of building an argument is invention. As Roman thinker Cicero argued, people developing arguments “ought first to find out what [they] should say” ( On Oratory and Orators 3.31). Two hundred years before Cicero, the Greek philosopher Aristotle detailed a list of more than two dozen ideas a rhetor might consider when figuring out what to say about a given topic ( On Rhetoric , 2.23). For example, Aristotle suggested that a good place to start is to define your key concepts, to think about how your topic compares to other topics, or to identify its causes and effects. (For ideas about using Aristotle’s advice to generate ideas for your own papers, check out this recommended technique .)

More recently, composition scholar Joseph Harris has identified three values important for writers just starting a project. Writers at early stages in their writing process can benefit from being: Receptive to unexpected connections You never know when something you read or need to write will remind you of that movie you watched last weekend or that anthropology theory you just heard a lecture about or that conversation you had with a member of your lab about some unexpected data you’ve encountered. Sometimes these connections will jump out at you in the moment or you’ll suddenly remember them while you’re vacuuming the living room. Harris validates the importance of “seizing hold of those ideas that do somehow come to you” (102). While you can’t count on these kinds of serendipities, be open to them when they occur. Be ready to stop and jot them down! Patient Harris supports the value of patience and “the usefulness of boredom, of letting ideas percolate” (102). It can take time and long consideration to think of something new. When possible, give yourself plenty of time so that your development of ideas is not stifled by an immediate due date. Compelled by the unknown According to Harris, “a writer often needs to start not from a moment of inspiration ( eureka! ) but from the need to work through a conceptual problem or roadblock. Indeed, I’d suggest that most academic writing begins with such questions rather than insights, with difficulties in understanding rather than moments of mastery” (102). Sometimes a very good place to begin is with what you don’t know, with the questions and curiosities that you genuinely want resolved.

In what follows, we describe ten techniques that you can select from and experiment with to help guide your invention processes. Depending on your writing preferences, context, and audience, you might find some more productive than others. Also, it might be useful to utilize various techniques for different purposes. For example, brainstorming might be great for generating a variety of possible ideas, but looped freewriting might help you develop those ideas. Think of this list as a collection of recommended possibilities to implement at your discretion. However, we think the first technique described below—“Analyzing the Assignment or Task”—is a great starting point for all writers.

Any of these strategies can be useful for generating ideas in connection to any writing assignment. Even if the paper you’re writing has a set structure (e.g., scientific reports’ IMRAD format or some philosophy assignments’ prescribed argumentative sequence), you still have to invent and organize concepts and supporting evidence within each section. Additionally, these techniques can be used at any stage in your writing process. Your ideas change and develop as you write, and sometimes when you’re in the middle of a draft or when you’re embarking on a major revision, you find yourself rethinking key elements of your paper. At these moments, it might be useful to turn to some of these invention techniques as a way to slow down and capture the ephemeral thoughts and possibilities swirling around your writing tasks. These practices can help guide you to new ideas, questions, and connections. No matter what you’re writing or where you are in the process, we encourage you to experiment with invention strategies you may not have tried before. Mix and match. Be as creative and adventurous with how you generate ideas just as you are creative and adventurous with what ideas you generate.

Some Invention Techniques

Analyzing the assignment or task.

What do I do? If you are writing a paper in response to a course instructor’s assignment, be sure to read the prompt carefully while paying particular attention to all of its requirements and expectations. It could be that the assignment is built around a primary question; if so, structure your initial thoughts around possible answers to that question. If it isn’t, use your close consideration of this assignment to recast the prompt as a question.

The following list of questions are ones that you can ask of the assignment in order to understand its focus and purpose as well as to begin developing ideas for how to effectively respond to its intensions. You may want to underline key terms and record your answers to these questions:

  • When is this due?
  • How long is supposed to be?
  • Is the topic given to me?
  • If I get to choose my topic, are there any stipulations about the kind of topic and I can choose?
  • What am I expected to do with this topic? Analyze it? Report about it? Make an argument about it? Compare it to something else?
  • Who is my audience and what does this audience know, believe, and value about my topic?
  • What is the genre of this writing (i.e., a lab report, a case study, a research paper, a reflection, a scholarship essay, an analysis of a work of literature or a painting, a summary and analysis of a reading, a literature review, etc.), and what does writing in this genre usually look like, consist of, or do?

Why is this technique useful? Reading over the assignment prompt may sound like an obvious starting point, but it is very important that your invention strategies are informed by the expectations your readers have about your writing. For example, you might brainstorm a fascinating thesis about how Jules Verne served as a conceptual progenitor of the nuclear age, but if your assignment is asking you to describe the differences between fission and fusion and provide examples, this great idea won’t be very helpful. Before you let your ideas run free, make sure you fully understand the boundaries and possibilities provided by the assignment prompt.

Additionally, some assignments begin to do the work of invention for you. Instructors sometimes identify specifically what they want you to write about. Sometimes they invite you to choose from several guiding questions or a position to support or refute. Sometimes the genre of the text can help you identify how this kind of assignment should begin or the order your ideas should follow. Knowing this can help you develop your content. Before you start conjuring ideas from scratch, make sure you glean everything you can from the prompt.

Finally, just sitting with the assignment and thinking through its guidelines can sometimes provide inspiration for how to respond to its questions or approach its challenges.

Reading Again

What do I do? When your writing task is centered around analyzing a primary source, information you collected, or another kind of text, start by rereading it. Perhaps you are supposed to develop an argument about an interview you conducted, an article or short story you read, an archived letter you located, or even a painting you viewed or a particular set of data. In order to develop ideas about how to approach this object of analysis, read and analyze this text again. Read it closely. Be prepared to take notes about its interesting features or the questions this second encounter raises. You can find more information about rereading literature to write about it here and specific tips about reading poetry here .

Why is this technique useful? When you first read a text, you gain a general overview. You find out what is happening, why it’s happening, and what the argument is. But when you reread that same text, your attention is freed to attend to the details. Since you know where the text is heading, you can be alert to patterns and anomalies. You can see the broader significance of smaller elements. You can use your developing familiarity with this text to your advantage as you become something of a minor expert whose understanding of this object deepens with each re-read. This expertise and insight can help lead you towards original ideas about this text.

Brainstorming/Listing

What do I do? First, consider your prompt, assignment, or writing concern (see “Analyzing the Assignment or Task”). Then start jotting down or listing all possible ideas for what you might write in response. The goal is to get as many options listed as possible. You may wish to develop sub-lists or put some of your ideas into different categories, but don’t censor or edit yourself. And don’t worry about writing in full sentences. Write down absolutely everything that comes to mind—even preposterous solutions or unrealistic notions. If you’re working on a collaborative project, this might be a process that you conduct with others, something that involves everyone meeting at the same time to call out ideas and write them down so everyone can see them. You might give yourself a set amount of time to develop your lists, or you might stretch out the process across a couple of days so that you can add new ideas to your lists whenever they occur to you.

Why is this technique useful? The idea behind this strategy is to open yourself up to all possibilities because sometimes even the most seemingly off-the-wall idea has, at its core, some productive potential. And sometimes getting to that potential first involves recognizing the outlandish. There is time later in your writing process to think critically about the viability of your options as well as which possibilities effectively respond to the prompt and connect to your audience. But brainstorming or listing sets those considerations aside for a moment and invites you to open your imagination up to all options.

Freewriting

What do I do? Sit down and write about your topic without stopping for a set amount of time (i.e., 5-10 minutes). The goal is to generate a continuous, forward-moving flow of text, to track down all of your thoughts about this topic, as if you are thinking on the page. Even if all you can think is, “I don’t know what to write,” or, “Is this important?” write that down and keep on writing. Repeat the same word or phrase over again if you need to. If you’re writing about an unfamiliar topic, maybe start by writing down everything you know about it and then begin listing questions you have. Write in full sentences or in phrases, whatever helps keep your thoughts flowing. Through this process, don’t worry about errors of any kind or gaps in logic. Don’t stop to reread or revise what you wrote. Let your words follow your thought process wherever it takes you.

Why is this technique useful? The purpose of this technique is to open yourself up to the possibilities of your ideas while establishing a record of what those ideas are. Through the unhindered nature of this open process, you are freed to stumble into interesting options you might not have previously considered.

Invisible Writing

What do I do? In this variation of freewriting, you dim your computer screen so that you can’t see what you’ve written as you type out your thoughts.

Why is this technique useful? This is a particularly useful technique if while you are freewriting you just can’t keep yourself from reviewing, adjusting, or correcting your writing. This technique removes that temptation to revise by eliminating the visual element. By temporarily limiting your ability to see what you’ve written, this forward-focused method can help you keep pursuing thoughts wherever they might go.

Looped Freewriting

What do I do? This is another variation of freewriting. After an initial round of freewriting or invisible writing, go back through what you’ve written and locate one idea, phrase, or sentence that you think is really compelling. Make that the starting point for another round of timed freewriting and see where an uninterrupted stretch of writing starting from that point takes you. After this second round of freewriting, identify a particular part of this new text that stands out to you and make that the opening line for your third round of freewriting. Keep repeating this process as many times as you find productive.

Why is this technique useful? Sometimes this technique is called “mining” because through it writers are able to drill into the productive bedrock of ideas as well as unearth and discover latent possibilities. By identifying and expanding on concepts that you find particularly intriguing, this technique lets you focus your attention on what feels most generative within your freewritten text, allowing you to first narrow in and then elaborate upon those ideas.

Talking with Someone

What do I do? Find a generous and welcoming listener and talk through what you need to write and how you might go about writing it. Start by reading your assignment prompt aloud or just informally explaining what you are thinking about saying or arguing in your paper. Then be open to your listener’s reactions, curiosities, suggestions, and questions. Invite your listener to repeat in his or her own words what you’ve been saying so that you can hear how someone else is understanding your ideas. While a friend or classmate might be able to serve in this role, writing center tutors are also excellent interlocutors. If you are a currently enrolled UW-Madison student, you are welcome to make an appointment at our main writing center, stop by one of our satellite locations , or even set up a Virtual Meeting to talk with a tutor about your assignment, ideas, and possible options for further exploration.

Why is this technique useful? Sometimes it’s just useful to hear yourself talk through your ideas. Other times you can gain new insight by listening to someone else’s understanding of or interest in your assignment or topic. A genuinely curious listener can motivate you to think more deeply and to write more effectively.

Reading More

Sometimes course instructors specifically ask that you do your analysis on your own without consulting outside sources. When that is the case, skip this technique and consider implementing one of the others instead.

What do I do? Who else has written about your topic, run the kind of experiments you’ve developed, or made an argument like the one you’re interested in? What did they say about this issue? Do some internet searches for well-cited articles on this concept. Locate a book in the library stacks about this topic and then look at the books that are shelved nearby. Read where your interests lead you. Take notes about things other authors say that you find intriguing, that you have questions about, or that you disagree with. You might be able to use any of these responses to guide your developing paper. (Make sure you also record bibliographic information for any texts you want to incorporate in your paper so that you can correctly cite those authors.)

Why is this technique useful? Exploring what others have written about your topic can be a great way to help you understand this issue more fully. Through reading you can locate support for your ideas and discover arguments you want to refute. Reading about your topic can also be a way of figuring out what motivates you about this issue. Which texts do you want to read more of? Why? Capitalize on and expand upon these interests.

Visualizing Ideas

Mindmapping, clustering, or webbing.

What do I do? This technique is a form of brainstorming or listing that lets you visualize how your ideas function and relate. To make this work, you might want to locate a large space you can write on (like a whiteboard) or download software that lets you easily manipulate and group text, images, and shapes (like Coggle , FreeMind , or MindMapple ). Write down a central idea then identify associated concepts, features, or questions around that idea. If some of those thoughts need expanding, continue this map, cluster, or web in whatever direction is productive. Make lines attaching various ideas. Add and rearrange individual elements or whole subsets as necessary. Use different shapes, sizes, or colors to indicate commonalities, sequences, or relative importance.

Why is this technique useful? This technique allows you to generate ideas while thinking visually about how they function together. As you follow lines of thought, you can see which ideas can be connected, where certain pathways lead, and what the scope of your project might look like. Additionally, by drawing out a map of you may be able to see what elements of your possible paper are underdeveloped and may benefit from more focused brainstorming.

The following sample mindmap illustrates how this invention technique might be used to generate ideas for an environmental science paper about Lake Mendota, the Wisconsin lake just north of UW-Madison. The different branches and connections show how your mind might travel from one idea to the next. It’s important to note, that not all of these ideas would appear in the final draft of this eventual paper. No one is likely to write a paper about all the different nodes and possibilities represented in a mindmap. The best papers focus on a tightly defined question. But this does provide many potential places to begin and refine a paper on this topic. This mindmap was created using shapes and formatting options available through PowerPoint.

how to generate ideas for essay writing

Notecarding

What do I do? This technique can be especially useful after you’ve identified a range of possibilities but aren’t sure how they might work together. On individual index cards, post-its, or scraps of paper, write out the ideas, questions, examples, and/or sources you’re interested in utilizing. Find somewhere that you can spread these out and begin organizing them in whatever way might make sense. Maybe group some of them together by subtopic or put them in a sequential order. Set some across from each other as conflicting opposites. Make the easiest organization decisions first so that the more difficult cards can be placed within an established framework. Take a picture or otherwise capture the resulting schemata. Of course, you can also do this same kind of work on a computer through software like Prezi or even on a PowerPoint slide.

Why is this technique useful? This technique furthers the mindmapping/clustering/webbing practice of grouping and visualizing your thoughts. Once ideas have been generated, notecarding invites you to think and rethink about how these ideas relate. This invention strategy allows you to see the big picture of your writing. It also invites you to consider how the details of sections and subsections might connect to each other and the surrounding ideas while giving you a sense of possible sequencing options.

The following example shows what notecarding might look like for a paper being written on the Clean Lakes Alliance—a not-for-profit organization that promotes the improvement of water quality in the bodies of water around Madison, Wisconsin. Key topics, subtopics, and possible articles were brainstormed and written on pieces of paper. These elements were then arranged to identify possible relationships and general organizational structures.

how to generate ideas for essay writing

What do I do? Take the ideas, possibilities, sources, and/or examples you’ve generated and write them out in the order of what you might address first, second, third, etc. Use subpoints to subordinate certain ideas under main points. Maybe you want to identify details about what examples or supporting evidence you might use. Maybe you just want to keep your outline elements general. Do whatever is most useful to help you think through the sequence of your ideas. Remember that outlines can and should be revised as you continue to develop and refine your paper’s argument.

Why is this technique useful? This practice functions as a more linear form of notecarding. Additionally, outlines emphasize the sequence and hierarchy of ideas—your main points and subpoints. If you have settled on several key ideas, outlining can help you consider how to best guide your readers through these ideas and their supporting evidence. What do your readers need to understand first? Where might certain examples fit most naturally? These are the kinds of questions that an outline can clarify.

Asking Questions

Topoi questions.

In the introduction, we referenced the list that Aristotle developed of the more than two dozen ideas a person making an argument might use to locate the persuasive possibilities of that argument. Aristotle called these locations for argumentative potential “topoi.” Hundreds of years later, Cicero provided additional advice about the kinds of questions that provide useful fodder for developing arguments. The following list of questions is based on the topoi categories that Aristotle and Cicero recommended.

What do I do? Ask yourself any of these questions regarding your topic and write out your answers as a way of identifying and considering possible venues for exploration. Questions of definition: What is ____? How do we understand what ____ is? What is ____ comprised of?

Questions of comparison: What are other things that ____ is like? What are things that are nothing like ____?

Questions of relationship: What causes ____? What effects does ____ have? What are the consequences of ____?

Questions of circumstances: What has happened with ____ in the past? What has not happened with ____ in the past? What might possibly happen with ____ in the future? What is unlikely to happen with ____ in the future?

Questions of testimony: Who are the experts on ____ and what do they say about it? Who are people who have personal experience with ____ and what do they think about it?

If any of these questions initiates some interesting ideas, ask follow-up questions like, “Why is this the case? How do I know this? How might someone else answer this question differently?”

Why is this technique useful? The questions listed above draw from what both Aristotle and Cicero said about ways to go about inventing ideas. Questions such as these are tried-and-true methods that have guided speakers and writers towards possible arguments for thousands of years.

Journalistic Questions

What do I do? Identify your topic, then write out your answers in response to these questions:      Who are the main stakeholders or figures connected to ____?      What is ____?      Where can we find ____?  Where does this happen?      When or under what circumstances does ____ occur?      Why is ____ an issue?  Why does it occur? Why is it important?      How does ____ happen?

Why is this technique useful? This line of questioning is designed to make sure that you understand all the basic information about your topic. Traditionally, these are the kinds of questions that journalists ask about an issue that they are preparing to report about. These questions also directly relate to the Dramatistic Pentad developed by literary and rhetorical scholar Kenneth Burke. According to Burke, we can analyze anyone’s motives by considering these five parts of a situation: Act ( what ), Scene ( when and where ), Agent ( who ), Agency ( how ), and Purpose ( why ). By using these questions to identify the key elements of a topic, you may recognize what you find to be most compelling about it, what attracts your interest, and what you want to know more about.

Particle, Wave, Field Questions

One way to start generating ideas is to ask questions about what you’re studying from a variety of perspectives. This particular strategy uses particles, waves, and fields as metaphorical categories through which to develop various questions by thinking of your topic as a static entity (particle), a dynamic process (wave), and an interrelated system (field).

What do I do?

