Invention techniques

Pre-writing activities involve reading, experimenting, data collection and the formulation of a thesis. These activities differ depending on type of text and on discipline. Here, we list some so-called invention techniques, which can be useful to students embarking on essay assignments, for instance.

Invention techniques are strategies used to generate ideas for written assignments (as well as for oral presentations). Which technique(s) to use depends on the task at hand and also on the writer. For students who are required to come up with their own essay topic, as well as for writers struggling with how to approach a topic, invention techniques can be of great help. However, it is important to remember that all invention techniques do not suit all writers or all kinds of writing, and also that it may take some practice to master them.

We list some common invention techniques below. There are many websites, as well as YouTube clips devoted to such techniques.


Brainstorming can be done individually or, perhaps even better, in groups. During a brainstorming session, all ideas that come to mind are written down with no attention given to structure or relevance. After the brainstorming, useful ideas can be identified and structured.


Freewriting resembles brainstorming in the sense that no attention is given to structure or relevance. The freewriter writes for 10-15 minutes; after a few minutes words often start to flow and the writer is able to formulate some ideas from which the writing then can depart.

Clustering (or mapping)

As with other invention techniques, the idea of clustering (or mapping) is to generate ideas for essays or other projects. Writers usually start by writing a key word in the middle of the paper and then add other, related, words and concepts as they come to mind.

Keeping a journal

Some writers find it useful to keep a reflective journal in which they record their thoughts on, e.g., their reading, experiments, or field work. Journal writing in different forms has a long tradition within research, and it has also been used within the teaching of process-oriented writing for a long time. Rohman (1965) recorded how journal writing was made part of a writing course as a way of helping students engage with their subject. As suggested in this example of journal writing activity, one point of keeping a journal is that, through "introspection", it may help the writer to engage with his or her subject:

Because we assumed that the process of transformation was nothing if not personal, we began our course by asking students to "collect themselves" in a journal. We demanded daily performance of some sort, although we did not specify length. We mimeographed a long list of questions that we hoped would provoke our students to some discovery of what they believed, what they felt, what they knew. In the process of introspection, formalized by the daily writing in the journal, we hoped to mobilize the consciousness of every student writer. If writing is a groping process for what it is in us that "tallies" with a subject, then the more familiar we are with ourselves, the better the chances of our "groping to" some discoveries in writing. (p. 109)

Various strategies could be used when setting up a reflective journal; the following texts provide information and inspiration for prospective journal writers: