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This Guide was created as a joint project of the Academic Resource Center and the William H. Hannon Library.


The brainstorming or invention strategies below can jump start your writing and help you see different facets of your topic. Consider using one or more strategies at various times in your writing process: from generating first ideas to gathering more evidence.​

Try Considering Your Audience

Imagine your audience. How old are they? What is their level of education? What is their familiarity with your topic? Ask additional questions that will help you understand your audience better. Now, make a list of questions that your audience might have about your topic. Answer those questions. 

Try Freewriting

Write for 10 minutes about your topic, keeping your pencil moving and not edit anything. When you are finished, re-read what you have and compose a single sentence that summarizes the most important idea of your writing. Next, use that sentence as the first sentence of another 5 to 10-minute free write, or “loop.” Continue this process of looping until you discover a clear angle or aspect of your topic. 

Try Clustering/Webbing

To develop your topic more fully and get a better understanding of the relationships among the parts of a broad topic, watch this video on clustering and try it for yourself. 

Try Having a Conversation or Free Talking

Don't forget that just talking with a friend or tutor about your ideas, concerns, or common interests can be very helpful. Hearing an opposing viewpoint or understanding a problem from a different perspective may give you something new to write about. Let the conversation flow naturally. Your friend can help by jotting down bits of the conversation so you have a rough record for later use. Was there something in the conversation that excited you? Can it be developed into a thesis or a paper?

You can try this at home by free talking. Use the same method above, but instead of your friend recording the conversation, note things you say that interest you. 

Try Answering Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How?

Explain a topic by answering the following questions. Use this information help you organize your paper. Did you have difficulty answering some questions? Do some areas of your topic need further development, or do you need to change your focus?

  1. Who is doing it?
  2. What is the issue?
  3. When does it begin and end?
  4. Where is it taking place? 
  5. Why does it occur?
  6. How is it done? 

Try Answering Aristotle’s Topical Questions

Use these questions to help you discover more specific and critical ways to think about your topic. Finding answers to the questions that pique your curiosity will ultimately lead to your thesis and provide the development you need to support it.


  • What happened?
  • What are the facts? (who, what, when, where, why, how?)
  • Is there a problem/issue?


Definition (the meaning or nature of the issue)

  • What is it? What is the nature of the problem/issue?
  • What kind of problem/issue is it?
  • To what larger class of things or events does it belong?
  • What are its parts, and how are they related?
  • What are the physical characteristics of the object? What structure does it have?



  • What is it like or unlike? 
  • What other object is it similar to? 
  • How does it differ from things that resemble it?
  • What other concepts have been associated with it?



  • How did it happen/begin? 
  • What caused it? What is causing it? What will cause it?
  • What did it cause? What is it causing? What will it cause?
  • What changed to create the problem?
  • Can it be changed?



  • Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Right? Just? Appropriate?
  • How serious is the problem?
  • Whom might it affect?
  • What happens if we don’t do anything?
  • What are the costs of solving the problem/issue?



  • Should action be taken?
  • Who should be involved in helping to solve the problem?
  • What should be done about this problem?
  • What needs to happen to solve this problem?



Clark, Irene. Writing in the Center, Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 1985. Print.
Lundsford, Andrea, and Robert Connors. The Everyday Writer. New York: St. Martins, 1977. Print.
McAndrew, Donald A., and Thomas J. Reigstad. “Tutoring When the Writer Does Not Have a Draft.” Tutoring Writing: A Practical
Guide for Conferences. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001. Print.