By: Phillip Mattie
I admit that there is something annoying about brainstorming. If I were a student, I would look incredulously at my teacher if she told me that I needed to spend five to ten minutes out of precious exam time to generate ideas. What, couldn’t I just think of my ideas as I write? Or, perhaps, if I’m a little shy on length, I could just tack on another paragraph. That’ll be alright, right? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is (obviously) no. Don’t doubt what brainstorming can do for you. Putting your thinking cap on for five to ten minutes, believe it or not, will actually save you time, effort, and stress.
This article is a bit of a diversion, I admit. So if you are looking for an article on how to brainstorm, take a look in the archives; you can find a great one written by yours truly on how to generate ideas. I chose to write this article because I have had too many students give me essays with one body paragraph or essays that are horribly organized. Every time we review, I ask them, “Did you brainstorm?” the answer is universally “No” despite my insistences that they do. So I’m here to persuade you to brainstorm by listing some of the perks brainstorming has to offer. Here they are, in all their glory!
Brainstorming Gets Ideas Out Early
I know, I know. You want to tear into the essay topic that has just been handed to you. It is just sitting there, looking expectantly back at you like some puppy wanting to be walked. Well, you need to put a leash on your dog before you take it for a walk, don’t you? Brainstorming does that. Spend a couple minutes generating ideas—words or phrases are generally what I start off with when brainstorming. I hardly ever write in complete sentences in the initial parts of brainstorming and then end my brainstorming sessions by completely writing out my topic sentences in their entirety.
Once you have a couple good ideas written down in complete sentences, you have completely finished generating ideas. Done. Dust off your hands because this job is complete. See, one advantage of brainstorming is that it allows you to get all your thinking out at once. If you chose to instead begin the essay without brainstorming, then you would be constantly transitioning between idea generating and writing supporting details (aka examples from the text). Constantly switching from one mentality to another is exhausting and, quite frankly, a waste of time. Don’t put yourself through that.
Brainstorming Develops Organization
The ability to look at your topic sentences before you actually begin writing your essay gives you an enormous organizational advantage. Truly. Just think, if you have five great ideas laid out in front of you, this is your chance to stamp your authority on your essay and make it yours. Eliminate weaker ideas or make weaker ideas stronger. Select only the best and most relevant topics of discussion for your essay while eliminating off-topic ideas. Or, generate a new topic that you might have left out that fits with others.
Remember that there are many ways for you to organize your ideas. First, you can organize your essay chronologically, where you give a blow-by-blow in order of events. Perhaps you will choose to write in climactic order, where you organize ideas from least to most important. Or maybe the best way to organize your ideas is in simple topical order, where you move from one idea to the next and there is no real order of events. Having the ability to select which organizational method your essay will follow in the brainstorming stage is an advantage not to be passed up.
Brainstorming Eases Tension
While writing essays, students often find themselves at a loss for words. They are about halfway done the essay, have a thesis and a body paragraph for an idea they thought of on the fly, and then stall. It’s incredibly common, actually, for students to sputter out at this point. Because they didn’t brainstorm. The student had one good idea, wrote about it in the body, and then… poof. Nothing. And they cannot get back into idea generating mode.
Well, guess what? If you brainstorm, you will never find yourself at a loss for words. Your next topic is just sitting there, waiting for you to write about it. There is no stalling or sputtering at any point of the essay because there is a clear direction in which to go. Just think of all those minutes where you sat with your pencil in your mouth, essay half finished, and you’re trying to figure out another topic to write about when your pencil could’ve been a blur on the page. Brainstorming is a time saver!
Finally, essays are incredibly stressful to write. However, you are actually easing the tension on yourself by getting your ideas down properly. With your topics firmly on the page in front of you, all that you are required to do now is flesh out the idea with details that you get from the text.
Passing up an advantage like brainstorming and choosing to dive right into the writing is effectively choosing a lower mark. Brainstorming gets ideas out early. Plain and simple, throw every idea you can think of onto the paper and see what resonates with you. Don’t transition between idea generating and writing because, well, it’s a waste of time. Brainstorming naturally develops organization! The ability to pick and choose which topic is more important or which should go before another is an enormous helping hand.
And finally, brainstorming eases tension. You don’t have to worry about that horrible feeling you get when you are half way through writing an essay and you are all out of ideas. With final exams coming up, I hope that you try brainstorming before you write anything. The advantages of doing so are more than worth the five to ten minutes it takes.