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CSU Global Writing Center: Idea Development

Idea Development & Generation

In this section, you’ll find resources on choosing and narrowing a topic, developing and generating ideas, and organizing your ideas to help you get started on your assignment.

Decipher An Assignment

Before you start writing, it’s important to make sure that you understand the assignment requirements. Use the resources below to interpret your assignment and manage your time while drafting.

Decode your Assignment

Deciphering writing expectations earlier in the process will make working on your assignment easier.

  • Plan how you are going to complete your assignment with an assignment calculator time management tool.
  • Read your assignment carefully. Don’t forget to review the assignment rubric as well. These rubrics are designed to provide specifics on how the instructor will be grading the assignment.
  • The earlier you begin thinking about your assignment, especially the portfolio projects, the more time you have to let your ideas develop. Pay attention to the format requirements as you are coming up with ideas. The minimum length of the paper, as well as the number of sources required, will guide you in coming up with an appropriate topic.
  • Get clarity from your instructor if you have any questions. Instructors prefer you contact them in advance rather than grade an assignment that was not done properly.
  • Know your purpose and audience. Ultimately, the purpose of the assignment is to demonstrate either your knowledge or your ability to apply knowledge. Your audience will help you determine how formal your writing should be and how much information is needed.
  • Look for key words in the assignment that indicate the type of writing your instructor expects.
  • Locate other hints. Technical details such as how your assignment should be formatted, assignment page length, and how fully you can answer a question should help you envision your writing project before you even start.
Verb: Writing Tasks:

Define, Describe, Summarize, Explain

Expository writing. Used to explain/inform through facts or ideas. Your language should be concise and direct, with few figurative images or words.

  • Define key subjects.
  • List the important ideas you have learned about the topic.
  • Provide background information.

Argue, Persuade, Convince

Persuasive writing. Used to convince the reader that your opinion is correct in regards to an issue.

  • Take a stand on an issue and convince your audience of your position.
  • Support this position with a series of facts.
  • Consider including anecdotes or hypothetical situations to further support your position.

Compare, Evaluate, Compare and Contrast

Compare/Contrast. Look for similarities and differences in the subjects and make a point or clarify a purpose.

Analyze, Assess, Evaluate, Synthesize

Analysis. Discuss how each part of something contributes to the whole by answering the questions how and why.

  • Look for strengths and weaknesses.
  • Give examples or reasons as to why you think the way you do about the topic.
  • Defend ideas about a subject.
  • Support ideas with concrete evidence.

Assignment calculator time management tool

The assignment calculator time management tool to help you generate a step-by-step calendar for your assignment.

Explore A Topic

Selecting a topic will help you narrow down what to research. Use the resources below to help you decide on a topic, narrow the topic if necessary, and to develop a question that guides your research

Topic selection

This resource offers strategies for selecting a topic and conducting initial research to see if the topic is appropriate for the scope of your assignment.

Consider the following techniques for topic selection:

  • Choose something of interest to you. Scan your textbook or other course readings for topic ideas or suggestions, draw on what you have read or seen recently that is of interest to you, or pick a topic that is relevant to your career or personal life.
  • Make a list of potential topics. Get at least 10 ideas down on paper. Then go back through your list and circle the three most relevant topics.​
  • Conduct pre-research to see what has been written about your potential topic. Choosing a topic that others have written about ensures you will be able to find enough resources. Good places to look for pre-research include reference books such as encyclopedias, Wikipedia, or general web searching. Use these sources to:
    • Gather overviews of topics and disciplines, histories of subjects, and established information in the field.
    • Locate brief descriptions for a topic that might lead you to further information sources. Look for keyword and subject-specific vocabulary that can be helpful for later, more complex searching.
    • Understand how your topic fits into a broader discipline or how multiple topics are interrelated.

Narrowing a topic

Sometimes, a research topic can be too much to cover for the scope of your assignment. This resources provides strategies for narrowing the scope of your topic to better align with the length requirements of your assignment.

Planning Your Assignment

Planning your draft can save you time during the writing process. The resources below provide strategies for planning your paper in both linear and holistic ways, depending on your learning style.


This template illustrates how you can outline the argument, supporting evidence, and analysis for your paper.

When developing your argument, it’s important to think about how your thesis statement is supported by claims and evidence. A thesis statement is a short statement that introduces the argument of your paper as a whole. A claim is a debatable assertion or position that requires support. Claims build off one another in order to develop an argument over the course of an essay. Generally, every paragraph in your paper should begin with a claim, and each claim should be supported by evidence, the proof that validates your claim. Since each paragraph should have a claim supported by evidence, you can use claims and evidence to outline your paper, paragraph by paragraph. For a visual portrayal of how evidence and claims work together to support a thesis statement, see the image below:

See our sample outline for more information about outlining your paper.

Web diagram

This template helps you develop connections and relationships between different aspects of your research topic.