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Brainstorming: 10 Examples, Techniques, and Benefits

brainstorming examples and definition, explained below

Brainstorming is the divergent thinking process of gathering a large number of ideas in a short amount of time, which you will parse and improve upon in future steps.

Commonly, it takes place on a piece of paper or large board where you can visually dump your ideas. However, it can also occur in your mind. It may also be either done individually or in groups (Al-Samarraie & Hurmuzan, 2018).

Definition of Brainstorming

The word brainstorming was first coined in the 1940s by advertising executive Alex F. Osbornn (Paulus & Kenworthy, 2019).

Osborn defined it as a way to generate a large number of ideas in a short amount of time without any criticism or judgement.

Importantly, brainstorming is about generating as many ideas as possible in order to help push through a plateau or brain block. Ideally, it will help bring out creativity and out-of-the-box thinking in order to generate fresh and innovative ideas (Litchfield, 2008).

One of the key benefits of brainstorming is that it allows an individual or group to think freely and suspend judgement of ideas.

This can lead to the creation and consideration of ideas that may not have been considered otherwise. Even a seemingly useless idea may lead to a fruitful breakthrough.

History of Brainstorming

While the act of brainstorming has likely been used for thousands of years, the term itself has its roots in the 1930s when Osborn, along with his colleagues at an advertising agency, began using group creativity sessions to generate ideas for their clients (Putman & Paulus, 2009).

With a new term coined, the concept became refined and made more explicit. Today, it has become a popular tool used in both organizations and people’s personal lives to generate new ideas and solve problems.

Popular ideas behind brainstorming have evolved over the years and brainstorming strategies have been adapted to suit different situations, industries, and needs (Paulus & Kenworthy, 2019).

For example, it can be used for anything from coming up with vacation ideas with your family to coming up with new product lines for large multinational corporations.

Stages of Brainstorming

The brainstorming process typically involves three stages: preparation, ideation, and evaluation (Paulus & Kenworthy, 2019).

  • Preparation: The focus of the preparation stage should be on setting the rules, structure, and culture around the session. It may, for example, encourage team members to come to the team with sufficient background knowledge, and ensure all people in the group know the importance of creating a non-judgemental environment.
  • Ideation: The ideation stage involves sharing ideas which will be added to the brainstorming notes, such as on a flipboard or shared screen during a group video call (Litchfield, 2008). This is where the actual idea generation takes place. Participants are encouraged to share their ideas knowing that there is ‘no silly idea’ at this point in time.
  • Evaluation: With a wide range of ideas collected, the group needs to categorize, review, and select the most promising ideas. This may involve drawing connections between ideas, merging ideas together, and finding identifying problems with certain ideas. At this stage, it’s important to ensure the chosen ideas have alignment with the objective.

10 Examples of Brainstorming

Below are some possible situations in which brainstorming can be highly effective.

Example 1: Product Development

Brainstorming can be used to generate new product ideas or improve upon existing ones. For example, a team of designers, engineers, and marketers could brainstorm ideas for a new smartphone that incorporates cutting-edge technology and features. Importantly, the team should be composed of product market experts and, ideally, people with prior knowledge about issues with the current product iteration, consumer feedback, and gaps in the marketplace.

Example 2: Marketing Campaigns

Brainstorming is common in marketing and advertising, and in fact, the term was coined by a marketing professional.

Generally, this session would involve bringing together a team of creatives with good knowledge of the market as well as cutting-edge marketing techniques in order to come up with a campaign idea. For example, a team of marketers could brainstorm ideas for a new social media campaign that leverages the power of influencers to reach the audience.

Example 3: Brainstorming for a Novel

Brainstorming can be an excellent approach to improve writing techniques, especially when writing a novel.

In this situation, I would gather some fellow writers or personal tutors who have experience developing plots, characters and themes and go over the things that could work better in your novel.

By analyzing my plot structure and understanding my character’s traits based on their backstory, I could get valuable insight into how to make the story more engaging.

Example 4: Brainstorming for Business Strategic Plans

Brainstorming is an excellent way to devise strategic plans for higher-level business development.

It helps you visualize how your business may look like in the future while allowing feedback from team members involved in the development process to obtain insights from all departments.

A team of executives may get together around a single table with reports and data sheets explaining different growth areas of the company.

Example 5: Brainstorming New Classroom Ideas

Brainstorming is one of the best ways for teachers to develop new ideas for curriculum building and lesson planning.

Teachers should consider mingling with colleagues who have years teaching experience engaging students around different scenarios shaping them towards positive cognitive outcomes.

Example 6: Brainstorming Home Decor Projects

When renovating a home, brainstorming can help skyrocket creativity while considering factors like budget, style, and functionality.

Collaborating with an interior designer or friends who have taste in home decor and DIY projects can be useful in generating interesting ideas that match the requirements of the homeowner.

Example 7: Brainstorming for Event Planning

Brainstorming is an essential tool when it comes to event planning as it helps to identify key themes, vendors, catering, and decoration ideas.

The best part of brainstorming is involving event planners together with their clients in a room or a virtual hangout session to discuss their vision for the occasion and generate ideas in real-time.

Example 8: Brainstorming Personal Life Goals

Brainstorming can help you set achievable personal goals while shedding light on your desires.

At times like these having a life coach might come in handy who can incorporate exercises where you jot down all the things you desire either professionally or personally such as traveling to other countries or buying a new house.

See Also: A List of 151 Goals for Life

Example 9: Brainstorming UX Designs

In the development of digital products such as web applications or mobile apps brainstorming plays a key role.

Through group discussions between UX designers and developers they’ll emphasize ways of enhancing user experience by identifying areas where previous iterations had no success.

Example 10: Brainstorming Career Choices

Brainstorming can help young people finishing high school to create a roadmap towards the best career for them.

At this time of life, people usually don’t have a clear idea of the job they will do, but they may have a clear idea of what they are good at, what they enjoy doing, and the general direction they want to go (white collar, blue collar, etc.).

The process of deciding what to do may involve seeking out mentors or attending career fairs where people can offer guidance and support.

Techniques for Effective Brainstorming

There are several techniques that can be used to enhance the effectiveness of brainstorming sessions (Al-Samarraie & Hurmuzan, 2018). Generally, this involves putting in place clear group norms , including:

  • Encouraging all participants to share their ideas
  • Avoiding criticism and judgement
  • Using visual aids to stimulate creativity
  • Building on others’ ideas
  • Combining ideas to create new solutions
  • Setting a time limit to encourage rapid idea generation

Benefits of Brainstorming

The benefits of brainstorming are numerous. It can help people and organizations generate new ideas, solve complex problems, and make better decisions.

In the workplace, it can also improve team morale and strengthen team cohesion . By engaging individuals in idea generation, companies can create a culture of innovation and creativity.

1. Innovation

Firstly, brainstorming plays a significant role in boosting innovation (Litchfield, 2008).

When we sit together and come up with different creative ideas, we tend to approach situations with new perspectives that we often overlook alone. Sometimes our minds can only go so far when left to its devices!

The act of bouncing thoughts off one another elevates creativity tremendously. Brainstorming as a group often produces new solutions that wouldn’t have surfaced otherwise (Al-Samarraie & Hurmuzan, 2018).

2. Problem Solving

Secondly, brainstorming is incredibly beneficial for problem-solving .

While we all face challenges in life, brainstorming can act as a beneficial tool for addressing and overcoming those issues.

When faced with a problem, having multiple people collaborate during the decision-making process leads to better outcomes than relying solely on one person’s point of view (Litchfield, 2008).

In addition, when each member contributes equally unique views and suggestions about possible solutions without dismissing others’ input or ideas, new strategies can arise which become successful approaches (Paulus & Kenworthy, 2019).

3. Team Morale and Cohesion

A side-effect of brainstorming as a group is that it can make a stronger group dynamic . Its key principles include inclusion, open-mindedness, and working together.

Coincidentally, this can also make work much more enjoyable!

Collaborating as a team creates cohesiveness within the company culture because all persons contribute towards achieving mutual goals rather than accomplishing solo achievements only related to their title or job description (Paulus & Kenworthy, 2019).

Support from team members through both triumphs and failures can increase mutual respect among colleagues for each other while creating social bonds.

4. Culture of Innovation

Lastly, creating a culture of innovation becomes achievable when utilizing brainstorming tasks regularly within the company environment.

Brainstorming can lead to creative solutions that would not be possible without the open-minded, free-flowing brainstorming process (Paulus & Kenworthy, 2019).

