What Is Brainstorming?

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  • 0:08 What is Brainstorming?
  • 0:52 Why Brainstorming is Important
  • 1:43 How to Brainstorm
  • 4:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Bonn

Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a JD.

You may have been told that it's important to brainstorm before writing an essay. This video explains why it's well worth your time to make brainstorming part of your writing routine.

What is Brainstorming?

Have you ever gone to the store knowing that there were some things that you probably really needed, but then ended up wandering the aisles, picking up things at random? If you've ever wound up coming back home from a shopping trip like that - having bought a marshmallow gun and one of those wearable blankets, but without the basic things you actually needed, like bread and toothpaste - then you probably have a sense of why it's important to think ahead and come up with a list of ideas before doing something that requires organization.

Writing an essay without doing a little brainstorming first would be like going on a shopping trip and wandering around aimlessly, without taking some time first to make a list and get a sense of what you needed. Sure, marshmallow guns can be fun, but whether you're shopping or writing, it's generally a good idea to think about what you actually need first.

Why Brainstorming is Important

Given the importance of the quality of ideas in graded essays, it makes a lot of sense to spend a bit of time brainstorming before you start writing a paper. Brainstorming is the process whereby writers come up with ideas to write about.

For some of us, when we're assigned an essay, the thought of brainstorming and prewriting might just seem like more work. We might ask ourselves: why should we give ourselves any additional tasks to do when we already have a huge paper staring us in the face?

No matter how good a writer you are, though, the most important element of an essay that you write - whether it's a term paper for class or a timed essay exam - is the content of your paper. In other words, the information and ideas presented in an essay. You may have a real way with words, and you may have all of your grammar rules down cold, but if you don't present good, well-organized ideas in your paper, you'll lose out on a lot of points.

How to Brainstorm

There are a number of useful techniques for brainstorming, including freewriting, listing, clustering and mapping. But no matter which technique you use, there are really two essential steps to the brainstorming process:

  1. Generate ideas.
  2. Decide which ideas are good and which ones aren't useful.

Some people are mentally able to keep a lot of balls in the air and don't need to write down their ideas as they brainstorm, but for most of us, it's a good idea as we generate ideas to jot things down as we come up with them.

This makes it a lot easier to sort out the good ideas from the not-so-good ones that we brainstormed. By engaging in this process, you'll be able to prevent yourself from going on random tangents while you write your actual essay. There's nothing worse than sitting in an exam room as the seconds tick by and realizing that you've just wasted several precious minutes going on and on about Abraham Lincoln's childhood when you were supposed to be writing about his work saving the union. You also don't want to waste several hours of writing time by having to get rid of big, irrelevant sections of a term paper that you've been working on for a few days.

For an example of how to go about brainstorming, let's say that you're employing the very simple brainstorming technique of listing, in which you make a list of all of the ideas that occur to you as you think about your topic. If you're writing a persuasive essay about whether students in public schools should be required to wear uniforms, you might make a quick list of ideas like:

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