Brainstorming Tips

Coming Up with Great Topics


  • Make a list of 10 ways you define yourself. Then, for each characteristic, list events or memories that explain why you are that way.
  • Draw a timeline of your life: what are the important events?
  • Pretend interview yourself: what would you find interesting about you?
  • Draw your house -- What rooms or items can you recall the most detail about? Are there any stories connected to those objects or rooms?
  • Start with a set “meaning,” and find a moment in your life that matches up to it. For example: “The best things in life are free.” Was there ever a moment in your life that illustrated that? Even better: was there a moment in your life that proved a popular maxim wrong? Such as: “Sometimes, the best things in life AREN’T free.” Was there ever a moment in your life that matched up to that? Some other set meanings:
    • Don’t judge a man till you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.
    • If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it at all.
    • One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
    • Don’t judge a book by its cover
  • Some other questions to think about:
    • Who has had the biggest influence on your life, and why?
    • What are your passions in life and why did they become your passions?
    • Describe a moment when you were fierce!
    • Remember the extreme emotions: when were you the happiest? Saddest? Angriest? Most Scared?
    • What’s your major? Why?

Research Papers:

  • Check out a variety of news sites—, Google News,, (for local issues), to see if any articles interest you.
  • Type any keyword of interest into GVSU’s databases, such as Infotrac, Academic Search Premier, Lexus Nexus, to see what articles pop up about the topic.
  • Do you have a question that you always wanted to know the answer to? For example: Why do I have to take WRT 150? Why does GVSU charge so much for parking? You may be able to research and answer these questions!
  • Fill in the blank: “Why do we need _______” or “Why DON’T we need _______”?
  • Think about these questions: What would you be doing right now if you weren’t in class? What are your hobbies? What don’t you know about your hobbies?
  • Have a conversation (with a consultant, a friend, whomever!) about your life—maybe there are some researchable details to focus on (Did you grow up in a single parent family? Not play sports? Win a piano competition?)
  • If in a group: play the keyword game. One person says a word, and then next says the first word that pops into their mind, and around the circle it goes!


  • Make a timeline of the person’s life and zoom in on important moments
  • Focus on details and show some meaning. For example: Why is he wearing a particular brand or style? Why does he speak in a certain way?
  • A great group activity is to ask: how do we learn about people? Write “a typical day in the life of _____” (fill in person or place)
  • Remember that the paper doesn’t have to be positive. Maybe focus on finding the “truth” of the situation or even the negative.
  • Personify the place: give it characteristics, a personality, a “face”
  • Show the CHANGE in a person or place
  • Define the person or place by what it is NOT


  • Think about this: What makes you angry?
  • Make outline of article’s points. Do you agree/disagree with these points?
  • What’s your favorite or most hated part of the article?
  • Remember you can make an argument local! Take a look at a newspaper for ideas.
  • Think about what’s debated in your major area.
  • Write down issues other people feel strongly about—which you can explore.
  • If in a group, play “The doubting/believing game:” ½ group make pro-arguments, other ½ make cons.
  • This also works in one-on-ones too: right now, let’s think of pros/cons)
  • “Argue within the argument:” ask lots of “Why’s?” to reasons
  • Play the perspective game—try to argue from someone else’s perspective.

To view or print our Helpful Handout, click here: Brainstorming Tips

*comes with supplemental illustrated text attached

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Page last modified March 6, 2019