Challenges of Brainstorming

While brainstorming can be a highly effective tool for generating ideas and solutions, it is not without its challenges. Some common challenges include:

  • Groupthink : where individuals conform to the group’s opinions and ideas (Putman & Paulus, 2009). This may happen if one dominant person leads the brainstorming session in a particular direction.
  • Unequal Participation: some participants may dominate the discussion while others are minimally involved. Less experienced or peripheral members of the group may be pushed aside.
  • Lack of Focus: a brainstorming session can become unfocused and start to lack direction. While creativity and open-mindedness is useful, the session may also drift away from its original goals and end up failing to be fit for purpose.
  • Criticism and Judgement: depending on the group culture, ideas may be criticized or judged prematurely, which can undermine the purpose of brainstorming. This is where positive workplace culture is highly important (Litchfield, 2008).
  • Not conducive to Convergent Thinking : brainstorming is a type of divergent thinking, where people try to come up with multiple solutions to one problem. This is only useful at certain times (Putman & Paulus, 2009). Often, we need to do the opposite: come up with one solution by bringing together multiple pre-determined answers.

Sometimes, it can be beneficial for individuals to brainstorm on their own before coming together to share their ideas as a group (in education, we call this the think-pair-share method).

Brainstorming is a powerful tool that can be used to generate new ideas, solve complex problems, and make better decisions. By understanding the process, techniques, and benefits of brainstorming, individuals and organizations can unlock their creative potential and drive innovation and growth. While it is not without its challenges, careful planning, facilitation, and participation can help avoid these pitfalls and lead to successful and productive brainstorming sessions.

Al-Samarraie, H., & Hurmuzan, S. (2018). A review of brainstorming techniques in higher education.  Thinking Skills and creativity ,  27 , 78-91.

Litchfield, R. C. (2008). Brainstorming reconsidered: A goal-based view.  Academy of Management Review ,  33 (3), 649-668.

Putman, V. L., & Paulus, P. B. (2009). Brainstorming, brainstorming rules and decision making.  The Journal of creative behavior ,  43 (1), 29-40.

Paulus, P. B., & Kenworthy, J. B. (2019). Effective brainstorming.  The Oxford handbook of group creativity and innovation , 287-386.

Paulus, P. B., Kohn, N. W., & Arditti, L. E. (2011). Effects of quantity and quality instructions on brainstorming.  The Journal of Creative Behavior ,  45 (1), 38-46.


Chris Drew (PhD)

Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

  • Chris Drew (PhD) 15 Animism Examples
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2 thoughts on “Brainstorming: 10 Examples, Techniques, and Benefits”

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Hi dear Thank you for your useful contents. How can I have PDF files of these Examples, Techniques, And Benefits or every thing about problem solving techniques and examples? my best regards Alireza Khorasani

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Send me an email and I’ll get it sent out to you! Best, Chris.

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The Writing Process

Making expository writing less stressful, more efficient, and more enlightening, search form, you are here.

  • Step 1: Generate Ideas


brainstorming essay sample

"It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to always be right by having no ideas at all." —Edward de Bono

Most people have been taught how to brainstorm, but review these instructions to make sure you understand all aspects of it.

brainstorming essay sample

  • Don't write in complete sentences, just words and phrases, and don't worry about grammar or even spelling;
  • Again, do NOT judge or skip any idea, no matter how silly or crazy it may initially seem; you can decide later which ones are useful and which are not, but if you judge now, you may miss a great idea or connection;
  • Do this for 15, 20, or (if you're on a roll) even 30 minutes--basically until you think you have enough material to start organizing or, if needed, doing research.

Below is a sample brainstorm for an argument/research paper on the need for a defense shield around the earth:

brainstorming essay sample

Photo: "Brainstorm" ©2007 Jonathan Aguila

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


What this handout is about.

This handout discusses techniques that will help you start writing a paper and continue writing through the challenges of the revising process. Brainstorming can help you choose a topic, develop an approach to a topic, or deepen your understanding of the topic’s potential.


If you consciously take advantage of your natural thinking processes by gathering your brain’s energies into a “storm,” you can transform these energies into written words or diagrams that will lead to lively, vibrant writing. Below you will find a brief discussion of what brainstorming is, why you might brainstorm, and suggestions for how you might brainstorm.

Whether you are starting with too much information or not enough, brainstorming can help you to put a new writing task in motion or revive a project that hasn’t reached completion. Let’s take a look at each case:

When you’ve got nothing: You might need a storm to approach when you feel “blank” about the topic, devoid of inspiration, full of anxiety about the topic, or just too tired to craft an orderly outline. In this case, brainstorming stirs up the dust, whips some air into our stilled pools of thought, and gets the breeze of inspiration moving again.

When you’ve got too much: There are times when you have too much chaos in your brain and need to bring in some conscious order. In this case, brainstorming forces the mental chaos and random thoughts to rain out onto the page, giving you some concrete words or schemas that you can then arrange according to their logical relations.

Brainstorming techniques

What follows are great ideas on how to brainstorm—ideas from professional writers, novice writers, people who would rather avoid writing, and people who spend a lot of time brainstorming about…well, how to brainstorm.

Try out several of these options and challenge yourself to vary the techniques you rely on; some techniques might suit a particular writer, academic discipline, or assignment better than others. If the technique you try first doesn’t seem to help you, move right along and try some others.


When you freewrite, you let your thoughts flow as they will, putting pen to paper and writing down whatever comes into your mind. You don’t judge the quality of what you write and you don’t worry about style or any surface-level issues, like spelling, grammar, or punctuation. If you can’t think of what to say, you write that down—really. The advantage of this technique is that you free up your internal critic and allow yourself to write things you might not write if you were being too self-conscious.

When you freewrite you can set a time limit (“I’ll write for 15 minutes!”) and even use a kitchen timer or alarm clock or you can set a space limit (“I’ll write until I fill four full notebook pages, no matter what tries to interrupt me!”) and just write until you reach that goal. You might do this on the computer or on paper, and you can even try it with your eyes shut or the monitor off, which encourages speed and freedom of thought.

The crucial point is that you keep on writing even if you believe you are saying nothing. Word must follow word, no matter the relevance. Your freewriting might even look like this:

“This paper is supposed to be on the politics of tobacco production but even though I went to all the lectures and read the book I can’t think of what to say and I’ve felt this way for four minutes now and I have 11 minutes left and I wonder if I’ll keep thinking nothing during every minute but I’m not sure if it matters that I am babbling and I don’t know what else to say about this topic and it is rainy today and I never noticed the number of cracks in that wall before and those cracks remind me of the walls in my grandfather’s study and he smoked and he farmed and I wonder why he didn’t farm tobacco…”

When you’re done with your set number of minutes or have reached your page goal, read back over the text. Yes, there will be a lot of filler and unusable thoughts but there also will be little gems, discoveries, and insights. When you find these gems, highlight them or cut and paste them into your draft or onto an “ideas” sheet so you can use them in your paper. Even if you don’t find any diamonds in there, you will have either quieted some of the noisy chaos or greased the writing gears so that you can now face the assigned paper topic.

Break down the topic into levels

Once you have a course assignment in front of you, you might brainstorm:

  • the general topic, like “The relationship between tropical fruits and colonial powers”
  • a specific subtopic or required question, like “How did the availability of multiple tropical fruits influence competition amongst colonial powers trading from the larger Caribbean islands during the 19th century?”
  • a single term or phrase that you sense you’re overusing in the paper. For example: If you see that you’ve written “increased the competition” about a dozen times in your “tropical fruits” paper, you could brainstorm variations on the phrase itself or on each of the main terms: “increased” and “competition.”


In this technique you jot down lists of words or phrases under a particular topic. You can base your list on:

  • the general topic
  • one or more words from your particular thesis claim
  • a word or idea that is the complete opposite of your original word or idea.

For example, if your general assignment is to write about the changes in inventions over time, and your specific thesis claims that “the 20th century presented a large number of inventions to advance US society by improving upon the status of 19th-century society,” you could brainstorm two different lists to ensure you are covering the topic thoroughly and that your thesis will be easy to prove.

The first list might be based on your thesis; you would jot down as many 20th-century inventions as you could, as long as you know of their positive effects on society. The second list might be based on the opposite claim, and you would instead jot down inventions that you associate with a decline in that society’s quality. You could do the same two lists for 19th-century inventions and then compare the evidence from all four lists.

Using multiple lists will help you to gather more perspective on the topic and ensure that, sure enough, your thesis is solid as a rock, or, …uh oh, your thesis is full of holes and you’d better alter your claim to one you can prove.

