We’re often asked to ‘brainstorm’ before we start on an essay writing task or other assignment, but what exactly does this mean?

Essay preparation – What is brainstorming?

Brainstorming is a creative technique for coming up with a solution to a problem.  It became popular in the 1940s and is now commonly used in academic and work environments.   If you’re not sure what should go into your essay, you would write down your ideas on paper or maybe straight into a Word file if you prefer working on a computer.  It’s a way of gathering all your ideas and working out what you already know about that subject.  You will often find you know more than you think.

Brainstorming is a transferable skill; you won’t just use it as a student.  When you start work it’s a useful way for work colleagues to come up with fresh ideas to solve company problems.  At university, most of the time you need to learn to brainstorm successfully on your own.  In work, you will also need to do this as part of a team.

Essay brainstorming – How to do it?

Set yourself a time limit.  You are going to write at speed.  Write down everything you think might be relevant to the essay topic.  At this stage, don’t censor yourself.  Allow yourself to write down everything that comes into your head.  It may seem nonsense at the moment that you write it, but you may see the relevance later.

Essay plans

Once you have a sheet full of ideas, begin to put them in some sort of order for your essay.  This is the beginning of work on your essay plan.  Work out which things can go in the body of the text and how the different ideas relate to one another.

It’s at this stage that you can evaluate your ideas.  Which ideas simply have no value?  It’s only once you have written everything down that you can start to judge the validity and usefulness of the ideas.

Structure your arguments and your reading priorities for your essays based on the brainstorming notes you have made.  These skills remain useful as masters dissertation and higher levels of writing.  Did you find this helpful?  Post your comments below.