Learning to speak English as a second language is not easy- especially when introduced to idioms like “who spilled the beans” or “she let the cat out of the bag.” If you’re writing an essay and keep hearing that you need to first “brainstorm” this idiom might be keeping you from putting the paper to pen.
Brainstorming is simply when you stop thinking about a topic that you will write about, and then write down each idea, or if it comes to mind. When writing an essay, you must be careful about how you provide the information. However, before you even begin this first sketch, the time when you collect your thoughts, you must write or type as quickly as possible in order to write down every thought that comes to mind.
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To brainstorm when writing an essay there are two ways you can approach the brainstorming process depending on which you feel will be more beneficial for you.
1. Fill the page while writing an essay
Take a pen and paper or a computer and start writing an essay. Any keywords or sentences that come to mind you should add to your article. This process can be confusing, but it is an effective way to quickly gather your thoughts without having to create a real draft.
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2. Writing an essay: stay organized
If the idea of throwing your thoughts on paper makes you cringe or be distracted, don’t worry. There are several more “ordered” ways in which you can brainstorm. Using a chart can help you quickly gather your thoughts, but at the same time keep them organized. Here are two diagrams commonly used in brainstorming:
Venn Diagram: Most students do not use the Venn Diagram daily, but it can be useful in brainstorming. If you’ve never used the Venn diagram for a brainstorming session, here is an example: you might have an essay in which you consider the benefits against the harmful effects of polystyrene foam. Then you could call the left circle “benefits” and the right circle “harmful effects”, then the middle figure can include every element that is not positive or negative for polystyrene foam — every thought that falls somewhere in the middle. After your chart is marked, you can list the items that are lower in each category.
Spider Diagram: When creating a spider Diagram, start by writing 3-5 key topics that you want to include in your essay. Once again, using the Styrofoam example essay, perhaps you would write “Non-Biodegradable,” “Cheap to Production,” and “Useful Material.” Once you have the main topics that you want to cover, you can move from these topics to supportive ideals – and perhaps even link your key topics together. In the end, it should resemble a web.
3. Break down the topic into levels while writing an essay
Once you have a course assignment in front of you, you might brainstorm:
the general topic, like “The relationship between tropical fruits and colonial powers”
a specific subtopic or required question, like “How did the availability of multiple tropical fruits influence competition amongst colonial powers trading from the larger Caribbean islands during the 19th century?”
a single term or phrase that you sense you’re overusing in the paper. For example: If you see that you’ve written “increased the competition” about a dozen times in your “tropical fruits” paper, you could brainstorm variations on the phrase itself or on each of the main terms: “increased” and “competition.”
4. Perspectives of writing an essay
Looking at something from different perspectives helps you see it more completely—or at least in a completely different way, sort of like laying on the floor makes your desk look very different to you. To use this strategy, answer the questions for each of the three perspectives, then look for interesting relationships or mismatches you can explore:
Describe it: Describe your subject in detail. What is your topic? What are its components? What are its interesting and distinguishing features? What are its puzzles? Distinguish your subject from those that are similar to it. How is your subject, unlike others?
Trace it: What is the history of your subject? How has it changed over time? Why? What are the significant events that have influenced your subject?
Map it: What is your subject related to? What is it influenced by? How? What does it influence? How? Who has a stake in your topic? Why? What fields do you draw on for the study of your subject? Why? How has your subject been approached by others? How is their work related to yours?
Writing an essay better – collecting ideas
Armed with a full quiver of brainstorming techniques and facing sheets of jotted ideas, bulleted subtopics, or spidery webs relating to your paper, what do you do now?
Take the next step and start writing your first draft or fill in the gaps you were thinking about in order to finish your “almost finished” article. If you’re a fan of sketching, prepare one that includes as much of your brainstorming data as it seems logical to you. If you are not a fan, do not do this. Instead, start writing down a few large chunks (large sentence groups or full paragraphs) to expand your small groups and phrases. Continue building from there to large sections of your paper. You do not need to start at the beginning of the project. Start writing the section that is going to most easily. You can always come back to write an introduction later.
Remember, once you’ve begun the paper, you can stop and try another brainstorming technique whenever you feel stuck. Keep the energy moving and try several techniques to find what suits you or the particular project you are working on.
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