Have you ever wondered how writers become famous? Creativity is the key to their success, regardless of the genre in which they write. Many have prosperous careers because of the unconventional approaches they use in their work. Brainstorming, which often combines disparate ideas to reach innovative conclusions, is an important part of the creative process.
This article presents a collection of techniques and strategies to boost your creative thinking. Here you will find step-by-step instructions on how to engage in a brainstorming session. In addition, we’ve provided a list of the top free apps to ensure your success.
❓ What Is Brainstorming?
Brainstorming is a method used to find a creative solution to a complex problem. The first step in the brainstorming process is to identify the problem. The next is to generate as many ideas as possible, no matter how fantastic or strange, which could provide a solution. Finally, those ideas that offer the most creative way to solve the problem are selected and used.
In the 19th century, the term “brain-storm” was used to refer to a mental disturbance. A century later, in the 1940s, a similar word was coined for a different purpose. Alex Osborn, an advertising executive, developed a system to facilitate the production of ideas. He called it “brainstorming.” Some business executives believed that the term held medical connotations and was potentially offensive. They suggested using different terms, like “cloud bursting” and “thought shower,” but none of them caught on.
Brainstorming is an informal way to arrange a business meeting. It also can be used for personal purposes, especially by creative people. The main goal is to avoid criticizing or rewarding any of the ideas.
How Will Brainstorming Make Me a Better Writer?
Our society has trained our brains so much that thinking outside the box becomes more and more challenging the older we get.
If you are a writer, brainstorming is the best technique you can use in your work. It silences self-criticism and traditional thinking. Use a voice recorder or a pen and piece of paper to keep track of your ideas. Do not judge whether your thoughts are good or bad. Just record the flow of ideas.
There are six stages of writing. You start by generating ideas for your topic. Then, you plan your work, make an outline, and create content ideas. After this step, you usually face writer’s block. This is the most challenging time, but when you overcome it, you can write and finish your project. Brainstorming can help you at each of these stages. Below, you will find 15 techniques to help you along the entire writing process.
Writing is a creative activity, and brainstorming is the perfect tool to help you improve your skills.
For many reasons, conventional thinking is viewed as the most productive type of thinking. But for creative jobs, this often proves to be quite wrong. The value of artists, writers, poets, and musicians lies in their uniqueness. It has been proven that individual brainstorming sessions produce more valuable results than group sessions. One explanation might be that when you work by yourself, you’re not afraid of how others will judge your ideas. On your own, you are free and more creative.
The individual approach is more efficient with simple problems and broad ideas. But group brainstorming is perfect when a complex problem is at stake. Sophisticated issues require the input of many different perspectives. For example, during audit planning, a manager’s opinion is only a small part of the brainstorming session. Each employee should have a chance to propose possible solutions.
📝 16 Brainstorming Techniques for Every Stage of Writing
Some topics are so difficult that you could spend hours on end trying to think of something special to write. Complicated philosophical essays can also be challenging. Sometimes, a topic may offer an overwhelming number of ways to complete the assignment, but none seems appropriate. In all of these cases, a good brainstorming session is usually the first stop on your path to success.
We have selected the 16 best techniques to generate ideas at each stage of writing a paper of any length. Fifteen minutes of effort at every stage can save you hours of fruitless thinking.
Stage 1: Generating Topic Ideas
Before you begin writing, you need to identify your topic. This decision will narrow the field of your research. Here are five techniques to help you.
This brainstorming game works well in groups. For instance, your teacher might assign a task to write an essay on internet addiction. Her preference is that no one in the class has the same topic.
- The first person writes down three topic ideas and passes the paper to the next student.
- The second person uses the topics already listed to trigger their own ideas and adds another three.
- This process repeats until all members of the class have added three topics to the list.
- Three to five minutes for each person is enough. You can make several rounds around the group if necessary.
- When you are done, cross out the topics that repeat or don’t apply.
- Share the remaining topics with the members of the brainstorming group.
This method offers the best way to avoid censoring ideas.
Have a lot of paper on hand (freewriting can take up a lot of space). Do not think about what to write next, and don’t judge your thoughts as good or bad. The only requirements are:
- Write in sentences and paragraphs.
