Clustering is a non-linear brainstorming technique whose results yield a
visual representation of subject and organization. It asks that we be receptive
to words and phrases and to trust our instincts. Start with a stimulus word—the
word or phrase that represents your first, tentative idea of the whole—circled
in the center of the page. Then, as each new word or idea strikes you, give it a
new circle and draw a line from it to the preceding circle. When some new idea
occurs, radiate it from the stimulus word or from any word/phrase that seemed to
prompt the new idea or strand. Write quickly and be sensitive to any emerging
structure. Keep clustering until that "aha!" moment, or the moment
when a sense of the whole is achieved, that a structure has made itself known.
- Pros: Clustering is a generative tool (i.e. makes use of the
unconscious in retrieving information) that helps us to connect
thoughts, feelings, and ideas not connected before. It allows us to
loosely structure ideas as they occur in a shape that allows for the
further generation of ideas. It taps our associative powers in a
self-organizing process, encouraging us to create personally meaningful
- Cons: Clustering can frustrate more linear thinkers, those who need
neatness and order to think clearly.
Axelrod, Rise B., and Charles R. Cooper. The Concise Guide to
St. Martin's, 1993.
Meyer, Emily, and Louise Z. Smith. The Practical Tutor. NY: Oxford UP, 1987.