Step 1: Research
Assuming you've been given a topic, or have narrowed it sufficiently down, your first task is to research this topic. You will not be able to write intelligently about a topic you know nothing about. To discover worthwhile insights, you'll have to do some patient reading.
Write down quotations
As you read about your topic, keep a piece of paper and pen handy towrite down interesting quotations you find. Make sure you write down the source and transcribe quotations accurately. I recommend handwriting the quotations to ensure that you don't overuse them, because if you have to handwrite the quotations, you'll probably only use quotations sparingly, as you should. On the other hand, if you're cruising through the net, you may just want to cut and pastesnippets here and there along with their URLs into a Word file, and then later go back and sift the kernels from the chaff.
With print sources, you might put a checkmark beside interesting passages. Write questions or other thoughts in the margins as well. If it's a library book, use post-it notes to avoid ruining the book. Whatever your system, be sure to annotate the text you read. If reading online,see if you can download the document, and then use Word's Reviewing toolbar to add notes or the highlighter tool to highlight key passages.
Step 2: Analysis
As you research your topic, you will naturally be analyzing the arguments of different authors. In contrast to more popular reading, in the academic world, authors must supply copious amounts of evidence and nuanced reasoning in orderpersuade other scholars of their ideas. To enter the scholar's "gladiator arena," you will need to understand the principles of argument. Both analyzing an argument and coming up with your own will require careful thought.
Identify the argument
An argument consists of two main components: a claim, and reasons for that claim. Neither a claim without reasons, nor reasons without a claim, is an argument.Only when one leverages particular reasons to make a claim from those reasons do we say that an "argument" is taking place.
When analyzing an argument of any text, or creating one of your own, first identify the main claim and then locate all the reasons for it. The claim is the controversial, debatable assertion of the essay, while the reasons offer the explanations and evidence of why theclaim is true. It is helpful to map this reasoning out:
CLAIM = ________________________________________
* Reason 1: ____________________________
* Reason 2: ____________________________
* Reason 3: ____________________________
Step 3: Brainstorming
Find an original idea
Brainstorming is the art of thinking critically to discover original, hidden insights about a topic. Assumingyou've done a fair amount of research, you should now have a solid base of concepts to play around with for an essay. The task is now to stand on the shoulders of the scholars you've read and find something original to say about the topic. It is not enough to regurgitate what they have said. You must go beyond them to propose an original idea. Your paper should expose some new idea or insightabout the topic, not just be a collage of other scholars' thoughts and research -- although you will definitely rely upon these scholars as you move toward your point.
Use different techniques
Since the days of Aristotle, a variety of "invention techniques" or "heuristics" have been used for coming up with ideas. Depending on your topic, some invention techniques may work better than others. Theoverall goal when using any method is to discover unique ideas that take you and your reader beyond the obvious. The following wheel briefly describes nine of the most common methods for finding ideas. After reading the brief descriptions of each technique, download the Brainstorm Now file (a Word document), and begin brainstorming by answering the questions asked you.
Explore the evidence....