3 perspectives

Looking at something from different perspectives helps you see it more completely—or at least in a completely different way, sort of like laying on the floor makes your desk look very different to you. To use this strategy, answer the questions for each of the three perspectives, then look for interesting relationships or mismatches you can explore:

  • Describe it: Describe your subject in detail. What is your topic? What are its components? What are its interesting and distinguishing features? What are its puzzles? Distinguish your subject from those that are similar to it. How is your subject unlike others?
  • Trace it: What is the history of your subject? How has it changed over time? Why? What are the significant events that have influenced your subject?
  • Map it: What is your subject related to? What is it influenced by? How? What does it influence? How? Who has a stake in your topic? Why? What fields do you draw on for the study of your subject? Why? How has your subject been approached by others? How is their work related to yours?

Cubing enables you to consider your topic from six different directions; just as a cube is six-sided, your cubing brainstorming will result in six “sides” or approaches to the topic. Take a sheet of paper, consider your topic, and respond to these six commands:

  • Describe it.
  • Compare it.
  • Associate it.
  • Analyze it.
  • Argue for and against it.

Look over what you’ve written. Do any of the responses suggest anything new about your topic? What interactions do you notice among the “sides”? That is, do you see patterns repeating, or a theme emerging that you could use to approach the topic or draft a thesis? Does one side seem particularly fruitful in getting your brain moving? Could that one side help you draft your thesis statement? Use this technique in a way that serves your topic. It should, at least, give you a broader awareness of the topic’s complexities, if not a sharper focus on what you will do with it.

In this technique, complete the following sentence:

____________________ is/was/are/were like _____________________.

In the first blank put one of the terms or concepts your paper centers on. Then try to brainstorm as many answers as possible for the second blank, writing them down as you come up with them.

After you have produced a list of options, look over your ideas. What kinds of ideas come forward? What patterns or associations do you find?


The general idea:

This technique has three (or more) different names, according to how you describe the activity itself or what the end product looks like. In short, you will write a lot of different terms and phrases onto a sheet of paper in a random fashion and later go back to link the words together into a sort of “map” or “web” that forms groups from the separate parts. Allow yourself to start with chaos. After the chaos subsides, you will be able to create some order out of it.

To really let yourself go in this brainstorming technique, use a large piece of paper or tape two pieces together. You could also use a blackboard if you are working with a group of people. This big vertical space allows all members room to “storm” at the same time, but you might have to copy down the results onto paper later. If you don’t have big paper at the moment, don’t worry. You can do this on an 8 ½ by 11 as well. Watch our short videos on webbing , drawing relationships , and color coding for demonstrations.

How to do it:

  • Take your sheet(s) of paper and write your main topic in the center, using a word or two or three.
  • Moving out from the center and filling in the open space any way you are driven to fill it, start to write down, fast, as many related concepts or terms as you can associate with the central topic. Jot them quickly, move into another space, jot some more down, move to another blank, and just keep moving around and jotting. If you run out of similar concepts, jot down opposites, jot down things that are only slightly related, or jot down your grandpa’s name, but try to keep moving and associating. Don’t worry about the (lack of) sense of what you write, for you can chose to keep or toss out these ideas when the activity is over.
  • Once the storm has subsided and you are faced with a hail of terms and phrases, you can start to cluster. Circle terms that seem related and then draw a line connecting the circles. Find some more and circle them and draw more lines to connect them with what you think is closely related. When you run out of terms that associate, start with another term. Look for concepts and terms that might relate to that term. Circle them and then link them with a connecting line. Continue this process until you have found all the associated terms. Some of the terms might end up uncircled, but these “loners” can also be useful to you. (Note: You can use different colored pens/pencils/chalk for this part, if you like. If that’s not possible, try to vary the kind of line you use to encircle the topics; use a wavy line, a straight line, a dashed line, a dotted line, a zigzaggy line, etc. in order to see what goes with what.)
  • There! When you stand back and survey your work, you should see a set of clusters, or a big web, or a sort of map: hence the names for this activity. At this point you can start to form conclusions about how to approach your topic. There are about as many possible results to this activity as there are stars in the night sky, so what you do from here will depend on your particular results. Let’s take an example or two in order to illustrate how you might form some logical relationships between the clusters and loners you’ve decided to keep. At the end of the day, what you do with the particular “map” or “cluster set” or “web” that you produce depends on what you need. What does this map or web tell you to do? Explore an option or two and get your draft going!

Relationship between the parts

In this technique, begin by writing the following pairs of terms on opposite margins of one sheet of paper:

Looking over these four groups of pairs, start to fill in your ideas below each heading. Keep going down through as many levels as you can. Now, look at the various parts that comprise the parts of your whole concept. What sorts of conclusions can you draw according to the patterns, or lack of patterns, that you see? For a related strategy, watch our short video on drawing relationships .

Journalistic questions

In this technique you would use the “big six” questions that journalists rely on to thoroughly research a story. The six are: Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why?, and How?. Write each question word on a sheet of paper, leaving space between them. Then, write out some sentences or phrases in answer, as they fit your particular topic. You might also record yourself or use speech-to-text if you’d rather talk out your ideas.

Now look over your batch of responses. Do you see that you have more to say about one or two of the questions? Or, are your answers for each question pretty well balanced in depth and content? Was there one question that you had absolutely no answer for? How might this awareness help you to decide how to frame your thesis claim or to organize your paper? Or, how might it reveal what you must work on further, doing library research or interviews or further note-taking?

For example, if your answers reveal that you know a lot more about “where” and “why” something happened than you know about “what” and “when,” how could you use this lack of balance to direct your research or to shape your paper? How might you organize your paper so that it emphasizes the known versus the unknown aspects of evidence in the field of study? What else might you do with your results?

Thinking outside the box

Even when you are writing within a particular academic discipline, you can take advantage of your semesters of experience in other courses from other departments. Let’s say you are writing a paper for an English course. You could ask yourself, “Hmmm, if I were writing about this very same topic in a biology course or using this term in a history course, how might I see or understand it differently? Are there varying definitions for this concept within, say, philosophy or physics, that might encourage me to think about this term from a new, richer point of view?”

For example, when discussing “culture” in your English, communications, or cultural studies course, you could incorporate the definition of “culture” that is frequently used in the biological sciences. Remember those little Petri dishes from your lab experiments in high school? Those dishes are used to “culture” substances for bacterial growth and analysis, right? How might it help you write your paper if you thought of “culture” as a medium upon which certain things will grow, will develop in new ways or will even flourish beyond expectations, but upon which the growth of other things might be retarded, significantly altered, or stopped altogether?

Using charts or shapes

If you are more visually inclined, you might create charts, graphs, or tables in lieu of word lists or phrases as you try to shape or explore an idea. You could use the same phrases or words that are central to your topic and try different ways to arrange them spatially, say in a graph, on a grid, or in a table or chart. You might even try the trusty old flow chart. The important thing here is to get out of the realm of words alone and see how different spatial representations might help you see the relationships among your ideas. If you can’t imagine the shape of a chart at first, just put down the words on the page and then draw lines between or around them. Or think of a shape. Do your ideas most easily form a triangle? square? umbrella? Can you put some ideas in parallel formation? In a line?

Consider purpose and audience

Think about the parts of communication involved in any writing or speaking act: purpose and audience.

What is your purpose?

What are you trying to do? What verb captures your intent? Are you trying to inform? Convince? Describe? Each purpose will lead you to a different set of information and help you shape material to include and exclude in a draft. Write about why you are writing this draft in this form. For more tips on figuring out the purpose of your assignment, see our handout on understanding assignments .

Who is your audience?

Who are you communicating with beyond the grader? What does that audience need to know? What do they already know? What information does that audience need first, second, third? Write about who you are writing to and what they need. For more on audience, see our  handout on audience .

Dictionaries, thesauruses, encyclopedias

When all else fails…this is a tried and true method, loved for centuries by writers of all stripe. Visit the library reference areas or stop by the Writing Center to browse various dictionaries, thesauruses (or other guide books and reference texts), encyclopedias or surf their online counterparts. Sometimes these basic steps are the best ones. It is almost guaranteed that you’ll learn several things you did not know.

If you’re looking at a hard copy reference, turn to your most important terms and see what sort of variety you find in the definitions. The obscure or archaic definition might help you to appreciate the term’s breadth or realize how much its meaning has changed as the language changed. Could that realization be built into your paper somehow?

If you go to online sources, use their own search functions to find your key terms and see what suggestions they offer. For example, if you plug “good” into a thesaurus search, you will be given 14 different entries. Whew! If you were analyzing the film Good Will Hunting, imagine how you could enrich your paper by addressed the six or seven ways that “good” could be interpreted according to how the scenes, lighting, editing, music, etc., emphasized various aspects of “good.”

