Once you have decided on a topic, your next step is to discover what you know about it. In the chapter “The Writing Process,” you learned how to do this. Use one or more of these methods to help you think of specific information about your topic. As ideas come to you, write them down in the form of notes on a sheet of paper or on note cards. If you use note cards, write each piece of information on a separate card. These cards will be helpful to you later when you begin to organize your information.
For example, suppose you do not like the way teenagers appear on television, because they do not seem like real teenagers, so you decide to write a composition about this topic. You might begin by brainstorming the topic Television teenagers and the real thing. As you do, you might have thoughts like these:
Always smart and popular
I like color television better than black and white.
TV families don’t have many problems.
Lead exciting lives
I remember one show where the teenage character went on a fishing trip halfway around the world.
Parents think I watch too much TV
Television teenagers almost never do anything dumb.
Usually close to brothers and sisters
Teenagers in real life aren’t really this way.
They are not always smart and popular, and their families may have problems.
Using the basic set of six questions, you might ask yourself questions like these:
• Who are the teenagers on TV?
• What is wrong with the way they are portrayed?
• When are these teenagers on television?
• Where do these teenagers live? What are their homes like?
• How do they solve their problems?
• Why don’t television producers make these teenagers more like real people?
When you write down the answers on a sheet of paper, you find that the questions help you find specific information about your topic. Your answers to Question 1 give the names of specific characters and the shows in which they appear. When you answer Question 2, you realize that many teenagers compare themselves to those on television and feel that something is wrong with their own lives. The answers to Questions 4 and 5 tell you more about the lives these make-believe teenagers live. Question 6 introduces reasons why television teenagers are portrayed so unrealistically.
From your television viewing you have absorbed more information than you realize. These methods of gathering information help you discover what you already know and help you realize also that you need more information. For example, you may decide that you would like more specific information about teenagers on one particular show. By watching this show and taking notes on what you see, you gather the information you need.