Ask yourself these questions about your issue or topic and write down your responses:

  • In what ways can this issue be considered a particle, that is, a discrete thing or a static entity?
  • How is this issue a wave, that is, a moving process?
  • How is this issue a field, that is, a system of relationships related to other systems?

Why is this technique useful?

This way of looking at an issue was promoted by Young, Becker, and Pike in their classic text Rhetoric: Discovery and Change . The idea behind this heuristic is that anything can be considered a particle, a wave, and a field, and that by thinking of an issue in connection to each of these categories you’ll able to develop the kind of in-depth questions that experts ask about a topic. By identifying the way your topic is a thing in and of itself, an activity, and an interrelated network, you’ll be able to see what aspects of it are the most intriguing, uncertain, or conceptually rich.

The following example takes the previously considered topic—environmental concerns and Lake Mendota—and shows how this could be conceptualized as a particle, a wave, and a field as a way of generating possible writing ideas.

Particle: Consider Lake Mendota and its environmental concerns as they appear in a given moment. What are those concerns right now? What do they look like? Maybe it’s late spring and an unseasonably warm snap has caused a bunch of dead fish to wash up next to the Tenney Lock. Maybe it’s a summer weekend and no one can go swimming off the Terrace because phosphorous-boosted blue-green algae is too prevalent. Pick one, discrete environmental concern and describe it. Wave: Consider environmental concerns related to Lake Mendota as processes that have changed and will change over time. When were the invasive spiny water fleas first discovered in Lake Mendota? Where did they come from? What has been done to respond to the damage they have caused? What else could be proposed to resolve this problem. How is this (or any other environmental concern) a dynamic process? Field: Consider Lake Mendota’s environmental concerns as they relate to a range of disciplines, populations, and priorities. What recent limnology findings would be of interest to ice fishing anglers? How could the work being done on agricultural sustainability connect to the discoveries being made by chemists about the various compounds present in the water? What light could members of the Ho-Chunk nation shed on Lake Mendota’s significance? Think about how environmental and conservation concerns associated with this lake are interconnected across different community members and academic disciplines.

Moving Around

Get away from your desk and your computer screen and do whatever form of movement feels comfortable and natural for you. Get some fresh air, take a walk, go jogging, get on your bike, go for a swim, or do some yoga. There is no correct degree or intensity of movement in this process; just do what you can and what you’re most likely to enjoy. While you’re moving, you may want to zone out and give yourself a strategic break from your writing task. Or you might choose to mull your tentative ideas for your paper over in your mind. But whether you’re hoping to think of something other than your paper or you need to generate a specific idea or resolve a particular writing problem, be prepared to record quickly any ideas that come up. If bringing along paper or a small notebook and a pen is inconvenient, just texting yourself your new idea will do the trick. The objective with this technique is both to distance yourself from your writing concerns and to encourage your mind to build new connections through engaging in physical activity.

Numerous medical studies have found that aerobic exercise increases your body’s concentration of the proteins that help nerves grow in the parts of your brain where learning and higher thinking happens (Huang et al.). Similarly, from their review of the literature about how yoga benefits the brain, Desei et al. conclude that yoga boosts overall brain activity. Which is to say that moving physiologically helps you think.

how to generate ideas for essay writing

Dr. Bonnie Smith Whitehouse, an associate professor of English at Belmont University and an alum of UW-Madison’s graduate program in Composition and Rhetoric Program and a former assistant director of Writing Across the Curriculum at UW-Madison, investigates the writerly benefits of walking. She provides a full treatment of how this particular form of movement can productively support writing in her book Afoot and Lighthearted: A Mindful Walking Log . In the following passage, she argues for a connection between creative processes and walking, but much of what she suggests is equally applicable to the beneficial value of other forms of movement.

A walk stimulates creativity after a ramble has concluded, when you find yourself back at your desk, before your easel, or in your studio. In 2014, Stanford University researchers Marily Opprezzo and Daniel L. Schwarz confirmed that walking increases creative ideation in real time (while the walker walkers) and shortly after (when the walker stops and sits down to create). Specifically, they found that walking led to an increase in “analogical creativity” or using analogies to develop creative relationships between things that may not immediately look connected. So when ancient Greek physician Hippocrates famously declared that walking is “the best medicine,” he seems to have had it right. When we walk, blood and oxygen circulate throughout the body’s organs and stimulate the brain. Walking’s magic is in fact threefold: it increases physical activity, boosts creativity, and brings you into the present moment.

Similarly, in her post about writing and jogging for the UW-Madison Writing Center’s blog, Literary Studies PhD student Jessie Gurd has explained:

What running allows me to do is clear my head and empty it of a grad student’s daily anxieties. Listening to music or cicadas or traffic, I can consider one thing at a time and turn it over in my mind. It’s a groove I hit after a couple of miles; I engage with the problem, question, or task I choose and roll with it until my run is over. In this physical-mental space, I sometimes feel like my own writing instructor as I tackle some stage of the writing process: brainstorming, outlining, drafting.

While Bonnie Smith Whitehouse walks as an important part of her writing process and Jessie Gurd runs to write, what intentional movement looks like for you can be adapted according to your interests, preferences, and abilities. Whether it’s strolling, jogging, doing yoga, or participating in some other form of movement, these physical activities allow you to take a purposeful break that can help you concentrate your mind and even generate new conceptual connections.

All aspects of writing require hard work. It takes work to develop organizational strategies, to sequence sentences, and to revise paragraphs. And it takes work to come up with the ideas that will fill these sentences and paragraphs in the first place. But if you feel burdened by the necessity to develop new concepts, the good news is that you’re not the first writer who’s had to begin responding to an assignment from scratch. You are backed by a vast history of other writers’ experiences, a history that has shaped a collective understanding of how to get started. So, use the experience of others to your advantage. Try a couple of these techniques and maybe even develop some other methods of your own and see what new ideas these old strategies can help you generate!

Works Cited

Aristotle. On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse . Edited and translated by George Kennedy, Oxford University Press, 1991.

Burke, Kenneth. A Grammar of Motives . University of California Press, 1969.

Cicero, Marcus Tullius. On Oratory and Orators . Edited and translated by J.S. Watson, Southern Illinois University Press, 1986.

Desai, Radhika, et al. “Effects of Yoga on Brain Waves an Structural activation: A review.” Complementary Therapies in clinical Practice ,vol, 21, no, 2, 2015, pp. 112-118.

Gurd, Jessie. “Writing Offstage.” Another Word , The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 7 October 2013, https://writing.wisc.edu/blog/writing-offstage/ . Accessed 5 July 2018.

Harris, Joseph. Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts . Utah State University Press, 2006.

Huang, T. et al. “The Effects of Physical Activity and Exercise on Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor in Healthy Humans: A Review.” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports , vol. 24, no. 1, 2013. Wiley Online Library , https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12069 .

Oppezzo, Marily, and Daniel L. Schwartz. “Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition , vol. 40, no. 4, 2014, pp. 1142-52.

Smith Whitehouse, Bonnie, email message to author, 19 June 2018.

Young, Richard E., Alton L. Becker, and Kenneth L. Pike. Rhetoric: Discovery and Change . Harcourt College Publishing, 1970.

how to generate ideas for essay writing

Writing Process and Structure

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Getting Started with Your Paper

Interpreting Writing Assignments from Your Courses

Creating an Argument

Thesis vs. Purpose Statements

Developing a Thesis Statement

Architecture of Arguments

Working with Sources

Quoting and Paraphrasing Sources

Using Literary Quotations

Citing Sources in Your Paper

Drafting Your Paper

Introductions

Paragraphing

Developing Strategic Transitions

Conclusions

Revising Your Paper

Peer Reviews

Reverse Outlines

Revising an Argumentative Paper

Revision Strategies for Longer Projects

Finishing Your Paper

Twelve Common Errors: An Editing Checklist

How to Proofread your Paper

Writing Collaboratively

Collaborative and Group Writing

Home / Guides / Writing Guides / Writing Tips / How to Brainstorm for an Essay

How to Brainstorm for an Essay

Once you get going on a paper, you can often get into a groove and churn out the bulk of it fairly quickly. But choosing or brainstorming a topic for a paper—especially one with an open-ended prompt—can often be a challenge.

You’ve probably been told to brainstorm ideas for papers since you were in elementary school. Even though you might feel like “brainstorming” is an ineffective method for actually figuring out what to write about, it really works. Everyone thinks through ideas differently, but here are some tips to help you brainstorm more effectively regardless of what learning style works best for you:

Tip #1: Set an end goal for yourself

Develop a goal for your brainstorm. Don’t worry—you can go into brainstorming without knowing exactly what you want to write about, but you should  have an idea of what you hope to gain from your brainstorming session. Do you want to develop a list of potential topics? Do you want to come up with ideas to support an argument? Have some idea about what you want to get out of brainstorming so that you can make more effective use of your time.

Tip #2: Write down all ideas

Sure, some of your ideas will be better than others, but you should write all of them down for you to look back on later. Starting with bad or infeasible ideas might seem counterintuitive, but one idea usually leads to another one. Make a list that includes all of your initial thoughts, and then you can go back through and pick out the best one later. Passing judgment on ideas in this first stage will just slow you down.

Tip #3: Think about what interests you most

Students usually write better essays when they’re exploring subjects that they have some personal interest in. If a professor gives you an open-ended prompt, take it as an opportunity to delve further into a topic you find more interesting. When trying to find a focus for your papers, think back on coursework that you found engaging or that raised further questions for you.

Tip #4: Consider what you want the reader to get from your paper

Do you want to write an engaging piece? A thought-provoking one? An informative one? Think about the end goal of your writing while you go through the initial brainstorming process. Although this might seem counterproductive, considering what you want readers to get out of your writing can help you come up with a focus that both satisfies your readers and satisfies you as a writer.

 Tip #5: Try freewriting

Write for five minutes on a topic of your choice that you think could  be worth pursuing—your idea doesn’t have to be fully fleshed out. This can help you figure out whether it’s worth putting more time into an idea or if it doesn’t really have any weight to it. If you find that you don’t have much to say about a particular topic, you can switch subjects halfway through writing, but this can be a good way to get your creative juices flowing.

Tip #6: Draw a map of your ideas

While some students might prefer the more traditional list methods, for more visual learners, sketching out a word map of ideas may be a useful method for brainstorming. Write the main idea in a circle in the center of your page. Then, write smaller, related ideas in bubbles further from the center of the page and connect them to your initial idea using lines. This is a good way to break down big ideas and to figure out whether they are worth writing about.

 Tip #7: Enlist the help of others

Sometimes it can be difficult coming up with paper topics on your own, and family and friends can prove to be valuable resources when developing ideas. Feel free to brainstorm with another person (or in a group). Many hands make light work—and some students work best when thinking through ideas out loud—so don’t be afraid to ask others for advice when trying to come up with a paper topic.

Tip #8: Find the perfect brainstorming spot

Believe it or not, location can make a BIG difference when you’re trying to come up with a paper topic. Working while watching TV is never a good idea, but you might want to listen to music while doing work, or you might prefer to sit in a quiet study location. Think about where you work best, and pick a spot where you feel that you can be productive.

Tip #9: Play word games to help generate ideas

Whether you hate playing word games or think they’re a ton of fun, you might want to try your hand at a quick round of Words With Friends or a game of Scrabble. These games can help get your brain working, and sometimes ideas can be triggered by words you see. Get a friend to play an old-fashioned board game with you, or try your hand at a mobile app if you’re in a time crunch.

Tip #10: Take a break to let ideas sink in

Brainstorming is a great way to get all of your initial thoughts out there, but sometimes you need a bit more time to process all of those ideas. Stand up and stretch—or even take a walk around the block—and then look back on your list of ideas to see if you have any new thoughts on them.

For many students, the most difficult process of paper writing is simply coming up with an idea about what to write on. Don’t be afraid to get all of your ideas out there through brainstorming, and remember that all ideas are valid. Take the time necessary to sort through all of your ideas, using whatever method works best for you, and then get to writing—but don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board if a new inspiration strikes.

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5 Ways to Generate Great Essay Ideas

Daniela McVicker

Daniela McVicker

5 Ways to Come Up with Great Essay Ideas

Writing an essay is a challenging undertaking. You have to research, take notes, write an outline, and then turn that outline into a rough draft. Finally, you have to repeatedly edit and refine your rough draft until it becomes a suitable final draft. It can take hours, even days, to complete an essay.

Of course, before any of this can happen, you need to come up with a great topic. It may seem like a simple task, but if you cannot think of an essay idea, you can’t even get off the starting blocks. So, what do you do when you are stuck and can’t think of anything to write about?

Here are 5 ways in which you can help yourself come up with a great essay idea.

1. Brainstorming

2. free writing, 3. look at your life story, 4. go back to your textbook, 5. if you are desperate, go with a generic essay topic.

Before you start a brainstorming session, remember that there is one rule. No idea is cast aside as being silly, too complex, not complex enough, too far off topic, etc. You can always pare down your list later on. It's better to jot down a few flops now, than it is to ignore an idea that might turn into something brilliant. A pen and paper may be all you need to get started, but a note-taking app like Evernote can help organize your ideas.

Brainstorming in a group is a bit different. Try Dragon Dictation , which records and transcribes your conversations as you bounce ideas off one another. Google Docs can save documents to the cloud so that everyone can access the list when it is time to make decisions. You will find that as you get into a brainstorming session, the ideas will come quickly.

Free writing is a stream-of-consciousness exercise where you simply write down whatever comes into your mind. We recommend making the process a little more disciplined. Rather than writing about anything, stick with a general subject area that is defined on the subject you are in studying in class.

As you start free writing, you may be surprised at the number of thoughts you have on the subject you are covering, and the amount of knowledge you have retained. Eventually, as you free write, you will see your writing become more and more focused. This is an excellent sign that you are narrowing in on the specific topic idea for your essay. Even better, as you free write, you may come up with a few things that you can paste almost directly into your essay.

What do you know that other people do not? What things do you understand that the average person does not understand? Do you have any relevant experience or special knowledge when it comes to the subject?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you might be a step ahead of the game when it comes to figuring out the best essay topic for you. Something you know how to do or that you understand can be a great topic for a process essay. An experience you had can be fodder for a narrative essay. It gives you a unique point of view. Just don't allow yourself to show too much bias, or to ignore evidence in favor of your personal story. As a bonus, you will notice you will write much more quickly when you are relating a story from your life.

You have probably learned that the best way to study for tests and quizzes is to focus on the subheadings, bullet points, chapter questions, pictures, and graphs. If you are trying to come up with a good essay topic, you should also review these. They will remind you which elements are most important.

If you write your essay on something that is emphasized in your textbook, there is a pretty good chance you are on the right track. You will know that your topic is relevant, and you can impress your instructor by displaying your in-depth knowledge on that topic.

The truth is this: you may not come up with a brilliant essay idea each time you are given a writing assignment. However, that does not mean you cannot write an excellent paper. You can still write an essay that is well researched, thoughtful, and carefully written.

Plenty of essays are written by students who earn excellent grades, but are not very excited by the topic they have chosen. It’s better to write an essay on a less exciting topic than to turn it in late because you spent too much time searching for the “wow” factor.

how to generate ideas for essay writing

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This reading will explain the value of the prewriting process in creating a usable, college-level draft of an assigned piece of writing. We’ll discuss Assignment Analysis (Writing Situation), Idea Generation, Outlining Strategies, and Drafting.

To complete this reading, you’ll need to set aside time to complete the exercises assigned on paper or on a computer. Some exercises require you to time yourself at an activity, so having a clock or timer nearby will also be useful. You’ll be asked to briefly report your experiences at the end.

Assignment Analysis: Review

In your last reading, you discovered how to analyze a given assignment. Different textbooks and instructors have different names for this. It is sometimes also called Analyzing the Rhetorical Situation or Finding the Writing Situation . These all mean the same thing, and they all ask you to do the following:

  • Create a Question to work with
  • Fully comprehend all parts of the assignment
  • Determine your audience (primary and secondary)
  • Determine the purpose of the assignment
  • Narrow or broaden your topic to fit the requirements
  • Fully understand formatting, research, length, and time requirements

Once you’ve completed this, you’re ready to move into the most important stage of the entire writing process: Idea Generation.

Idea Generation

Where do good ideas come from? Well, for most of us, the best ideas we’ve come up with come from existing interests. If you have little interest in writing, then it’s hard to come up with what to write about.

Sometimes, the problem is the opposite thing: Given a prompt, we can come up with too many things to talk about. Having too little or too much to write about can be difficult, and the process of generating useful ideas will help you with either of these.

To begin generating ideas for an assignment, we need to work with the question that we created in our Assignment Analysis.

Let’s look at a typical College Writing prompt to get started. This is a question taken from an in-class final exam given to Writing 121 students a few years ago:

Describe one gift that you have. Reflect on how you have used that gift to make the world a better place.

A student taking the exam generated the following question from this prompt:

What personal gift have I used to improve the world, and how have I used it?

Now, some students will just jump right in and start answering that question. There are positives to this approach: certainly, the work gets started more quickly, and sometimes, that first instinct is the best guide. However, there are some downsides, too: Writing the first thing that comes to mind may lead to more shallow writing instead of the deep reflection that college courses ask for; the first idea one thinks of may not be the best, and it might not fulfill the requirements of the assignment.

So, to avoid these problems, we need to use this question to generate multiple possible ideas to write about, so that we can later narrow down to the best idea.

