Brainstorming Techniques


  1. Get out a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. You can type your list, but writing by hand helps you focus your attention on the ideas, not on the placement of keys on the keyboard.
  2. Prepare a 5-minute timer.
    If you don’t have a laundry or cooking timer handy, your cellphone almost certainly comes with an app for that.
  3. Ask yourself this question: “What do I want to write about?”
  4. Start the timer.
  5. Write!

Don’t worry about shaping your thoughts or correcting them – just write things down and don’t erase anything. Don’t worry about spelling; if you’re struggling to remember a name or source, just draw a line there so you can fill it in later.

It’s okay if your thoughts come out as words, phrases, or complete sentences – just get them down on paper first. Do this for the full five minutes; if the alarm goes off and you still have thoughts coming out, just silence the alarm and keep writing until you have your thoughts down.

Stand up, stretch, and sit down for part 2:

  1. Get out a new piece of paper and a pen or pencil.
  2. Prepare a 5-minute timer.
  3. Ask yourself this question, “How do these fit together?”
  4. Start the timer.
  5. Write!

There’s no right or wrong answer to how you answer the prompt. You could list things together by theme, arrange them according to what you like and dislike the most, or even categorize them by color.

When you’re done, take a different color pen or pencil and re-read your two pieces of paper:

  • Is there anything that you feel is missing that should be added? Write it in! 
  • Is there anything that you feel should be removed? Cross it out, but make sure you can still read what you wrote.
  • Is there something that you really like or really want to focus on? Circle or underline it.

This exercise will give you a list of ideas that might turn into a paper topic. The next step is to find out which of these ideas (it could be more than one) is most important, helping you to narrow down the topic that you will be writing about.

A good brainstorming exercise after you’ve narrowed down your topic is to draw an idea cluster chart.

Get out a blank piece of paper, write your paper topic in the middle, and draw an oval around it.

Draw lines out from the center and fill in new ovals with subtopics. For instance, if your center oval said “Student employment at APU,” a few of your secondary bubbles might say “Jobs,” “Availability,” and “Pay rates.” You could also write questions.

Keep branching off of these ovals as new ideas come to you. From “Jobs,” for instance, you might list “Writing Coach,” “Campus Safety Officer,” etc.

Again, try not to hold back. Just let your ideas flow on to the page.

Now, you likely have a better idea of your paper’s direction. Pick an area to focus on, such as a body paragraph. Get out a piece of paper and a pen, set a timer for five to ten minutes, and start writing. This is not the time to be perfect. Instead, you need to keep your pen moving as fast as you can. Don’t stop! Even if you have nothing to say, write “Blah, blah, blah” or something until a new idea comes to you. The act of writing will help you to come up with ideas! When you’re done, read over what you wrote and type up what has potential. You’re on your way!​