Essay writing – developing ideas for your essay

The aim of this post is to help you develop and improve ideas for your essay using a range of elicitation techniques which will advance your thinking.  Have a go at mind mapping and brainstorming – both are fun and both will help you generate the originality you need for a better essay grade.

There are two main ways in which you can develop your ideas:

From general to specific

This approach is useful if you are allowed to choose your own research question, which means you will be starting with a more broad area of study.

  • Collect all relevant information/research
  • Break down your research into smaller, interrelated topics using a elicitation technique
  • Create a visual record of this process which will then enable you to identify any areas of uncertainty
  • Create a list with possible research questions

From specific to general

This approach is useful if you already have a set research question which you need to develop ideas for.

  • Collect call relevant information/research
  • Use an elicitation technique to build your research around the original question. Mind mapping is a good way of doing this! (see below)
  • Create a visual record of this to identify any gaps in your research
  • Create a list of research questions (focusing on your original concept) which will help you to expand and develop ideas to answer your set question

Mind mapping

Mind maps are a great way to present your research visually and get creative, in a similar way to which the brain itself maps ideas and concepts; non-linear and interconnected. They also help to simplify and organise research by separating information using different branches. For most people, mind maps are a much easier way to remember information and develop ideas because they make use of colour, symbols and pictures. They are a great way of getting a general view of your research, and information can easily be added.

  • First put any information that you already know on your mind map. This will also give you an idea of how much research you need to do next.
  • Add information throughout your research. Annotating your mind map can help you to see how you achieved your end result.
  • Use plenty of pictures, symbols and colours – these stimulate creativity
  • Be spontaneous – write down any ideas that you can think of. Ideas that may seem weak at first can sometimes be developed into better ones.


Brainstorming can be done both on your own and with a group. They are a great way to develop ideas as well as create new ones.

The idea of brainstorming is to start with a very simple idea, or preferably a single word which is connected to your research topic. You should then write down anything and everything that relates to this word or concept – as much as you can think of.

Brainstorming doesn’t always have to be written down either – it could also be recorded by tape or on video.

But there are rules!

  • Write down everything you can think of, ideas should be uninhibited – anything goes!
  • The more ideas the better. Weaker ideas can be developed.
  • Build on other people’s ideas – this can also help you to develop/improve your own
  • Try to avoid criticism until after you have written down all the ideas

Once you have ideas, that’s when you start to filter them.

And good luck! Remember that if you are struggling to develop ideas for your essay, you can always speak to your lecturer about the resources and help available to you.

More resources:

This article offers a wide selection of creative problem solving techniques that can really help with generating ideas.

Here’s a great guide to writing concisely which may be useful. It’s on marketing copy but it works the same way in essays.

Certified originalFinally, don’t forget to always scan your finished essay with a free plagiarism checker. helps ensure you don’t accidentally plagiarise any material that you didn’t write yourself.

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