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How to Brainstorm for Essays (and get 100s of Ideas!)

How to Brainstorm for Essays (and get 100s of Ideas!)

Education

Mai Do 04 Apr 2022 6 min read

We have all been there. Teachers assign us an essay due next week. We tremble. What should we write about? What problems to tackle? Would the essay be original enough?

It’s like you are venturing into an unexplored abyss. But fret not, because making a brainstorm for essay writing can actually help you plan, execute and nail that A+

Here’s how…

What is Brainstorming?

Man sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded by papers showing images and charts
Image courtesy of Inc.

Every successful creation starts with a great idea, which is actually the hardest part in many cases.

Brainstorming is simply the free-flowing process of coming up with ideas. In this process, you come up with a whole bunch of ideas without guilt or shame. Ideas can be outside of the box and nothing is considered too silly, too complex, or impossible. The more creative and free-flowing, the better.

The benefits of brainstorming can surprise you:

  1. Increases your creativity: Brainstorming forces your mind to research and come up with possibilities, even unthinkable ones. Thus, it opens your mind to new ideas.
  2. A valuable skill: Not just in high school or college, brainstorming is a lifelong skill in your employment and pretty much anything that requires a bit of thought.
  3. Helps organise your essay: At any point in the essay you can stop to brainstorm ideas. This helps you structure the essay, making it coherent and logical.
  4. It can calm you: A lot of the stress in writing comes from not having enough ideas or not having a structure. You might feel overwhelmed by the hoards of information after the initial research. Brainstorming ideas can help organise your thoughts, which is a calming activity that can help you avoid stress.

Essay brainstorming in an academic setting works a bit differently than doing it in a team. You’ll be the only one doing the brainstorming for your essay, meaning that you’ll be coming up with and whittle down the ideas yourself.

Here are five ways to do just that…

5 Essay Brainstorming Ideas

Idea #1 – Write Ideas Unconsciously

In “Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking,” Malcolm Gladwell points out how our unconscious is many times more effective than our conscious in decision making.

In brainstorming, our unconscious can differentiate between relevant and irrelevant information in a split second. Our intuition is underrated. It can often produce better judgments than a deliberate and thoughtful analysis as it cuts through all the irrelevant information and focuses on just the key factors. 

Even if the ideas you come up with in essay brainstorming seem insignificant, it might lead you to something great later. Trust yourself and put whatever you think of on paper; if you don’t focus on self-editing, you may come up with some ingenious ideas.

That’s because writing freely can actually negate writer’s block and help your unconscious run wild!

Idea #2 – Draw a Mind Map

An illustration of a mind map
Image courtesy of Uyen.vn

Brains love visual communication and mind maps are exactly that.

Our thoughts rarely arrive in easily digestible chunks; they’re more like webs of information and ideas that extend forward at any given time. Keeping track of these ideas is tough, but manifesting them all in a mind map can help you get more ideas and both understand and retain them better.

To draw an effective mind map, here are some tips:

  1. Create a central idea: In the middle of your paper draw a central topic/idea which represents the starting point of your essay and then branch out to different arguments. This central visual will act as a visual stimuli to trigger your brain and remind you constantly about the core idea.
  2. Add keywords: When you add branches to your mind map, you will need to include a key idea. Keep these phrases as brief as possible to generate a greater number of associations and keep space for more detailed branches and thoughts.
  3. Highlight branches in different colours: Coloured pen is your best friend. Apply different colours to each key idea branch above. This way, you can differentiate arguments.
  4. Use visual signifiers: Since visuals and colours are the core of a mind map, use them as much as you can. Drawing small doodles works great because it mimics how our mind unconsciously arrives at ideas. Alternatively, if you’re using an online brainstorming tool, you can real images and embed them in.

Idea #3 – Get on Pinterest

Believe it or not, Pinterest is actually a pretty decent online brainstorming tool. You can use it to collect images and ideas from other people and put them all together to get a clearer picture of what your essay should talk about.

For example, if you’re writing an essay on the importance of college, you could write something like Does college matter? in the search bar. You might just find a bunch of interesting infographics and perspectives that you never even considered before.

A screenshot of an infographic by Pinterest.

Save that to your own idea board and repeat the process a few more times. Before you know it, you’ll have a cluster of ideas that can really help you shape your essay!

Idea #4 – Try a Venn Diagram

Are you trying to find similarities between two topics? Then the famous Venn diagram technique could be the key, as it clearly visualises the characteristics of any concept and shows you which parts overlap.

Popularised by British Mathematician John Venn in the 1880s, the diagram traditionally illustrates simple set relationships in probability, logic, statistics, linguistics and computer science.

You start by drawing two (or more) intersecting circles and labelling each one with an idea you’re thinking of. Write the qualities of each idea in their own circles, and the ideas they share in the middle where the circles intersect.

For example, in the student debate topic Marijuana should be legal because alcohol is, you can have a circle listing the positives and negatives of marijuana, the other circle doing the same for alcohol, and the middle ground listing the effects they share between them.

Idea #5 – Use a T-Chart

This brainstorming technique works well to compare and contrast, thanks to the fact that it’s super simple.

All you have to do is write the title of the essay at the top of your paper then split the rest of it into two. On the left side, you’ll write about the argument for and on the right side, you’ll write the argument against.

For example, in the topic Should plastic bags be banned? you can write the pros in the left column and the cons in the right. Similarly, if you’re writing about a character from fiction, you can use the left column for their positive traits and the right side for their negative traits. Simple as that.

💡 Need more? Check out our article on How to Brainstorm Ideas Properly!

Online Tools to Brainstorm your Essay

Students using AhaSlides software to brainstorm for an essay.
AhaSlides works great when brainstorming in groups!

Thanks to technology, we no longer have to rely on just a piece of paper and a pen. There are a plethora of tools, paid and free, to make your brainstorming session easier…

  • Freemind is a free, downloadable software for mind mapping. You can brainstorm an essay using different colours to show which parts of the article you’re referring to. The color-coded features keep track of your essays as you write.
  • MindGenius is another app where you can curate and customise your own mind map from an array of templates.
  • AhaSlides is a free tool for brainstorming with others. If you’re working on a team essay, you can ask everyone to write down their ideas for the topic and then vote on whichever is their favourite.
  • Miro is a wonderful tool for visualising pretty much anything with a lot of moving parts. It gives you an infinite board and every arrow shape under the sun to construct and align the parts of your essay.

Final Say on Brainstorming your Essay

Honestly, the scariest moment of writing an essay is before you start, but brainstorming can make the process of writing an essay less scary. It’s a process that helps you burst through one of the toughest parts of essay and writing and gets your creative juices flowing for the content ahead.

💡 Looking for brainstorm activities? Try some of these!

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