Home Patterns For College Writings Lesson 2: Invention Strategy In Writing

Lesson 2: Invention Strategy In Writing

Invention or prewriting is an important part of the writing process, but it is frequently the most neglected part. At this stage, we discover what interests us about the subject. We think about what ideas should we develop in our writing.

We may be tempted to write the first draft immediately, but before we begin writing, we should understand the assignment and its limits. And we should also think about what we would write.

Invention Writing Process Understanding Your Assignment

College writings mostly begin with assignments. Some assignments are easy to understand while some are complex. 

Simple assignment: “Write about a time where you had to compromise with injustices.”
Complex assignment: “Using Devkota’s poem “The Lunatic” as source material, write an essay as your thesis the following statement: “The poem is a surgical exposure of the hollowness of the so-called intellectual aspirants of the time.”

Before we start writing, we need to understand what the assignment is asking us to do. No matter how well we write an essay, it will be deficient if it doesn’t deal with the assignment.

Setting Limits

After we know the assignment, we need to think about its length, purpose, audience, occasion, and our own knowledge about the subject. These factors help us to determine what to say about our subject.


Our instructor may specify the page limit. Page-limit affects our paper’s focus. We need a narrower topic to write a short essay, but we need a broader topic to write a longer essay. Similarly, we can’t write an essay thoroughly in an hour exam, but we can discuss it in detail if we write it for a few days.

But if our instructor specifies no limit, the nature of the assignment suggests a paper length. A summary of an article is shorter than the original text. An analysis is longer than the text itself. When we are uncertain about the appropriate paper length, we should ask our instructor.


Our purpose also limits what we say, and how we say it. When we write a job application letter, we try to persuade the reader to hire us. When we write an email to our friend, we try to inform or entertain him/her. This way, our purpose helps us determine what information to include to evoke a particular response in a specific audience.

Generally, we can classify our purpose according to our relationship to the audience:
• Through expressive writing, we convey personal feelings or impressions to readers
• Through informative writing, we inform readers about something
• Through persuasive writing, we try to convince readers to act or think in a certain way.

To express, inform and persuade are general purposes. Specific purposes are – to analyze, entertain, hypothesize, assess (estimate/evaluate), summarize, question, report, recommend, suggest, evaluate, describe, recount, request, instruct, and so on. (Example: Suppose we wrote a report on homelessness in our community. Our general purpose might be to inform readers of the situation, but we might also want to assess the problem and instruct readers how to help those in need.)


To write an effective essay, we should write with a particular audience in mind. The audience can be an individual (instructor) or a group (our classmates), a specialized audience (medical doctors), or a general/universal audience.

We should consider their age and gender, political and religious values, their social and educational level. These components can help us determine what interests them. We often find an audience is too diverse to be categorized.

In such cases, we imagine a general/universal audience and write points that will appeal to a variety of readers. At other times, we identify a common denominator (a feature shared by all members of a group).

A common denominator is a role that characterizes the entire audience. (For instance: “Now is the time for health-conscious individuals to demand that cigarettes be removed from the market.” This statement automatically casts (puts) the audience in the role of health-conscious individuals.)

After the audience is defined, we need to determine how much (or little) they know about our subject. If the audience is highly informed, we present our points without much explanation. But if they are relatively uninformed, we present our points thoroughly.


(Occasion is the issue that catches the writer’s attention and triggers a response. The occasion is the occurrence/situation that prompts us to write. We may need to answer a letter from a friend.

Or we may need to send a complaint to the telephone company, whose computer cannot seem to learn that we have paid our bill. Obviously, these two occasions would lead us to quite different decisions about a number of matters, for instance, the length of the letter, and the formality of tone, and the format.)

In general, occasion refers to the situation/s that leads us to write about a topic. In an academic writing situation, the occasion is a specific assignment. The occasion is created by a specific audience as well as a specific purpose. For example, our history instructor may ask us to discuss the causes of World WarFirst.

Here, the specific audience is the history instructor, and the specific purpose is: to discuss the causes of World War First. Again, even the format is determined by the occasion for writing – whether to use or not to use headings/whether to present response as an essay or as a technical report or as a PowerPoint presentation.

Writing out of school also requires an approach that suits the occasion. For example, an email to coworkers is less formal whereas a report to a manager is formal. The occasion also suggests how much/little information the writing includes.

Finally, our occasion suggests our purpose. For example, our email to the online discussion group is informational whereas an email to the state senator (about preserving heritage site) is persuasive as well as informative.


Before we start writing, we ask ourselves what we know about the subject, and what we need to find out. Different writing situations require different kinds of knowledge. In a personal essay, we use our own experiences and observations. But in a term paper, we need new knowledge which could be obtained from research. The specified page limit and the amount of time given determines how much information we need to gather before we start writing.

