How Brainstorming Can Help You Generate, Focus, and Organize Ideas for Writing

Discovery Strategies

Brainstorming is one of the most common techniques for stimulating creativity and generating fresh ideas. (Clerkenwell/Getty Images)

For many of us, writing is largely a solitary activity. We discover ideas, conduct research, compose rough drafts, revise, and finally edit—all with little or no help from others. However, writing doesn't always have to be such a private affair.

Working with others can help us become better writers. Brainstorming is a group project that's especially useful for generating, focusing, and organizing ideas for an essay or a report.

How to Brainstorm Effectively

A brainstorming group may be small (two or three writers) or large (an entire class or office team). Begin a session by introducing a subject to the group--either one that has been assigned or one you have chosen on your own.

Invite the participants to contribute any ideas they may have concerning your subject. No idea should be rejected out of hand.

The most important quality of a brainstorming session is its openness. The members of the group should feel free to share their thoughts without fear of criticism. Later you'll have time to evaluate the various suggestions. For now, let one idea lead freely to another.

In this way, brainstorming is like freewriting: it helps us discover information and a sense of direction without the fear of making mistakes or appearing foolish.

Electronic Brainstorming

If you're taking an online class or simply can't find a time when group members can meet in person, try brainstorming electronically--in a chat room or video conference. Swapping ideas online can be just as effective as face-to-face brainstorming, and in certain cases even more so. Some groups, in fact, rely on electronic brainstorming even when they're meeting in the same room.    

Taking Notes

Take brief notes during the brainstorming session (or right afterwards), but don't be so busy taking notes that you cut yourself off from the exchange of ideas. After the session--which may last from 10 minutes to half an hour or longer--you can reflect on the various suggestions.

The information that you gather while brainstorming should prove useful later when you begin your draft.


Like freewriting, effective brainstorming takes practice, and so don't be disappointed if your first session is not very productive. Many people find it difficult at first to exchange ideas without stopping to criticize. Just remember that your aim is to stimulate thinking, not inhibit it.

If you're ready to begin practicing your brainstorming skills, try collaborating on this Letter of Complaint.