The methods we’ll discuss for idea generation will be:

Brainstorming

  • Freewriting
  • Think Alouds
  • Cluster-mapping

Idea Generation: Brainstorming

The most standard and tested ways of moving ideas from your head to your paper are through Brainstorming and Freewriting. These are exercises we use to just get out our ideas. They do not require you to consider grammar, spelling, or content. That means don’t spend even a minute thinking, “Am I doing this right? Is this a dumb idea?” In this level of prewriting, there are no dumb ideas and no bad writing.

Brainstorming is used in academic, business, and social settings all of the time. If you’ve ever just thrown out ideas with friends about where to go for dinner or what movie to see, you’ve been brainstorming. Often, people who learn best through seeing things do well with brainstorming because it allows for list-making and drawing.

In an academic context, we use Focused Brainstorming to help generate useful ideas. The easiest way to brainstorm is the old school way:

  • Get out a piece of paper (lined or plain)
  • Write the question you’ll be thinking about at the top
  • Set a timer for a length of time just beyond your comfort level. Five minutes is a minimum; try for 7 to 10 if you’re generating ideas for a longer work, like a research essay
  • Once the timer starts, you can list, draw, connect, write, and illustrate your ideas for the full time. DO NOT stop writing! Don’t pause to keep thinking or stare into space. This is not the time to notice that your floors need to be swept or to start working on your grocery list.
  • If you have trouble staying focused during this time, break the time limit down into smaller pieces at first: 3 minutes of brainstorming, followed by a break, followed by 3 more minutes. But don’t let yourself off the hook until you’ve finished the prescribed amount of time!

At the end of your timed session, you’ll probably have a page full of chaotic ideas, lists, doodles, and writing. That’s great! That’s exactly what we’re looking for. If, when the timer stops, you feel like you have more to say, then keep going. Run another timed session. The more the merrier here.

Why are we timing this? Well, one major idea behind brainstorming is that everyone will hit a “blank” after some stretch of time. Sometimes, two minutes in, we run out of steam and find we’re just doodling or repeating the same thing again and again. That’s actually OK; after a minute or so, often, that repetition and perseverance will lead to a completely new idea popping up out of nowhere. That idea is, often, a great idea to work with, and it’s coming from a place in your mind that’s deeper than the “first instinct” answer you may have started with.

The prompt and question that we saw before will be a good place to start practicing. Spend the next 5 minutes trying out brainstorming as a way of generating ideas. To help you time this, see the box below for links to Countdowns online. When the music stops, pencils down!

Most smartphones include a timer/stopwatch App that you may be able to use. However, on a computer, consider a few other options for timing yourself, as well. You can search for your own favorite type of music, though music without words may be easier to brainstorm by. Here are two examples:

  • YouTube: Classical Music 5-minute timer
  • YouTube: Electric music 5-minute timer

Exercise: Brainstorming

Question and Prompt

When you’re done, review your brainstorming. Did you come up with ideas you would not have otherwise? Hang on to what you’ve done for now, and we’ll keep working with it as we go. 

Idea Generation: Freewriting

Another way to get ideas out of our heads and onto paper is to try freewriting. In fact, many of us already freewrite as a way to get started on a paper, meaning we dive right in and start writing. However, Freewriting offers all the benefits of that “jump right in” strategy with none of the pressure (like worrying about spelling, grammar, and complete sentences).

To complete Focused Freewriting for an academic assignment, do the following:

  • Write the question you’re answering at the top of a lined piece of paper.
  • Set a timer for just longer than you’re comfortable with. Five minutes is a good minimum to start with.
  • Once you’ve started the timer, start writing anything related to the question that comes to mind. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, or “getting the right answer.” Just write.
  • If you run out of things to say, don’t stop writing. Instead, start asking yourself questions, or repeat phrases you’ve already written down. Stick with it for the full time.
  • When the time is up, highlight or underline anything from the freewriting that might be useful in creating an outline or draft.
  • If you have more to say, keep going! Set another timer, and write again!

At the end of a freewriting session, you’ll likely have a page of hand-written (or typed) notes that you can begin copying and working with. That’s easier than just starting your paper with a blank page. We’ll look at ways to move from that messy page to a more orderly outline in just a bit.

For now, let’s practice. Load up a 5-minute timer again, and find either a blank piece of paper or a blank document on your computer.  The prompt and question in Exercise 1 will be a good place to start. 

Remember, this time, focus on writing for the entire time. Brainstorming allows for doodling, bubbles, connections, and drawing; freewriting, what we’re doing right now, means you keep writing words the entire time. Ready?

Exercise: Freewriting

Prompt and question:

When you’re done, compare your brainstorming and freewriting. Do they look basically the same, or did you do more drawing in the brainstorming? Did one feel easier than the other? Did you come up with anything new in the freewriting?

Though these two ideas seem almost the same, they can generate ideas in different ways. One may work for you on this assignment, while the other may generate better ideas on the next one. Sometimes, they’re better in combination: brainstorm to get big ideas (concepts) outlined, and then freewrite about the concepts to narrow your thinking.

Let’s try another way to turn ideas into writing. 

Idea Generation: Think Aloud

Sometimes, putting pen to paper is the hardest part. It can feel intimidating to get started with a writing assignment by writing, particularly if writing has caused you anxiety in the past. Of course, there are other ways to get started. Some of us generate our best ideas while we’re completely away from our work — maybe you think best while you’re at the gym or in the shower; maybe you come up with great ideas when you’re mowing the lawn or playing Hungry Hungry Hippos. It’s important to pay attention to the patterns of your own ideas, so that you can begin to duplicate them as assignments come due. We tend to think that the obvious solutions — like just sitting down and thinking — will always work. That’s not always true. Sometimes, a brisk walk, a break, a snack, or a chat with a friend are actually what’s required to get the creative juices flowing.

If brainstorming and freewriting didn’t work well for you on this prompt, don’t worry, and don’t throw them away as useless. They’re tools you can save for the future. They may help you on your next assignment. Keep trying. Train your brain to respond and focus by repeating these exercises even when it’s frustrating. Just like trying to get stronger at the gym, writing and its process requires hard work and repetition to get better.

In the meantime, you can also try to generate ideas by Thinking Aloud. Though the name sounds obvious — you voice your thoughts — the process isn’t quite as simple as yelling out your ideas wherever you are. Think Alouds are best done in pairs or small groups.

  • Find a willing friend, classmate, or tutor.
  • Offer them the assignment handout, prompt, or other material that explains what you’re working on.
  • Their focus should be on prompting you to come up with more ideas, not in critiquing the ideas as they come up.
  • Ask your partner to write down the ideas that s/he hears from you.

This exercise is particularly useful when you’re trying to be certain you understand an assignment; when you have to explain it to someone else, you’ll find out quickly whether you’re certain about what you’re doing!

Sometimes, it’s not practical to work in a pair. In that case, you can Think Aloud by yourself — forgetting whatever you’ve been told about the problems of talking to yourself.

To generate good writing ideas through a solo Think Aloud, do the following:

  • Find a place where you’re comfortable doing an exercise that will require you to talk. (For instance: an office with the door closed, or a closed study room at school).
  • Many smartphones come with a voice recorder installed. For instance, you can ask Siri on an iPhone to write an e-mail for you; many Android phones have Google-enabled dictation, too.
  • There’s a free dictation web site at dictation.io that will let you dictate directly to a blank page and then export (send) your text back to yourself. It’s powered by Google.
  • You can also purchase Digital Voice Recorders for under $20.
  • Set a timer for a minimum of three minutes.
  • Place the question you’re trying to answer in front of you on a piece of paper.
  • Then, spend the full time trying to think out loud about your topic.

When you’ve finished, you can playback the audio or look at the transcript to see what you’ve generated.

If you decide to try these, great! Save any ideas you generate, and we’ll work with organizing them in the next steps.

Outlining Strategies

The next piece of prewriting we’ll talk about is getting those jumbled, generated ideas organized. The first strategy we can use is one that works both for generating ideas and for organizing them: Creating a Cluster Map. Then, we’ll talk about using outlines, both formal and informal, and about visual organization methods.

Cluster Mapping

cluster map image bubble in center linked to many outer bubbles labeled with ideas

This is a picture of a cluster map completed from the prompt we were working with before. A cluster map has the major idea in the center. It is connected to another layer of bubbles that answer the central question or offer support for the central idea. Each bubble on the second layer may also be connected to more sub-bubbles, which will again provide support to their central idea. By creating a map like this, we can see which ideas are big ideas that need plenty of support and which details are just small pieces of a bigger question.

Cluster maps (also sometimes called Idea Webs or Mind Maps) can be used to generate ideas or to organize them.

To generate ideas by cluster mapping, begin by placing the topic or question in the center. Then, draw lines out to ideas/answers about that topic or question. Underneath and attached to each bubble that holds a possible answer, you can attach more details, facts, supporting points, or other illustrations about that particular idea.

To organize your existing ideas with a cluster map, take your previous prewriting (brainstorming, freewriting, or notes from Thinking Aloud) and try to put the ideas onto a web. You can draw a blank web with the question at the center and then 3 or 4 bubbles attached to it; then fit in ideas you had to those bubbles. The next level of the map is used for details and support, so you can fill those in from your prewriting or begin to come up with further ideas.

Cluster mapping can be done by hand (all you need is paper and pen!), or you can find any number of online sites that allow you to map your ideas. This graphic was done using the free mapping tool at bubbl.us.

One great way to use a cluster map is as a way to decide what topic to write about. If, after drawing a map of your ideas, you see that some have many supporting details, and others have only a few, you can easily choose which would be better to write about. In the above map, it seems more likely that the writer will be able to talk about how Telling Good Jokes helps the world than about how Being a Good Driver is useful.

Clustermapping is just one way of organizing your work.

Before we cross over into organization completely, there’s one step we have to take. After you’ve finished generating ideas but before you organize your information, you must come up with a one-sentence answer to the question you formed during the Assignment Analysis stage. This answer will be the driving force for the rest of your paper. No matter the length of your paper, strive to answer that initial question with just one sentence. Of course, there will be further details to explain — otherwise, why write an entire paper if you can answer the question in just one sentence?

This sentence, the answer to the question of the assignment, will be your Topic Sentence (for a paragraph-length assignment) or your Thesis Statement (for an essay or longer assignment).

Though we’ll talk again about generating good thesis statements, this is really all there is to it: Answer the question being asked in one sentence.

Outlining: Formal vs. Informal Outlines

Many student writers have worked with outlines before. Often, they’re assigned as part of the prewriting process. They can be useful; they can also be an extra hurdle. How and when you use an outline will depend on the kind of writing you’re doing and how organized you feel about your material. Creating an outline is an important skill that most writers use in some form, whether informally or formally.

Formal Outlines

Formal outlines are exactly what they sound like: Very Serious. They wear black ties to parties and never joke around. They often use Roman Numerals (I, II, III, etc.) and sometimes require complete sentences. They will always include the thesis statement/topic sentence, usually in the first two or three lines.

To create a formal outline for a writing assignment, use the prewriting strategies to generate ideas, then create a blank outline using either pen and paper or a word processor like Microsoft Word (which has built-in outline templates). Then, begin filling in your ideas in the order that best makes sense.

For each level, you’ll change the numbering system that you use and increase the indent. The further indented the idea is, the less important it is to the entire paper.

For a paragraph, you might outline first with key words or phrases at each level and then move to complete sentences once the outline is complete; for an essay, write complete sentences at each level.

Here’s an example Formal Outline for the Gifts topic:

  • Studies have shown that people who laugh heal more quickly from major trauma than those who don’t.
  • I often make five or six people laugh at my workplace every day by telling jokes.
  • Because I work in a hospital, this is a significant contribution.
  • Sometimes, people rely on crude or offensive humor, which might get a laugh quickly but doesn’t leave a lingering positive feeling.
  • Other times, people have bad timing with their jokes, which can make even the best joke fall flat.
  • I’ve studied comedy and have naturally good comedic timing, and I use these skills to brighten others’ days.

An Informal Outline may follow a similar shape as a Formal Outline. Information will often be indented to show that it’s a supporting point instead of a major point. However, Informal Outlines are created to be changed, moved, and edited on the fly. Therefore, there’s little need to worry about Roman Numerals or specific levels of indentation. Instead, an informal outline is more like a list of the points you want to make and what you think will work well to support those points.

Informal outlines will usually be written without complete sentences. Instead, plug in key words or phrases that make sense to you.

Informal outlines can be made by hand or typewritten. When they’re typed, they can be easily manipulated by copying sections and pasting them back in. This can help with overall organization.

Visual Outlining Strategies

If the thought of drawing up an outline doesn’t charm you, or if you regularly prefer to learn by moving pieces around or getting hands-on experience (called kinesthetic learning), then visual outlining might be worth a try.

There are many ways to visually outline a piece, and you can invent your own methods to make it work best for you. The idea, though, is that we can move beyond paper and pen to organize our work. This makes sense because when a paper is still in our mind, it’s more than just a flat piece of paper laying in front of someone’s eyes. It’s pictures and sounds; it’s colors and textures. Therefore, as we organize our thoughts, we can use some of that sensory detail to put our work together.

If you’ve ever used Pinterest, you know how addictive it can be to simply stick your ideas to a board — even a virtual one! That same technique can be used to create and organize an assignment, too.

One simple visual outlining strategy is to take major ideas (things that interest you, things you want to talk about, things you’re curious about, good points) from your brainstorming or freewriting and transfer them onto colored pieces of paper or, better yet, sticky notes. Then, using a bigger piece of paper, a desk, a nearby wall, or whatever works for you, move the ideas around until they begin to form a coherent paper.

The act of moving the pieces will stimulate your brain in a different way than simply writing down an outline. Plus, as you visualize the organization, you may see where there are gaps missing.

Again, there are hundreds of ways to visually organize. Just remember that it’s an option!

Review and Take-Aways

Now, we’ve moved through all of the pieces of pre-writing. We’ve analyzed, we’ve brainstormed, we’ve written freely, we’ve mapped, we’ve outlined, and we’ve visualized. It is finally time to get started with writing a draft.

By this point, you should be working from a cluster map, a visual organizer, or some kind of outline. Once you have one of these pieces beside you, the actual drafting should feel like you’re copying from one page and pasting to the other. All that’s left to do is fill in the details — and figure out how to introduce the entire topic!

We’ll dig in to introductions later. For now, start writing in the middle, where the action happens and the point is going to be made. Don’t worry about the first sentence, which is the hardest part to write. Just write down the answer to your question, then start explaining.

Congratulations! You’re drafting!

— The End —

Better writing from the beginning Copyright © 2017 by Jenn Kepka is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Gallery Teachers

8 ways to help students generate ideas for an essay

Rachel Tsateri

Students often overlook brainstorming ideas before starting to write their essay, so their work lacks interest, clarity, and coherence…

how to generate ideas for essay writing

Having taught exam classes since 2014, I have found that a common problem across all ages and levels, was the lack of a brainstorming and planning stage before writing an essay.

Although I would often remind my students that planning goes a long way, and encouraged them to brainstorm and organize their ideas, they would overlook this stage and start writing their essay immediately. As a result, their work lacked interest, clarity, and coherence.

“But nobody will be there to help students generate ideas during the exam..”

Some teachers believe that students should have no support at this stage, because it cushions them against making real effort and does not mirror real-life situations. I would argue that although students need to learn to cope, the classroom should be a place where they receive training and develop confidence before they can do so.

In this article, I will propose eight different and engaging techniques you can use to help your students generate ideas before writing their essay.

1). Teach the basics

Remind students that when they start planning their essay, they need to:

  • Brainstorm and write down ideas, e.g., by using a mind map, a list, or a diagram
  • Select the ones they will use
  • Prioritise: which one is key, and which one is secondary?

2). Group brainstorming

Give students the topic and elicit ideas. This can be done in a variety of ways:

  • Students write their ideas on the whiteboard, e.g., a mind map or a diagram
  • Students call out ideas and the teacher records them on the whiteboard
  • Students use a collaborative whiteboard like Google Jamboard and type their ideas on sticky notes

Why is this useful?

Students joining forces can be hugely beneficial for generating ideas, especially if it is a large class.

3). Give them something to read

That could be a relevant social media post , or a short article on the given topic, which would help produce ideas. There are a lot of free resources available online. Twitter and Facebook are packed with controversial posts, so keep an eye out for them.

Useful because:

Students will be exposed to topic-related language input and will ill also notice spelling of words they intend to use. The content might trigger reactions and stimulate more ideas.

4). Give them something to watch or listen to

Play a topic-related video, Ted Talk or podcast. Use the accessibility versus acceptability sequence (Anderson and Lynch, 1988).

Accessibility

Ask them to first focus on factual content, i.e., what ideas are presented in this text/video?

Acceptability

Students react to the text: Do you agree or disagree? What suggestions can you come up with?

It ensures a balance of skills: listening or watching, speaking and later writing and reading their draft.

5). Use pictures

Give students the topic and then show some relevant photographs that you have found online. Ask them to describe what they see and how the scenes are connected to the topic.

Pictures can trigger imagination and stimulate creative thinking. They are also ideal for mixed ability classes, as there is no language input, only a visual element that needs to be translated into words. Finally, pictures encourage learners to visualize when writing, seeing with their “mind’s eye”.

6). Use the Jigsaw technique

For controversial issues, I recommend the ProCon.org website.

  • Select a category, e.g., Health, and choose a topic, e.g., Vaccines for kids
  • You will find a list of pro and con arguments. Select some that you think are the most relevant or interesting and create a handout. You will need to adapt/simplify the text for lower levels
  • Cut up the handout into parts for a jigsaw reading activity
  • Divide students into pairs or groups. Give them a different part so that each student reads a different text, for instance, two advantages or disadvantages of a given topic
  • They get back together in pairs/groups, exchange information about what they read, select the key ideas they would like to use, and write a group essay together

Alternatively, you can record yourself or another colleague reading the texts and make this a jigsaw listening .

