Learning Center
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out

Invention Techniques


									                         Invention Techniques
“Invention” or “Discovery” techniques are the means by which a writer
either creates (invents) or finds (discovers) content. In academic writing
invention is often believed to begin with research, but students also use
invention techniques to help them prepare for the research process.
Invention fosters critical thinking skills, so that as students do their research,
they are more open to various problems and perspectives and more able
to connect what they learn to their personal experiences and knowledge;
invention also helps writers narrow a topic, clarify a thesis, develop ideas,
or find arguments. Once writers have done some preliminary reading or
started drafting, they may want to use invention techniques to refocus. In
addition, these techniques are helpful for writers who are “blocked”.

Not all invention techniques are suited to all writers or writing tasks.
Encourage students to experiment with the following strategies to find out
which work for them:


For students who need a visual picture of their ideas, clustering (also
called visualizing) is a helpful method of invention. Clustering can be done
as a part of brainstorming groups or by students working alone.

The following is a clustering procedure to provide to students:

      Write a word related to your topic in the middle of a page and
       circle it.
      Think of other words that come to mind when you think of the word.
       Let your mind be playful. Don't judge or evaluate yourself, just let
       the words flow.
      As you write other words, remember to circle them.
      If you draw a blank thinking of more words, draw lines between the
       words you have written that are similar and draw arrows when one
       word leads to another.
      Don't think or analyze too long about any word or connection.
      Continue this activity from two to five minutes.
      Look through your cluster to get an idea of where to begin.
      If you bog down in writing, resume the clustering process for another
       two to five minutes

You don't need to evaluate your students’ clustering. You'll find it difficult
to follow someone else's train of thought and probably won't be able to

Adapted from TX Resources
tell much from the diagram. In fact, students will benefit more if you allow
them to keep the diagram they produced so that they can refer to it as
they write a draft. Instead, spend a few minutes of class time discussing
the results of the clustering experience, to reinforce how to do it and to
encourage students to think carefully about their results.


Brainstorming, probably the most widely-used invention technique, was
codified in a set of techniques by Alex Osborne in the late 1950's (Applied
Imagination. NY: Scribner, 1957). According to Osborne, the ground rules
for brainstorming are as follows:

      Don't criticize or evaluate any ideas during the session. Simply write
       down every idea that emerges. Save the criticism and evaluation
       until later.
      Use your imagination for "free wheeling." The wilder the idea the
       better, because it might lead to some valuable insights later.
      Strive for quantity. The more ideas, the better chance for a winner
       to emerge.
      Combine and improve ideas as you proceed.

Students can brainstorm alone or in pairs, however, small groups are more
conducive to opening up new perspectives. They can brainstorm once or,
better yet, over a series of class periods. To set up a brainstorming group in
a class, try the following procedures:

      To begin, you can provide a topic or let the students select one.
      Have students select a person to be the recorder, who will keep
       notes on ideas that emerge. The recorder may also want to use the
       clustering format (see above) to make relationships between ideas
       more apparent.
      Ask students to call out ideas and to use courtesy. They should not
       interrupt or ridicule.
      Set aside a certain amount of time (10 to 15 minutes or longer)
       during each class for the students to brainstorm about the topic.
      If students are writing on the same topic, you can allow them to
       work together in pairs or groups.
      Never grade or evaluate the students' work in any way.
      Do this each class meeting for a period of time leading up to the
       drafting stage of a writing assignment.
      Follow up the group session with a 10-minute writing period. Ask
       each student to select at least one idea the group came up with

Adapted from TX Resources
       and elaborate on it. Remind them the writing won't be graded or

If you don't have time in class, you can assign brainstorming for outside
work and grade the quantity (but never the quality) of their work. Have
students brainstorm a list of ideas about the topic for at least 10 minutes
and then write for one hour elaborating on the ideas on the list without

Students may find this exhausting; they may discard most of what they
write. However, they will discover ideas about the topic that they never
knew they had.

This should take 20-30 minutes of class time. You can cut the time by
omitting the follow-up. Don't cut the brainstorming to less than 10 minutes,
however, because students need at least that much time to warm up and
push themselves to think more deeply and reflectively. For a handout on
Brainstorming geared to students, see the Communications Resource

Focused Freewriting

One of the best ways to get inexperienced writers used to the idea of
writing is to have them freewrite. Freewriting is writing without judgment or
limits (except for time). The theory behind freewriting is that the writer's
conscious mind may be inhibiting ideas. While this theory is controversial,
research does support the idea that writers attending too closely to
rhetorical, grammatical, and mechanical issues (what is called
"monitoring") may be less fluent and may tend toward writer's block.

