Freewriting is a technique that helps you clear mental space so that thoughts about an issue in question can emerge that had been below the surface of your attention—insights that you were not able, at first, to acknowledge. (Supportive Listening is another means to that end.) Elbow (1981) places Freewriting on the creative side of the necessary interplay of the creative and the critical in thinking and writing. You may wish to make Freewriting a start-of-the-day habit to warm up your research and writing.

In a Freewriting exercise, you should not take your pen off the paper. Keep writing even if you find yourself stating over and over again, “I don't know what to say.” What you write will not be seen by anyone else, so do not go back to tidy up sentences, grammar, or spelling. In a guided freewriting exercise, you continue from where a sentence provided by the session facilitator leaves off (examples below). You will probably diverge from the topic, at least for a time, while you acknowledge other preoccupations. That is OK—indeed, it is another purpose of the exercise. However, if you keep writing for seven to ten minutes, you should expose some thoughts about the topic that had been below the surface of your attention.

At the start of a project
  • “I would like my work on [topic X] to influence [group Y] to make changes in [situation Z]...”
  • “I often/sometimes have trouble getting going until...”
  • “The differences between investigating ... and investigating... might be that...”
  • “There are so many aspects to my topic. I could look at... and...”
  • “If I were given more background in how to analyze..., I would be better able to...”
  • “From my past experience, the kinds of issues or aspects of research I tend to overlook or discount include...”

  • Early on in a project
  • “When I think about sharing my incomplete work, what comes up is... And this means I should.....”
  • “It may be very premature to lay out the arguments involved in my research, but it may help me define where I am going, so let me try...”
  • “Incorporating regular freewriting into my research practice is (difficult? wonderful? a not-yet-achieved ideal?)...”
  • “In the next two months what I most want to see happening in my project is... What is blocking me realizing this vision is...”
  • “Usually when I try to plan my work, what happens is..”
  • “Some aspect of research I would like to be able to explain clearly for my project is...”
  • “If I had to state a question that keeps my subject, audience and purpose most clearly in focus, I would say...”

  • When you begin to draft a report
  • “My ideal report would lead readers to see... I would grab their attention by... and lead them through a series of steps, namely...”

  • Elbow, P. (1981). Writing with Power. New York: Oxford University Press.