Invention: Invention Techniques
     A writer must have something to write about (a topic or subject),
some purpose for writing about the topic (an aim), some statement of the
aim for the reader (a thesis), and material to support the thesis.  The
name that rhetoric gives to the activity of discovering material about a
topic is invention.  Included here are some techniques you may use to
probe any subject--to see it from several points of view and to generate
ideas about it.


     Brainstorming is an activity (often done in groups) in which you
free associate on a topic and create a list of details which occur to
you.  While developing the list, you should not worry about the validity
or relevance of any particular item on the list.  But you should not
settle for cliche or generalization; you should pursue an association
until it yields vivid and concrete detail.  When the list seems
sufficiently long, you can proceed to group items together, using any
principle of classification which you choose.  This process ought to help
you limit a subject to manageable size, to develop a thesis, and to
select material relevant to your writing.  Do not feel obligated to
include every item on your brainstorming list, and feel free to
brainstorm again on a new subject suggested by your first effort.


     You may use freewriting in two ways.  First, freewriting can serve
as a warm-up, allowing you to begin a writing session easily and to free
your mind of distractions.  Write for a short period of time (usually 5
to 15 minutes) without stopping on whatever comes into your mind.  If at
any point you have trouble continuing, merely copy the last word you
wrote repeatedly until a new thought comes.  The writing you do may
suggest a topic you want to investigate further, but it need not.  The
purpose of this kind of freewrite is to write without worrying about
unity, coherence, or correctness.  Second you may use freewriting to
define a topic and a possible thesis for yourself.  To do this, choose a
subject on which to freewrite (but do not worry much about sticking to
it).  When you complete the freewrite, try to write a sentence which
formulates the most important point you made about the topic or which
suggests a line of development for the topic.  Use that sentence to begin
a new freewrite, and repeat the process until your topic clarifies

Aristotle's Topoi

     Aristotle developed topoi ("places") for invention.  These topoi
were ways of reasoning which could be applied to any subject to generate
material about it.  Gregory and Elizabeth Cowan in their book Writing
present a system of inquiry derived from some of Aristotle's topoi.  To
use the system, ask yourself questions about a subject you want to
explore, making notes on ideas and points that occur to you.  If you get
stuck on a question, move on.  The point is not merely to come up with an
answer for each question, but to probe your subject in as many ways as
are useful to you.

1. How does the dictionary define _________________?
2. What earlier words did _________________ come from?
3. What do I mean by _________________?
4. What group of things does _________________ seem to belong to?  How is
    _________________ different from other things in this group?
5. What parts can _________________ be divided into?
6. Does _________________ mean something now it didn't years ago?
7. What other words mean approximately the same as _________________?
8. What are some concrete examples of _________________?
9. When is the meaning of _________________ misunderstood?

1. What is _________________ similar to?  How?
2. What is _________________ different from?  How?
3. _________________ is superior to what?  How?
4. _________________ is inferior to what?  How?
5. _________________ is most unlike what?  How?
6. _________________ is most like what?  How?


1. What causes _________________?
2. What are the effects of _________________?
3. What is the purpose of _________________?
4. Why does _________________ happen?
5. What is the consequence of _________________?
6. What comes after _________________?
7. What comes before _________________?


1. What have I heard people say about _________________?
2. Do I know any facts or statistics about _________________?  What?
3. Have I talked with anyone about _________________?
4. Do I know any well-known saying about _________________?
5. Can I quote proverbs or poems about _________________?
6. Are there any laws about _________________?
7. Do I know any songs about _________________?  Have I read anything
   about _________________ in books or magazines?
8. Do I want to do any research on _________________?


1. Is _________________ possible or impossible?
2. What qualities, conditions, or circumstances make _________________
   possible or impossible?
3. Suppose that _________________ is possible.  Is it feasible?  Why?
4. When did _________________ happen previously?
5. Who has done or experienced _________________?
6. Who can do _________________?
7. If _________________ starts what makes it end?
8. What would it take for _________________ to happen now?
9. What would prevent _________________ from happening now?