In summary, the benefits of freewriting are many:

      Inexperienced writers can become familiar with the physical act of
      Freewriting helps writers to match their writing process with their
       thinking process.
      Writers can produce without the editorial judgments that make
       writing more difficult.
      Freewriting demystifies the process of writing.
      Students see that writing is not so difficult and that it does not
       require some innate gift.
      Freewriting demonstrates to the students that good writing is not
       normally produced on the first try.

Adapted from TX Resources
Although some writing instructors advocate freewriting on any topic as a
way to increase fluency and comfort with writing, in a content course it is
likely that a more appropriate method would be focused freewriting,
whereby the writer's attention is drawn to a particular topic or problem.

The procedure for focused freewriting, which you can share with students,
is as follows:

      Begin by writing your topic at the top of the page.
      Write for a preset amount of time (usually 10 minutes) without
       stopping for anything. Do not lift your pen from the paper.
      If you can't think of anything to write, write "I can't think of anything
       to write" or rewrite the last word that you wrote over and over until
       you think of something.
      Do not worry about correct spelling, punctuation, wording, or
       mechanics. This is for your eyes only.
      Do not judge your own ideas. Write whatever comes into your mind.
      The only requirement is that you do not stop writing until the time is

A variation on freewriting called "looping" was described by Peter Elbow in
Writing With Power. Add the following steps to the process above:

      At the end of 10 minutes, read over what you have written. Look for
       a "center of gravity"--that is, a phrase or sentence that grabs your
       attention, makes you want to elaborate, challenges you, or
       otherwise engages you.
      Rewrite that sentence at the top of a clean sheet of paper.
      Begin another 10 minute freewrite.
      Repeat again for a total of three "loops" or freewriting cycles.

The products of freewriting are best left to the student. You can't evaluate
what they have done except, perhaps, in terms of quantity. If you don't
have much class time to devote to freewriting, do it once or twice to
teach students the procedure and then encourage them to do it
themselves. Try doing it along with them, and you will get a better sense of
its value.


Heuristics are systems of questioning. The Greek word "heurisis" means
"finding" and is related to Archimedes' cry of "Eureka!" ("I have found it!").
Most methods of prewriting fit into this category. You can formulate your

Adapted from TX Resources
own heuristics to fit your discipline, but below are listed two of the most
useful general sets.

- Reporters' Questions

The simplest heuristic is the one reporters use: who? what? when? where?
why? and how?

- Classical Rhetoric

Ancient Greek and Roman rhetoricians saw Invention as a primary step in
preparing a speech, and they used a system of Topics ("places"), where
rhetoricians could "find" arguments. They discussed both Special Topics
(that is, appropriate to a given discipline) and Common Topics (those
general enough to be of use for any rhetorician). Their systems were
codified by the great Roman educator, Quintilian.

Below is a modern version of Qunitilian's Common Topics:

Definition: "What is it/what was it?"

The answer to the question can be in a variety of contexts:

The World Trade Center towers were the two tallest buildings in New York
City. (immediate context)

The attack on September 11, 2001, was a damaging blow to the financial
industry in the United States. (larger context)

Analogy: "What is it like or unlike?"

Explain something that is not familiar by comparing it to a more familiar
historical or general element.

For many Americans, the days after the attack on the World Trade Center
were like the days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Flying commercial airplanes into the World Trade Center towers was unlike
ordinary military use of aircraft.

Consequence: "What caused/causes/will cause it?"

The answer can be explanatory or can predict an outcome.

Adapted from TX Resources
The attack on the World Trade Center brought America's concern about
homeland security to the forefront.

If the governmental agencies in charge of security in the United States do
not coordinate their information and efforts, another attack such as the
one on the World Trade Center will occur.

Testimony: "What does an authority say about it?"

The authority can be an expert, statistics, an eye witness, or accepted

Even after the attack on the World Trade Center towers, New York City
Mayor Rudy Guilliani said that the city was still strong and united.

Over 100,000 square feet of office space was destroyed and more than
2,000 people died in the attack on the World Trade Center.

People on the ground near the World Trade Center said they saw many
people jumping from the top floors of the towers after the airplanes hit.

Survivors of the attack on the World Trade Center towers will suffer much
grief and depression.

The topics of definition, analogy, and consequence are the most useful in
creating a thesis statement. Testimony is better for supporting the thesis.

Adapted from TX Resources

To top