2.1: Brainstorm for the Essay
This resource was written by Jaclyn M. Wells.
Last edited by Allen Brizee on March 23, 2009 .
This resource covers methods of developing ideas for the essay you will be required to write.
After you have a good grasp of what the prompt is asking, you should figure out how you will respond. You may have heard teachers refer to this stage as pre-writing. At this stage, you should brainstorm many ideas. You won’t necessarily use all of the ideas you come up with, but it’s helpful to have lots of ideas to choose from when planning your essay. After you have gathered many ideas, you’ll work on figuring out your main idea. Even though you may feel rushed to begin writing right away, it’s important to take some time to go through this step to make sure you have an interesting main idea and plenty of supporting points.
You might use one or both of the following methods to gather your ideas. Experiment with both of them to see what best helps you brainstorm your ideas.
Brainstorming Method 1: Idea Map
Drawing a map of your ideas is helpful in many ways. First, people often find that seeing a visual representation of their thoughts helps them to add more ideas and sort through them. Also, drawing a map might help you see how your thoughts connect to one another, which will help you when you begin organizing your essay.
In the center of the map, write your topic and draw a circle around it. When you come up with a new idea, write it down, draw a circle around it, and draw a line to show how it connects to the topic in the center and/or the other ideas you’ve written down. Look at the main ideas you’ve written and see if you can think of other ideas that connect to them. Remember that it is okay—actually, it is great—if you have many ideas right now. You won’t necessarily use all of them in your essay, but all it’s important to collect many ideas right now. The map below uses the sample essay topic from the previous resource to show you what an idea map might look like.
To practice with this brainstorming method, draw your own idea map using the sample essay topic.
Brainstorming Method 2: Idea List
Rather than draw a map, some people prefer to brainstorm by simply listing their ideas. This is a fairly straightforward method of brainstorming ideas. Though not as visual as an idea map, lists are a great way of finding and recording your ideas. Idea lists help you “mine” your ideas so that you have many to choose from and also help you find a main idea and supporting points, which will be useful as you plan your essay.
At the top of your list, write your topic. Writing out your topic helps you focus on it. Then, list the ideas you think of in the order that they come to you. You can use many lists to find supporting points for each of your ideas. The lists below use the sample essay topic above to show you what idea lists might look like.
Example Idea List
What is an important goal I have for the next few years?
- finishing school
- getting a better job
- keeping in touch with my friends and family
- learning a new language
How can I achieve my goal?
- to finish school, I can figure out what my goals are for school, find a school that fits my goals, and apply to schools and for financial aid
- to get a better job, I can finish school, learn a new language, search for jobs, prepare my applications, and make a list of people who will give me a good reference
- to keep in touch with my friends and family, I can make a list of everyone’s contact information, like addresses, phone numbers, and email
- to learn a new language, I can pick what language I want to learn, get a dictionary, and find a class
To practice with this brainstorming method, make your own idea list using the sample essay topic.
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 trying to write an essay and keep hearing that you need to first “brainstorm” this idiom might be keeping you from putting paper to pen.
Brainstorming is simply when you stop to think about the topic you will be writing about, then write down each idea or though that comes to mind. When writing your essay you must be deliberate with the way you roll out information. However, before you even begin that first draft, the time in which you’re gathering your thoughts, you should write or type as quickly as possible to jot down each thought that comes to mind.
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
Grab a pen and paper or your computer and start writing. Any key words or sentences that pop into your mind you should add to your paper. This process might get messy but it’s an effective way to quickly gather your thoughts without the pressure of creating an actual draft.
2. Stay Organized
If the idea of throwing your thoughts onto paper makes you cringe or draw a blank mind- don’t worry. There are a few more “orderly” ways that you can brainstorm- using a diagram can help you quickly gather your thoughts but also keep them organized at the same time. Here are two diagrams commonly used when brainstorming:
Venn Diagram: Most students don’t use a Venn diagram on a daily basis but it can be helpful when brainstorming. If you’ve never used a Venn diagram for the purpose of brainstorming, here’s an example: Perhaps you have an essay in which you’re addressing the benefits vs. the harmful effects of Styrofoam. You could then title the left circle “benefits” and the right circle “harmful effects” the middle shape would then be able to include each item that is not specifically a positive or a negative to Styrofoam- each thought that falls somewhere in the middle. After your diagram is labeled you can then list items that below in each category.
Spider Diagram: When creating a spider diagram start by writing down 3-5 key topics that you want your essay to include. Once again using the Stryofoam essay example, perhaps you would write down “Non-biodegradable,” “Cheap to produce,” and “Useful material.” After you have your main topics that you wish to cover you can branch off of those topics with supporting ideals- and maybe even link your key topics together. In the end, it should resemble a spider web.
After you have brainstormed it’s then time to turn your thoughts into your essay. Read through your thoughts and establish where each will fit within your essay. Your essay should include the following parts:
- 1st body (strongest support)
- 2nd body
- 3rd body
Your brainstorming session then allows you to create an outline using each thought you want to convey in your essay. You’re now ready to view essay samples and start writing!
This entry was posted on Saturday, May 9th, 2015 at 8:40 am and is filed under International Student, Study in the USA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
Written by Bryanna Davis
Bryanna joined EIC in 2011 after returning to the United States from teaching English in China. Her interest in international education, sparked initially by her own study abroad experience in Wales, led her to the company. Bryanna is originally from Missouri and is a graduate from the University of Central Missouri.
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