All the planning you do, including assessment of your rhetorical situation, belongs to the prewriting stage of composing. Finding a suitable topic and deciding how to approach it are often the most difficult prewriting tasks. Several unstructured techniques may prove helpful at the outset; try them out and see which ones work best for you. Brainstorming (which also lends itself to a collaborative, or group, approach), listing, clustering, and freewriting are all ways of drawing on your unconscious mind to bring ideas to the surface. The key to making these techniques productive is to turn off the editor or critic in yourself and work as quickly and freely as you can.
Following are some examples of brainstorming the topic of education:
parochial schools required uniforms
busing computer-aided instruction
delaying college college vs. trade school
parents' role required education for new parents
driver's education banking vs. transmission methods
use of small groups need for better teacher training
affirmative action advantages of community colleges
Here is an example of freewriting on education resulting from the use of brainstorming, listing, or clustering ideas first:
When I think of education, the first thing which comes to mind is hot, boring classrooms, trying to stay awake while Dr. Martin droned on and on. Lots of things follow that image, like his angry tirades when we did poorly on tests or didn’t understand how to write the papers he wanted. The fact that once I got out of Poli Sci, or even the day after a test, I couldn’t remember a thing. The belief that Poli Sci apparently had nothing to do with real-world events, and my disappointment that what I thought would be an interesting class, especially in an election year, was yet one more dreary recital of names, dates, faces, and terms. Who cares? This guy was a walking advertisement for the “banking concept of education.” Paolo Freire would’ve had him shot.
These examples of listing on the topic of education are a follow-up to brainstorming:
BANKING VS. TRANSMISSION METHODS OF TEACHING
boredom of lectures necessity of coverage fear of chaos
ADVANTAGES OF ACTIVE LEARNING
accountability application of theory
USE OF SMALL GROUPS
active learning or anarchy?
need for teacher training re: use of small groups
need for student instruction re: small group behavior and responsibility
need for tasks, direction, supervision, and accountability
The example of clustering on the topic of education is a follow-up to brainstorming or an alternative to listing.
Once you have decided on a tentative topic, or at least a general subject, one or more of the following structured processes can help you focus and develop it.