Moving from Subject to Topic

To discuss/write within the limits (given time and space) of the assignment, we need to narrow general subjects to specific topics. General subjects are too complicated to write for any college assignment. General subjects could simply be written in a general way.

General Subject

Examples Of General Subject:
1. Human brain research
2. Devkota’s Muna Madan
3. Constitutional law
4. The Internet


1. Using human brain research to diagnose the cause of brain tumors
2. Muna as a typical Nepali wife
3. Inclusiveness program
4. The use of English language videos to improve English speaking

A general subject could be narrowed to a specific topic by applying two strategies: questions for probing and freewriting.

Questions for Probing

One way to move from a general subject to a specific topic is to ask a series of questions about the general subject. Questions for probing reflect how our mind works (finding similarities and differences/dividing a whole into its parts).

Any single question may elicit different answers, and each answer is a possible topic for our essay. Once we have a list of topics, we select the best. The best topic is the one that suits our paper’s length, purpose, audience, occasion, interest, and knowledge of the subject.

What happened?
When did it happen?
Where did it happen?
Who did it?
What does it look like?
What are its characteristics?
What impressions does it make?
What are some typical cases or examples of it?
How did it happen?
What makes it work?
How is it made?
Cause and effect
Why did it happen?
What caused it?
What does it cause?
What are its effects?
Comparison and contrast
How is it like other things?
How is it different from other things?
Classification and division
What are its parts or types?
How can its parts or types be separated or grouped?
Do its parts or types fit into a logical order?
Into what categories can its parts or types be arranged?
On what basis can it be categorized?
How can it be defined?
How does it resemble other members of its class?
How does it differ from other members of its class?

When these questions for probing are applied to a subject, they can yield (produce) many good topics, including some we might never have considered had we not asked the questions.


Another strategy for moving from subject to the topic is freewriting. This strategy (freewriting) can be used at any stage of the writing process (to generate supporting information or to find a thesis), however, freewriting is particularly useful to narrow a general subject.

Freewriting is to write for a fixed period, e.g., for 5 or 10 minutes. While freewriting, we write without stop without paying attention to spelling, grammar, or punctuation.

The main goal of freewriting is to write ideas down on paper. While freewriting, we need to focus on our subject, but it doesn’t matter even if we wander off from the subject.

Freewriting often generates our best ideas from unexpected connections. After completion of freewriting, we read it and look for ideas we can write about.

These ideas become essay topics, or they become subjects for other freewriting exercises. The process of writing more and more specific freewriting exercises is called focused freewriting or looping.

Finding Something To Say

After the subject is narrowed to a workable topic, we need to find something to say about it. Two useful tools for generating ideas are brainstorming and journal writing. Both these tools are helpful at this stage of the writing process, and also when we need to find additional material.


Brainstorming is a way of discovering ideas about the topic. Brainstorming can take place in a group with classmates. While brainstorming, we note the most useful ideas. We can also brainstorm on our own. We need to record every fact, idea, or detail we think about the topic. Our notes can include words, phrases, statements, questions, or even drawings or diagrams. We write the notes in the order they appeared. Ideas brainstormed are either inspired by class notes, or got from reading, or got from talking with friends, and still some ideas we are we are wondering about

Journal Writings

Journal writing is another useful source of ideas at any stage of the writing process. Journals are used to write down experiences or exploring ideas to be used later while writing. Journal entries are often the kernels (essence) to develop longer writings. We find journal entries are more narrowly focused than freewriting or brainstorming. It is narrowly focused because it examines even a small part of a reading section or even a particular statement.

Grouping Ideas

Once we have generated material for our essay, we need to group ideas that belong together. Clustering and outlining can help us do this.


Clustering is a way of visually arranging ideas. It helps us say where ideas belong. It helps us decide whether or not we need more information.

It is useful for seeing how ideas fit together. We begin clustering by writing the topic in the center of a sheet of paper. We circle the topic, and surround it with major points we intend to discuss.

(We can get ideas from our brainstorming notes, our journal, and from freewriting.) We circle these major points and connect them to the topic. Then we construct other clusters of ideas relating to each major point and connect them with lines to the appropriate major point.

We get more and more specific ideas as we move outward from the center. While clustering this way, we identify the facts, details, examples, and opinions that illustrate andexpand our main points.

Making an Informal Outline

Informal outline is an alternative or follow-up to clustering. It helps to organize ideas (notes) from our brainstorming or other invention techniques.

Informal outlines do not include all the major divisions and subdivisions of paper as formal outline does. It simply suggests the shape of the emerging essay.

It is just a list of major points presented in a tentative order. Sometimes, however, it also includes supporting details or suggest a pattern of development.



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