Generating Ideas

Dealing with Writer’s Block

Having a tough time starting your paper? Can’t think of a topic? Follow these steps to try and break through that wall:

  • Take a deep breath! We all have to start somewhere.
  • Look at the assignment sheet again and try to simplify it. Highlight the parts you think are important. Underline the parts that confuse you. Talk those confusing parts through with the instructor, a classmate, or a Howe Writing Center consultant.
  • Talk through the prompt and any ideas you may have with a friend, classmate, or Howe Writing Center consultant.
  • Write down your initial thoughts and ideas—this is just for brainstorming so it doesn’t have to be anything profound!
  • Do a quick Google search on your topic to see what other ideas about your topic are floating around.
  • If you have any rituals for writing (chewing gum, listening to music, etc.), get those going.

Strategies for Topic Generation

Not sure what to write about, or need to say more about your topic? Try these strategies to generate ideas.

  • Make Lists: Straight-forward and simple—list ideas, possible topics, related thoughts, or anything that might contribute to your topic.
  • Freewrite: For 5-10 minutes, write without stopping. Don’t worry about grammar, staying on topic, or even making sense. Just see what comes out.
  • Use Visual Mapping: (Clusters, Flow charts, etc.): Some people need to see their ideas. Represent your thoughts visually for mapping out your paper and possible directions.
  • Look for Questions: Focus on finding interesting questions than developing your thesis immediately.
  • Journalistic Approach: Ask the classic questions: Who, what, when, where, why, how?

Narrowing Your Topic

Are you having the opposite problem—too much to say? These strategies can help you focus your topic.

Think about your audience:

  • Who would be interested in this topic?
  • What would that audience already know?
  • What might that audience not know but want to learn?

Think about your purpose:

  • Are you trying to persuade someone with an argument?
  • Are you trying to inform someone about a topic?
  • Is this assignment about relaying information or finding new answers and ideas?

Find connections:

  • Do your sources or search results complement each other in any way?
  • Have your in-class discussions or lectures linked with your readings or research in interesting ways?