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Task Definition

Whether it is for your history, chemistry, or English class, you will need to have a plan for where to start. Ask yourself about your assigned task, what problems need to be solved, and what the final result might look like. Brainstorming or Free Writing are two ways to get some ideas flowing.

Brainstorm about each proposed topic: list your initial responses to each topic, compare two or three frontrunners by charting your possible approaches, and, once you’ve narrowed your choice, try a Google Drawing to help focus your thoughts around one central idea. You can use any of these techniques:

  • Lists
  • Diagrams
  • Charts
  • Comparisons
  • Contrasts


Free writing encourages you to explore a single idea. This technique will be especially useful once you have selected a research topic. Free writing can give you a better sense of what you already know, what you think you know, and what you need or want to know.

  • Pick your most comfortable writing method.
  • keyboard, pen, or pencil.
  • Set a timer: 5 to 15 minutes.
  • Write for the whole time.
  • Spelling and grammar don’t count!

The only rule in free writing is that you have to write the whole time, even if your writing is not on topic. You may begin writing “I don’t know what to write” over and over, but eventually your brain will kick in and you will turn to your topic. Free writing can be useful throughout the writing process, whenever you feel stuck. For example, after you have compiled your research and made an outline, you may turn to write your introduction and discover that you have no idea how to begin. Free write! Ask yourself, “How might I introduce this topic?” Set your timer and begin. Once you have finished, you may want to read what you have written. However, you may find that the exercise has sparked your thinking and that, while what you actually wrote is not very useful, free writing has gotten you thinking again. It’s important to understand that the product of free writing is not always what is written on the paper, but rather the energy you get from the exercise and the new ideas that come to you.


Choosing a topic requires you to think about what interests you, what sparks your curiosity, and what inspires your thinking. No matter what the nature of your assignment, this is a stage that requires some brainstorming and some free writing. Once you feel good about your topic, you’re ready to move on to Developing Essential Questions. But remember to be flexible! You may need to return to this stage if you find that your choice is too narrow or too broad for the requirements of your research task.

This form will help you through the process of brainstorming through developing questions.

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