An encyclopedia is sometimes a valuable resource if you need to clarify facts, get quick background, or get a broader context for an event or item. If you are stuck because you have a vague sense of a seemingly important issue, do a quick check with this reference and you may be able to move forward with your ideas.

Armed with a full quiver of brainstorming techniques and facing sheets of jotted ideas, bulleted subtopics, or spidery webs relating to your paper, what do you do now?

Take the next step and start to write your first draft, or fill in those gaps you’ve been brainstorming about to complete your “almost ready” paper. If you’re a fan of outlining, prepare one that incorporates as much of your brainstorming data as seems logical to you. If you’re not a fan, don’t make one. Instead, start to write out some larger chunks (large groups of sentences or full paragraphs) to expand upon your smaller clusters and phrases. Keep building from there into larger sections of your paper. You don’t have to start at the beginning of the draft. Start writing the section that comes together most easily. You can always go back to write the introduction later.

We also have helpful handouts on some of the next steps in your writing process, such as reorganizing drafts and argument .

Remember, once you’ve begun the paper, you can stop and try another brainstorming technique whenever you feel stuck. Keep the energy moving and try several techniques to find what suits you or the particular project you are working on.

How can technology help?

Need some help brainstorming? Different digital tools can help with a variety of brainstorming strategies:

Look for a text editor that has a focus mode or that is designed to promote free writing (for examples, check out FocusWriter, OmmWriter, WriteRoom, Writer the Internet Typewriter, or Cold Turkey). Eliminating visual distractions on your screen can help you free write for designated periods of time. By eliminating visual distractions on your screen, these tools help you focus on free writing for designated periods of time. If you use Microsoft Word, you might even try “Focus Mode” under the “View” tab.

Clustering/mapping. Websites and applications like Mindomo , TheBrain , and Miro allow you to create concept maps and graphic organizers. These applications often include the following features:

  • Connect links, embed documents and media, and integrate notes in your concept maps
  • Access your maps across devices
  • Search across maps for keywords
  • Convert maps into checklists and outlines
  • Export maps to other file formats


Check out what other students and writers have tried!

Papers as Puzzles : A UNC student demonstrates a brainstorming strategy for getting started on a paper.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Allen, Roberta, and Marcia Mascolini. 1997. The Process of Writing: Composing Through Critical Thinking . Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Cameron, Julia. 2002. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity . New York: Putnam.

Goldberg, Natalie. 2005. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within , rev. ed. Boston: Shambhala.

Rosen, Leonard J. and Laurence Behrens. 2003. The Allyn & Bacon Handbook , 5th ed. New York: Longman.

University of Richmond. n.d. “Main Page.” Writer’s Web. Accessed June 14, 2019. .

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Home / Guides / Writing Guides / Writing Tips / How to Brainstorm for an Essay

How to Brainstorm for an Essay

Once you get going on a paper, you can often get into a groove and churn out the bulk of it fairly quickly. But choosing or brainstorming a topic for a paper—especially one with an open-ended prompt—can often be a challenge.

You’ve probably been told to brainstorm ideas for papers since you were in elementary school. Even though you might feel like “brainstorming” is an ineffective method for actually figuring out what to write about, it really works. Everyone thinks through ideas differently, but here are some tips to help you brainstorm more effectively regardless of what learning style works best for you:

Tip #1: Set an end goal for yourself

Develop a goal for your brainstorm. Don’t worry—you can go into brainstorming without knowing exactly what you want to write about, but you should  have an idea of what you hope to gain from your brainstorming session. Do you want to develop a list of potential topics? Do you want to come up with ideas to support an argument? Have some idea about what you want to get out of brainstorming so that you can make more effective use of your time.

Tip #2: Write down all ideas

Sure, some of your ideas will be better than others, but you should write all of them down for you to look back on later. Starting with bad or infeasible ideas might seem counterintuitive, but one idea usually leads to another one. Make a list that includes all of your initial thoughts, and then you can go back through and pick out the best one later. Passing judgment on ideas in this first stage will just slow you down.

Tip #3: Think about what interests you most

Students usually write better essays when they’re exploring subjects that they have some personal interest in. If a professor gives you an open-ended prompt, take it as an opportunity to delve further into a topic you find more interesting. When trying to find a focus for your papers, think back on coursework that you found engaging or that raised further questions for you.

Tip #4: Consider what you want the reader to get from your paper

Do you want to write an engaging piece? A thought-provoking one? An informative one? Think about the end goal of your writing while you go through the initial brainstorming process. Although this might seem counterproductive, considering what you want readers to get out of your writing can help you come up with a focus that both satisfies your readers and satisfies you as a writer.

 Tip #5: Try freewriting

Write for five minutes on a topic of your choice that you think could  be worth pursuing—your idea doesn’t have to be fully fleshed out. This can help you figure out whether it’s worth putting more time into an idea or if it doesn’t really have any weight to it. If you find that you don’t have much to say about a particular topic, you can switch subjects halfway through writing, but this can be a good way to get your creative juices flowing.

Tip #6: Draw a map of your ideas

While some students might prefer the more traditional list methods, for more visual learners, sketching out a word map of ideas may be a useful method for brainstorming. Write the main idea in a circle in the center of your page. Then, write smaller, related ideas in bubbles further from the center of the page and connect them to your initial idea using lines. This is a good way to break down big ideas and to figure out whether they are worth writing about.

 Tip #7: Enlist the help of others

Sometimes it can be difficult coming up with paper topics on your own, and family and friends can prove to be valuable resources when developing ideas. Feel free to brainstorm with another person (or in a group). Many hands make light work—and some students work best when thinking through ideas out loud—so don’t be afraid to ask others for advice when trying to come up with a paper topic.

Tip #8: Find the perfect brainstorming spot

Believe it or not, location can make a BIG difference when you’re trying to come up with a paper topic. Working while watching TV is never a good idea, but you might want to listen to music while doing work, or you might prefer to sit in a quiet study location. Think about where you work best, and pick a spot where you feel that you can be productive.

Tip #9: Play word games to help generate ideas

Whether you hate playing word games or think they’re a ton of fun, you might want to try your hand at a quick round of Words With Friends or a game of Scrabble. These games can help get your brain working, and sometimes ideas can be triggered by words you see. Get a friend to play an old-fashioned board game with you, or try your hand at a mobile app if you’re in a time crunch.

Tip #10: Take a break to let ideas sink in

Brainstorming is a great way to get all of your initial thoughts out there, but sometimes you need a bit more time to process all of those ideas. Stand up and stretch—or even take a walk around the block—and then look back on your list of ideas to see if you have any new thoughts on them.

For many students, the most difficult process of paper writing is simply coming up with an idea about what to write on. Don’t be afraid to get all of your ideas out there through brainstorming, and remember that all ideas are valid. Take the time necessary to sort through all of your ideas, using whatever method works best for you, and then get to writing—but don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board if a new inspiration strikes.

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How to Brainstorming Essays with 100+ Ideas in 2024

Anh Vu • 03 April, 2024 • 10 min read

We have all been there. Teachers assign us an essay due next week. We tremble. What should we write about? What problems to tackle? Would the essay be original enough? So, how do we brainstorming essays ?

It’s like you are venturing into an unexplored abyss. But fret not, because making a brainstorm for essay writing can actually help you plan, execute and nail that A+

Here’s how to brainstorm for essays …

Table of Contents

Engagement tips with ahaslides.

  • What is brainstorming?
  • Write ideas unconsciously
  • Draw a mind map
  • Get on Pinterest
  • Try a Venn Diagram
  • Use a T-Chart
  • Online tools
  • More AhaSlides Tools
  • 14 brainstorming rules to Help You Craft Creative Ideas in 2024
  • 10 brainstorm questions for School and Work in 2024

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Easy Brainstorm Templates

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What is Brainstorming?

brainstorming esssays

Every successful creation starts with a great idea, which is actually the hardest part in many cases.

Brainstorming is simply the free-flowing process of coming up with ideas. In this process, you come up with a whole bunch of ideas without guilt or shame . Ideas can be outside of the box and nothing is considered too silly, too complex, or impossible. The more creative and free-flowing, the better.

The benefits of brainstorming can surprise you:

  • Increases your creativity : Brainstorming forces your mind to research and come up with possibilities, even unthinkable ones. Thus, it opens your mind to new ideas.
  • A valuable skill: Not just in high school or college, brainstorming is a lifelong skill in your employment and pretty much anything that requires a bit of thought.
  • Helps organise your essay : At any point in the essay you can stop to brainstorm ideas. This helps you structure the essay, making it coherent and logical.
  • It can calm you: A lot of the stress in writing comes from not having enough ideas or not having a structure. You might feel overwhelmed by the hoards of information after the initial research. Brainstorming ideas can help organise your thoughts, which is a calming activity that can help you avoid stress.

