Organizing Your Ideas and Looking for Connections

photo of a pencil eraser attempting to erase the words "no one is perfect, that's why we have erasers" written in ink
“No one is perfect” by becca.peterson26 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Once you’ve gotten familiar with your assignment, considered your audience, and completed some pre-writing work, it’s probably a good time to start creating a draft. There is a lot of pre-drafting work that can be useful for building and connecting ideas, but eventually it becomes important to flesh those ideas out into paragraphs and see how they work together as a more complete piece of writing.

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Once you have generated a good range of ideas, your next step will be to look through the ideas you’ve come up with. Which ones are most interesting to you to research and write about? You will, ideally, find several topics in your idea generation process that are interesting to you and robust enough that you will be able to clearly support them (and potentially also locate strong sources to help you do that).

For more discussion about how to get started see “Strategies for Getting Started” in the section titled “Prewriting—Generating Ideas.”

So, how do you figure out which, out of all these good ideas you’ve come up with, is THE idea you want to work with?

Start by Reviewing the Assignment

What kind of writing is the assignment asking you to do? Is this a review? A summary? An argumentative piece?

Will you need to do research and cite sources? If this is the case, you can probably set aside ideas that will be difficult to do research for, such as a story about a personal experience. These might be better suited to a different assignment.

  • Is there a specific length requirement? You will want to look through your ideas to make sure you’re focusing on ones that you will be able to have an in-depth and well-supported conversation about in this amount of space. If the assignment length is short, you won’t have space to clarify a complex relationship between two ideas, and if the assignment is a longer one, you will need a topic that allows for that length of conversation without repeating yourself or focusing on just one support.
  • How much time do you have? If the assignment is due soon, you may want to work with a topic you already know something about, rather than try to learn a new-to-you set of ideas from scratch in a hurry.
  • Make sure any ideas you are considering focusing on for this work match the goals of the assignment.

Looking for Connections

a "connect the dots" version of The Mona Lisa
Mona Lisa Connect the Dots by Thomas Pravitte, photo by James Robert Smith is licensed under CC NC-SA 2.0

Once you have narrowed your ideas to ones that fit the assignment parameters, look for connections between the remaining ideas. Does one support another? Are a few of them different ways of looking at the same thing? Can two combine to make a stronger, more complete topic? Does one spark your interest in a way the others don’t?

If you complete these steps and find you have no topics left that have passed these tests, you will want to generate new ideas, maybe with a different generation method. If you want to look at or review some ways to do this, revisit from the “Strategies for Getting Started” section (in the “Prewriting” portion of this text). Now that you know what kinds of tests those ideas will be put to, it will likely be easier to generate ideas that will make it all the way through this process!

If you are still looking at several potential topics after this process, pick just one of them, or one tightly-connected group of them, to work with for this project.


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The Word on College Reading and Writing Copyright © by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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