ProCon.org is a rich resource from which students can benefit in class or use for homework. The jigsaw is a communicative activity that will make this stage more interesting and motivating for students.

7). Web search

Provide the topic and give students five minutes to use their mobile devices to carry out a quick web search.

There is an abundance of resources online. Web quests are constructive and authentic, something we do in real life when looking for information. Students will be exposed to a lot of input quickly and will learn to filter out unimportant details and focus on the key ideas, thus developing critical thinking.

8). L1-L2 group brainstorming

Provide the topic and give students five minutes to brainstorm ideas in groups. Tell them:

  • They can talk in L1 if they prefer
  • Or they can talk in L2, and switch to L1 when they do not know the L2 equivalent (code-switching)

According to studies, code-switching or using L1 can facilitate brainstorming (Blot, Zárate and Paulus, 2003). Students will realise that they can use L1 as a resource from which they can pull ideas.

It is hoped that students will gradually form the habit of generating ideas about a topic before they start writing, by reflecting on whether they have:

  • Read a relevant article or social media post
  • Watched a relevant ted talk or listened to a podcast
  • Seen any topic-related pictures and if not, try to create mental images about the topic

At the same time, by doing these activities, they will be exposed to language input which will help enrich their vocabulary.

  • Anderson, A. and Lynch, T. (1998). Listening . Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Blot, K., Zárate, M. and Paulus, P., 2003. Code-Switching Across Brainstorming Sessions: Implications for the Revised Hierarchical Model of Bilingual Language
  • Processing.  Experimental Psychology , 50(3), pp.171-183

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College Essays

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Writing the college application essay is a tough gig. You've got to be charming, personal, memorable, and insightful--all in under two pages! But I'm going to tell you a secret: half of a great personal essay is a great topic idea. If you're passionate about what you're writing, and if you're truly documenting something meaningful and serious about yourself and your life, then that passion and meaning will come alive on the page and in the mind of your reader.

So how do you come up with an essay idea? The best way is to brainstorm your way to an event from your life that reveals a core truth about you. In this article, I will help you do just that. Keep reading to find 35 jumping off points that touch on every possible memory you could harness, as well as advice on how to use your brainstorming session to fully realize your idea for an essay topic.

What Makes an Essay Topic Great?

What does your application tell admissions officers about you? Mostly it's just numbers and facts: your name, your high school, your grades and SAT scores. These stats would be enough if colleges were looking to build a robot army, but they aren't.

So how do they get to see a slice of the real you? How can they get a feel for the personality, character, and feelings that make you the person that you are? It's through your college essay. The essay is a way to introduce yourself to colleges in a way that displays your maturity. This is important because admissions officers want to make sure that you will thrive in the independence of college life and work.

This is why finding a great college essay topic is so hugely important: because it will allow you to demonstrate the maturity level admissions teams are looking for. This is best expressed through the ability to have insight about what has made you into you, through the ability to share some vulnerabilities or defining experiences, and through the ability to be a creative thinker and problem solver.

In other words, a great topic is an event from your past that you can narrate, draw conclusions from, explain the effect of. Most importantly, you should be able to describe how it has changed you from the kind of person you were to the better person that you are now. If you can do all that, you are well ahead of the essay game.

How Do You Know If Your College Essay Topic Is Great?

Eric Maloof, the Director of International Admission at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas has a great checklist for figuring out whether you're on the right track with your essay topic . He says, if you can answer "yes" to these two questions, then you've got the makings of a great essay:

  • Is the topic of my essay important to me?
  • Am I the only person who could have written this essay?

So how do you translate this checklist into essay topic action items?

Make it personal. Write about something personal, deeply felt, and authentic to the real you (but which is not an overshare). Take a narrow slice of your life: one event, one influential person, one meaningful experience—and then you expand out from that slice into a broader explanation of yourself.

Always think about your reader. In this case, your reader is an admission officer who is slogging through hundreds of college essays. You don't want to bore that person, and you don't want to offend that person. Instead, you want to come across as likable and memorable.

Put the reader in the experience with you by making your narrow slice of life feel alive. This means that your writing needs to be chock-full of specific details, sensory descriptions, words that describe emotions, and maybe even dialog. This is why it's very important to make the essay topic personal and deeply felt. Readers can tell when a writer isn't really connected to whatever he is writing about. And the reverse is true as well: deep emotion shows through your writing.

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Coming Up With Great College Essay Ideas

Some people know right off the bat that they have to write about that one specific defining moment of their lives. But if you're reading this, chances are you aren't one of these people. Don't worry—I wasn't one of them either! What this means is that you—like me—will have to put in a little work to come up with the perfect idea by first doing some brainstorming.

I've come up with about 35 different brainstorming jumping off points that ask questions about your life and your experiences. The idea here is to jog your memory about the key life events that have shaped you and affected you deeply.

I recommend you spend at least two minutes on each question, coming up with and writing down at least one answer—or as many answers as you can think of. Seriously—time yourself. Two minutes is longer than you think! I would also recommend doing this over several sittings to get your maximum memory retrieval going—even if it takes a couple of days, it'll be worth it.

Then, we will use this list of experiences and thoughts to narrow your choices down to the one topic idea that you will use for your college essay.

Brainstorming Technique 1: Think About Defining Moments in Your Life

  • What is your happiest memory? Why? What was good about it? Who and what was around you then? What did it mean to you?
  • What is your saddest memory? Would you change the thing that happened or did you learn something crucial from the experience?
  • What is the most important decision you've had to make? What was hard about the choice? What was easy? Were the consequences of your decision what you had imagined before making it? Did you plan and game out your choices, or did you follow gut instinct?
  • What decision did you not have any say in, but would have wanted to? Why were you powerless to participate in this decision? How did the choice made affect you? What do you think would have happened if a different choice had been made?
  • What the most dangerous or scary thing that you've lived through? What was threatened? What were the stakes? How did you survive/overcome it? How did you cope emotionally with the fallout?
  • When did you first feel like you were no longer a child? Who and what was around you then? What had you just done or seen? What was the difference between your childhood self and your more adult self?
  • What are you most proud of about yourself? Is it a talent or skill? A personality trait or quality? An accomplishment? Why is this the thing that makes you proud?

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Brainstorming Technique 2: Remember Influential People

  • Which of your parents (or parental figures) are you most like in personality and character? Which of their traits do you see in yourself? Which do you not? Do you wish you were more like this parent or less?
  • Which of your grandparents, great-grandparents, or other older relatives has had the most influence on your life? Is it a positive influence, where you want to follow in their footsteps in some way? A negative influence, where you want to avoid becoming like them in some way? How is the world they come from like your world? How is it different?
  • Which teacher has challenged you the most? What has that challenge been? How did you respond?
  • What is something that someone once said to you that has stuck with you? When and where did they say it? Why do you think it's lodged in your memory?
  • Which of your friends would you trade places with for a day? Why?
  • If you could intern for a week or a month with anyone—living or dead, historical or fictional—who would it be? What would you want that person to teach you? How did you first encounter this person or character? How do you think this person would react to you?
  • Of the people you know personally, whose life is harder than yours? What makes it that way—their external circumstances? Their inner state? Have you ever tried to help this person? If yes, did it work? If no, how would you help them if you could?
  • Of the people you know personally, whose life is easier than yours? Are you jealous? Why or why not?

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Brainstorming Technique 3: Recreate Important Times or Places

  • When is the last time you felt so immersed in what you were doing that you lost all track of time or anything else from the outside world? What were you doing? Why do you think this activity got you into this near-zen state?
  • Where do you most often tend to daydream? Why do you think this place has this effect on you? Do you seek it out? Avoid it? Why?
  • What is the best time of day? The worst? Why?
  • What is your favorite corner of, or space in, the place where you live? What do you like about it? When do you go there, and what do you use it for?
  • What is your least favorite corner of, or space in, the place where you live? Why do you dislike it? What do you associate it with?
  • If you had to repeat a day over and over, like the movie Groundhog Day , what day would it be? If you'd pick a day from your life that has already happened, why would you want to be stuck it in? To relive something great? To fix mistakes? If you'd pick a day that hasn't yet occurred, what would the day you were stuck in be like?
  • If you could go back in time to give yourself advice, when would you go back to? What advice would you give? Why? What effect would you want your advice to have?

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Brainstorming Technique 4: Answer Thought-Provoking Questions

  • If you could take a Mulligan and do over one thing in your life, what would it be? Would you change what you did the first time around? Why?
  • Or, if you could take another crack at doing something again, what would you pick? Something positive—having another shot at repeating a good experience? Something negative—getting the chance to try another tactic to avoid a bad experience?
  • Which piece of yourself could you never change while remaining the same person? Your race? Ethnicity? Intellect? Height? Freckles? Loyalty? Sense of humor? Why is that the thing that you'd cling to as the thing that makes you who you are?
  • Which of your beliefs, ideas, or tastes puts you in the minority? Why do you think/believe/like this thing when no one else seems to?
  • What are you most frightened of? What are you not frightened enough of? Why?
  • What is your most treasured possession? What would you grab before running out of the house during a fire? What is this object's story and why is it so valuable to you?
  • What skill or talent that you don't have now would you most like to have? Is it an extension of something you already do? Something you've never had the guts to try doing? Something you plan on learning in the future?
  • Which traditions that you grew up with will you pass on? Which will you ignore? Why?

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Brainstorming Technique 5: Find a Trait or Characteristic and Trace It Back

  • What are three adjectives you'd use to describe yourself? Why these three? Which of these is the one you're most proud of? Least proud of? When did you last exhibit this trait? What were you doing?
  • How would your best friend describe you? What about your parents? How are the adjectives they'd come up with different from the ones you'd use? When have they seen this quality or trait in you?
  • What everyday thing are you the world's greatest at? Who taught you how to do it? What memories do you have associated with this activity? Which aspects of it have you perfected?
  • Imagine that it's the future and that you've become well known. What will you become famous for? Is it for something creative or a performance? For the way you will have helped others? For your business accomplishments? For your athletic prowess? When you make a speech about this fame, whom will you thank for putting you where you are?
  • What do you most like about yourself? This is different from the thing you're most proud of—this is the thing that you know about yourself that makes you smile. Can you describe a time when this thing was useful or effective in some way?

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How to Turn Your Brainstorming List Into an Essay Topic

Now that you have a cornucopia of daydreams, memories, thoughts, and ambitions, it's time to thin the herd, prune the dead branches, and whatever other mixed metaphors about separating the wheat from the chaff you can think of.

So how do you narrow down your many ideas into one?

Use the magic power of time. One of the best things you can do with your stack of college essay topics is to forget about them. Put them away for a couple of days so that you create a little mental space. When you come back to everything you wrote after a day or two, you will get the chance to read it with fresh eyes.

Let the cream rise to the top. When you reread your topics after having let them sit, do two things:

  • Cross out any ideas that don't speak to you in some way. If something doesn't ring true, if it doesn't spark your interest, or if it doesn't connect with an emotion, then consider reject it.
  • Circle or highlight any topics that pop out at you. If it feels engaging, if you get excited at the prospect of talking about it, if it resonates with a feeling, then put it at the top of the idea pile.

Rinse and repeat. Go through the process of letting a few days pass and then rereading your ideas at least one more time. This time, don't bother looking at the topics you've already rejected. Instead, concentrate on those you highlighted earlier and maybe some of the ones that were neither circled nor thrown away.

Trust your gut instinct (but verify). Now that you've gone through and culled your ideas several times based on whether or not they really truly appeal to you, you should have a list of your top choices—all the ones you've circled or highlighted along the way. Now is the moment of truth. Imagine yourself telling the story of each of these experiences to someone who wants to get to know you. Rank your possible topics in order of how excited you are to share this story. Really listen to your intuition here. If you're squeamish, shy, unexcited, or otherwise not happy at the thought of having to tell someone about the experience, it will make a terrible essay topic.

Develop your top two to four choices to see which is best. Unless you feel very strongly about one of your top choices, the only way to really know which of your best ideas is the perfect one is to try actually making them into essays. For each one, go through the steps listed in the next section of the article under "Find Your Idea's Narrative." Then, use your best judgment (and maybe that of your parents, teachers, or school counselor) to figure out which one to draft into your personal statement.

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How to Make Your Idea Into a College Essay

Now, let's talk about what to do in order to flesh out your topic concept into a great college essay. First, I'll give you some pointers on expanding your idea into an essay-worthy story, and then talk a bit about how to draft and polish your personal statement.

Find Your Topic's Narrative

All great college essays have the same foundation as good short stories or enjoyable movies—an involving story. Let's go through what features make for a story that you don't want to put down:

A compelling character with an arc. Think about the experience that you want to write about. What were you like before it happened? What did you learn, feel, or think about during it? What happened afterwards? What do you now know about yourself that you didn't before?

Sensory details that create a "you are there!" experience for the reader. When you're writing about your experience, focus on trying to really make the situation come alive. Where were you? Who else was there? What did it look like? What did it sound like? Were there memorable textures, smells, tastes? Does it compare to anything else? When you're writing about the people you interacted with, give them a small snippet of dialog to say so the reader can "hear" that person's voice. When you are writing about yourself, make sure to include words that explain the emotions you are feeling at different parts of the story.

An insightful ending. Your essay should end with an uplifting, personal, and interesting revelation about the kind of person you are today, and how the story you have just described has made and shaped you.

Draft and Revise

The key to great writing is rewriting. So work out a draft, and then put it aside and give yourself a few days to forget what you've written. When you come back to look at it again look for places where you slow down your reading, where something seems out of place or awkward. Can you fix this by changing around the order of your essay? By explaining further? By adding details? Experiment.

Get advice. Colleges expect your essay to be your work, but most recommend having someone else cast a fresh eye over it. A good way to get a teacher or a parent involved is to ask them whether your story is clear and specific, and whether your insight about yourself flows logically from the story you tell.

Execute flawlessly. Dot every i, cross every t, delicately place every comma where it needs to go. Grammar mistakes, misspellings, and awkward sentence structure don't just make your writing look bad—they take the reader out of the story you're telling. And that makes you memorable, but in a bad way.

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The Bottom Line

  • Your college essay topic needs to come from the fact that essays are a way for colleges to get to know the real you , a you that is separate from your grades and scores.
  • A great way to come up with topics is to wholeheartedly dive into a brainstorming exercise. The more ideas about your life that tumble out of your memory and onto the page, the better chance you have of finding the perfect college essay topic.
  • Answer my brainstorming questions without editing yourself at first. Instead, simply write down as many things that pop into your head as you can—even if you end up going off topic.
  • After you've generated a list of possible topics, leave it alone for a few days and then come back to pick out the ones that seem the most promising.
  • Flesh out your top few ideas into full-blown narratives , to understand which reveals the most interesting thing about you as a person.
  • Don't shy away from asking for help. At each stage of the writing process get a parent or teacher to look over what you're working on, not to do your work for you but to hopefully gently steer you in a better direction if you're running into trouble.

What's Next?

Ready to start working on your essay? Check out our explanation of the point of the personal essay and the role it plays on your applications .

For more detailed advice on writing a great college essay, read our guide to the Common Application essay prompts and get advice on how to pick the Common App prompt that's right for you .

Thinking of taking the SAT again before submitting your applications? We have put together the ultimate guide to studying for the SAT to give you the ins and outs of the best ways to study.

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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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August 19, 2015 28 Comments

How to Generate Ideas for Writing

How to Generate Ideas for Writing - Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach

In a recent survey , writers ranked “ lack of ideas ” number four on their list of biggest hurdles. Sometimes people label this writer’s block, but I’m separating writer’s block from lack of ideas. Writer’s block can occur even when a writer accumulates files full of ideas, so let’s save that hurdle for another day.

Today let’s focus on how to generate ideas for writing.

How to Generate Writing Ideas - A Resource from Ann Kroeker Writing Coach

I’ve compiled numerous ways for generating ideas. If you experiment with these methods, you’re sure to find least a few things to write about next time you open your laptop. I hope you generate more than a few, though—I hope you end up with a heap of ideas to work through over time along with confidence you can generate even more the next time you run out.

Whether you need ideas for blogging, essays, creative nonfiction, poems, short stories or novels, ideas abound. These suggestions can inspire many genres, including fiction, but people writing short stories or novels will benefit from a few genre-specific approaches, which I’ll include toward the end.

How to Generate Ideas for Writing - Input and Inspiration - Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach

To have ideas, you’ll need a steady supply of input and inspiration from such sources as images, stories, and the limitless data available during this Information Age. Without input and inspiration, the inner well can run dry; the mental shelves can be emptied. With regular input, however, we’ll have a well to draw from, a mental library packed with ideas. Where do we find input for our creative writing?

Read: You know this, but I have to say it. Read widely, both within and outside your preferred genre (e.g., if you write fiction, read not only fiction but also poetry).

Listen:  Listen to a symphony , read aloud some poetry or hear it read , turn on NPR, and subscribe to podcasts like  Radiolab ,  MOTH , and   This American Life.   They’ll get you thinking.

Artist Dates: Feed your creativity and fill the library of your mind by going on Artist Dates . Enchant yourself, Julia Cameron says. Woo your creativity. Play. From Cameron’s website: “The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you … think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration … ask yourself, ‘what sounds fun?’ — and then allow yourself to try it.” Slip into an art gallery, visit a fabric store, eat at an ethnic restaurant, attend a free concert, play a new game.