- Keep on writing. If you don’t have any new ideas, write something like, “I am waiting for an idea, and it will come” as many times as you need before a new idea does come.
This exercise takes about 20 minutes, or you can continue until you feel the topic is ready.
The general purpose of essay brainstorming is to free your mind from stress and improve its performance. What could combat stress better than meditation? This technique is known for improving the quality of your sleep, focus, and even academic performance.
It also helps writers find the answers they need. While meditating, they remove distractive thoughts and focus on what matters.
4. The criminal technique
In the words of the wise Pablo Picasso, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”
This method is perfect for selecting a title for your writing. Search for about fifteen texts similar to the one you have to write. Analyze the advantages and disadvantages of their titles. Then, combine the good parts into your own original title. Voila!
5. The worst idea challenge
Try this when nothing else has been successful. Write down the worst topic ideas you can think of. You will be surprised, but some of them will not be as bad as you thought in the beginning. Our brain is primed for conventional wisdom and critical thinking, and these are the last things you need when trying to engage in creative activities.
Stage 2: Planning Your Work
Congratulations on coming up with a list of topics that perfectly match your assignment! But now, you have to choose just one. At this stage, you need to plan how and where you will search for information to include in your paper. SWOT analysis is a great tool to help you.
6. SWOT analysis
This technique is traditionally used to evaluate the strong and weak points of a company, but we can also use it to assess ideas for creative purposes. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. To evaluate the feasibility of your topic, juxtapose its strengths and opportunities with its weaknesses and threats. If the latter outweighs the former, choose another topic.
Stage 3: Outlining
This is often the most hated stage of writing, both among students and copywriters. Still, you’ll be thankful that your outline is so structured and detailed when you proceed to the writing phase. These two techniques can sweeten the pill.
7. Clustering/idea mapping
Draw a picture of all the ideas you have on the chosen subject. This technique is a great way to establish the relationships between problems, their causes, and consequences.
- Put your main idea or the possible thesis statement at the center of the paper.
- Write down related issues and draw connecting lines between them.
- Add problems, hypotheses, and facts that contribute to these issues.
- When you’re done, you will have a detailed diagram to help you develop any argument on your topic.
8. Topic association
Did you play the word association game as a child? This technique will help you generate and structure multiple ideas.
- Use short phrases or single words.
- Start with the topic word in the center.
- Write down sub-topics around it. Their relation should be general-to-specific, not cause-and-effect, like in idea mapping.
- Make another row of sub-sub-topics, and so on.
Stage 4: Generating Content Ideas
When your outline is ready, you need to produce those minor content details that make up a compelling paper. Although all of the above techniques can help create content ideas, here are several brainstorming techniques that offer specific benefits at this stage.
9. Reverse brainstorming
This is a useful tool for essays that need to offer a solution to a problem. In this case, the brainstorming procedure is used in reverse. Think of something that could cause or aggravate the given problem. The worse the consequences, the better! Repeat this step until you have brainstormed a complete disaster. Then, begin to examine how to eliminate those problems.
10. The Five Whys
This technique will bring you to the root of any issue. Think of a problem, ask yourself why it occurred, and write down the answer. Then, identify the cause of the last thing you wrote down. Continue the same sequence five times (or more, if needed).
- Why did the boat sink? Because the engine failed.
- Why did the engine fail? Because it overheated.
- Why did it overheat? Etc.
11. Role Storming
The method works best in a group, but you can brainstorm on your own for your writing purposes. Put yourself in the shoes of a person whose problem is discussed in your paper. If the topic is child obesity, think about the experiences the affected children and their parents might go through. If it is domestic violence, take on the roles of the victim, offender, and bystander. Empathy helps us see the same situation from different points of view.
12. Figure storming (an excellent idea for a historical project)
Choose a historical or fictional figure whose life, actions, and views are familiar to you. Imagine that you are Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, or Thomas Edison, and that someone has asked you how to tackle a certain problem. What would you, as a great intellectual, suggest? We often lack clarity and assertiveness. Let these figures (and many more, thanks to our rich history) assist you.
13. Question everything
The name of the technique is self-explanatory, but the following example will make it more accessible. Question every single aspect of the topic you discuss, and you will discover new ideas.
Topic: The pros and cons of online education.
