How to brainstorm a winning topic for your school essay

Understand Your Brief

Before you can brainstorm anything, you need to understand the point of the exercise: ‘what ability is this exercise designed to discover?’ What you are looking to do is to answer a question, and in so doing to demonstrate an ability to your tutor. Once you know what they are looking for, you can then think about providing it. In short, how can you give a person what they want, unless you know what it is?

Develop Some Wide Categories

Do not start on a small, tightly focused scale, because by doing this you may end up overlooking a better solution. For example, if the point is to demonstrate your understanding of a particular feature or mode of writing, and you start brainstorming on one single writer or one kind of writing, you may be unable to see that another kind of writing, another writer, answers the brief in a much more effective way. As in, you want to think: A,B,C,D, at this point, not A1,A2,A3.

Divide These into Areas

Once you have identified these broad categories, separate them onto sheets of paper, or word documents, and write each one in the centre of a separate sheet: A,B,C,D. Now you can start looking at the particular aspects of these wider categories: A1,A2, A3 etc. This is a process of refining, starting broad and eventually narrowing down to your target.

Brainstorm on These

Once you have these you can begin to look carefully at the good and bad points of each thing you have identified; you can compare, for example, the ideas of A3 against those of D1, which best answers the brief that the exercise was designed. You can do comparative brainstorming, putting two point together to see if that produces a potential answer; remember that the points that brainstorming identifies can form parts of a coherent whole.

Select the One that You Feel Best Answers the Brief

Make sure that you have the brief in mind, or, even written in front of you, and very carefully review all of the points that you have identified. Refer each one to the question you feel you need to answer, the ability you need to demonstrate, for example: ‘how can I best show that I understand what a metaphor is?’