Essay brainstorming in an academic setting works a bit differently than doing it in a team. You’ll be the only one doing the brainstorming for your essay, meaning that you’ll be coming up with and whittling down the ideas yourself.

Learn to use idea board to generate ideas effectively with AhaSlides

Here are five ways to do just that…

Brainstorming Essays – 5 Ideas

Idea #1 – write ideas unconsciously.

In “ Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking ,” Malcolm Gladwell points out how our unconscious is many times more effective than our conscious in decision-making.

In brainstorming, our unconscious can differentiate between relevant and irrelevant information in a split second. Our intuition is underrated. It can often produce better judgments than a deliberate and thoughtful analysis as it cuts through all the irrelevant information and focuses on just the key factors. 

Even if the ideas you come up with in essay brainstorming seem insignificant, they might lead you to something great later. Trust yourself and put whatever you think of on paper; if you don’t focus on self-editing, you may come up with some ingenious ideas.

That’s because writing freely can actually negate writer’s block and help your unconscious run wild!

Idea #2 – Draw a Mind Map

An illustration of a mind map

Brains love visual communication and mind maps are exactly that.

Our thoughts rarely arrive in easily digestible chunks; they’re more like webs of information and ideas that extend forward at any given time. Keeping track of these ideas is tough, but manifesting them all in a mind map can help you get more ideas and both understand and retain them better.

To draw an effective mind map, here are some tips:

  • Create a central idea : In the middle of your paper draw a central topic/idea which represents the starting point of your essay and then branch out to different arguments. This central visual will act as visual stimulus to trigger your brain and remind you constantly about the core idea.
  • Add keywords : When you add branches to your mind map, you will need to include a key idea. Keep these phrases as brief as possible to generate a greater number of associations and keep space for more detailed branches and thoughts.
  • Highlight branches in different colours : Coloured pen is your best friend. Apply different colours to each key idea branch above. This way, you can differentiate arguments.
  • Use visual signifiers : Since visuals and colours are the core of a mind map, use them as much as you can. Drawing small doodles works great because it mimics how our mind unconsciously arrives at ideas. Alternatively, if you’re using an online brainstorming tool , you can real images and embed them in.

Idea #3 – Get on Pinterest

Believe it or not, Pinterest is actually a pretty decent online brainstorming tool. You can use it to collect images and ideas from other people and put them all together to get a clearer picture of what your essay should talk about.

For example, if you’re writing an essay on the importance of college, you could write something like Does college matter? in the search bar. You might just find a bunch of interesting infographics and perspectives that you never even considered before.

A screenshot of an infographic by Pinterest.

Save that to your own idea board and repeat the process a few more times. Before you know it, you’ll have a cluster of ideas that can really help you shape your essay!

Idea #4 – Try a Venn Diagram

Are you trying to find similarities between two topics? Then the famous Venn diagram technique could be the key, as it clearly visualises the characteristics of any concept and shows you which parts overlap.

Popularised by British Mathematician John Venn in the 1880s, the diagram traditionally illustrates simple set relationships in probability, logic, statistics, linguistics and computer science.

You start by drawing two (or more) intersecting circles and labelling each one with an idea you’re thinking of. Write the qualities of each idea in their own circles, and the ideas they share in the middle where the circles intersect.

For example, in the student debate topic Marijuana should be legal because alcohol is , you can have a circle listing the positives and negatives of marijuana, the other circle doing the same for alcohol, and the middle ground listing the effects they share between them.

Idea #5 – Use a T-Chart

This brainstorming technique works well to compare and contrast, thanks to the fact that it’s super simple.

All you have to do is write the title of the essay at the top of your paper then split the rest of it into two. On the left side, you’ll write about the argument for and on the right side, you’ll write about the argument against .

For example, in the topic Should plastic bags be banned? you can write the pros in the left column and the cons in the right. Similarly, if you’re writing about a character from fiction, you can use the left column for their positive traits and the right side for their negative traits. Simple as that.

💡 Need more? Check out our article on How to Brainstorm Ideas Properly !

Online Tools to Brainstorm for Essays

Thanks to technology, we no longer have to rely on just a piece of paper and a pen. There are a plethora of tools, paid and free, to make your virtual brainstorming session easier…

  • Freemind is a free, downloadable software for mind mapping. You can brainstorm an essay using different colours to show which parts of the article you’re referring to. The color-coded features keep track of your essays as you write.
  • MindGenius is another app where you can curate and customise your own mind map from an array of templates.
  • AhaSlides is a free tool for brainstorming with others. If you’re working on a team essay, you can ask everyone to write down their ideas for the topic and then vote on whichever is their favourite.
  • Miro is a wonderful tool for visualising pretty much anything with a lot of moving parts. It gives you an infinite board and every arrow shape under the sun to construct and align the parts of your essay.

More AhaSlides Tools to Make your Brainstorming Sessions Better!

  • Use AhaSlides Live Word Cloud Generator to gather more ideas from your crowds and classrooms!
  • Host Free Live Q&A to gain more insights from the crowd!
  • Gamify engagement with a spin the wheel ! It’s a fun and interactive way to boost participation
  • Instead of boring MCQ questions, learn how to use online quiz creator now!
  • Random your team to gain more fun with AhaSlides random team generator !

Final Say on Brainstorming Essays

Honestly, the scariest moment of writing an essay is before you start but brainstorming for essays before can really make the process of writing an essay less scary. It’s a process that helps you burst through one of the toughest parts of essay and writing and gets your creative juices flowing for the content ahead.

💡 Besides brainstorming essays, are you still looking for brainstorming activities? Try some of these !

Anh Vu

Tips to Engage with Polls & Trivia

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College admissions

Course: college admissions   >   unit 4.

  • Writing a strong college admissions essay
  • Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes

Brainstorming tips for your college essay

  • How formal should the tone of your college essay be?
  • Taking your college essay to the next level
  • Sample essay 1 with admissions feedback
  • Sample essay 2 with admissions feedback
  • Student story: Admissions essay about a formative experience
  • Student story: Admissions essay about personal identity
  • Student story: Admissions essay about community impact
  • Student story: Admissions essay about a past mistake
  • Student story: Admissions essay about a meaningful poem
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Video transcript

What are your chances of acceptance?

Calculate for all schools, your chance of acceptance.

Duke University

Your chancing factors


brainstorming essay sample

Where to Begin? 6 Personal Essay Brainstorming Exercises

←8 Do’s and Don’ts for Crafting Your College Essay

Creating the First Draft of Your College Application Essay →

brainstorming essay sample

The Common App publishes a list of 7 prompts each year. They ultimately ask for similar types of responses, regardless of slight alterations year-to-year. The Common App prompts provide you with a forum to write about yourself, using whatever anecdote or vehicle you wish in order to communicate something profound and genuine about yourself to adcoms.

If this feat seems daunting or spellbindingly vague to you, you are not alone. For virtually every student applying to college, the moment when you sit down to draft your personal statement is likely the first—and may end up being the only—time in your life when you are pushed to describe your entire identity succinctly and eloquently. So, where to begin?

As with any writing assignment, the best way to approach the personal essay is to brainstorm what it is you want the entire essay to communicate about you to the adcom that will be considering you for admission. Read on for 4 surprising brainstorming exercises that will lead you to an effective personal statement strategy.

1. Consider the four core questions.

When writing your personal statement, there are four questions that your essay should answer:

  • “Who am I?”
  • “Why am I here?”
  • “What is unique about me?”
  • “What matters to me?”

These questions are important because they help bring awareness to the kind of person you are and touch on things such as your personality traits, your journey throughout high school, the interests and skills that make you unique, and what’s important to you. Colleges want to understand how you became who you are, and where you’re going (successful alumni reflect well on their school, after all!).

2. Try freeform writing.

To help answer these questions and start brainstorming, freeform writing is a good place to start. Begin by writing down 3-5 aspects of your personality or experiences and spend some time constructing narratives out of these different combinations.

This process of getting some ideas on paper and seeing how they can relate to each other can help you better identify a prompt that works for you. For example, you might note that you enjoy tutoring students in STEM, and are now working with a local school to create a Women in STEM initiative in your school district. You may also have tried previous initiatives that failed. These experiences could be constructed and applied to a number of Common App prompts. You could address a specific identity or interest you have associated with STEM, discuss what you learned from your failed initiatives, explore how you challenged the lack of women in STEM programs in your school district, envision solving for the lack of women involved in the science and mathematics fields, etc.

