Brainwriting:  a different kind of brainstorming

We all know brainstorming:  a verbal way of generating ideas in which no criticism is allowed even if the ideas are wild; in which the focus is on quantity of ideas generated no matter how inane or wonderful each is; and in which better ideas can come from combining ideas.  Participants shout out ideas one at a time and someone keeps a running list.

But do you know brainwriting?  With brainwriting, a problem or opportunity is identified to a group.  Each person in the group writes his or her thoughts on card or paper simultaneously.  After a certain amount of time passes (say five minutes), everyone passes his or her writing to someone else in the group.  That person reads the thoughts and adds his or her own.  Then everyone shares papers again, and everyone adds to the paper he or she receives.  After four or five rounds of this writing and passing, all the papers are collected and posted.

Brainwriting has advantages, say people who use it.  With anxiety reduced by participants not needing to speak, the number of ideas increases.  Irrelevant talk is eliminated.  Time is saved.

When is brainwriting more useful than brainstorming?

  • If your group—say a class of 30—is too large for brainstorming, ideas from everyone can be generated within a short amount of time.
  • If quiet people in the group won’t participate in brainstorming, they might in brainwriting.
  • If loud people in the group dominate in brainstorming, their responses “speak” no louder than the responses of reserved people.
  • If wild ideas are not well tolerated by the moderator or by some participants, they will not be censored.
  • If personalities get in the way during brainstorming, they can be eliminated during brainwriting.
  • If time is limited yet the moderator must get input, many responses can be garnered in a few minutes.
  • If the moderator can’t keep control of the brainstorming session, he or she can keep writers on task.

When is brainwriting contra-indicated?

  • If the issue to be commented on is complex, small group discussions might be more appropriate.
  • If the group or institution is particularly traditional, something sounding weird, like brainwriting, might seem too edgy.
  • If brainwriting is new to most participants and discussing the process will use up valuable time, some preparation might be necessary.


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