Burke's Pentad

     Kenneth Burke suggests a scheme for examining people's actions.  He
asks, "What is involved, when we say what people are doing and why they
are doing it?"  To answer this question, he says, requires answering five
more particular questions:

          . What was done in thought or deed?  (Act)
          . What was the background or situation in which the act
            occurred?  (Scene)
          . Who did the act?  (agent)
          . How was the act done?  (agency)
          . Why was the act performed? (purpose)

Larson's Problem Solving

     Confronting a problem--choosing between alternate courses of action,
resolving an inconsistency or conflict in an idea or between ideas--
suggests possibilities for writing.  Richard Larson offers a procedure
with which to think about problems and their solutions.

1. What is the problem?
2. Why is the problem a problem?
3. What goals must be served by whatever action or solution is taken?
4. What goals have the highest priority?
5. What procedures might attain the stated goals?
6. What can be predicted about the consequences of each possible action?
7. How do the actions compare with one another as possible solutions?
8. Which course of action is best?

Young, Becker and Picke's Tagmemics

     Young, Becker, and Pike have developed a complex system for
examining reality.  They suggest that anything--an object, event, or
concept--can be understood from three perspectives:

     1. as a particle, that is, as an isolated, static entity
     2. as a wave, that is, as a process in time
     3. as a field, that is as a system

From any of these perspectives, we may ask a series of questions about
the thing we are examining:

     1. How is it unique? How does it differ from everything else?
        (contrastive features)
     2. How much can it change and still be the same thing? (range of
     3. How does it fit into larger systems of which it is a part?

Perhaps an example will clarify the use of such a scheme.  If we look at
an oak tree (Young, Becker, and Pike's example), we may understand it as
a particle: a particular tree; a wave: a participant in the natural
growth cycle which begins with an acorn and ends when the tree rots or is
cut into lumber; or a field: a system of roots, trunk, branches, leaves.

Journalist's Questions

     One of the simplest schemes for generating material is used by
reporters, the 5w's (and an h).  Reporters are taught to include in their
stories a first sentence which identifies the "who, what, when, where,
why (and how)" of any story.  The rest of the article develops
information about these elements.

Larson's Catalogue of Questions

     In addition to his problem-solving scheme, Larson has developed a
series of questions for examining different kinds of possible subjects. 
Topics are grouped into two major divisions, each having several
subdivisions: first, topics which invite comment by the writer; second,
topics which have comments attached to which writers must respond.

 I. Topics which invite comment

     A. Single items that presently exist (e.g. your home, your car, the
building you work in, the program of study you're taking)

          . What are its precise physical characteristics?
          . How does it differ from things that resemble it?
          . What is its range of variation?  (how much can it change and
            still be the thing you started with?)
          . Does it remind you of other objects you have observed?  How?
          . From what points of view can it be examined?
          . What sort of structure does it have?
          . How do its parts work together?
          . How are the parts proportioned?
          . To what class or sequence of things does it belong?
          . Who or what produced it?  Why?
          . Who needs it?
          . Who uses it?  For what?
          . What purposes can it serve? How can it be evaluated?

     B. Single, completed events, or parts of an ongoing process (These
questions can apply to scenes and pictures, as well as to works of
fiction and drama.)

          . Exactly what happened? (Tell the exact sequence: who, what,
            when, why, how?  Who did what to whom?  Why?)
          . What were the circumstances in which events occurred?
          . How was the event like or unlike similar events?
          . What were its causes?
          . What were its consequences?
          . What does its occurrence imply?  What action (if any) is
            called for?
          . What was affected by it?
          . To what group or class might it be assigned?
          . Is it good or bad?  By what standard?
          . How do we know about it?  What is the authority for our
            information?  How reliable is the authority?
          . How might the event have been changed or avoided?
          . To what other events was it connected?

