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Technical Writing – Definition of Brainstorming

Unlike a bull session, a brainstorming session has structure and clear rules. They both have to be understood and followed by everyone.

Good tech writers bring more to the table than the ability to create documents that fulfill the client’s objective. Very often, the writer is part of a team that develops concepts and whole campaigns. The writer is expected to take an active role in the process.

One opportunity for participation is being in a brainstorming session. Some people confuse a brainstorming session with a bull session when people sit around and say whatever comes to mind. There are big differences between the two. The biggest difference is that brainstorming is intended to produce valuable ideas. It’s not a time for expressing random thoughts and telling stories.

A brainstorming session is a group of people who are involved with or interested in a specific topic. They gather to present ideas and – most importantly – to build on the ideas of others in the session. The value of the exchange is that ideas generate other ideas. Directions that none of the participants thought of individually become clear when the input of many people is stimulated and enlarged upon by the discussion. The objective of a brainstorming session is to develop a few, workable ideas that can be turned into the basis for dealing with a situation or going forward with a project.

Unlike a bull session, a brainstorming session has structure and clear rules. They both have to be understood and followed by everyone. If there’s any doubt that they’re not understood by all the participants, they should be presented either orally or as a handout before the session starts. Then, they must be enforced during the session. It’s a free-form brain dump, but it has structure and rules.

The structure

  • Brainstorming sessions work well with five to ten participants. Too few and there’s not enough input. Too many and there’s not enough time for everyone to participate.
  • There should be a stated time limit for the session. Small groups can often accomplish a lot in an hour or so. Even with large groups, though, three hours is pretty much the upper limit.
  • One person is designated as facilitator. The facilitator states the purpose of the session and sets up the guidelines. It’s also this person’s responsibility to keep the session moving along on time and on track.
  • The facilitator and scribe are both part of the discussion.

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The rules

  1. Quantity, not quality, of ideas is the aim; as many ideas as possible from all participants.
  2. Ideas should be short and simple enough to be easily understood and written down.
  3. Everyone must have an equal opportunity to express ideas.
  4. No judgment or criticism is ever made about an individual who expresses an idea.
  5. No idea is rejected regardless of how silly or far out it may seem.
  6. No idea is criticized during the session, not even by looks, groans, or laughs.
  7. Ideas are not discussed as they’re generated.
  8. All ideas are written down on a surface everyone can see.
  9. Different ideas, no matter how similar, are written down.
  10. Only ideas on the stated topic for the session are allowed.

After the session, ideas that are similar can be resolved into one idea, and then they can be ranked by preference. The pros and cons of the top ideas can be discussed until the most workable ideas are settled on