3. Make a list of opinions you firmly hold and explain them.

This exercise requires you to think about aspects of your identity that you have actively chosen. While exercise #4 asks you to consider what parts of your identity you have struggled to overcome, this exercise asks you to consider what aspects of your identity you are most proud of—those opinions that you hold because you chose to believe in something specific of your own accord.

This is an important brainstorming exercise because it should get you thinking about things you are passionate about. Ultimately, you will want to write your personal statement about something that defines you, gets you excited, and can exhibit your ability to think and speak for yourself. So now, before you start writing, make a list of the things that you care about most, and explain why you feel that way about them.

This list can include everything from your political affiliation to your stance on McDonald’s decision in the past year to serve breakfast for longer. The point of this exercise is that there is no right or wrong way of going about it, no topic that is more worthwhile than any other so long as you are passionate about it.

4. Make a list of your character flaws.

While the ultimate goal of the personal essay is to present yourself in as positive a light as possible to adcoms, the challenge is to do so in a way that is realistic and genuine. To do this, you’ll need to do some serious thinking about what types of character flaws accompany your best traits.

There are two main reasons why we suggest that students not shy away from talking about their own shortcomings as well as their achievements. The first reason is quite simple: a personal statement that paints a picture of its writer as perfect and without flaws will come across as dishonest and unrealistic. Obviously, you want to avoid this at all costs. Second, and even more important, if you are able to write a personal statement that acknowledges your flaws and recognizes that you are imperfect, it will reflect positively on you and vouch for your maturity.

If it feels counterintuitive or scary to dwell on anything other than successes, do not fret: that is the expected reaction to this advice. But if done correctly, acknowledging that you are not perfect can add genuineness to any personal essay. So, how to discuss character flaws? There are several ways to go about this.

One way is to discuss a character flaw that you have always struggled with and worked to improve upon throughout your life. In this scenario, discussing flaws can help introduce a discussion about growth or maturation and give your personal statement a nice narrative arc. Yet another way to discuss your character flaws is to acknowledge how certain struggles or personal shortcomings have shaped your identity, allowing you to go into more detail about the ways in which you were able to better yourself by identifying a flaw in yourself and being willing to fix it.

The thinking here is that students have no difficulty remembering all of the accomplishments, productive experiences, and glowing achievements that they want to include in their personal statements. After all, it is easy to write about these things. It is much harder to force yourself to think about aspects of your identity that rankle, and to think about how these things have shaped you.

5. Reflect on your choices and why you made them.

Another brainstorming exercise that can help you think of a topic is to reflect on what choices you’ve made and why. Once you come up with a list, it will be easier to see what you value and the direction in which you can take your essay.

Think about some of these questions to get the juices flowing:

  • Why are they my best friend?
  • Under what circumstances did we become friends?
  • When did we last fight?
  • If I had to spend 10 days doing the same exercise or physical activity, what would I choose? Why?
  • Say I had to pick one food, and my three closest friends or family members could only eat that food for one week. What would that food be and why?
  • Say I had to start a business selling something, and I would achieve the average level of success (financially, socially, etc) within that business, what would I choose to do?
  • What movie would I want to take the place of a character in and which character would I want to play? Why?
  • What class or teacher did I like most, and why? What class or teacher did I dislike most, and why?
  • If I had to choose between singing, doing standup comedy, or dancing in front of 18,000 people, what would I choose? Why?

6. Make a list of anecdotes, childhood memories, or stories about yourself. Then choose one and make it your “vehicle.”

Finally, you should conclude your brainstorming session by searching for a vehicle: an anecdote that you can use to frame your personal statement.

You can use anecdotes in your personal statement in a number of ways. Some students choose to open with one, others close with one, and still others will use two or three anecdotes in order to add color and rhetorical flair to the points they are trying to make about themselves. The best types of anecdotes are the ones that tell the most about you or give insight into your character.

When we help students write their personal statements, we usually begin by brainstorming a few potential anecdotes to use in your essay. But if you are wondering what the point is of using an anecdote— Why use one at all when I could save words and just talk about myself ?—it’s useful to first understand why telling a story or two makes your personal statement stronger.

Ultimately, you will want your personal statement to communicate something about your character and personality that is unique and appealing to schools. When an adcom reads your personal statement, they are looking to hear about you in general, they are looking to learn something unique or special about you (so they can differentiate you from other applicants), and they are also looking for evidence that you would be a valuable addition to their community. But the fact of the matter is that these are fairly broad and vague directives to write about if you don’t have something specific to focus on.

This is where the anecdotes come in to save the day! They help instigate a conversation about yourself, your personality, your identity, and your character while also giving you something concrete to talk about. This is why we call it a “vehicle”—it can exist in its own right, but it carries with it important information about you as well.

Now that you know what the purpose of this vehicle is, it should be a little easier to brainstorm the anecdote(s) that you choose to frame your personal statement with. If you are not yet sure what to write about in your personal statement, you can start brainstorming anecdotes from your childhood, from favorite family stories to fond memories, from hilarious vacation mishaps to particularly tender moments. Do your parents have favorite stories to tell about you? Write those into your list as well.

Once you have a collection of stories to work with, you may begin to see certain patterns forming. Perhaps all of your favorite stories take place in the same setting—a vacation home that meant a lot to you or in the classroom of your favorite teacher. Maybe, you will realize that all of your fondest memories involve a certain activity or hobby of yours. Or, alternatively, you may notice that one story from your childhood mirrors or foreshadows a like, dislike, or accomplishment that would come to fruition later in your life.

If you already know what you want to say about yourself, you can come at the same exercise from another angle: try to think of several anecdotes that could be potential vehicles for the message about yourself that you want to transmit. If you want to illustrate that you love to learn, try to think pointedly about where that love comes from or what you have done that proves this. In this case, remember that any given anecdote can reveal more than one thing about you.

It is hard to imagine all of the possible personal statements that could come out of this brainstorming session, but it is almost certain that this exercise will help you come up with several concrete points to make about yourself and provide you with a tangible way to say those things.

Final Thoughts

If after doing these six brainstorming exercises, you still don’t feel ready to write your personal statement, fear not! Writing a personal essay is daunting and won’t be done in three steps, or even three days! 

For more guidance, check out these blog posts:

How to Write a Personal Statement That Wows Colleges

How to Come Up With an Idea for a Personal Statement

How to Write the Common App Essays

Mastering the Personal Statement

5 Tips for Editing Your College Essays

Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.

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Blog > Common App , Essay Advice > 25 College Essay Brainstorming Questions

25 College Essay Brainstorming Questions

Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University

Written by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University Admissions

Key Takeaway

If you’re in the process of starting your college essay, you know how hard it is to come up with a good topic.

Should you go the lighthearted, humorous route? Or should you reveal something serious about yourself? Of all your experiences, how do you know the best one to write about? 

Worse, how do you know if your idea is cliche? Or, alternatively, what if you’ve tried too hard to be unique?

And with all the conflicting advice out there about what should and shouldn’t be in a college essay, the process gets even more confusing.

But there’s a foolproof method to cut through the noise and find a college essay topic that’s right for you.

It all starts with a brainstorming exercise.

Let’s get into it.

What is brainstorming?

Have you ever tried to turn nothing into something? It’s almost like writing defies the laws of physics. But that’s what you have to do when you come up with a topic.

Brainstorming helps you get there. It is a type of pre-writing process. We call it a “brainstorm” because it’s a way to corral the thought tornado that’s spinning out of control in your brain.

Like its counterpart “free writing,” brainstorming is a place for anything and everything. It’s a chance for you to do a brain dump and get your thoughts on to paper.

Brainstorming is the main way writers go from no ideas to lots of ideas in a short amount of time. It also saves you time and effort in the long run because it helps you weed out all the bad ideas before you waste your time trying to write an essay around them.

When you brainstorming, you’ve got two goals: 1) identify the thoughts that come to you, and 2) write them down. Some people do image-based mind maps, others create linear outlines, and others have their own individual processes altogether.

Today, your brainstorming process will consist of answering some pointed questions to get you thinking about the best college essay topics for you.

How do you brainstorm a college essay?

Brainstorming your college essay is an essential step because your essay topic determines how much an admissions officer is able to learn about you.

Picture yourself as an admissions officer. You’ve already read 25 applications today, and now you’re on your 26th. You flip to the essay, and you see immediately that it’s an essay about winning a soccer tournament. You’ve already read three essays about soccer tournaments today. Hopeful, you proceed through the essay. To your dismay, the essay’s message—that hard work and determination will get you far in life—is almost exactly the same as the previous three. The soccer essays start to blend together, and you can’t quite remember whose is whose.

That’s the problem with overused, cliche, and surface-level topics. They aren’t interesting or memorable. Because they remain on the surface of who you are, they don’t tell an admissions officer the information they need to know to admit you.

