Work out your initial thoughts and ideas about the topic(s)

  • Do you have any initial responses to the question? What could a possible answer (or answers) be?
  • Do you have any opinions at all about the topic(s)? Write them down, no matter how ‘creative’ or non-academic they may be.
  • What do you already know about the topic(s)? Do you have knowledge than can be built on, such as familiarity with related areas, sources or frameworks for thinking about similar topics? Write everything down—you may know more than you think.

Further your thinking by ‘questioning the question’. This helps you focus by drawing out sub-questions about the question and topic.

  • Question the terms—Is there a generally agreed-upon response to the question or approach to take?
  • If not, how do different approaches/ theories/ arguments differ? Which ones could/ should you use?
  • What are the key concepts? How do they relate to each other?

Generate ideas through brainstorming. Come up with as many ideas as you can as quickly as you can. Don’t evaluate or discard anything—you can do that later—just jot them down. Use mind maps, drawings and lists; whatever comes to mind and stimulates your thinking. Look at what you’ve noted down. Pull out the points that are relevant to the question and discard the rest.

  Next: Step 3 - Constructing an initial essay plan


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