Curiosity: Writers who are naturally curious, lifelong learners ask questions and dig for answers. They wonder how things work; they research and try new things. When writers say yes to new opportunities, they gain new sensations and build new memories. Have you climbed a rock wall yet? I haven’t. I plan to say yes next time I have the chance. What new activity could you attempt? What piques your interest? Explore it.

Interact: Talk with people. Sounds simple, but sometimes we have to intentionally reach out and chat with others who engage us intellectually and creatively. Interacting stimulates our thinking and generates ideas. Find people to talk with about books you’re reading, issues you’re grappling with, activities you’re attempting. Call someone. Vox them. Have them over for coffee. Discuss.

How to Generate Ideas for Writing - Notice - Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach

Sometimes we don’t have to do a lot of hard work to generate ideas—sometimes ideas are right in front of us, and all we have to do is notice. Writers grow more confident and prolific as they work on the idea-generating habit of attentiveness. In our distracted culture, we may need to actually practice slowing down and noticing .

What’s New? Pretend you work for a newspaper and your editor expects you to come up with a feature story idea each week. Keep your eye open for events and incidents around your area, or watch the national news and figure out a local or personal connection to bigger stories.

Periodic Reflection: Train yourself to stop periodically throughout the day—during a Pomodoro break, for example—and take note of some of the following (type or write responses into one main storage place; see “Collect and Store” below):

  • What have I observed or seen that stands out?
  • What have I been thinking about in the last hour or so?
  • What did I read that engaged me most, that I’d like to keep pondering and exploring?
  • What interaction(s) can I record?
  • What experience in the past few hours sticks with me strongest?

Use your responses to these questions as writing prompts. For example, if earlier in the day you witnessed someone yelling at a waiter while you were out for lunch, you could recall and capture that, then spin it into several new writing possibilities: a poem; a scene in a short story ; a magazine article about public displays of anger and entitlement; a personal essay weaving together that tableside argument with recollections from your own work as a waiter, broadening it to explore the humility required to work in the service industry.

Spinoff: Suppose something you read in a newspaper, blog, magazine or literary journal caught your attention. Write in response to that. You can disagree with it, expand on it, or tell your own story inspired by that poem, idea or event. Copy out a passage, phrase, or line that stood out to you and let it launch at least one related idea of your own.

Evening Reflection: Mike Pesca of The Gist interviewed professional storyteller Matthew Dicks, who shares a daily exercise useful for training attentiveness and generating ideas. At bedtime, Dicks says, think of the one story from the day that has the greatest meaning—something that made that particular day different from all the rest. Take just one to five minutes to write that story down. This refines our lens, he says.

He writes the stories in a spreadsheet, stretching the column about three quarters of the way across the screen and limiting himself to that space. The people who fail at the exercise and give up tend to write too much. Do it daily for only five minutes or less, though, and you’ll have material to last a lifetime. I’ve begun this practice, and it trains me to be attentive as I faithfully reflect on and record the most meaningful event of the day. Not only do I have ideas to write about—I end up with a succinct record of my days.

How to Generate Ideas for Writing - Audience Needs - Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach

Understanding your audience and their needs can help you produce relevant ideas.

Who’s your audience — Journalism 101 used to introduce students to using the 5 W’s and 1 H to form questions when reporting on a story. It helped gather and communicate key information. Writers of all kinds can use these questions to think through ideas for articles and stories (though perhaps less with poetry).

  • Who: Use it to determine your reader—Who is reading your work and words? Who do you want to be reaching? Use it to determine your fictional characters—Who is this story about? Who are the main characters the protagonist will interact with?
  • What : Use this to determine your reader’s biggest struggle. What do they want to know or learn? What do they crave? What are they frustrated about? What do you want to share with them? In fiction, use what to unearth What is your protagonist’s greatest desire? What is his or her greatest struggle or hurdle to satisfying that desire?
  • When: For nonfiction, you can generate ideas for when the reader needs to receive information or take action on it. For fiction, when is the story taking place?
  • Where: For nonfiction, ask yourself where will this piece of writing need to be submitted for publication or where will the reader be when reading it, which may or may not affect the content. For fiction, where is the story taking place?
  • Why: Why does the reader needs this information, story, set of instructions? Why does the protagonist struggle with his desire and why does he react a particular way when faced with conflict?
  • How: For nonfiction projects, ask yourself how will the reader act on this information? How will he be changed upon reading this? A fiction writer may ask how the protagonist will face conflict or how the protagonist will change when faced with a struggle.

What change am I trying to bring about in my reader? Where are your readers now—what are their struggles, questions, and interests that you can address—and where do they want or need to be?  Darren Rowse of Problogger recommends a way to generate ideas for your audience, whether you’re cooking up a single article or creating content for an entire book or blog, fiction or nonfiction. “You want to be changing people,” he says, “take them on a journey… In my writing, what I am always trying to think about as I sit down to write is, ‘What change am I trying to bring about in my reader?’”

When readers begin reading, they are at what Rowse says is Point A . At Point A, they may be facing challenges or questions, and they read hoping to make progress in their journey. As writers, we’re leading them on a journey to Point B, where at least some challenges are addressed and questions answered. We’re hoping to bring about a change, Rowse says , “Whether that be a change in the way they feel, they think, whether it be giving them a new skill, giving them a sense of not feeling like they’re the only one, or a sense of belonging, or some new insight.”

How to Generate Ideas for Writing - Brainstorm - Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach

Stand at a whiteboard; sit with a big yellow pad of paper; or, as you’ll see, get up and move. It’s time to think up ideas. One method is to use Darren Rowse’s Point A to Point B technique above, and list all the steps a reader will need to take and skills he will need to master to move from Point A to Point B. Each one of those steps and skills represents ideas for you to write about. Use any method below to do even more brainstorming.

Physical exercise: Exercise such as walking or running stimulates creativity. “Walking is an easy-to-implement strategy to increase appropriate novel idea generation,” say Stanford researchers presenting results of a study in 2014. “When there is a premium on generating new ideas in the workday, it should be beneficial to incorporate walks.” Before you sit to brainstorm or as an act of brainstorming itself, get outside or to a gym and exercise. Even “[w]alking on a treadmill facing a blank wall improved creativity,” so don’t feel you must have a gorgeous environment. When you head out, however, bring something to write on, so you don’t lose any ideas you generate during that time.

Mind-mapping : Use this visual method to generate ideas. If you truly have no ideas at all, your central phrase could be broad, like “Ideas for Health Blog” or “Travel Magazine Article” or “Short Story Contest Theme—Loss.” Pick the kind of piece you want or need to write and in the center of a page or whiteboard, write the keyword or phrase (you can also use one of the many apps designed to create mind maps). Let your mind wander to everything you know or have wondered about in relation to that main idea. Write everything, no matter how trivial. If you read an article about it recently, jot that down. If you think of a movie, book, or podcast related to it, add it to the map. Your brain is making connections, so trust the process.

List-making: It’s a basic approach, and for many, most effective.

  • What issues bother you? What problems would you like to solve? List them. These are ideas to write about.
  • What would you like to convince people about? Make that list. Write from it, tackling them one by one, in whatever genre you work.
  • List everything you currently understand and knowledge you have that others around you might not know about. These are all topics to write about (and the writing should come easily to you). Your background as a mechanic, nurse, accountant, horse trainer, teacher, or retail worker is rich with stories and experience others may not have. Capitalize on how your life has unfolded and tap into that content.
  • Write a list of how-to posts — some of them ridiculous enough to stimulate your imagination —as you go through your day. As you smack the alarm: “6 Tasks to Tackle First Thing in the Morning” or “How Early Risers Will Save the Planet.” Brush your teeth and add to your list, “What Your Toothbrush Wear Pattern Says about Your Personality.” Get dressed: “How the KonMari Method Saved My Marriage, Got My Kids into Harvard, and Propelled my Book to the Top of the New York Times Bestseller List.” Fix breakfast: “Best Breakfasts for Active Artists.” You can take it from there.

Identify the main topics that interest you.  Whether they are personal passions or areas you want to learn more about, you probably keep returning to a few big ideas, themes, or topics. Write those down.

Follow with more lists of specific ideas related to the main topics that come to mind as you write. When you’re done, you could have pages packed with ideas generated by discovering layers of related subtopics.

Let’s say your main areas are “Health,” “Politics,” “Art,” and “Parenting.” Now you can focus on a list for “Art.”

List ideas that pop into your mind related to art, like: O nline Art Museum Virtual Tours, Museums in the Midwest , and S eeing Art with Kids.

Then pick one of those items, like  Seeing Art with Kids , and make a yet another list:  What to Bring, How to Prepare the Kids, Top 5 Kid-Friendly Museums, How to Look at a Painting with Kids .

Continue down yet another layer and pick a subtopic, like How to Prepare the Kids,  and list even more ideas: interview museum staff, research museum websites yourself for the article, show museum websites to the kids, get art books from the library to pick favorites, create visual scavenger hunts. You can see how even just one of those ideas, like create visual scavenger hunts, could become a how-to blog post all its own or serve as part of a bigger article.

Freewriting : Pull out some paper and for about ten minutes, start writing a stream of whatever comes to mind about ideas you’d like to explore. At first, you might start unloading your frustration at not having ideas, eventually running out of things to say about that. Keep your pen moving and you remember helping clean out your parents’ closet last week and as you write you realize you might like to write about your dad’s bomber jacket or interview him about his role as a pilot in the war. Keep writing and you think about dinner and realize you could write recommendations for eating on a budget, and then out of the blue you think of the box turtle you helped across the road last week and suddenly you imagine a story about a turtle that brings a dysfunctional family together again. The mind will take you places if you make time for it to wander.

How to Generate Ideas for Writing - Prompts - Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach

Writing from prompts can pull up a surprising number of ideas you might not generate from simply thinking on your own. The following prompt sources may inspired your creative writing:

  • Join Tweetspeak Poetry on Mondays for poetry prompts .
  • Write poetry from art .
  • Collected by The New York Times : “ 500 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing ”
  • Purchase the low-cost ebook I created, called 52 Creative Writing Prompts  (with proof of purchase, you can have prompts and writing exercises delivered to your email inbox once a week for an entire year).

How to Generate Ideas for Writing - Fiction Specific - Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach

If you write fiction and the ideas above simply don’t apply to your work, tap into some of the prompts listed below:

  • Fiction writing prompts from Writing Forward
  • Writer’s Digest fiction-friendly prompts
  • What if? This simple question can prompt plot twists, like, “What if … the protagonist is injured by the person he’s trying to help?” “What if the protagonist earns a full-ride scholarship but gives it up to serve as a caregiver to her guardian?” Or, use the question to generate wild scenarios you can write as flash fiction for fun (or money), like, “What if … someone figured out how to bring dinosaurs back to life?” Hello, Jurassic Park . “What if … monsters had feelings ?” Monsters Inc. 
  • Related: See how authors played with “What if” possibilities for alternate histories .
  • Give some short story prompts and story starters a test run.
  • Writer Igniter shuffles characters, situations, prompts and settings—a fun way to generate a creative writing short story assignment.
  • Revise a scene from a famous book.
  • Read the newspaper and adapt some real-life stories into a piece of fiction.
  • Gretchen Rubin recommends story exercises to spark creativity . For example, “Pick a drama, thriller, or horror film and turn it into a comedy”; or, conversely, “pick a comedy and make it into a drama.” Her example for comedy to serious: “Serious Animal House – Drama about cheating scandal at a small university ends in A Few Good Men -like showdown.”

How to Generate Ideas for Writing - Collect and Store - Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach

Writers generating ideas need a place to store all they collect. In fact, the act of recording ideas may stimulate even more.

Commonplace book : These early scrapbooks date back hundreds of years. People collected all kinds of knowledge and information in their commonplace books, including recipes, quotations, poems and proverbs—whatever the keeper of the book was interested in. Readers and writers (and a writer is both) can collect excerpts into a notebook to refer back to when writing, indexing the information, something like the currently popular “bullet journal” (see next item below).

Bullet Journal: Great for people who prefer analog over digital storage systems, the bullet journal works like a commonplace book, calendar, project planner, and to-do list all in one. The basic idea, which people have expanded upon to reflect different personalities and styles, includes a simple indexing system to help find information later.

Files: Using hanging or file folders, set up a simple system of broad categories of interest. Write or type your idea onto a single sheet of 8 ½ by 11 sheet of paper and drop ideas into the corresponding broad topic, one idea per page.

Shoebox: Some people write notes on any piece of paper they find, from the back of an envelope to the bottom of a tissue box. Tear or cut out your ideas and toss them in a box to sift through later. You’ll have trouble finding specific information efficiently, but it could be fun to treat as a grab bag of prompts—pluck out a piece of paper and start writingbased on the line from a song you’d scribbled out while at a stoplight one afternoon.

Digital storage: Evernote, OneNote, Google Drive Documents (and Sheets), Word. One advantage of storing ideas electronically is how easily you can search for a specific quotation or excerpt using keywords or tags (that is, if you think of tagging an idea with a keyword or topic when typing it up). Often a desktop app will sync with a phone version so your information is always at your fingertips. Many programs let you take record audio or snap a photo and add those files, making note-taking extremely convenient. After all, if you’re at a mall and want to capture the look of the signage and decor when describing a scene in your novel, why not simply snap a photo to refer to later? Drop it in Evernote and you’re set.

With this many methods, it’s easy to generate an abundance of writing ideas. Try one method for a while, then switch techniques to keep your mind fresh. When you’ve gathered material to work with, power up your laptop or flip open your notebook. You’ve got things to write about—it’s time to get to work.

 52 Creative Writing Prompts

how to generate ideas for essay writing

August 20, 2015 at 8:25 pm

Ann – this is an incredible essay. SO helpful. Thank you so very much.

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August 20, 2015 at 11:01 pm

Thank you, Diana–I hope you never ever run out of ideas!

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August 20, 2015 at 9:06 pm

Very comprehensive. This feels like an extended coaching session, from one of my favorite persons. I think I will try the evening reflection, and definitely use many of the writing prompts. Merci beaucoup!

August 20, 2015 at 11:03 pm

It’s a pleasure, Sharon, to provide you with this resource. My hope was indeed to make it comprehensive, even adding to it over time as I discover new approaches. The evening reflection has helped me a lot, as I begin to see my own story unfolding daily.

August 21, 2015 at 6:11 am

Ann, I was remiss in not mentioning the value of your book, On Being a Writer. It is filled with inspiration that not only enriches the writing life, but through the principles, can help our personal lives have deeper meaning. Thanks to you and Charity!

August 21, 2015 at 9:37 am

I’m so glad you are enjoying the book, Sharon! This reads like a testimonial. May I snatch it and post it somewhere?

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August 24, 2015 at 11:01 am

Ann, this was so rich in ideas. Thank you! I’m keeping the url on this one as I will be returning again and again for more. Writing a weekly blog this is the issue that plagues me more than anything. Simply great essay!

August 24, 2015 at 4:37 pm

Sue, I’m delighted this will be a solid resource for you!

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September 17, 2015 at 12:02 pm

This is good, Ann! Thanks for stimulating my thinking! I just put this whole post in Scrivener, which is my absolute favorite writing, idea keeping, research storage tool. 🙂

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September 17, 2015 at 12:07 pm

So glad this can be a resource for you, Pam! I’ve got Scrivener and even picked up a series of videos to help me learn how to make the most of it. Not a fan yet, but staying open-minded. 🙂

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August 18, 2016 at 2:49 am

your are so beautiful.

August 18, 2016 at 10:05 am

Well, I hope you can get some writing ideas from this post!

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December 16, 2015 at 6:12 pm

I’m using this information right now. Such an incredibly helpful post. Thank you for spending your time on it.

December 17, 2015 at 10:03 pm

I’m so glad this is helpful to you, Bethany! Let me know which ideas have worked best. I like to hear how they work for different personalities, and for different genres.

January 7, 2016 at 5:34 pm

I particularly latched onto the “Evening” Reflection idea. Love the succinctness and genius of finding one detail/situation in the day that made it different from the rest. I have this page bookmarked and visit it often.

January 8, 2016 at 4:14 pm

How exciting that you have found value in the “Evening” Reflection. That’s one I like, as well, for personal as well as creative reasons. Thank you for coming back to share this and I hope you end up always writing up the ideas you generate!

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September 3, 2016 at 3:46 am

Thought-provoking discussion ! I learned a lot from the facts , Does someone know if my business could find a sample Bankruptcy B91 version to fill out ?

September 3, 2016 at 9:01 pm

I have no idea.

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April 6, 2018 at 1:23 am

Brilliant compilation. Thank you, Ann.

April 6, 2018 at 9:21 pm

Thank you for taking time to read and comment, Heidi. I hope you find some inspiration!

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  • 4 Ways to Come Up With a Great Essay Idea

how to generate ideas for essay writing

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It starts when you first get a choice of which question you want to answer, which might even first happen in primary school. Part of the challenge is figuring out which question you’d do best at answering; you’re not just regurgitating information any more, but needing to think critically about your own knowledge and abilities. From there, the choices increase. You might be given a choice of three or more essay questions. Or you might get just the one question, but you can choose factors within it – you might be asked, for instance, the extent to which a character in Hamlet lives up to their own moral code – the question is set for you, but you get to choose which character you want to write about. The same might happen for a period in history or a monarch, or an analysis of a case study. And finally you’ll get to the point where you might have a topic list to choose from, but the essay title itself will be entirely up to you.

image shows a chimp

You may even be offered the chance to do this a little earlier, where you get given a list of essay titles but also told that you can come up with your own if you’d like. Few students bother, and it can be a high-risk strategy – you might come up with a title that is much harder to answer than the ones provided for you – but it can also be a route to crafting a title that is perfect for you. All of the stages in this process – picking a question, picking a focus and, finally, picking a title – can be daunting when you haven’t done them before. In this article, we look at how to come up with essay titles that work for you.

1. Answer the question you want answered

The best way to come up with an idea for an essay is to consider what the question is that you would like to see answered. This can seem like quite a scary way of going about choosing a question, because it implies that the question has gone unanswered – that you’re suddenly going to come up with such an insightful question that no previous scholar in the field has contemplated. If that’s how you’re thinking about this, don’t. You’re not trying to compete with all of the other scholars in your field (at least, we hope not – if you are, you probably shouldn’t need to be reading this article), you’re just trying to do better than your peers, if possible. This method of coming up with an essay title isn’t about pinpointing a question that you want answered because it’s never before been asked.

image shows a cat's face

Instead, it’s about coming up with an essay title that suits your concerns, your interests and your personal reaction to whatever it is that you’re studying. An off-the-shelf essay title might produce a boring answer because you don’t actually care whether or not the Treaty of Versailles was the main cause of the Second World War, or where morality originates (though you may find these things fascinating). But if, for instance, you can’t get through Jane Austen’s Emma without finding yourself infuriated by the title character, and wonder why on earth Austen would have made her heroine so aggravating – these might seem like petty complaints, but you can make an essay out of it. Austen described Emma as “a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like” – if you find Emma desperately dislikeable, you could probably produce quite an interesting essay on whether or not Austen was right in her assessment of the character. You can apply this principle to anything that strikes you as weird, as annoying, as not quite right, and use that instinct as a springboard to explore a topic properly. While you might prefer to react to your studies with a kind of deep, beard-stroking appreciation, the truth is that an awful lot of great academic investigations of various topics are based on someone looking at them and finding that something irritates them, or doesn’t quite seem to fit, and going on to look at that properly and work out why – and you can do the same.

2. Look at the context

If you look at your topic and nothing stands out to you, then it’s time to start making things stand out. The school curriculum actually makes this quite easy, because we seldom study the typical, run-of-the-mill events, people, books, discoveries and so on. We study the notable ones. We look at how a king did things differently to his predecessors, for instance, rather than the points of continuity – unless there was so much continuity as to be notable in its own right.

image shows a baby sitting at the foot of a huge tree

When your entire curriculum consists of notable things, however, you can end up with a skewed perspective. We focus more on the reign of Henry VIII – which changed life in Britain forever – than the reign of his father, Henry VII, who brought an end to the Wars of the Roses but arguably the act that had the greatest repercussions for us today was that he successfully handed on the throne to his son. If you’ve learned all about Henry VIII but not so much about Henry VII, you’re unlikely to understand quite how significant the changes enacted by Henry VIII were. This is why looking at the context is vital. This is particularly true for subject where you have to assess an artform, whether that’s Art History, Music, English Literature, Theatre Studies or Film Studies. If you only ever look at the canon – the high points of a particular era – you won’t come to understand what it is that made those particular pieces worthy of studying in the first place. For instance, many students will encounter Shakespeare as their sole example of 16th century drama – but that makes it very hard to see why Shakespeare’s work is so remarkable. Take a quick look at almost any of his competitors, though, and you’ll soon see the difference in depth and quality. And that gives you something to write about: what’s different and why it’s different. When you have a question set for you, your teacher is already drawing your attention to what is notable about the topic. They will ask why Hamlet is indecisive, or why Henry VIII decided to break with Rome – the things that, with greater study of the context, naturally strike people as strange. They won’t ask why Shakespeare wrote a play about a prince rather than a commoner, or why Henry VIII chose to take the throne rather than living out a happy life as a leading tennis player. When you don’t have a question written for you, you have to figure out what’s notable or what’s strange on your own, and that’s why context is so useful.

3. Use your third idea

Writing a column shortly after the death of her father, Alan Coren, Victoria Coren Mitchell recalled his advice on how to come up with a good idea. He said that you shouldn’t use the first idea that you have for something, as that’s the one that everyone will come up with. Nor should you use your second idea, as that’s what the cleverer people who do a little bit more thinking will come up with. You should use your third idea, as that’s the one that only you will be able to think of; it will be entirely your own.

image shows a cartoon of Archimedes shouting Eureka!

This is excellent advice, and applicable in realms far beyond writing, such as choosing Christmas presents. If the options above for coming up with an essay title haven’t worked for you, try thinking of whatever ideas you can – even if they seem painfully obvious – and eventually you will work through all the ones that other people will think of, and get to something that will be your own to succeed at in your own way. Alan Coren’s description of the advantages of the “third idea” strategy focuses on originality, but that’s not its only advantage. Coming up with an idea that’s yours alone means coming up with an idea that will be right and suited to your thoughts and skills. Your first and second ideas will be based heavily in what you’ve been taught, which is a good base to work from but that might not reflect your interests entirely. Your third idea – hopefully – will come from your own ideas, even if you haven’t quite got a handle on what those ideas are yet. The third idea is also about letting yourself think a little more out of the box. Once you’ve got two nice, safe ideas down on paper, you should be in a position to think of something a bit less conventional. When you’re at school, your teacher might be marking your essay alongside those of twenty other people (or more if they have several classes). An unconventional approach will be a welcome relief among lots of identikit essays, and many teachers will prefer an essay that is interesting, takes risks and doesn’t get everything right over one that is technically perfect but comparatively dull.

4. Use unconventional brainstorming techniques

image shows stopwatch on a map

If all else fails, there are lots of brainstorming techniques available to come up with ideas for just about anything, and one of them might work for your essay. For instance, you could try: Writing down as many bad ideas as you can. This counter-intuitive brainstorming technique helps perfectionists by taking the pressure off. What would be a really terrible essay idea that would make your teacher angry with you for writing it? If you’re stuck in a loop of “can’t think of anything”, this technique can give your brain a jolt, and you may well find that instead of lots of bad ideas, you keep thinking of good ones.

Writing for a set period of time and not letting yourself stop.   – Give yourself a certain period of time, which could be five minutes, ten minutes, or the duration of a prog-rock classic, and write about the topic for that length of time. Don’t stop to allow yourself to think about it; just write. This might result in garbage along the lines of “Hamlet is very unkind to Ophelia and even more so to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and absolutely vile to his mother yet he is trying to be a good person, and Horatio still thinks well of him by the end of the play so clearly he is doing something right”, but keep going and you might find the seed of an idea appearing. This technique is related to the first point – whatever it is that you find yourself drifting towards when you’re forced to just keep writing is probably going to be a good topic to think about further.

image shows a lightbulb

Looking at it from someone else’s perspective.  – This technique has a very broad application across problem-solving: you can look at the issue from the perspective of yourself five years ago, or from the perspective of someone from another country, or someone from a hundred years in the past. For an essay, you might want to think about the approach that a friend would take. Seeing something through someone else’s eyes can highlight a fresh approach that you wouldn’t have thought of while you were fixated on writing the best essay that you yourself can write. Take an abstract noun.  – This works best for essays on creative works such as literature or art, but may have application in other fields. Think of an abstract noun – happiness, hope, love, purity, curiosity – and see how it might apply to the thing you’re looking at. Let’s say you’re writing about the Industrial Revolution – think about the role played by hope, or curiosity. You can see how the seeds of an idea can be generated by this approach. How do you come up with great essay ideas? Let us know in the comments! Image credits: Pen and paper , chimp , cat , tree , eureka , stopwatch , lightbulb .

IELTS Luminary - Free Tips, Strategies, eBooks and Detailed Essay Feedback . Overall, this is the best free IELTS and other test prep website.

IELTS Essay Idea Generation Tips and Strategies

IELTS Essay Idea Generation Tips and Strategies

Imagine this - you're taking an exam, and suddenly you see a question that you have absolutely no clue about. You know that you can't just skip it or leave it blank, you have to come up with something. But, how do you do that? It's a daunting feeling, right?

Don't worry, we've got your back. We've got some foolproof techniques that will help you answer the question confidently, even if you have no idea about the topic.

We've curated some special strategies that will help you generate ideas for a band 9 essay. So, don't just skim through the discussion, make sure you read this entire article carefully because it will definitely pay off.

However, if you want more step-by-step detailed demonstration and application in all the possible essay types, if you are committed to achieving your desired band score in the IELTS Writing test, you can check our top-notch eBooks that are specifically designed to help you excel.

These downloadable  eBooks  are a treasure trove of knowledge, providing you with all the essential tips and tricks to ace the test. From writing techniques to idea generation, from question analysis to vocabulary and grammar application, these eBooks have everything you need to boost your confidence and take your IELTS Writing to the next level.

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But that's not all. Our IELTS Essay Correction Service is another excellent platform to ensure your best preparation . With this service, you'll receive feedback from our team of former IELTS examiners on your essays, guiding you to identify your weaknesses and improve your writing accordingly.

What's more, we stand by the quality of our resources and offer a money-back guarantee with both our eBooks and Essay Correction Service . This gives you the peace of mind to invest in your preparation with confidence, knowing that your high band is secured.

So, if you're serious about acing the IELTS Writing test, don't hesitate to take advantage of these unbeatable resources. Invest in yourself and take the first step towards your dream score today!

How to Write a High Band Scoring Task 2 Essay - eBook by IELTS Luminary (IELTS Essay eBook)

IELTS Essay Idea Generation Techniques

There are 4 popular techniques for generating ideas for a Task 2 IELTS essay:

Brainstorming

Mind-mapping

Friends technique

Examples method

You can apply one or more than one of these strategies for generating ideas in IELTS Writing. We are going to discuss the strategies in detail. Let's move:

1. Brainstorming

In IELTS essay writing, brainstorming can be a useful technique for generating ideas related to the topic of the essay. The process involves quickly jotting down any idea that comes to mind related to the topic, without worrying about its relevance or organization. This can help to generate a large number of ideas and can be a useful starting point for organizing and refining your thoughts.

For example, if the topic is "The effects of technology on society," you can brainstorm a list of ideas such as,

the impact of technology on communication,

the impact of technology on jobs,

the impact of technology on education,

the impact of technology on privacy etc.

It is important to note that brainstorming should be done quickly and without much filtering or evaluating of ideas. The goal is to generate as many ideas as possible in a short period of time. Once you have a list of ideas, you can then evaluate them and select the ones that are most relevant and interesting to use in your essay. This can help you to come up with a clear thesis statement and organize your thoughts in a logical manner.

You need to practice enough before the test day to get a better understanding of the brainstorming process and to be able to generate ideas quickly during the exam.

2. Mind-mapping

When it comes to generating ideas for a Task 2 IELTS essay, mind-mapping is another technique that can come in handy. This method involves creating a visual representation of your ideas by drawing a central concept or idea and connecting related ideas to it through branches or lines.

For instance, let's consider the topic of "The effects of technology on society." You can start with the central concept of "technology" and connect different branches to it, such as "positive effects" and "negative effects." Under the "positive effects" branch, you can add sub-branches such as "improvements in communication," "increase in productivity," "enhancement of education," and so on. Similarly, under the "negative effects" branch, you can add sub-branches such as "decrease in face-to-face communication," "job displacement," "privacy concerns," etc.

Mind-mapping can be a useful technique for organizing your thoughts and ideas in a visual way. It can help you to see the connections between different ideas and to identify patterns or themes that can be used in your essay. Moreover, it can also be helpful for identifying examples, evidence, and arguments that can be used to support your thesis statement.

It's worth noting that mind-mapping should be done after brainstorming and should be used as a tool to organize your ideas and thoughts. As with brainstorming, it's recommended to practice mind-mapping before the test day to get a better understanding of the process and to be able to organize your thoughts quickly during the exam.

To sum up, mind-mapping is an effective technique to visually organize your ideas and develop a strong foundation for your essay. It can help you to think creatively and identify various aspects of the topic that can be incorporated into your essay. So, give it a try and see how it can improve your IELTS Writing performance.

IELTS Reading Tips and Strategies eBooks - IELTS Luminary

3. Friends Technique

The Friends Technique is another method that can be used to generate ideas for a Task 2 IELTS essay. This technique involves imagining a conversation with a friend over a cup of coffee, where they ask you the question that the essay prompt relates to. The first thoughts that come to mind should serve as the basis for your essay. This approach helps to generate ideas in a natural, everyday language rather than forcing complex and sophisticated language.

For example, if the topic is "The effects of technology on society," you can think about different types of people who may have different perspectives on the topic such as:

An older person who may not be as familiar with technology and may view it as overwhelming or confusing.

A young person who may be very comfortable with technology and may view it as an essential part of daily life.

A business owner who may view technology as a tool for increasing productivity and competitiveness.

A teacher who may view technology as a tool for enhancing education.

A parent who may view technology as a way to connect with their child but also as a potential source of distraction.

By considering different perspectives, you can gain a more well-rounded understanding of the topic and come up with more examples and evidence to support your arguments.

This technique can be useful for developing a more nuanced understanding of the topic and for identifying examples and evidence that can be used to support your thesis statement. Additionally, it can also help you to anticipate and address counterarguments in your essay.

It's important to note that the "friends" mentioned here are not actual friends, but characters or personas you can create in your mind, representing different groups of people with different perspectives on the topic.

4. Example Method

Using the example method is another technique that can be used to generate ideas for an IELTS Task 2 essay. It involves thinking of specific examples related to the question that can be used to support the main points in your essay. Examiners often give high marks for relevant examples, as they demonstrate that the writer has a good understanding of the topic.

You can use examples from your own experience or something you've read or heard about. For instance, if the topic is "fear of crime," you can think of specific examples such as an article in a newspaper or magazine about crime in your local area or a study on the impact of crime on people's daily lives, or an experience you or someone you know had with local crime.

It's important to keep reading newspapers, magazines and topical websites as part of your general exam preparation as it would help you to come up with examples that are relevant and current. Additionally, you can also make up examples or tweak real examples to better fit the question as long as they are plausible.

The example method can help you to come up with ideas that are more specific and relevant to the question, which can make your essay stronger and more convincing. It also helps to make your writing more interesting by giving examples and making it more engaging.

It is worth noting that you should use examples that are relevant and appropriate to the topic, and that you should integrate them into your essay in a way that supports your main argument.

Which Essay Idea Generation Technique to Choose

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question as the best idea generation technique for an IELTS essay can vary based on the individual's writing style, the topic of the essay, and personal preferences. However, many writers find that a combination of brainstorming mind mapping can be effective for generating and organizing ideas for an IELTS essay. It's important to experiment with different techniques and find the ones that work best for you.

I suggest you find a technique or method that works well for you and that you feel comfortable using. Also, you should experiment with different techniques and methods to see which ones work best for different question types. In fact, it is important to have at least two methods that you can use confidently, so you will be prepared for whatever type of question you get.

Know the IELTS Common Topics

To excel in your IELTS Writing exam, it's important to have a good grasp of the common topics that frequently appear on the test. Our team has meticulously compiled a list of these topics based on the actual test questions from the past decade. Surprisingly, more than 90% of the questions in the IELTS exam come from these common topics.

It's important to keep in mind that the questions will revolve around basic areas, making them accessible to everyone. The exam is a language test, not a knowledge test, so the examiners don't expect you to be an expert in all fields. Therefore, all you need to do is familiarize yourself with the basic concepts in the topics listed above. This will help you generate ideas with ease when the topics appear in the IELTS essay section.

We are fortunate to live in the age of the internet, where knowledge is just a click away. You don't need to attend school or visit a library to gain knowledge on the common topics. There are plenty of online resources available for free that you can use to your advantage.

So, don't hesitate to equip yourself with the basic knowledge of the common topics. It's a small investment of time that can go a long way in achieving your desired band score. Use the plethora of resources available online and give yourself a competitive edge in the IELTS Writing exam.

IELTS Writing Idea Generation

To excel in IELTS Writing, you need to have a good grasp of the common topics that frequently appear on the test. Brainstorming, mind-mapping, and knowing basic information about the common topics can help generate ideas for a Task 2 IELTS essay. Practicing these techniques and being familiar with the common topics can give you an edge in achieving your desired band score.

Well, don't forget that our downloadable eBooks on IELTS Writing and Essay Correction Service can be incredibly helpful in improving your writing skills and achieving your target band score. The eBooks   provide expert strategies for idea generation, essay planning-writing, and unearthing the secret of achieving a band 9 in IELTS Writing, while our Essay Correction Service offers personalized feedback from our team of experienced IELTS examiners. Invest in your preparation and increase your chances of success by taking advantage of these invaluable resources.

Resource Links

Download IELTS High Scoring eBooks

Get Detailed IELTS Essay Feedback by Examiner

Random Topic Generator for Essays & Speeches

Looking for a random topic generator? Try the tool on this page! Our random essay topic generator will create a bunch of writing ideas and prompts for your paper or speech.

Follow a few simple steps to generate a topic for your assignment:

  • Enter your search term
  • Press the “Search topic” button and view the ideas proposed by the topic randomizer
  • In case you need more options, press the button once again to refresh the list

Are you in this situation? You have been assigned an essay and not only do you have to write it, but you also need to come up with the topic you want to write about. Choosing an idea for a paper or speech can be tricky.

Having a seemingly endless number of essay topic possibilities can feel overwhelming. Especially when you have to navigate through the mountains of information available online. Is choosing a topic really that difficult of a task for a student?

Simplify this process with Custom-Writing.org!

Custom Writing offers topics for persuasive essays, informative speeches, creative writing - you name it! With just a few clicks, our random essay topic generator will provide you with brilliant ideas for your next assignment. You will be surprised by the creativity of our amazing generating tool.

  • ⭐ The Tool's Benefits
  • 🤨 Choosing an Essay Topic

🔍 References

⭐ essay & speech topic generator: the benefits.

Our essay and speech topic generator can provide you with fresh original content ideas. Why is it better than other tools out there?

In other words:

It’s free and requires no registration

How many times have you encountered a supposedly free tool only to be asked to sign up? This time, that’s not a problem! Use the random topic generator without payment or registration.

The generator is fast (and furious)

The search speed can play a significant role if you have a deadline. With this topic creator, you don’t have to deal with slow processing speeds. This automatic generating tool as fast as can be.

Instead of spending your time on choosing a topic, you can concentrate on researching the subject and editing your writing.

It’s user-friendly

You don’t really need detailed instructions on how to use this writing topic generator. It has a super intuitive interface. There are two categories to pick from and one button—that’s it!

Our tool is accessible online

You don’t have to download anything to use our topic creator. If you have access to the internet, you have access to this free tool!

The tool has a huge database of information

There are a lot of unutilized ideas out there waiting for you. Our generating tool collects them from a variety of sources and suggests them here. It regularly updates its list of topics to propose more relevant ideas.

Our random topic generator is the perfect choice for you. In case you prefer looking at the full list of ideas rather than at its parts, there are quite a few of them that you can find online.

🤨 Steps to Generate an Essay or Speech Topic

When you have a number of different options, you can find yourself struggling to make a choice. Which one is the most appropriate one for your academic writing or speech? How can you select it from the bunch?

W questions: Who? Where? When? Why? How

Who are you talking about? Why should the reader know about them?

Where is your topic being researched? Where is your topic relevant?

When is your assignment due? When did the majority of research on your topic get published (especially important in the sciences)?

Why is your topic being researched? Is it an important, urgent issue? Why do you like your topic?

How are you going to do your research? How will you phrase your thesis or research question? How will you focus your topic?

To answer this, check out our guide!

🎓 Select an Assignment

Let’s start with the basics: did your professor or tutor ask you to prepare an assignment in a particular format, such as an essay? Or are you required to choose your own format and assignment type? If so, select one from the list!

With our topic maker, you can search for an idea specifically for:

Consider what you can write about for a blog. Discover what ideas are relevant and can attract potential readers.

There are a variety of academic papers, with essays being the most common one for students. If you’re assigned to write one, use our topic randomizer to pick the best idea.

The 4 main types of academic writing

Our topic generator can propose titles according to a paper type, with each one having specific characteristics. There are ideas for expository, descriptive, persuasive, argumentative, and creative essays. The tool forms them so that the title and the writing style fit the format.

Whether it’s an assignment or your desire to compose something creative—it doesn’t matter! The topic generator can provide you with an idea that can boost your imagination and give you inspiration.

Whether you’re planning a college essay or a blog post, the generating tool can be helpful. If you don’t find your assignment type listed, search by the subject of interest instead. More on that below.

🙋 Pick a Subject

Do you have an area of research that you're required or willing to dive into? If the answer is yes, then consider the subjects that our generator proposes.

The tool can be a great random science topic generator when you need one. It provides a collection of unique topics on natural sciences, as well as healthcare and medicine. Get ready for extensive research or a quick search for useful information—whatever you choose!

What’s more:

The topic maker also covers social studies. You can find an idea for a paper on law, business, political sciences, history, or even religion. Nowadays, topics on theology are increasingly popular, and our tool can help propose ideas on what to write about.

The themes of theology include God, humanity, the world, savation, and eschatology (the study of last times).

When you’re looking for a creative idea, there are art and design topics for you. You can also find suggestions related to literature or language if it’s your sphere of interest. And ideas for such subjects such as media and education can be helpful regardless of your initial task.

Whatever subject you select, you will get a bunch of engaging ideas. So, what’s next?

👀 Consider the Topics

Having found a list or used the research paper topic generator, look at the proposed ideas. Which ones do you find most intriguing? Worthy of your time?

Choose a few topics and eliminate them one by one. Copy the picked ones and paste elsewhere or write the ideas down. From the ideas proposed by our topic generator, make your own list to compare and contrast items later.

Keep in mind:

If the selected ideas are broad, that’s great! You can narrow your topic down further. A vague idea will give you a starting point from which you can determine specifics later. Remember, you don't want your subject matter to be too narrow, as it can be hard to find any credible information on it.

Don't rush with idea finalization

To figure out the perfect in-between, neither too broad, nor too narrow, try selecting a specific aspect or angle for your essay topic. Or you can explore how various factors affect the narrow subject matter.

Overall, improve the topic!

Don’t be afraid to modify the topic to your needs. You’re the one who will be doing the research and essay writing. You should call the shots.

🎯 Define a Thesis Statement

Now that you have your topic area, see if you can create a thesis statement . You don't have to do it right away, but it can help direct your research and develop your arguments.

To create a thesis statement, try turning the given sentence into a question and then try to answer it. Study the subject matter further if you’re unsure where to begin. It’s crucial as this claim will become your thesis.

Bear in mind:

A thesis statement is neither an essay title nor an announcement. It’s a specific assertion that expresses the essential idea of academic writing. It’s the point you will argue throughout your essay, drawing on examples that prove or support this thesis statement. You create it at the beginning of your paper to make a reader understand the point of your work from the start.

3 steps to write a thesis statement

So, use a topic to come up with one key point that you will write in your thesis statement. If it’s impossible for you, find another point or subject matter. An essay question generator can always help you with the latter.

🔎 Research Your Topic and Start an Outline

At this point, you're ready to start, but for any good paper or speech, you need an in-depth knowledge of the idea that you have chosen to write about. You need to find some factual information to support your thesis statement.

Handbooks and encyclopedias - how useful are they

Start by investigating the idea and composing an outline. If you see that you can't structure and write an appropriate text, change the topic a bit or select an entirely new one. It’s more appropriate to change a subject matter while you are writing, rather than suffer through attempting to compose an entire paper.

To organize your essay or research, include topic sentences at the beginning of each paragraph. They should include the idea you are discussing in that paragraph and they should link to your thesis statement. Coming up with them beforehand can help offer structure to your writing and your research.

Congratulations!

You have now successfully chosen a topic for your academic writing. Use our essay idea generator for future projects and share this article to help others with their writing.

❓ Speech Topic Generator FAQ

❓ how do you create ideas for an essay.

First of all, understand the assignment and the subject. When it’s done, there are 4 key methods:

  • Brainstorming. Write down all the words and phrases that you associate with the subject.
  • Freewriting. Write non-stop for a few minutes.
  • Idea web. Create a web of terms and phrases related to the subject.
  • Daydreaming. Let your mind wander, write when you’re ready.

❓ How do you choose a topic for an essay?

The following tips will help you with picking the perfect topic:

  • Start from examining the task. Understand your assignment and determine your field.
  • Find something that you’re curious about. Eliminate boring topics from the start.
  • Select an idea that is neither too broad nor too narrow. Improve the topic, if you’re allowed to.
  • Check whether there are trustworthy sources for your essay.

❓ How do you develop a research topic?

When deciding on a research idea, keep in mind the following:

  • You can select a topic or come up with one. Improve its initial version later to suit you better.
  • Determine your area of interest. Consider what you know and whether it intrigues you.
  • Define your title. Make it narrow enough to know what to focus on.
  • Find reliable and relevant sources.

❓ How can I start writing?

Writing should start from you ensuring that you have enough time to write without distractions. Then, create or choose a good idea. Composing will come naturally from you contemplating on and researching a fruitful topic.

Take notes and make an outline before you proceed to actually write. If you can’t start from the beginning, start composing from any other part.

❓ What is a good persuasive speech topic?

A good persuasive speech topic is the one that you have something to say about. If you care about what you’re talking about, you have a higher chance of convincing your audience.

Make your topic appropriate and relevant to your listeners. But find one that not everyone heard about. Even the most engaging topic becomes boring when it’s overdone.

  • Introduction to Research: Cornell University Library
  • Prewriting Strategies: KU Writing Center
  • Choosing a Topic: Purdue Writing Center
  • Tips on Choosing a Topic for Long-Term Blogging Success: Susan Gunelius, Lifewire
  • How to Choose Your Thesis Topic: Central European University
  • Thesis Statement: Literacy Education Online

Daily Independent

Utilize Your Creative Potential: 5 Unique Ways To Acquire Essay Writing Skills

W riting an essay paper in college is common these days. So, students are more serious than ever with the topic: essay writing! They know how it may affect their future if they stop focusing on essay writing.

Well, if you go through the modern education system and its procedures, you will find assignments to be a massive part of grades and impressions. Whether you are at college or in the university, pursuing study in English literature or geography, essays are a must-go approach these days.

Here is the main concern for students: it is making life hell for them!

Well, writing an essay paper and completing it within time and quality is a cumbersome process for most students. Becoming a writer is not everyone’s cup of tea. However, it is not rocket science.

Writing relates to creativity, thought processes, and unitization to the fullest. Whether you are a student or a professional looking to complete your academic essay paper, you must not neglect the prominence of creativity within you.

Not everyone is creative, but when it comes to creativity, you will need to align your throughout process with it. Here, we will focus on the creative part inside you that can bring out the masterpiece to write an essay paper.

Tricks To Use Creative Writing Skills To Improve An Essay Paper

Writing an essay can be a daunting task, especially if you are not confident in your writing skills. But with the right tricks and techniques, you can turn your essay into a masterpiece that will impress your readers.

One such technique is to utilize your creative potential. By incorporating creative writing skills, you can improve your essay paper significantly.

Here, we will explore a few unique ways to acquire essay writing skills using creative writing tricks. So, whether you are a student struggling with academic essays or a professional looking to enhance your writing skills, read on to discover some valuable tips.

Also, you cannot ignore the knowledge you can get from the sample papers delivered by a prominent . When you do not have much time to give, play smart! Find expert writers to write for you, and in the meantime, you can deal with the creativity part!

Combining your creative skills and the expert writing process, you will be able to generate magnificent essay papers from now on.

Think About The Reader

Before you start writing, consider the readers. Surely, not all people are going to read your paper. So, it is a smart way to redirect your ideas to create a better essay paper by understanding your readers.

No matter the subject matter, if you follow the same trade and tone to every essay paper you write, it will not going to possess any impact on the reader. Until and unless you understand your readers, you are not creating something that is impressive for them.

A paper written by you is not only for you, but readers will judge it. So, it’s time to wear the shoes of a marketer and see the readers as your audience. Go through the background to identify your readers and try to understand their perspectives.

Whether they know the topic well, or are they the authority?

Do they have enough time to read the whole story, or will they focus on the first impression?

These are the questions you need to follow through before you start writing.

Three-Act Structure

This structure is mainly used in television dramas and films. However, the plot structure is important here in your creative writing process.

Confrontation

The whole structure will allow you to build the story around your discussion matter. It will also set up the tone and trigger the argument. If your tone is monotonous, no one is going to get anything interesting out of it.

Your duty is to grab the attention of your readers, and for that, you need to follow the unique plot-creating process.

Open With Attention

When it comes to writing an essay paper, the is the most crucial part. It is the first thing that your readers will see, and it will set the tone for the rest of your paper. This is why it is essential to make your introduction attention-grabbing and interesting without revealing too much of your argument or topic.

Think of your introduction as a hook that will draw your readers in and make them want to read more. You can use a variety of techniques to achieve this, such as starting with a quote, a statistic, or a thought-provoking question. You can also use storytelling or describe a scenario to create a sense of intrigue and curiosity.

Just remember, your introduction should not reveal everything about your topic or argument. It should pique your reader’s interest and make them want to read on to find out more. So, take your time crafting a compelling introduction that will set the stage for your essay paper and leave your readers wanting more.

Skills Of Using Metaphors

Creative writing is a form of expression that involves imagination and originality to produce unique and engaging written content. One of the techniques that creative writers often use is the extended . This concept can be particularly helpful when it comes to writing essays, as it can help you create easily consumable content that captivates your readers.

By using extended metaphors in your essay, you can make complex concepts easier to understand. For example, if you were writing an essay about the importance of education, you could use an extended metaphor to compare education to a key that unlocks doors of opportunity. This metaphor could be expanded throughout your essay, highlighting how education can open doors to new experiences, jobs, and relationships.

Extended metaphors can also help you to create a more emotional connection with your readers. Using metaphors that relate to their experiences or emotions can make your content more relatable and engaging. This can help to draw your readers in and keep them interested in what you have to say.

Editing Is Something

Few writers focus on their editing perspectives. They only write and deliver. However, editing can change the whole scenario. If you are good at editing your own written essay paper, then you will be able to remove all the errors from it.

So, the copy your professor or the reader gets will be completely curated; thus, there is less chance of rejection.

And Finally…Set The Tone And Location

People always remember the incidental details. So, if you give them history with location, they will try to catch it better. All they need is the tone and location through which their imaginary aspects trigger and flourish.

Well, it is a prominent solution to complete your essay paper. After you have done everything, you just need to read minds. So, it is better to go for a realistic approach while delivering the information with genuine references.

IELTS Charlie

Your Guide to IELTS Band 7

Generating Ideas for IELTS Writing Task 2

One common problem faced by many IELTS test takers is generating ideas for IELTS Writing Task 2 . They look at the statement and question…and have absolutely no idea what to write about!

The worst thing to do is to simply start writing with no idea of what you’re going to write about. You will just get stuck, or you will write complete rubbish!

This post will give you some ideas for generating ideas for IELTS Writing Task 2. Once you’ve got some ideas, it’s much easier to put them into a clear, logical structure .

Before I get to methods for generating ideas for IELTS Writing Task 2, let’s look at some 4 of the reasons why generating ideas can be difficult.

Common Problems

Problem 1: difficult and extreme topics.

First of all, it’s important to understand that authentic IELTS essays will be on topics that you can reasonably be expected to form an opinion on. IELTS want to give you the opportunity to write a lot, so that the IELTS examiner can see what your written English is like.

Secondly, IELTS essays won’t require any specialized knowledge to answer, just your own thoughts. IELTS is a language test, not a knowledge test.

Occasionally though, you’ll be unlucky and get a question on a topic that you’ve never really thought about. Sometimes, this question might be about an issue mainly faced by people in the western world. For example:

In recent years, many small local shops have closed because customers  travel to large shopping centres or malls to do their shopping.

Is this a positive or a negative development?

(Cambridge IELTS General Training 12 Test 8)

This is certainly a problem at the moment in the United Kingdom, and it has been a problem in the USA for decades. But I think it’s less of a problem in many parts of Asia and Europe. IELTS do try to use questions that everyone, anywhere in the world, can answer, but sometimes a “rogue question” does appear. That’s why it’s even more important to use some idea generation methods.

Problem 2: Using Bad IELTS Questions

Another very common reason why students find it hard to generate ideas is because they are using terrible essay questions when they practise.

You can find lots of questions online, but a lot of these are badly written, or are on obscure, extreme or strange topics. For example, I recently read a student’s essay where they were asked to discuss the idea that “we can’t learn anything from History.” I think it’s very difficult to discuss this idea because it’s so extreme.

Many websites also publish lists of “reported essay questions” – some of these can be unreliable: they depend on the accurate reporting of the question by test takers, but even a single wrong word can change the meaning of the question.

So instead, only use AUTHENTIC IELTS essay questions. By “authentic”, I mean questions written by reputable publishers like Cambridge English, Collins and Macmillan, or test questions on websites run by IELTS, the British Council and IDP. I recommend you use essay questions from the “Cambridge IELTS Authentic Practice Tests” series. These include carefully written essay questions. Here is a selection of some of these IELTS essay questions .

Problem 3: “In My Culture, I’m Not Encouraged To Form Opinions”

In many cultures, it’s often the case that students are not encouraged to come up with their own opinions. Instead, they are told what to think by their teachers. This means that if students are asked to form their opinion on something -which is what IELTS does – it will be quite difficult.

I think the best way to overcome this is to listen to the views of other people. Watch YouTube videos or read blogs where people give their opinions about something. You could also join an English conversation class in your home town where you have the opportunity to discuss topics.

Problem 4: Trying To Be Interesting

Many students find generating ideas for IELTS Writing Task 2 difficult because they want to come up with interesting or unique ideas.

Test takers doing an advanced degree often have this problem. Those doing PhDs might want to show that they can think originally. Similarly, test takers who are specialists in a field related to the task, such as doctors writing an essay about healthcare, might want to display their expertise.

But ideas in an IELTS essay do not need to be interesting, or original, or knowledgeable. They just need to be RELEVANT: in other words, do your ideas respond directly to the task?

Moreover, your ideas should be simple. It’s much easier to explain and support a simple idea than a complicated one, especially in a short essay like the IELTS. But, again, I often see candidates (doctors especially!) who try to explain complicated ideas in an essay on healthcare, but end up writing a confusing, overly descriptive essay.

So choose ideas that are simple and relevant, not interesting and complicated.

7 Methods for Generating Ideas for IELTS Writing Task 2

1. practice generating ideas…but don’t write the essay.

Generating ideas, like writing essays, is a skill. Like every skill, you need to practise it in order to get better at it. So I recommend that you practice ONLY generating ideas…without writing essays afterwards.

Find a list of authentic IELTS questions, such as my list . Sit down at a desk, or in a coffee shop, and simply try to come up with ideas that respond to the essay question. Don’t write the essay. Don’t even write any sentences. Just come up with 3 or 4 main ideas that respond to the question.

