Using invention techniques

Invention techniques are strategies which can be used to generate ideas for written assignments. Being familiar with a few of these techniques can be useful as you embark on a writing assignment.

For students who are required to come up with their own essay topic, as well as for writers struggling with how to approach a topic, invention techniques can be of great help. Which technique(s) to use depends on the task at hand and also on the writer. Not all invention techniques will suit all writers or all kinds of writing; it takes some practice to master them and to know which ones will work best for you.

Below, you will find a list of common invention techniques. There are many websites, as well as YouTube clips, devoted to such techniques.


Brainstorming is a group activity, often aimed at generating ideas that will help solve a given problem. During a brainstorming session, all ideas that come up are written down with no attention given to structure or relevance. After the brainstorming, useful ideas can be identified and structured.


Freewriting resembles brainstorming in the sense that no attention is given to structure or relevance, but here you work on your own. You write for a brief period of time (10-20 minutes), and the point is to get words on paper even though you initially may think you will have nothing to say about the topic you have before you. After a few minutes, words often start to flow, and you will be able to formulate some rough ideas from which your writing can depart. Freewriting can be carried out in several stages: If, after an initial session, you step away from what you wrote for a few hours or a day, and then return to it for a new session, you will be able to build on what you first wrote and work towards a more coherent text.

Clustering (or mapping)

As with other invention techniques, the idea of clustering is to generate ideas for essays or other projects. Writers usually start by writing a key word in the middle of the paper and then branch out by adding other, related, words and concepts as they come to mind. Such a graphic presentation can help not only at the idea-generating stage but also later on, to keep track of the structure of a project or how different parts of an essay relate to each other, for instance.

Keeping a journal

Many writers find it useful to keep a reflective journal in which they record their thoughts on their reading, experiments, or field work. Journal writing in different forms has a long tradition within research and is also common in the teaching of process-oriented writing. A writer's journal can take many different forms, and unless you have been assigned to write a journal according to a specific format, you need to try out what will work for you. A journal can be informal and personal, intended to record thoughts and reflections that may not be intended for your project but for you as a learner and student. Alternatively, the journal can be where you make notes on issues which you aim to include in your project, even though you do not yet know how to fit them into your project. In order to make efficient use of any material that has been generated through your journal writing, date all entries and contextualise them (for instance, by providing references to any sources you have read or been inspired by).

    Next step: How to use the ideas that you have generated

    In many disciplines, students are asked at an early stage of the writing process to formulate a research question and a thesis statement. Read more about that here:


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