Freewriting and Listing Help (page 2)

Updated on Sep 2, 2011


Listing is similar to freewriting in that it is a timed, flowing exercise meant to elicit many thoughts and ideas on a given topic. However, instead of putting whole sentences or phrases on paper, this prewriting technique involves creating a list. It might contain various individual thoughts, ideas that make sense in a particular order, and/or ideas linked together by association with previous ideas.

Listing is a great brainstorming strategy for collaborative writing projects, which work best when they begin with the entire group collecting ideas. In addition, unlike freewriting, listing works well in a timed writing situation. Even within the 25 minutes allotted for the SAT essay, spend a few minutes first listing your ideas before beginning to write.

How to Use Listing

  • If you are not already being timed, set a timer for at least 15 minutes (the more time you spend, the more and better ideas you will probably come up with).
  • Write every word or phrase that comes to mind about your topic. If you have not selected a topic, write an answer to the question(s), "What do I have to say to my audience?" or "What do I want my audience to know about me?"
  • As with freewriting, do not edit or censor any ideas, and ignore the rules of spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
  • When you are finished, look over the list carefully. Cross out useless information, and organize what is left. Categorize similar items.

In this example, a student used listing to generate ideas for his college application essay.


In your opinion, what is the greatest challenge your generation will face? What ideas do you have for dealing with this issue?

  • Being overwhelmed by technology
  • Staying in physically touch when everything becomes virtual
  • How will we know what's real?
  • If people live longer, what about the generation gap?
  • Find better ways to take care of parents, and grandparents
  • Being overwhelmed by information
  • What about the people who don't have access to technology—social inequality
  • The environment
  • Slow consumption of our resources
  • Recycle more
  • Come up with alternative fuel sources
  • World government?
  • Disease—new viruses—bird flu?
  • What about our new power for destruction, biowarfare?

In Short

Two effective ways to generate ideas are the freewriting and listing brainstorming techniques. Simply write nonstop about your assignment for a set period of time, either going across the page in sentences (freewriting) or down the page in a list (listing). Don't judge your ideas, and don't edit. The more freely you write, the easier it will be to tap into your creativity—and the more ideas you'll come up with.

Exercises for this concept can be found at Freewriting and Listing Practice.

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