     C. Abstract concepts, such as love or sportsmanship

          . To what specific items or events does the word or words
            connect in your imagination?
          . What characteristics must an item or event have before the
            name of the concept will apply to it?
          . How do the things you associate with the concept differ from
            things you associate with similar concepts?
          . How has the term been used by writers you have read?
          . Does the word have persuasive value?  Does its use in
            connection with another concept seem to praise or condemn the
            other concept?
          . Are you favorably disposed to all things included in the
            concept?  Why or why not?

     D. Collections of items, such as your book or record collection,
television programs you watch

          . What do the items in the group have in common?
          . How do they differ?
          . How are the events related to each other, if not by common
            characteristics?  What is revealed about them by grouping
            them in different ways?
          . How can the group be divided?  On what bases?
          . What correlations, if any, may be found among various
            possible subgroups?
          . Into what class can the group as a whole be put?

     E. Groups of completed events, including processes.  (These
questions may be applied to literary works, principally fiction and

          . What do the events have in common?
          . How do they differ?
          . How are the events related to each other (if they are not
            part of a chronological sequence)?  What is revealed by the
            possibility of grouping them this way?
          . What is revealed by the events when taken as a group?
          . How can the group be divided?  On what basis?
          . What possible correlations can be found among several
          . Into what class, if any, can the events taken fit as a group?
          . Does the group belong to any other structures than simply a
            larger group of similar events?  (Is it part of a more
            inclusive chronological sequence?  one more piece of evidence
            that may point toward a conclusion about history? and so on.)
          . To what antecedents does the group of events look back?
            Where can they be found?
          . What implications, if any, does the group of events have?
            Does the group point to a need for some sort of action?

II. Topics with comments already attached which invite response

     A. Propositions, that is statements to be proved or disproved

          . What must be established for the reader before he/she will
            believe it?
          . What smaller assertions does the statement contain?
          . What are the meanings of key words in the statement?
          . Can you trace back the line of reasoning that led to this
          . How can we contrast this statement with other propositions?
          . To what class of propositions does it belong?
          . How inclusive is the statement?
          . How can the statement be illustrated?
          . What kinds of evidence will support the statement?
          . What can be said in opposition to it?
          . Is it true or false?  How do we know (direct observation,
            authority, statistics, other sources)?
          . Why might someone not believe it?
          . Does the statement take anything for granted?
          . What does the statement imply?  Does it follow from the
            proposition that some sort of action must be taken?
          . Can the action be taken?  Will it work if taken?

     B. Questions

          . Does the question refer to a past, present, or future time?
          . What does the question assume?
          . Where might answers be sought?
          . Why does the question arise?
          . What exactly is in doubt?
          . What propositions might be advanced in answer to the
            questions?  Is each proposition true?  if it is true, what
            will happen in the future?  What follows from it?  What
            predictions are possible?  probable?  What actions should be
            taken or avoided in consequence?

Remember that there are no right or wrong answer to these questions. 
They are tools for you to use in your investigation of a subject.  Using
them to structure a discussion with another student may help you to use
them more effectively.  Let your mind play with the possibilities in a
subject before you commit yourself to a thesis or conclusion.

Other Invention Tools

1. Journals.   Many writers keep journals in which they regularly record
               observations of and reactions to their daily experiences. 
               Some use a journal to sketch out promising ideas or to
               examine intellectual or emotional problems they are
               working through.  Your private journal entries may or may
               not feed material directly into your public writing, but
               making regular entries will provide you with the
               opportunity to practice and sharpen your powers of
               observation, speculation and analysis.  Writing about your
               own life will help you to write about other lives, real
               and fictional.

1. Winterowd's linkages. Winterowd suggests using the logical connections
               indicated by coordinating conjunctions to generate
               material on a subject:

     And links      suggest what is similar to your subject.
     But links      suggest exceptions and qualifications to your subject.
     For links      suggest possible causes which resulted in your subject.
     So links       suggest consequences resulting from your subject.
     Or links       suggest alternatives to your subject.
     Colon links    suggest items included in your subject.
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