Instead, we believe that all college essays should revolve around one of your core strengths.

A core strength is an inherent and positive trait, talent, or characteristic that shapes how you live in the world.

Here are a few examples:

  • Social intelligence
  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Passion for justice
  • Positive outlook

Whether your strength is your wisdom, entrepreneurial spirit, compassion, or problem-solving skills, your college essay should reflect a strength that makes you you.

Because the purpose of a college essay is to help you get admitted to college. (If you need a refresher on the ins and outs of college essays, look to our How to Write a College Essay guide.) Writing an essay that speaks to your strengths gives admissions officers more reasons to admit you.

A strengths-based essay will help them get to know the real you, and they’ll be able to envision how your strengths will contribute to their college community. It’s all about crafting a cohesive application narrative .

So when it comes to brainstorming, you need to think of topic ideas that accomplish two tasks:

Showcase one (or two) of your core strengths.

Give admissions officers meaningful and vulnerable insight into who you are.

Much easier said than done, right? That’s where brainstorming comes in.

Brainstorming relieves the pressure of getting it right the first time. It helps you compile and sort through all your memories, experiences, strengths, and values until you find one that works.

Let’s talk about the college essay brainstorming exercise.

Brainstorming Exercise Breakdown

To help you brainstorm college essay topic ideas that are strengths-based and meaningful, we’ve put together a list of questions.

These questions come from some of the most common college essay topics. They aren’t essay prompts, and they’re not intended to be the question from which you write your final college essay.

Instead, they are leading questions that will get you thinking about what strengths you have and how they show up in your life. You’ll be able to use your answers as a starting point to find your topic and write your first draft.

Feel free to copy and paste these questions into a word processor and answer each of them in turn. Or answer only the ones that call to you the most. Write down as much or as little as you want for each, but try to focus on concrete experiences and genuine reflections.

We’ll go over a couple of examples, but let’s first look at the questions.

25 Brainstorming Questions

  • What are your biggest strengths? Why?
  • If you could only choose one topic to talk about for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  • Have you traveled? If so, what did you do or learn?
  • If you could choose any meal to represent you, what would it be and why?
  • What is the most interesting part of your daily life?
  • Describe a time when you felt inexperienced at something.
  • Is there a question about the universe that keeps you up at night?
  • Where do you feel most at home?
  • What’s the most sensory experience you’ve ever had?
  • Have you had a job? What was your most memorable experience? What did you learn?
  • What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you?
  • Write about a time when you felt out of place.
  • Are there any social issues you’re passionate about? If so, what have you done to contribute to the cause?
  • Finish this sentence: “I feel most creative when I…”
  • Write about your most memorable classroom experience.
  • Describe a time when you felt like you genuinely helped someone.
  • What would your friends say is your greatest strength? What would your family say is your greatest strength?
  • What role do you play when working in a group or team?
  • What’s the most profound thing that’s happened to you?
  • Are you a leader? If so, how, when, and in what parts of your life?
  • What about yourself makes you proud?
  • Explain the hardest problem you’ve ever solved.
  • Picture yourself at 90 years old, nice and wrinkly. What would your 90-year-old self say about who you are today?
  • What are three things you know to be true?
  • What motivates you?

Is your brain storming yet?

To take your answers a step further, you can also ask yourself a bonus follow-up question. For each question you answer, consider this: How does what you’ve written here connect to one of your core strengths? Which core strength is it?

Brainstorm Example

Now on to the examples. Notice how each response has an associated core strength. The question responses are free-form. Not every idea they include will be usable, and grammar and organization don’t matter at all. Each response includes good sensory details and lots of ideas about what comes to mind for each question.

#14) Finish this sentence: “I feel most creative when I…”

Core strength: Creativity

I feel most creative when I play my cello. I love practicing and listening to my metronome and trying to figure out the difficult passages. It’s like a mixture of science and art. Playing in an orchestra really moves me because of the way the music comes alive and you can feel everyone’s art coming together to make new art. But my solo recitals are my favorite. I love being on stage in front of a crowd and getting to share my art with them, especially when I come up with a creative take on a classic piece. I used to hate recitals but ever since I changed my perspective from fear of failure to making art, I’ve learned to enjoy them more.

#8) Where do you feel most at home?

Core strength: Compassion

I feel most at home in my grandma’s kitchen. It always smells of freshly-baked bread, and everything has a slight but permanent dusting of flour. I feel at home there because that’s where I learned to do my favorite hobby: baking. My grandma taught me everything I know about how to bake. Nothing says “home” like a warm chocolate chip cookie with a little bit of sea salt. My grandma is my favorite person and she’s always inspired me. Now that she’s unable to bake for herself, I bake for her. Her kitchen is my office. I know every inch of the kitchen like the back of my hand. I’m learning new baking tricks on YouTube, and I tell her all about them when I visit after school. She’s taught and given me so much, so I just want to return the favor.

See how easy that was? They’re quick answers that are rich with description and ideas. When you write your own, it’ll be the kindling for your college essay.

When you’re ready, go through each question that calls to you and write down exactly what comes to mind. From there, you’ll have a list of topics to choose from.

Key Takeways

Now it’s your turn. Copy and paste the questions to get started. We use a similar brainstorming process with all the students we work with, and it’s a surefire way to find the right college essay topic for you. Once your brainstorm is done, check out the college essay writing guide or the Essay Academy to transform your brainstorm from a rough topic to a full-blown essay.

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We built the best admissions chancer in the world . How is it the best? It draws from our experience in top-10 admissions offices to show you how selective admissions actually works.

Writing Tips For Lazy Writers

Brainstorming Essay Example | 5 Steps To Unlock Your Writing Potential

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Are you staring at a blank page, struggling to find the perfect essay topic? Fear not! In today’s blog post, we’re going to explore the world of essay writing with a handy guide and a real-life brainstorming essay example . Plus, we’ll guide you step-by-step on how easy brainstorming techniques can make your writing better and bring your essays to life.

Table of Contents

What is brainstorming.

Brainstorming is a creative and collaborative technique used to generate a large number of ideas or solutions to a problem. It’s a process that encourages free thinking and open discussion to explore various possibilities. The main goal of brainstorming is to break away from typical thinking, allowing individuals or a group to come up with diverse and innovative ideas.

In essay writing, brainstorming means gathering thoughts, and ideas and exploring various aspects of the topic before starting to write. It helps overcome initial challenges, sparks creativity, and organizes thoughts for a well-crafted essay.

Why Brainstorming in Essay Writing Matters?

Brainstorming in essay writing matters because it helps you develop many ideas and organize your thoughts before you start writing. It’s like a creative warm-up that breaks down any barriers you might have in your mind. This process is important because:

  • Gets Creative Ideas Flowing:  Brainstorming encourages you to think freely, which means you can come up with different and interesting ideas for your essay.
  • Beats Writer’s Block:  Sometimes it’s hard to start writing because you don’t know where to begin. Brainstorming helps you get over this “writer’s block” by giving you a plan and getting your ideas flowing.
  • Makes Your Essay Unique: I t lets you think outside the box, making your essay more creative and different from others.
  • Helps You Plan:  Before you dive into writing, brainstorming helps you organize your thoughts. You can figure out what you want to say and how to say it, making your essay well-organized and easy to understand.
  • Creates a Strong Thesis:  Brainstorming helps you come up with a clear and strong thesis statement – the main point of your essay.
  • Encourages Working Together:  If you’re brainstorming with others, it’s a chance to share ideas and work together. This can make your essay even better with different perspectives.
  • Saves Time:  Spending time brainstorming at the beginning can save time later. It makes the actual writing part smoother because you’ve already thought about what you want to say.

In short, brainstorming is like a friendly helper that gets your ideas flowing and makes your essay-writing experience easier and more successful.

Step-by-step Guide: Brainstorming Essay Writing Process

Let’s break down the step-by-step guide to the brainstorming essay process:

Step 1: Selecting a Topic

  • Importance of choosing a relevant and engaging topic:  Understand why picking the right topic matters – it sets the tone for your essay and keeps your readers interested.
  • Brainstorming ideas for potential essay topics:  Generate a list of potential topics by thinking about your interests, relevant issues, or any prompts provided. Consider what will captivate your audience.

Step 2: Creating a Mind Map

  • Building a mind map to explore various aspects of the chosen topic:  Draw a central circle with your chosen topic and branch out with related ideas. This visual representation helps uncover different angles and perspectives.
  • Connecting related ideas and concepts for a comprehensive overview: I dentify connections between the ideas on your mind map. This step helps create a holistic understanding of your chosen topic.