If you find this difficult, generate ideas in your own language and make notes in your own language. This means you only need to focus on ONE skill (generating ideas) and not TWO (generating ideas and English)

To come up with ideas, really think about the issue you have been asked to discuss. What do you really think and feel about it? If a friend asked you for your opinion, what would you really say.

If you find actual IELTS questions too difficult, try these easier questions:

  • What are the main causes of traffic congestion, and how can we solve it?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of being self-employed?
  • What are the main causes of obesity, and how can people lose weight?
  • Sport is a great way of bringing people together. Do you agree or disagree?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of using social media?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of travelling?
  • Some people think that you should get married before you are 30, while others think you should wait until you are older. Discuss both views and give your own opinion.
  • Some people think that Liverpool is the best team in the world, while others think that it is Barcelona. Discuss both views and give your own opinion.
  • Many people buy lots of shoes. Why is this the case? Do you think it is a good or bad thing?
  • Some people like to buy luxury goods (e.g. designer bags). Why do you this this is? What problems can it cause?

If you only spend 10 minutes a day coming up with ideas, you will soon be an expert idea generator.

2. Analyse Model Essays: Reverse Engineer

Find some model IELTS essays: these are essays written at around a Band 8 or Band 9 level. You can find lots of these on websites, although some model essays are much better than others. Here are some model IELTS essays that I have written. The “Cambridge IELTS Authentic Practice Tests” series is also a good source of model essays.

Read them carefully. Analyse the essay: look for the main ideas and write them down. You’re basically writing out the plan that the writer of the essay may have used. In other words, turn the essay into a plan. (This is known as “reverse engineering”: you take the finished piece of writing, and try to discover the plan that led to the essay).

Reverse engineering a model essay will help you to see what ideas went into this model essay, and how you could do the same.

3. Find Ideas On The Internet

Try searching for ideas on the Internet. IELTS essay topics are on common topics, so it’s likely that someone on the Internet will have written a blog post or a new article on a similar topic.

Take this question:

Today more and more tourists are visiting places where conditions are difficult, such as the Sahara desert or the Antarctic.

What are the benefits and disadvantages for tourists who visit such places?

(Cambridge 12 General Training Test 5)

When I googled “why should I visit Antarctica”, I found this site, which gives you 9 reasons to visit Antarctica.

https://global.hurtigruten.com/destinations/antarctica/inspiration/9-reasons-to-travel-to-antarctica/

Next I googled “why should I visit Sahara”, and I got some more reasons.

https://www.thetravelmagazine.net/reasons-to-visit-sahara-desert.html

And then I found some of the difficulties a visitor to the desert might find:

https://traveltips.usatoday.com/hike-anthem-arizohttps://www.thetravelmagazine.net/reasons-to-visit-sahara-desert.htmlna-62575.html

Obviously you wont be able to do this in the actual exam, but by doing it when you practise generating ideas, you will expose yourself to the ideas and thinking of other people. This will help you develop your own idea generation skills.

4. Ask Yourself Some Questions About The Topic

Another simple method to help you come up with ideas is to ask questions using the main question words: who, what, where, when, how.

For example, here’s a tricky essay question:

Some people say that music is a good way of bringing people of different cultures and ages together.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

(Cambridge 14 Academic Test 3)

To get yourself thinking about the topic, ask yourself some questions:

Who is brought together?

Maybe young people. Young people might have similar tastes in music despite living in different countries. For example, many young people all over the world like hip-hop.

What kind of music?

Classical music is enjoyed all over world, for example opera. Everyobody likes Abba and The Beatles as well.

Where does it bring people together?

People from different cultures might enjoy the same music at parties or music festivals and celebrations.

Asking yourself some basic questions will help you to generate some initial ideas. They might not relate directly to the IELTS question yet, but now you are thinking about music festivals, Abba and young people. So next you can start changing and organizing these ideas.

5. Simplify The Question

Many IELTS questions are quite long and complicated. If you focus on the whole question, it can be difficult to generate ideas because you have to understand the question and think of answers at the same time. So it’s a good idea to make the question simpler.

For example, here’s a complicated question about recycling:

Some people claim that not enough of the waste from homes is recycled. They say that the only way to increase recycling is for governments to make it a legal requirement.

To what extent do you think laws are needed to make people recycle more of their waste?

(Cambridge 11 Test 2)

This 48 word statement and question could be summarised in just 4 words:

Are recycling laws needed?

This makes coming generating ideas much easier, because you now have a simple question to answer.

But beware, don’t CHANGE the question. Make sure it’s asking the actual IELTS question in a short way. And when you plan your essay in detail, make sure you look back at the full question: this will help ensure you answer the question directly.

6. Imagine Your Teacher Or Friend Is Asking You The Question

Instead of thinking about a question on an exam paper, imaging your teacher in the classroom, or an intelligent friend in a cafe, is asking you the question. Try to answer them. You might find this is much easier than staring at a blank sheet of paper.

7. Generate Main Ideas From Specific Examples

One reason why people have difficulty coming up with ideas is that it’s very general and abstract.

Often, when you get a question, you might find yourself thinking about a specific example rather than a general idea. For example, with the question about music bringing people together, you might think about hip-hop. Then you can move your thinking from the specific example (hip-hop) to the main idea (young people all over the world often enjoy the same music). Now you have your main idea!

If the topic is the causes of obesity, you might think about pizzas and soda. These examples help you move your thinking up to your main, general idea.

Conclusion…and a Golden Rule

Hopefully these ideas will help you generate some relevant ideas for your IELTS essay. In fact, you might find you have too many ideas! If you have too many ideas, here’s a golden rule:

Choose the ideas that are easiest to explain.

Remember, for a high band score, the IELTS examiner is looking for relevant ideas that are well developed, not interesting or complicated ideas. So choose the ideas that are easiest to write about.

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Charlie is a former IELTS Examiner with 25 years' teaching experience all over the world. His courses, for both English language learners and teachers, have been taken by over 100,000 students in over 160 countries around the world.

5 thoughts on “Generating Ideas for IELTS Writing Task 2”

Excellent explanations and very helpful piece of advice.

O face lots of difficulty in task 2

thank you sir, you are a great teacher <3

Thank you for your sharing. It really helps!

Its helpful. Thanks.

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  • How to Write a Thesis Statement | 4 Steps & Examples

How to Write a Thesis Statement | 4 Steps & Examples

Published on January 11, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on August 15, 2023 by Eoghan Ryan.

A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . It usually comes near the end of your introduction .

Your thesis will look a bit different depending on the type of essay you’re writing. But the thesis statement should always clearly state the main idea you want to get across. Everything else in your essay should relate back to this idea.

You can write your thesis statement by following four simple steps:

  • Start with a question
  • Write your initial answer
  • Develop your answer
  • Refine your thesis statement

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Table of contents

What is a thesis statement, placement of the thesis statement, step 1: start with a question, step 2: write your initial answer, step 3: develop your answer, step 4: refine your thesis statement, types of thesis statements, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about thesis statements.

A thesis statement summarizes the central points of your essay. It is a signpost telling the reader what the essay will argue and why.

The best thesis statements are:

  • Concise: A good thesis statement is short and sweet—don’t use more words than necessary. State your point clearly and directly in one or two sentences.
  • Contentious: Your thesis shouldn’t be a simple statement of fact that everyone already knows. A good thesis statement is a claim that requires further evidence or analysis to back it up.
  • Coherent: Everything mentioned in your thesis statement must be supported and explained in the rest of your paper.

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The thesis statement generally appears at the end of your essay introduction or research paper introduction .

The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education. The use of the internet in academic contexts and among young people more generally is hotly debated. For many who did not grow up with this technology, its effects seem alarming and potentially harmful. This concern, while understandable, is misguided. The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its many benefits for education: the internet facilitates easier access to information, exposure to different perspectives, and a flexible learning environment for both students and teachers.

You should come up with an initial thesis, sometimes called a working thesis , early in the writing process . As soon as you’ve decided on your essay topic , you need to work out what you want to say about it—a clear thesis will give your essay direction and structure.

You might already have a question in your assignment, but if not, try to come up with your own. What would you like to find out or decide about your topic?

For example, you might ask:

After some initial research, you can formulate a tentative answer to this question. At this stage it can be simple, and it should guide the research process and writing process .

Now you need to consider why this is your answer and how you will convince your reader to agree with you. As you read more about your topic and begin writing, your answer should get more detailed.

In your essay about the internet and education, the thesis states your position and sketches out the key arguments you’ll use to support it.

The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its many benefits for education because it facilitates easier access to information.

In your essay about braille, the thesis statement summarizes the key historical development that you’ll explain.

The invention of braille in the 19th century transformed the lives of blind people, allowing them to participate more actively in public life.

A strong thesis statement should tell the reader:

  • Why you hold this position
  • What they’ll learn from your essay
  • The key points of your argument or narrative

The final thesis statement doesn’t just state your position, but summarizes your overall argument or the entire topic you’re going to explain. To strengthen a weak thesis statement, it can help to consider the broader context of your topic.

These examples are more specific and show that you’ll explore your topic in depth.

Your thesis statement should match the goals of your essay, which vary depending on the type of essay you’re writing:

  • In an argumentative essay , your thesis statement should take a strong position. Your aim in the essay is to convince your reader of this thesis based on evidence and logical reasoning.
  • In an expository essay , you’ll aim to explain the facts of a topic or process. Your thesis statement doesn’t have to include a strong opinion in this case, but it should clearly state the central point you want to make, and mention the key elements you’ll explain.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.

The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:

  • It gives your writing direction and focus.
  • It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.

Without a clear thesis statement, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.

Follow these four steps to come up with a thesis statement :

  • Ask a question about your topic .
  • Write your initial answer.
  • Develop your answer by including reasons.
  • Refine your answer, adding more detail and nuance.

The thesis statement should be placed at the end of your essay introduction .

Cite this Scribbr article

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McCombes, S. (2023, August 15). How to Write a Thesis Statement | 4 Steps & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/academic-essay/thesis-statement/

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COMMENTS

  1. Step 1: Generate Ideas

    Step 1: Generate Ideas. "If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it." —Albert Einstein. The first step of the writing process (that is, after carefully reading and understanding the assignment) is to generate ideas for your project. In shorter versions of the writing process, or in processes designed for other kinds ...

  2. Generating Ideas for Your Paper

    Take the ideas, possibilities, sources, and/or examples you've generated and write them out in the order of what you might address first, second, third, etc. Use subpoints to subordinate certain ideas under main points. Maybe you want to identify details about what examples or supporting evidence you might use.

  3. Generate Topic Ideas For an Essay or Paper

    Give yourself a broad topic to write about. Then, on a pad of paper or a word processor, write continuously for two or three minutes. Don't stop, not even for a moment. Write down anything that comes to mind, no matter how nonsensical it seems, as long as it somehow relates to the topic you began with. If you need to, time yourself to make ...

  4. How to Prewrite: Prewriting Tips for Generating Ideas

    Here's how it works: Write your primary idea in the middle of the page: Some writers circle or underline the idea. This might be your theme or thesis statement. Brainstorm secondary ideas: Other ideas related to your primary idea might come up in the brainstorming process. Write them around your central theme or idea, connecting the secondary ...

  5. How to Generate Strong Essay Topics, With 30 Topic Examples

    Here are a few examples of essay topics and accompanying thesis statements: Topic: Changing the legal voting age. Thesis statement: When nations lower the legal voting age to 16, youth civic participation increases. To combat low voter turnout among young adults, the United States should reduce the voting age to 16.

  6. Developing Ideas

    The purpose of writing in college is to show your own analysis and thought processes on the concepts that you're learning about. Writers develop ideas in many ways, including the following: Journaling. Freewriting. Brainstorming. Mapping or diagramming. Listing. Asking defining questions. Noting Pros & Cons.

  7. Essay Writing: How to Write an Outstanding Essay

    The basic steps for how to write an essay are: Generate ideas and pick a type of essay to write. Outline your essay paragraph by paragraph. Write a rough first draft without worrying about details like word choice or grammar. Edit your rough draft, and revise and fix the details. Review your essay for typos, mistakes, and any other problems.

  8. How to Brainstorm for an Essay

    Tip #6: Draw a map of your ideas. While some students might prefer the more traditional list methods, for more visual learners, sketching out a word map of ideas may be a useful method for brainstorming. Write the main idea in a circle in the center of your page. Then, write smaller, related ideas in bubbles further from the center of the page ...

  9. 5 Ways to Generate Ideas for Your Paper

    Look at Your Life Story. 4. Go Back to Your Textbook. 5. If You are Desperate, Go with a Generic Essay Topic. 1. Brainstorming. Before you start a brainstorming session, remember that there is one rule. No idea is cast aside as being silly, too complex, not complex enough, too far off topic, etc.

  10. The Beginner's Guide to Writing an Essay

    The essay writing process consists of three main stages: Preparation: Decide on your topic, do your research, and create an essay outline. Writing: Set out your argument in the introduction, develop it with evidence in the main body, and wrap it up with a conclusion. Revision: Check your essay on the content, organization, grammar, spelling ...

  11. Chapter 3: Idea Generation

    Get out a piece of paper (lined or plain) Write the question you'll be thinking about at the top. Set a timer for a length of time just beyond your comfort level. Five minutes is a minimum; try for 7 to 10 if you're generating ideas for a longer work, like a research essay.

  12. 8 ways to help students generate ideas for an essay

    In this article, I will propose eight different and engaging techniques you can use to help your students generate ideas before writing their essay. 1). Teach the basics. Remind students that when they start planning their essay, they need to: Brainstorm and write down ideas, e.g., by using a mind map, a list, or a diagram.

  13. How to Come Up With Great College Essay Ideas

    A great way to come up with topics is to wholeheartedly dive into a brainstorming exercise. The more ideas about your life that tumble out of your memory and onto the page, the better chance you have of finding the perfect college essay topic. Answer my brainstorming questions without editing yourself at first.

  14. How to Generate Ideas for Writing

    Writer Igniter shuffles characters, situations, prompts and settings—a fun way to generate a creative writing short story assignment. Revise a scene from a famous book. Read the newspaper and adapt some real-life stories into a piece of fiction. Gretchen Rubin recommends story exercises to spark creativity.

  15. How to Structure an Essay

    The second principle is that background information should appear towards the beginning of your essay. General background is presented in the introduction. If you have additional background to present, this information will usually come at the start of the body. The third principle is that everything in your essay should be relevant to the thesis.

  16. 4 Ways to Come Up With a Great Essay Idea

    In this article, we look at how to come up with essay titles that work for you. 1. Answer the question you want answered. The best way to come up with an idea for an essay is to consider what the question is that you would like to see answered. This can seem like quite a scary way of going about choosing a question, because it implies that the ...

  17. IELTS Essay Idea Generation Tips and Strategies

    In IELTS essay writing, brainstorming can be a useful technique for generating ideas related to the topic of the essay. The process involves quickly jotting down any idea that comes to mind related to the topic, without worrying about its relevance or organization. This can help to generate a large number of ideas and can be a useful starting point for organizing and refining your thoughts.

  18. Random Topic Generator: Essay & Speech Ideas for Free

    Our random essay topic generator will create a bunch of writing ideas and prompts for your paper or speech. Follow a few simple steps to generate a topic for your assignment: Press the "Search topic" button and view the ideas proposed by the topic randomizer. In case you need more options, press the button once again to refresh the list.

  19. Utilize Your Creative Potential: 5 Unique Ways To Acquire Essay Writing

    Writing an essay paper in college is common these days. So, students are more serious than ever with the topic: essay writing! ... So, it is a smart way to redirect your ideas to create a better ...

  20. Generating Ideas for IELTS Writing Task 2

    7 Methods for Generating Ideas for IELTS Writing Task 2. 1. Practice Generating Ideas…But Don't Write The Essay. Generating ideas, like writing essays, is a skill. Like every skill, you need to practise it in order to get better at it.

  21. How to Write an Essay Outline

    Revised on July 23, 2023. An essay outline is a way of planning the structure of your essay before you start writing. It involves writing quick summary sentences or phrases for every point you will cover in each paragraph, giving you a picture of how your argument will unfold. You'll sometimes be asked to submit an essay outline as a separate ...

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    Generate ideas, rephrase sentences, and have your essay structure built for you. EssayGenius lets you write better essays, in less time. Our AI tools help you generate new paragraphs, complete sentences, and rephrase your work to avoid plagiarism.

  23. Free AI Paragraph Generator

    Academic writing. Students and researchers can benefit from Ahrefs' Paragraph Generator when working on papers, essays, or research articles. By providing the necessary instructions, the tool can generate well-structured paragraphs that present key arguments, evidence, and analysis, aiding in the writing process. Personal writing and ...

  24. AI Paragraph Generator: Create a paragraph for free

    When stumped for words and ideas mid-sentence, let Magic Write continue writing and expand the rest of your content. ... write the next sentences. Headline generator. Generate catchy headlines, titles, and taglines fit for your blog, article, essay, story, or more with the keywords you specify. ... For every Magic Write query, you can generate ...

  25. How to Write a Thesis Statement

    Placement of the thesis statement. Step 1: Start with a question. Step 2: Write your initial answer. Step 3: Develop your answer. Step 4: Refine your thesis statement. Types of thesis statements. Other interesting articles. Frequently asked questions about thesis statements.

  26. Paragraph Generator

    What Type of Paragraphs You Can Generate With Our Tool. With our AI tool, you can generate various types of paragraphs. You can use our auto paragraph generator as: Introduction Paragraph Generator Generate engaging introductions for your topic, captivating your audience from the start. Want to try writing an introduction yourself?

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