The aim of this post is to help you develop and improve ideas for your essay using a range of elicitation techniques which will advance your thinking. Have a go at mind mapping and brainstorming – both are fun and both will help you generate the originality you need for a better essay grade.
There are two main ways in which you can develop your ideas:
From general to specific
This approach is useful if you are allowed to choose your own research question, which means you will be starting with a more broad area of study.
- Collect all relevant information/research
- Break down your research into smaller, interrelated topics using a elicitation technique
- Create a visual record of this process which will then enable you to identify any areas of uncertainty
- Create a list with possible research questions
From specific to general
This approach is useful if you already have a set research question which you need to develop ideas for.
- Collect call relevant information/research
- Use an elicitation technique to build your research around the original question. Mind mapping is a good way of doing this! (see below)
- Create a visual record of this to identify any gaps in your research
- Create a list of research questions (focusing on your original concept) which will help you to expand and develop ideas to answer your set question
Mind maps are a great way to present your research visually and get creative, in a similar way to which the brain itself maps ideas and concepts; non-linear and interconnected. They also help to simplify and organise research by separating information using different branches. For most people, mind maps are a much easier way to remember information and develop ideas because they make use of colour, symbols and pictures. They are a great way of getting a general view of your research, and information can easily be added.
- First put any information that you already know on your mind map. This will also give you an idea of how much research you need to do next.
- Add information throughout your research. Annotating your mind map can help you to see how you achieved your end result.
- Use plenty of pictures, symbols and colours – these stimulate creativity
- Be spontaneous – write down any ideas that you can think of. Ideas that may seem weak at first can sometimes be developed into better ones.
Brainstorming can be done both on your own and with a group. They are a great way to develop ideas as well as create new ones.
The idea of brainstorming is to start with a very simple idea, or preferably a single word which is connected to your research topic. You should then write down anything and everything that relates to this word or concept – as much as you can think of.
Brainstorming doesn’t always have to be written down either – it could also be recorded by tape or on video.
But there are rules!
- Write down everything you can think of, ideas should be uninhibited – anything goes!
- The more ideas the better. Weaker ideas can be developed.
- Build on other people’s ideas – this can also help you to develop/improve your own
- Try to avoid criticism until after you have written down all the ideas
Once you have ideas, that’s when you start to filter them.
And good luck! Remember that if you are struggling to develop ideas for your essay, you can always speak to your lecturer about the resources and help available to you.
These two lenses offer a wide selection of creative problem solving techniques that can really help with generating ideas.
Here’s a great guide to writing concisely which may be useful. It’s on marketing copy but it works the same way in essays.
Finally, don’t forget to always scan your finished essay with a free plagiarism checker. plagiarismchecker.net helps ensure you don’t accidentally plagiarise any material that you didn’t write yourself.
More on writing essays
Writing an essay often seems to be a dreaded task among students. Whether the essay is for a scholarship, a class, or maybe even a contest, many students often find the task overwhelming. While an essay is a large project, there are many steps a student can take that will help break down the task into manageable parts. Following this process is the easiest way to draft a successful essay, whatever its purpose might be.
According to Kathy Livingston’s Guide to Writing a Basic Essay, there are seven steps to writing a successful essay:
1. Pick a topic.
You may have your topic assigned, or you may be given free reign to write on the subject of your choice. If you are given the topic, you should think about the type of paper that you want to produce. Should it be a general overview of the subject or a specific analysis? Narrow your focus if necessary.
If you have not been assigned a topic, you have a little more work to do. However, this opportunity also gives you the advantage to choose a subject that is interesting or relevant to you. First, define your purpose. Is your essay to inform or persuade?
Once you have determined the purpose, you will need to do some research on topics that you find intriguing. Think about your life. What is it that interests you? Jot these subjects down.
Finally, evaluate your options. If your goal is to educate, choose a subject that you have already studied. If your goal is to persuade, choose a subject that you are passionate about. Whatever the mission of the essay, make sure that you are interested in your topic.
2. Prepare an outline or diagram of your ideas.
In order to write a successful essay, you must organize your thoughts. By taking what’s already in your head and putting it to paper, you are able to see connections and links between ideas more clearly. This structure serves as a foundation for your paper. Use either an outline or a diagram to jot down your ideas and organize them.
To create a diagram, write your topic in the middle of your page. Draw three to five lines branching off from this topic and write down your main ideas at the ends of these lines. Draw more lines off these main ideas and include any thoughts you may have on these ideas.
If you prefer to create an outline, write your topic at the top of the page. From there, begin to list your main ideas, leaving space under each one. In this space, make sure to list other smaller ideas that relate to each main idea. Doing this will allow you to see connections and will help you to write a more organized essay.
3. Write your thesis statement.
Now that you have chosen a topic and sorted your ideas into relevant categories, you must create a thesis statement. Your thesis statement tells the reader the point of your essay. Look at your outline or diagram. What are the main ideas?
Your thesis statement will have two parts. The first part states the topic, and the second part states the point of the essay. For instance, if you were writing about Bill Clinton and his impact on the United States, an appropriate thesis statement would be, “Bill Clinton has impacted the future of our country through his two consecutive terms as United States President.”
Another example of a thesis statement is this one for the “Winning Characteristics” Scholarship essay: “During my high school career, I have exhibited several of the “Winning Characteristics,” including Communication Skills, Leadership Skills and Organization Skills, through my involvement in Student Government, National Honor Society, and a part-time job at Macy’s Department Store.”
4. Write the body.
The body of your essay argues, explains or describes your topic. Each main idea that you wrote in your diagram or outline will become a separate section within the body of your essay.
Each body paragraph will have the same basic structure. Begin by writing one of your main ideas as the introductory sentence. Next, write each of your supporting ideas in sentence format, but leave three or four lines in between each point to come back and give detailed examples to back up your position. Fill in these spaces with relative information that will help link smaller ideas together.
5. Write the introduction.
Now that you have developed your thesis and the overall body of your essay, you must write an introduction. The introduction should attract the reader’s attention and show the focus of your essay.
Begin with an attention grabber. You can use shocking information, dialogue, a story, a quote, or a simple summary of your topic. Whichever angle you choose, make sure that it ties in with your thesis statement, which will be included as the last sentence of your introduction.
6. Write the conclusion.
The conclusion brings closure of the topic and sums up your overall ideas while providing a final perspective on your topic. Your conclusion should consist of three to five strong sentences. Simply review your main points and provide reinforcement of your thesis.
7. Add the finishing touches.
After writing your conclusion, you might think that you have completed your essay. Wrong. Before you consider this a finished work, you must pay attention to all the small details.
Check the order of your paragraphs. Your strongest points should be the first and last paragraphs within the body, with the others falling in the middle. Also, make sure that your paragraph order makes sense. If your essay is describing a process, such as how to make a great chocolate cake, make sure that your paragraphs fall in the correct order.
Review the instructions for your essay, if applicable. Many teachers and scholarship forms follow different formats, and you must double check instructions to ensure that your essay is in the desired format.
Finally, review what you have written. Reread your paper and check to see if it makes sense. Make sure that sentence flow is smooth and add phrases to help connect thoughts or ideas. Check your essay for grammar and spelling mistakes.
Congratulations! You have just written a great essay.
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