Step 3: Free Writing Exercise

  • Setting a timer and allowing for a continuous flow of ideas: S et aside a specific time, perhaps 10-15 minutes, and write down everything that comes to mind about your topic. Allow your thoughts to flow freely, and don’t fret over achieving perfection.
  • Reviewing the results and identifying key points for the essay:  Review what you’ve written. Identify the key points that stand out and could form the basis of your essay. Look for themes and patterns.

Step 4: Listing Key Points

  • Make a list of the critical points and ideas you’ve gathered. These will be the building blocks for your essay.
  • Arrange the listed points in a logical order. This organization will serve as the initial structure for your essay, providing a roadmap for the writing process.

Step 5. Group Brainstorming

If possible, collaborate with peers or colleagues to brainstorm ideas collectively. This approach often brings fresh insights and diverse viewpoints to enhance your essay.

Additional Tips:

  • Tools like online surveys or polls can help gather feedback and ideas on potential topics from your peers or audience, aiding in the selection process.
  • Use online collaborative platforms like  Miro , or  Padlet  to create a virtual board where contributors can add and discuss potential topics.

By following these steps, you’ll have a solid foundation for your essay, with a carefully selected topic, organized key points, and a wealth of ideas to draw from.

Brainstorming Essay Example

Brainstorming Essay Example:  “The Power of Music and Its Impact on Our Emotions”

Step 1: Selecting a Topic – Brainstorming Essay Example

  • Let’s explore the powerful connection between music and emotions, a topic that many people find interesting and relatable.
  • Think about different aspects of music and emotions. Consider topics like the influence of music on mood, its role in expressing feelings, or how it connects people across cultures.

Step 2: Creating a Mind Map – Brainstorming Essay Example

  • Start by drawing a circle in the middle with “The Power of Music and Emotions.”
  • Branch out with related ideas like
  • (1) music’s influence on mood,
  • (2) its expression of feelings, and
  • (3)its cultural impact.
  • Identify connections between these ideas. For example, how certain genres evoke specific emotions or how cultural background shapes individual responses to music. This holistic understanding helps in exploring the profound relationship between music and emotions.

Step 3: Free Writing Exercise – Brainstorming Essay Example

  • Take 10-15 minutes to freely write about the power of music on emotions. Write down everything that comes to mind – whether it’s personal experiences, favorite songs, or the way certain melodies make you feel.
  • After the free writing exercise, review your notes. Identify key points like the emotional impact of specific songs, the universality of certain musical themes, and how music can serve as a personal soundtrack to life.

Step 4: Listing Key Points – Brainstorming Essay Example

  • Make a list of the critical points and ideas you’ve gathered:
  • The emotional impact of specific songs.
  • The universality of certain musical themes.
  • How music serves as a personal soundtrack to life.
  • Organize these points logically. Start with the emotional impact, delve into the universality of musical themes, and then explore how music becomes a personal soundtrack. This structure provides a roadmap for your essay.

Step 5: Group Brainstorming – Brainstorming Essay Example

  • Engage in virtual group brainstorming using tools like collaborative platforms.
  • Discuss with others how music impacts their emotions, share favorite songs, and explore cultural differences in musical preferences. This collective approach enriches your essay with diverse insights.

By following these steps, you’ll have a well-defined essay topic, and diverse ideas to create an engaging exploration of the power of music and its impact on our emotions.

When you write, brainstorming is like exploring. You can connect thoughts and discover the heart of your essay. Brainstorming is your compass, guiding you through the journey of turning ideas into words on paper. So, embrace the power of brainstorming and let your ideas flourish!

Ref:  |  EasyBib  |  Florida Gulf Coast University

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20 Brainstorming Ideas For College Essays

Why? Because I’m working on essays with several seniors right now and, for the most part, it’s a painful process for them. Between homework and assignments for school, activities, and sports, it’s hard to find time to write your essay .

And while it’s hard to sit down and turn that blank piece of paper into something poetic, it’s ten times harder if you don’t even know what you want to write about. Sure, you have the Common App essay prompts to work off of, but which one is going to help you write the essay which will propel your application from good to great?

If this is you and you’re having a tough time just getting some ideas on paper, here are a few prompts to get your creative juices flowing:

  • What is your favorite subject and why?
  • How do you spend your time outside of school?
  • What are your most unique talents?
  • What is important to you?
  • How has a moment in your life inspired you to be a different person?
  • What is a life lesson that you’ve learned (especially if you learned it the hard way)?
  • What are your greatest strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What is the most unusual thing you’ve ever done?
  • What is the most interesting place you’ve ever visited or travelled to?
  • What is an accomplishment or achievement you are most proud of?
  • What is an obstacle or challenge you have had to overcome?
  • Who is someone in your life you are inspired by and why?
  • What jobs have you held and what have you liked and disliked about them?
  • How are you different from your friends or classmates?
  • What is your relationship like with your family (think immediate and non-immediate family)?
  • How would your best friend describe you?
  • How would your parents describe you?
  • How would your brother or sister (if you have either) describe you?
  • If you had a “do-over” in your life, what is something you would do differently and why?

Some of these prompts require you to dig a little deeper than others, but at the end of the day they are all designed to do one thing: get you thinking about yourself. Because that’s what your essay is for; an opportunity to tell admissions counselors about awesome and wonderful you.

If you have questions about writing your college essay or would like some help getting unstuck from writer’s block, use the comment box below or email me directly at [email protected] . I would love to hear from you!

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Brainstorming in Essay Writing

What an essay writer wants to say in his essay, he says it neatly. The technique he uses to format his sayings is called “Brainstorming in Essay Writing”. It allows him to think freely about the subject and helps him to find solutions to problems easily. That’s why brainstorming is the first step in writing a successful essay.

In this article, we discuss why brainstorming is important in composing an effective essay and what is the way to do it, with a simple example.

brainstorming in essay writing, brainstorming examples for essays -

How to Brainstorm for an Essay

Many people argue that brainstorming is not necessary for essay writing. They feel it is going round the wheel. Other writers do not think so. Brainstorming in essay writing is of great importance. If not for any other benefit, it serves as a reminder while writing.

Brainstorming in essay writing is like someone who gathers all the ingredients he needs for the cooking and puts them together and at his reach. He looks at the ingredients always and decides which to come first. This is applicable in essay writing. An essay writer pens down every idea or point that comes into his head as he ponders on the essay topic. As he ponders on the topic, many ideas flood his head. He is likely to forget some of the ideas if he fails to write them down.

It is important to note here that not all the written down or brainstormed ideas make it at the end into the body of an essay. Selections are made at the end of the brainstorming, formally or informally.

Formal selection is the listing and the arrangement of the brainstormed ideas in the ways they should appear in the body of the essay. They are selected and arranged paragraph by paragraph. On the other hand, an essay writer can decide to random-pick his brainstormed ideas and develop them. That is, he looks at the list of the points as he writes and makes selections.

— Let us see an example using this essay question: “write an essay on ‘ My favorite meal “.


Abacha, cassava, tapioca, wet, dry, sauce, red oil, garnishing, garden egg, dry fish or fried fish, methods of preparation, local spices, aroma, celebration, utazi leaf, indigestion, digestion, appetizing, mouth-watering, efuru, melon spice, potassium, why some people dislike abacha, amazing secret, tomato, onions.

These ideas or points were what came to the writer’s head as he pondered on this essay topic. We can go on to select these ideas and arrange them accordingly the way they will appear in the essay paragraphs. Or, we can look at them and pick them randomly as they will suit the essay body. See the first and second paragraphs of the essay topic:


Abacha is my favorite meal. It is a popular delicacy known as African salad. Tapioca, wet or dry is extracted from cassava . I don’t know for any other person, what attracts me to this delicacy is the aroma and the manner of garnishment .

The aroma of the local spices like efuru, ogiri, ugba, and ncha made of potassium or palm ashes make it always appetizing and lure people to demand it. The sauce which is made from these local spices is used in the preparation depending on the locality and the people. For the garnishing; garden eggs, onions, tomatoes, fish (dried or fry), green vegetables, ugha, etc are used. This is the reason this delicacy is irresistible. Like, some people accept the offer not because they eat it but because of these irresistible ingredients. Once you turn your back, they pick the meat, fish, or vegetables and dump the real meal (Abacha).

The listed ideas used so far in the paragraphs were highlighted for our attention. It is important to note here that an essay writer is not limited to brainstormed ideas. As he writes, other ideas may come. He may use or include the new ones and removes the old ideas or uses both.

Brainstormed ideas act as a soft reminder. It is a data bank for an essay writer. It makes the journey smooth in the middle of essay writing.

Learn: How to Write an Expository Essay

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