Sometimes, it is difficult to figure out where to go with your argument. Aristotle in the Ars
Rhetorica lists several inventio. Inventio, or "invention techniques" can help a writer generate ideas while brainstorming. Frequently, these tools can help you think about an issue and possibly develop individual paragraphs. Be warned that these techniques are not a panacea. Some work better than others in specific essays and arguments. For instance, in discussing whether or not healthcare should cover myofascial massage, it may be important to define what exactly a myofascial massage is, and how particular HMOs categorize it. But when writing an essay on automobiles, it seems unlikely one would need to define the word "car" for a reader.


Narration How did it happen?
Description How can it be described?
Process How is it made? How is it done? How do you do it?

Cause What causes it?
Effect What effect does it have on other things?
Compare How is it similar to something else?

Contrast How it different than something else?
Classification Is it a part of a larger group? What group is that?
Division Can it be broken down into smaller groups? What groups are those?

Formal definition How does an authoritative source define it, such as a Penal
Code, Black's Law Dictionary, a Biochemistry Guide, etc.?
Etymology Where does the word come from? Does that knowledge
help understand the problem? (If not, don’t bother!)
Example What are some examples of it?

Exposition Simply explain it in your own words
Negative Definition What is it not?
History Can you give me a history of it?

Diagram Can you draw a diagram showing how it works?
Anecdote Can you tell me a short story to explain it?
Possible/impossible Could it work? Did it work? Does it work? Why or why not?

These techniques are the means to an end, not a purpose in themselves. In most situations, you would never be asked to write "a paper using classification," but you might find yourself needing to write a report to someone and then discover that classification would be a good way to organize part of that paper, or it might be useful to help the reader understand part of your argument.