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EN 102 First Year Writing: Brainstorming

A course guide for students enrolled in EN102

Brainstorming Resources


Once you decide what topic you want to write about, the dictionary is a great place to start your research. It's possible that you already have a good idea what the words in your research question mean, but you'll be surprised what you can learn about the rhetorical significance of a word when you look it up in the Oxford English Dictionary or the Thematic Dictionary of American Slang!


At the beginning of the writing process, it is important that you analyze your topic and familiarize yourself with different ways of expressing your ideas. When you write, it is good to have an idea of how your topic is situated within the bigger picture! Mapping your topic also helps you think of different search terms you can use to find sources.

Text Version:

Broad to Narrow Terms in a hierarchical list:




Working Dog

Show Dog

German Shepherd


Identifying Narrow and Broad Keywords:

Thesis: "Romantic Relationships have become increasingly complicated due to the use of Facebook"


Facebook is the main keyword that we can identify from the thesis statement "Romantic relationships have become increasingly complicated due to the use of Facebook." This keyword is our starting place.

Parallel terms for Facebook (other types of social media):

Pinterest; Twitter

Social Media:

Social media is a broader term than Facebook. Sometimes you need to use broad terms in order to increase the scope of your search.

Parallel terms for Social Media:

Online; Virtual

Status Update, profile information, and relationship status are all examples of narrower terms. Narrow terms tend to be more specific than the original "anchor" keyword, and help to give focus to our search.

Parallel terms for Status Update:

Profile Information; Relationships Status

After you decide what you are interested in writing about, your first step in actually writing your paper is defining your topic. This step involves doing some background investigating using a dictionary or encyclopedia, and also brainstorming your topic to identify all of it's aspects! You can use the links to dictionaries and encyclopedias below to help you map your topic. Dictionaries and Encyclopedias provide detailed background information and will help you understand how your topic is related to broader ideas, and will also help you break your topic down into sections. 

What are you looking for in the dictionaries and encyclopedias?

Within dictionaries and encyclopedias, you will find specific words and terms that relate to your topic. For example, the Wikipedia article on facebook identifies it as a "social media service." It also says that people can use it from "desktop computers," "laptops," "tablets," and "smartphones." Users can use "hashtags," the company has been accused of using user data to create a "filter bubble" so that users only see like-minded posts. 


Let's look at another example topic. Let's say you are reading the Wikipedia article on GMOs. The first thing you read in Wikipedia is that GMO stands for "genetically modified organisim." This can be used as a search term, so you should write it down. If you scroll down to the History section, you can see some other terms, including "selective breeding" and "artificial selection"  and "recombinant DNA." A narrow term that you can find in the Wikipedia article would be "transgenetic plants" and "genetically modified crops." If you scroll down further, you can see that GMO is also the umbrella term that "gene therapy" and "genetically modified viruses" falls under.