The Writing Center will be closed from Dec. 7 through Jan. 3. We will reopen for the J-term on Jan. 4, offering online consultations by appointment only from Jan. 4-15. Hours will be 1-3 p.m. and 4-6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Please see our Appointments page for safety guidelines and information about making an appointment.


How to brainstorm topics

Stuck with a blank page because you can't think of anything interesting to write about? Check out our brainstorming prompts below to get you going!

Are the topics you’ve considered the same issues everyone seems to select: abortion, violent video games, body image, legalizing marijuana, same sex marriage, global warming? These subjects are certainly meaningful, but they are too large to be good topics. In most papers, you simply don't have the space or time to address the complexities of these arguments.

Readers are a lot like dinner guests. They’ll be reluctant to engage with a paper that doesn’t share an honest or unique perspective.

Additionally, though much is written on these subjects, the dialogue has often reached a stalemate. This makes joining the conversation and adding a fresh perspective a nearly impossible task — which may lead your paper to recycle general observations others have made, and that is boring.

Imagine you’re hosting a dinner party and one of the guests keeps retelling jokes you’ve already heard. You’ll instinctively want to talk to a more interesting person.

To get a fresh topic and a fresh perspective, avoid choosing issues just because they sound academic or controversial. Your personal interests are far more compelling because, in fact, any topic can be academic. The key is in how you approach a subject. Don’t underestimate your everyday interests; even something as simple as the history of the cornflake can reveal a lot about culture and identity. When you’re discussing a topic you find intriguing, you’ll want to contribute to the conversation and guests (or readers) will want to listen.

You may speak Arabic or Japanese, but foreign languages are not the only languages available to you. Every community speaks a lingo that includes specific terms and values related to that community. For instance, a photographer uses terms such as: aperture, click-shops, and latent image, that you may not understand.

You know the lingo specific to jobs, interests, or places you have lived. The lingos you speak can lead you to interesting paper topics. For instance, from watching football you may know about salary caps, and you could write a paper on how salary caps are related to team performance. Try working through the following steps to see how you can use your own personal lingo to find interesting paper topics.

  1. Take five minutes and list all the activities and lingos you are part of.
    For example: playing guitar, sailing, being a barista, living in Oregon Hill, buying vintage clothing, playing basketball, etc.
  2. Choose one item from your list. Take ten minutes and write a short dialogue between two people using lingo from that community.

For example:
Gwen: Rachel got in the hot tub with Joey on last night’s episode of The Bachelor.
Miriam: They’ll hook up.
Gwen: She won’t hook up with him.
Miriam: She’s trashy, though. All the girls on that show are trashy.
Gwen: Phoebe’s not. There’s always one goody goody in the house.
Miriam: The innocent one, sure. Rachel is the evil temptress.

Once you have a dialogue, think of some questions you might ask of your topic, starting with the most general and then moving to the more specific.

Round 1: General questions

  • Does the show The Bachelor reflect reality?
  • Why is The Bachelor popular?
  • What types of people are cast on the show?
  • How does the crew decide which footage to include?
  • Do their choices affect how the stories are told?

Round 2: More specific questions

  • How do The Bachelor casting directors make choices that reflect the viewing public’s need to label people?
  • How do The Bachelor cast members represent common stereotypes, much like literary archetypes?
  • What is the relationship between the show’s role as a means of escapism for viewers and its cast members matching stereotypes that don’t necessitate critical thinking?

Final thoughts

Graphic of playing cards [View Image]

Remember, you will need to contribute as much as possible to your writing, so choose a topic you will enjoy exploring. The more you know and learn about an issue the more you’ll have to share, making your remarks more captivating.

If you get stuck, imagine a conversation amongst poker players. This could lead to a series of topic explorations:

  • Is it ethical for the government to finance education through gambling, relying on state lotteries to generate revenues?
  • Why are card games increasing in popularity with adolescents?

More topics for brainstorming

indie rock
folk art
 Go to top

Text version | Privacy | Accessibility | Webmaster

View graphic versionView graphic version