Most of my students look at me skeptically when I talk about the importance of brainstorming or other prewriting strategies. They nod their head rather patronizingly, and wait for me to move on to the next topic. At times, I have even got remarks like ‘we hardly get enough time to even complete the essay,’ implying brainstorming is an unnecessary waste of time in the one or two hours allotted to writing compositions in class.
But the trick is in realizing that actually, doing some brainstorming and sketching an outline before you write is indeed the key to using time economically as well as fruitfully.
The TRO factor
It helps you to think, refine, and organize
Brainstorming actually gets you in the thinking/productive writing mode right away. This essentially takes care of the most crucial job involved in essay writing.
Rather than taking fifteen minutes to write the first sentence and drafting and redrafting the first couple of sentences continuously, invest the time in chalking an outline. Brainstorming sets the ball rolling by initiating your thought process. So as not to get distracted, follow one of these methods:
1. Freewriting: Write down the topic and then start writing whatever comes to your mind about the topic. Keep writing for two/three minutes. Whatever comes to your mind. Don’t stop to judge if it’s valid. Don’t bother about spelling or grammar. Don’t write in complete sentences. Remember, the purpose at this stage is simply to make you start the process of thinking. At this point, don’t stop to think if the ideas in your mind are valid as points. Just drag all your thoughts onto the paper. Technically speaking, brainstorming is similar to freewriting, except that you create a list of ideas and can stop to pause and think to get ideas. But do not worry too much about the technical differences between these methods. The idea is to help you get into the thinking mode and extract all ideas that come up in your mind. You can certainly refine them later.
2. The Wh words: List all the wh words (why, what, who, where, when, how) and beside each, generate the answers, in the context of the topic. List whatever comes to your mind. Don’t stop to evaluate.
3. Clustering: Write the topic in the middle and circle it. That idea will lead to another, so write the second idea and draw a line to connect it to the circle containing the topic. Keep writing and circling, and connecting ideas until a cluster of ideas appears. This will help you form the supporting ideas too.
Once you have put all immediate thoughts regarding the subject on paper, now stop and look. Consider each point that you have written and tick against the ones you think are the most appropriate/valid.
Now take a few minutes to think about the points chosen. Think about how you could support these points: what examples to use or what explanations to give. Just write a word or two as markers for yourself.
Take a minute to organize the points. Decide the order you would follow.
Here’s something more that you can use your brainstorming notes/outline for:
Create a checklist for yourself:
Relevant to the topic?
Valid topic sentences?
Thesis statement passes ‘so what’ or ‘why/how’ test?
-ing use (write down whatever is your predominant problem in grammar, which you know you should be watching out for)
After you write your essay, check back with this list to see if you have taken care of each point.
Once you have created this outline, or essentially, have done the preliminary thinking, the process of writing will certainly be easier. And the finished product will indeed be much better structured and with better content than writing randomly. Also, this way, you can at least make sure that you have taken care of the fundamental technicalities regarding the use of transition words, validity of thesis statements or topic sentences, and similar issues.
Try it. Adopt it. Practice it. It’s really worth the time and effort.