Questions: Are there any pros of online education? What is online education? Who cares about the problems of online education? Is the issue even worthy of consideration?
14. Pros and cons (excellent for argumentative and persuasive texts)
You have probably never noticed it, but you use this method every day. You weigh the value and price of any purchase before paying for it. You consider whether to stay in college or leave when you are offered an exciting job before graduation. Write down the available options (they can be more than two). Then, make a list of their strong and weak points. It will help you decide which argument to adhere to in an argumentative text.
Stage 5: Overcoming Writer’s Block
We all have a fear of a blank page. Even when you have an outline and a list of creative ideas, it can be difficult to begin writing. This is a common problem with perfectionists: they want everything to be perfect from the start. To overcome this block, use freestorming.
Freestorming is very similar to freewriting, which was discussed in the section on generating topic ideas. The difference is that with freestorming, you do not need to give yourself an arbitrary time limit. Take as much time as you need and write whatever comes to your mind on the subject. You are not just limited to topic generation now, so you can make the brainstorming experience more relaxed.
Stage 6: Writing
All the techniques above have probably generated so many ideas that you most likely have to choose which ones to include in your text. Another issue you may face now is selecting the right words. For that, the technique below will come in handy.
16. Word banks
To avoid repeating yourself, make a list of five to ten of the most common words in your text. To diversify your writing, find synonyms and use them throughout your paper.
👣 Organize a Great Brainstorming Session in 6 Steps
Brainstorming is the best method to search for a creative or strategic solution. It allows a group of people to accumulate a great number of ideas in a short time. But without proper organization, this opportunity for teamwork can be controlled by a few leaders, while the rest keep quiet. To make it a fair game that benefits each member, everyone should know and adhere to the rules.
Step 1: Demonstrate the Specific Problem
The person who organizes the session should make sure that all the participants have a clear understanding of the task. For example, it could be finding a solution to a problem, coming up with a new product or campaign, improving an existing solution, or defining new directions of research.
The following procedure will help you avoid any unwanted issues:
- State a clear, short question that embodies the entire problem.
- Establish boundaries for brainstorming ideas. These limitations will make the session more productive.
For example: When does the research project need to be completed? What is the maximum amount of money that can be invested in the new product?
- Try to keep the limits to a minimum so that you can have a broader range of solutions.
Step 2: Establish the Context and Definitions
When a business project or research project involves a large group of people, knowledge distribution tends to be uneven, and the leaders usually know more than the rest. Everyone will benefit if this gap is decreased. These questions will help you equalize the knowledge between all the members:
- What do the participants know about the context?
- What else do they need to know to be productive thinkers?
- What are the key terms everyone should understand in the same way?
Step 3: Choose a Facilitator
It is important that each participant knows the main rule: there is no room for criticism or skepticism. The participants must give free rein to their imagination. They need to pick up each other’s ideas and develop them, supplementing them with their own insights. The facilitator is the one who keeps an eye on these “formalities:”
- They make sure everyone makes a contribution.
- They prevent anyone from dominating the session.
- They keep the participants focused.
- They do not generate ideas but combine them to keep the session moving.
Step 4: Collect the Right People
Be aware that the presence of some people can be detrimental to the session. Effective brainstorming needs people who are equally invested in the problem question. These rules can save your session from a disaster:
- Select three to eight people.
- Make sure some of them are experts. They will check every idea for viability.
- The other part of the group should be non-experts (i.e., workers or researchers from a neighboring domain). Experts are limited by their knowledge, and it is harder for them to think outside the box. Non-experts will ask silly questions entailing unconventional thinking.
- Try to select members from different backgrounds, age groups, and cultures. Diversity is your purpose!
Step 5: Plan the Session
It is helpful to prepare this point in a group handout. We suggest the following schedule:
- 20 minutes to set out the problem, its limitations, context, and definitions;
- 30 minutes for generating the options and new ideas;
- 20 minutes for sorting and discussing the brainstorming results; and
- 10 minutes to wrap up the session.
Step 6: Carry out the Session
There are multiple exercises, games, and techniques for successful brainstorming. Many of them were given above. But if you want to make it quick and simple, this procedure will do:
- The facilitator provides sticky notes to each member.
- They write down their ideas.
- These papers are put together in a place visible to everyone (a table or whiteboard).
