Clustering is similar to another process called Brainstorming. Clustering is something that you can do on your own or with friends or classmates to try to find inspiration in the connection between ideas. The process is similar to freewriting in that as you jot down ideas on a piece of paper or on the blackboard, you mustn't allow that ugly self-censor to intrude and say that your idea (or anyone else's) is dumb or useless. Write it down anyway. In Clustering, you jot down only words or very short phrases. Use different colored pens as ideas seem to suggest themselves in groups. Use printing or longhand script to suggest that ideas are main thoughts or supportive ideas. Don't bother to organize too neatly, though, because that can impede the flow of ideas. Don't cross anything out because you can't tell where an idea will lead you. When you get a few ideas written down, you can start to group them, using colored circles or whatever. Draw linking lines as connections suggest themselves.

Below is a finished example of Clustering. It is printed here with permission of the aforementioned Thruston Parry. The assignment was to write a Cause and Effect Paper on the weather phenomenon known as El Niño. If you have a very fast modem connection or you're working in a computer lab, you can click HERE or on the image below for an animated sequence showing how the clustering might have happened. (A large image file --532 kb -- is involved, and we don't encourage you to download it without a fast connection; if the download stalls, you can return to this page by clicking on the RETURN link below the image, or you can click on STOP and then BACK.)

Points to Ponder:
  • Do you think you could write an essay based on the ideas clustered here?
  • Can you draw additional links between concepts?
  • Are there ideas listed above that you'd reject as irrelevant or too much to deal with?
  • Can you think of some ideas (or a whole set of ideas) that should have been included but weren't?
  • What about the causes of El Niño? Should they be included in this essay?
  • Can you come up with a Thesis Statement that would be appropriate for an essay based on this clustering of ideas?