Craig Stroupe | Associate Professor of Information Design | Department of Writing Studies | 1201 Ordean Court # 420 | University of Minnesota Duluth | Duluth, MN 55812 | 218-726-6249 | fax 218-726-6882 |


Clustering is a non-linear, brainstorming activity that enables you to visualize possibile relationships among ideas.

When you are beginning a writing project or organizing your thoughts on a topic, clustering is a means to begin without a beginning, and to move forward without a known end point in mind.

  1. Start with blank piece of paper. In the center of that paper, write a brief verbal tag (1-5 words that represent an idea, quotation, etc.). This first tag will probably represent your primary topic or a title. This is your first node in your cluster.

  2. Draw a small circle around the words of this tag.

  3. Write down the tag of another idea next to the first. This is your second node. Depending on your purposes, you might be free associating to explore what's in your mind, or you might be drawing from a set of ideas or quotations which you're trying to map.

  4. Circle your second node, and connect it to the first with a line.

  5. Write down a third node, and connect it with a line to either the first or second.
  6. Continue for a brief, specific time (perhaps 5 minutes). Allow your nodes to sprawl into chains or vines.

  7. Try to draw connections among nodes in different chains or vines.

  8. Look for oppositions, contradictions, or conflicts among ideas, and add arrow heads to lines between those opposing ideas.
  9. Try not to stop and think--just keep putting down associations and connections without correcting or censoring yourself.

  10. After your time is up, darken and thicken lines that make connections that seem important, or circles that seem like they are turning into centers of gravity.

  11. At the bottom of the page (or the back if there's no room), write a phrase or sentence that captures some idea in your head about the topic of your cluster.