Skip navigation

Snap Language

Getting Smarter through Language

The Writing Process | Advanced (C-Level)

Stage 1. Step 1. Generating Ideas

  Email this complete course



Also available


Enrichment (non-ESL)

Note. This lesson is part of an advanced English-as-a-second-language course. To start from the beginning, go to the table of contents.

Do Not Just Jump into Writing

A common mistake novice writers make is to stare at a blank page rather than first think about exactly what they want to write about.

You may think you can get the job done faster if you just start writing right away, but that is a big mistake. It ends up taking you longer.


Without any preparation and planning, you likely end up getting writer’s block,” rambling, and getting frustrated. You may lose track of your central point and have to rewrite paragraphs. You may also have new ideas while you are writing only to forget them before including them in your work.

Resist the temptation to “just jump right in.” Instead, spend some time prewriting, planning, and creating a thesis before you start writing.

Prewriting and Generating Ideas

Prewriting refers to tasks you should complete before you start writing your paragraphs. A number of prewriting techniques can help you explore a broad subject or topic, generate ideas about it, and start gathering and organizing your thoughts. These prewriting techniques can be adapted to generate ideas for any topic, for any purpose, and for any audience.

Prewriting techniques

Researching the topic

Spend some time learning about a topic or potential topic you are considering. You can do that by reading or watching videos about it. If the topic was not assigned, you may even realize during your research that another, related topic will be much more interesting to write about.


In freewriting, simply write whatever comes to mind on a topic for 10-20 minutes, using free association. Then, go over your ideas looking for patterns and highlight ideas you may want to develop further.


Brainstorming is similar to freewriting in that you let one thought flow into the other, but you list ideas. Then you choose the idea you would like to develop into writing.

You can brainstorm on your own or with someone else.


In clustering, write the subject or topic in a circle in the middle of a blank sheet of paper. Branching from that circle, write subtopics, or different aspects of the topic. Choose the “cluster” of ideas you would like to develop in writing.


In questioning, you generate ideas by asking questions about the topic. Answering questions about a topic forces you to think about distinct aspects of the subject. It also helps you figure out what you may need to know about the topic (because you cannot answer your own questions). Then, go over your answers and select the portions that you would like to write about.


Simply talk about your topic with other people and take notes. Discussing with others forces you to start thinking about the topic, and you may think of things that you might not think about otherwise. Later, go over the ideas and decide what you want to develop in writing.

You can discuss your topic with anyone. Discussing a topic even with someone who is not a writer or who does not know much about the topic can help you think through different ideas.

Your Own Technique

Your own technique is what you ultimately develop as you try any of the above techniques over time. Use the technique that works for you and for a particular task. Combine or adapt any of these techniques. If it helps you think through a topic and generate ideas, do it.

Video Activity

Watch generating ideas and planning and take good study notes.

Note. The second portion of this video includes information about planning your writing, which you will cover in the next lesson.

Writing tip

Generating ideas is a process you must engage in intentionally. You may have no ideas at first, but that is part of the process. You may come up with something great to write about by researching different topics, discussing your writing assignment with others, thinking about different possibilities, “sleeping on it," and so on.

Up Next: Stage 1. Step 2. Planning Your Writing

Continue the lesson to learn about planning your work.

 Thank you for Supporting Snap Language

Snap Language supporters make the creation of these materials possible.

Learn how you can support our work, get perks, and help us continue creating high-quality materials.

You can support us by simply white-listing this site.