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Generate and Refine Ideas

Free writing

To free write, you simply sit down at a desk with pen and paper in hand and with a topic in mind and begin writing. If you’re more comfortable in front of a computer, you can begin typing. Spend about ten minutes writing or typing about your topic and don’t worry about grammar, style, spelling, or penmanship.


Your goal is to write without stopping even if you’re only writing “I can’t think of anything to write.” Eventually, you’ll grow tired of writing “I can’t think of anything,” and you’ll begin writing down ideas you can use. After ten minutes of writing you can reread your text and circle the topics and examples that your wrote about.


Let's look at an example of a writer who has to write a paper about Shakespeare's Hamlet.


I can't think of anything to write about Hamlet! Nothing comes to mind except that it was written by Shakespeare and is a tragedy. In the play Hamlet meets his father's ghost who tells Hamlet that his mother's new husband killed him. Hamlet's father tells him to avenge his death. Hamlet agrees that he should avenge his father's murder. Anger seems to be a theme of the play as does madness. Hamlet is angry at his mother for marrying Claudius, and Hamlet feigns madness for part of the play. Ophelia goes mad . . . .


In the example above, you can see a writer free writing about the Shakespearean play Hamlet. She begins by writing down very general things that she knows about the play, and then she moves on to more specific information. You can see toward the end of the free writing that she is interested in writing about the theme of madness in the play.


Free Writing: The Next Step

Looping is a technique that employs free writing. Follow the guidelines under the free writing section, and then move on to the following steps:


1. Read your first free write and circle all interesting topics, ideas, phrases and sentences.


2. Pick one of the circled items you’d be interested in pursuing further.


3. Free write for another ten minutes on the circled topic.


4. Read your second free write and circle all interesting topics, ideas, phrases and sentences.


5. Repeat steps one through four between three and five times.

After several rounds of looping, you have some specific information regarding a topic which may give you the basis for a thesis for a research paper.