- The facilitator groups them into several categories.
- Any new ideas are welcome on extra notes.
- The members vote for the best ideas and put them aside.
- Special attention should be given to the most innovative solutions.
- The facilitator summarizes the results and ends the session.
📱 Top 10 Free Brainstorming Apps
It is the XIX century, and brainstorming sessions can be held across continents. Moreover, free software can help you arrange new ideas and merge or compare them. If you are wondering how to innovate in groups or on your own, these apps can make you an expert brainstormer.
|Lucidchart||If you need a diagramming tool for your brainstorming session, this is the best one. More than six million people use this app to create flowcharts. It is so intuitive that it requires almost no preparation. The app can prove useful in nearly any area, from web design to business development and engineering.|
– Free software and examples
– Mind mapping solutions
– Concept and process map makers
– Value stream mapping
– Business process mapping
– Android, iPad, and iPhone mockups
|Mindmeister||The free version has no limitations on the number of participants in a brainstorming session, but it only provides three mind maps. Your maps are updated on all devices in real time. It is available on multiple devices, making it easy to hold a collaborative session.|
– History modeReal-time brainstorming
– AttachmentsImport and export of images, video, and results
– Mindmap editor and presentations
|Mind42||The name of this tool is “mind for two.” It is perfect for private mind maps or making structured notes of your ideas. A user can create blocks of information and connect them with arrows. Each block can be labeled or replaced with a picture. |
– Straightforward interface
– Export to various file formats
– Invite other members
|Coggle||This app is ideal for occasional brainstorming, but it has an option for collaboration as well. Coggle stores the entire history of changes, which is helpful in a long-term project when everyone forgets how it all started. You can add images, floating text, branches, and loops to your mind maps. |
– Unlimited number of diagrams
– Real-time brainstorming
– Secret diagram linkMultiple starting points
|Wisemapping||This is a free tool for individual and group mind mapping. This open-source program has a sponsorship option for improving its features. It is a web-based mind mapping instrument for individuals and groups. There is an option to post a link so that your colleagues can join a brainstorming session.|
– Extensive user community that can be asked any question
– Totally free
– Public and private workspaces
|Visual Thesaurus||Visual Thesaurus is an online search engine that improves associative thinking. When you enter a term, the tool opens a word map that offers word associations. The word map groups together the terms that are similar, and it visualizes the relationships between words and their categories.|
– Interactive dictionary and thesaurus
– Word maps with definitions and related terms
– English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, and Dutch dictionaries
– Virtual access through any browser
|Popplet||The free version is all that you need for personal brainstorming. Its target audience is businesses, students, and educators. The interface controls are drag-and-drop. The tool is perfect for students because you can create presentations based on your brainstorming sessions. |
– Downloadable app for Apple users
– Copy, paste, and position text segments
– Connect to external sources via URL links
|FreeMind||This is an open-source Java tool for mind mapping. It is available for Windows, iOS, and Linux. The interface is old-fashioned, but its functionality will surprise you. |
– One-click navigation
– Drag-and-drop controls
– Upload images and export mind maps
|Milanote||This is a wonderful tool for creative professionals, marketing experts, and UI designers. However, the target audiences are photographers and illustrators. This brainstorming platform has a whiteboard feature for creative teams. The free version has 100 images, notes, and links and ten file uploads.|
– Ready-made templates
– Commenting tools ensure easy feedback from clients
– To-do list to track task completion process
– Whiteboard feature for brainstorming sessions
|Miro||If you need a tool to manage the big picture and never lose a single detail, this should be your choice. Its former name was RealtimeBoard. In fact, it is a whiteboard with multiple user-friendly features. The free version has three editable boards where you can draw, use sticky notes, or paste various shapes.|
– Unlimited storage
– Guest account
– Whiteboard functionality
– Screen sharing
|(Bonus) Eyewire Creativity Cards||This is not a tool, in the full meaning of the word. But it is a good way to beat your creative block. The resource suggests creative exercises or topics to consider. To open a new tip, refresh the page.|
Brainstorming is a beautiful process in which a group of people with different experiences, views, and expertise unite to create something new. We hope that our advice and tips will enhance your creativity as a writer and a team player. If you have been a member or facilitator in a brainstorming group, share your know-how in the comments below.