Ideas Laid Out
If you're more comfortable seeing ideas laid out graphically, then clustering might be a better option for you. Start with one overarching topic word or phrase and write it in the center of the page. Then write a bunch of subtopics all around the main topic and draw a line from the main topic to each of them. You can repeat this process for each of the subtopics and add connections until you've run out of ideas. Clustering is a little more formal than brainstorming; if you do it well you'll have created a hierarchical structure that can be easily converted into an outline. You can even formalize your ideas more within the cluster you've just created by thickening the connecting lines between ideas that seem more strongly focused towards an argument. After you've been clustering for a while, you may not even need to create a formal outline before you start writing.
NOTE: If you're writing a compare and contrast paper, another technique to try is to use a different color pen to connect contrasting ideas, even between main topics. You may find the nonlinear qualities of the cluster you've created help you to see more connections between the ideas you're evaluating.
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