As with any activity you enjoy and feel confident doing, writing is a process that will take effort and practice until you develop the muscle memory that makes it feel natural. Initially, there may be occasions that leave you wondering where to begin—in fact, even experienced writers spend a great deal of time watching the cursor blink on a blank screen as they sort through their ideas—but over time you’ll likely develop a few strategies to draw upon when writer’s block strikes. Below you’ll find some basic pointers to consider when you embark on a new writing assignment.
Directions: They Exist for a Reason
This seems obvious, but before you begin an assignment, read the description and directions provided very carefully. Look for verbs that specify the approach you should take when interacting with your topic. Are you being asked to analyze? Argue? Propose? The answer will give you valuable direction when you’re beginning. This is also a good time to note additional requirements, things like the number and type of sources, the style of formatting, and the intended audience are also important elements that will shape the way you approach your topic. The assignment description is often a roadmap to a respectable grade; ignore it at the peril of your final score.
Annotating a Text
If you have to read a text for class, it is a good idea to annotate it. Annotating means to add notes to a text.
Sometimes you’ll immediately know what topic you want to explore for a given assignment and others you’ll have to do some work to uncover an interesting and appropriate focus. Below are a few strategies for generating ideas at the beginning of a writing project.
Focus on a broad idea or concept that you’d like to narrow into a topic. Jotting down key words or phrases, make a list of everything that occurs to you about the idea. This is not the time to edit your thinking—banish the harsh editor or critical inner voice to the other room and let yourself brainstorm freely. Once you’ve generated a decent list, review it to look for connections and key words that you can research further.
Talk It Out!
Sometimes we need to communicate and bounce ideas off of other people in order to narrow down what we are wanting to say. Your instructor may give you time in class to discuss your ideas with other students. When you are doing this, try to ask questions to see what other people think about the topic. Even if you disagree, this can give you more things to consider when writing your paper. When other people ask you questions about your topic, try to answer as honestly and fully as you can. Details are your friend! If you find that you have things you do not know, that is a good thing. It gives you a place to begin the research process.
Are you someone who always doodles in the margins of your notes and draws on napkins? The act of creating images can sometimes better develop ideas as you translate your thoughts into a visual representation. If you’re lucky, the process of drawing an idea will lead to a breakthrough that might assist in the concepts or organization of your paper.
Sometimes referred to as making a web, clustering allows you to start with your basic idea and build outward from there In a center circle, write your topic. Then start branching out with related words or ideas, and drawing lines from one to the other to show their connectivity. This can often lead to the discovery of subtopics, opposing views to investigate further, and an outline for how the paper will progress.
When a journalist is just beginning a story, they will establish the five Ws and H of their topic. When approaching your own topic, try to develop the who, what, when, where, why, and how. If you can discover who is involved, what is at stake, or why a particular occurrence is happening, you can better understand the scope of your topic and what elements are most important to understanding it.