What is brainwriting? Methods, instructions, & templates
August 3, 2023
Creative thinking drives innovation — and teams everywhere rely on practices like brainstorming to come up with creative solutions to all kinds of problems.
Brainstorms are ubiquitous. But they aren’t without problems of their own. Groupthink can often create blindspots in a brainstorming session, leading to a smaller pool of ideas to choose from.
Participation inequity can even lead introverted group members to feel like they can’t contribute to the discussion. This leaves a void, often filled by the more dominant or extroverted personalities in the meeting room.
But the goal of brainstorming isn’t to collect ideas from only the loudest group members — it’s to collect a number of high-quality ideas, kickstart problem-solving, and (ideally) boost teamwork. Fortunately, there are alternatives to brainstorming that can be just as — if not more — effective than the original. One of these is brainwriting.
In this article, we’ll break down the concept of brainwriting and offer four possible ways to adopt the practice for your next creative team collaboration.
What is brainwriting?
Brainwriting is a brainstorming method that encourages participants to write out their ideas before sharing them with team members. Later, an organizer collects these ideas to distribute to the rest of the team and facilitate further discussion.
Brainwriting is a collaborative process that begins with individual reflection. Because ideas are initially written down instead of shared in discussion, teams can conduct brainwriting either synchronously or asynchronously. This makes it an attractive alternative to brainstorming for remote teams or organizations adopting the hybrid work model.
When is brainwriting a good idea?
For many teams and organizational contexts, brainwriting is a marked improvement over the more conventional brainstorm.
In today’s world, companies source talent from across the globe. The possibility for asynchronous collaboration via brainwriting can make it highly appealing to such distributed teams. But there are other reasons you should consider checking out brainwriting.
One example: A 1991 study from the journal of Basic and Applied Social Psychology suggests that brainstorming in groups can sometimes be a less effective way to generate ideas than working individually.
There’s also the issue of diverging personalities in the workplace. Extroverted people are more likely to share even half-formed ideas, while the introverted among us might keep an objectively great suggestion to ourselves.
Finally, brainwriting is effective in situations where a standard brainstorming session would be impractical. For example, if you’re guest lecturing in a crowded room of students, asking them to jot down a few ideas to share with others would be more effective than asking them to shout out thoughts at random.
Bottom line: Brainwriting is a great way to make innovation a truly collaborative process by giving everyone a seat at the table.
4 brainwriting techniques to try with your team
Looking to get started with a brainwriting session of your own? We’ve listed four different ways you can structure your next brainwriting session, ranging from the classic approach to the most impactful variations.
In the most basic form of brainwriting, a moderator or facilitator asks a group of people to create ideas around a central theme or topic.
Working alone, participants write down a range of thoughts — e.g., 3-5 of their own ideas on the problem statement of your choice.
A note on brainwriting tools: This can be done on either a piece of paper or a collaborative platform like an online whiteboard.
The group leader gives each participant a set amount of time to get their ideas down in real-time. Then, when the time is up, everyone turns in their ideas to the leader, who then facilitates an open discussion based on the ideas provided.
This method is straightforward and makes sure each participant has the time and space to think independently on the topic without the influence of others.
Other forms of brainwriting, such as interactive and collaborative, can include idea sharing during the original ideation phase. We’ll break down what these can look like below.
Interactive brainwriting is a variation of the traditional brainwriting process. In this method, participants will start by taking a few minutes to jot down their ideas alone.
Instead of turning these ideas into the moderator, however, participants will pass their ideas onto another member of the group. This second participant will scan the ideas before adding their own contributions to the first person’s ideas.
For example, the second participant may refine or revise parts of the original idea. They may also add a tangential idea based on something else that the previous participant wrote. After a few minutes, these ideas will be shared with a third participant, and so on, until everyone has had a chance to review everyone’s ideas.
This technique can be practiced either remotely or in person. If done in person, the moderator may choose to have participants sit in a circle to facilitate the flow of ideas. When finished, these revised ideas are passed to the group leader for general discussion.
Collaborative brainwriting is similar in spirit to interactive brainwriting. There are a few different ways teams can practice this technique.
One popular way to do collaborative brainwriting is by designating a space, such as a whiteboard or a digital document, for idea creation.
After picking a prompt or topic, the leader asks participants to add their ideas to the board in either a live meeting or asynchronously. This technique allows the participants to think for themselves while also deriving inspiration from other participants' answers. Similar to the interactive approach, participants may choose to alter, revise, or expand on others’ ideas.
Finally, 6-3-5 brainwriting is a highly structured approach designed to yield a large volume of ideas in short order.
Similar to other techniques, the group leader or moderator will start by picking a topic or problem statement for discussion. But the structure of this exercise is much more prescriptive: 6 participants work to generate 3 ideas each in the span of 5 minutes — hence, 6-3-5 brainwriting.
When five minutes have passed and the first round is complete, group members pass their ideas onto the next person, and the process is repeated six times. The upshot: While highly structured, if each participant can come up with three ideas in each round, your brainwriting session is guaranteed to generate at least 108 creative ideas.
Try the 6-3-5 brainwriting template for your next brainwriting exercise
Traditional brainstorming can be effective in the right environment, but brainwriting empowers teams to generate (and iterate on) a lot of ideas in response to a problem statement in an efficient way.
Looking to elevate your team’s next collaborative brainstorm? Use Mural’s own 6-3-5 brainwriting template for free to make idea generation easier — and more productive — than ever before.
About the authors
About the authors
Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.