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Academic Success Center > Writing Center > Resources > Brainstorming

Many students find that choosing a topic is a difficult step in the writing process. Brainstorming is a technique used in writing to create a number of topic ideas, and eventually narrow the choices down to one topic. However, if you are given a specific topic, it can also be used to break down that topic into subtopics. Either way, it is a simple way to jump start your mind!

Brainstorming works for individual work, as well as group work. It can be a verbal process, or completed by jotting things down, or even drawing. And, there is no right or wrong way to do it.


Listing or Bulleting:

For this technique, you simply jot down thoughts (phrases, words, questions, etc.) that come to mind. It is word association activity. If I say “childhood,” what do you immediately think about? Thoughts can range from general topic ideas to subtopic ideas. Here are two examples:
1) creating a list for a general topic idea, and 2) creating subtopics.

  1. Brainstorming general topic ideas:

    Example assignment – write about something from your childhood.
    1. Vacations
    2. Chores
    3. Playgrounds/playing outside
    4. Toys

  2. Brainstorming subtopic ideas:

    Example assignment – write about a specific chore you did as a child.
    Doing the dishes:
    1. Once a week
    2. Dishwasher or hand wash
    3. Breaking dishes
    4. Smells
    5. Hated doing it, but got an allowance


This technique starts out in an extremely unorganized manner, but works its way toward organized ideas. Simply grab a piece of blank paper, and write the topic/assignment in the center. From there, write any ideas, thoughts, etc. around the center. When you are finished, take a look at your mess and start connecting related ideas. Connect ideas by circling, drawing lines, or highlighting in coded colors. For example, clustering about something from your childhood might look like this:    brainstorm image                

There are a number of ways to brainstorm; clustering and listing are two commonly used techniques. You may find that you can even create your own brainstorming technique.  Once ideas are listed or connect, individual ideas can continue to be broken down until you feel you have enough specifics to start outlining your writing.


Record everything – even the wildest ideas.

Keep an open mind for all ideas – no idea is silly in brainstorming. Eventually you will eliminate the ideas you do not like.

Keep eliminated ideas for the future.

By Amanda Neubauer, M.A.