Aristotle, Aristotle was a Bugger for the Bottle….and Brainstorming

“Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle and could drink you under the table.”

Monty Python


Brainstorming new ideas for scribbling is a key part of the composition process. In a practical sense, brainstorming is essential when you have a commission to produce 40 articles on the same topic and by the time you’ve gotten to the 10th you’ll be scraping the barrel for off the top of your head approaches.


Now personally, if I drink I know perfectly well that there is an answer lying at the bottom of the bottle, it’s just I’ve always been too drunk to read it and certainly never rememebered anything the morning after.


Aristotle, if Monty Python are correct, certainly was able to read the answer because he came up with an excellent summary for brainstorming that is as relevant today as it was a couple of thousand years ago when he wrote about Rhetoric.


Braoadly he came up with five main ideas to use:



  • Definition
  • Comparison and Contrast
  • Relationship
  • Testimony
  • Circumstance

I’m going to cover definition here in this posting but we’ll come to the others in future postings.




For a definition you can simply reach for a decent dictionary but there are other ways you can approach determining a definition by asking questions about what something is and how it interacts.


For instance:


  • What family does X belong to?
  • How is X different from A, B, C or Z?
  • What is X made of?
  • Has X changed over time?
  • What words are similar to X?

Practically, answering questions like this will help you identify clearly what X is, and also what it is not. We are using here principles of rhetoric laid down by Aristotle that include the use of analogy, analysis, etymology and history, as well as illustration and antonymy (demonstrating what something is NOT).


Moving forward, to the practical application in writing and taking the example questions above and inserting some real life substitutions for X we can brainstorm a little.


“What family does X belong to?”


Here let’s substitute X for Propecia – a popular hair loss treatment so our question becomes “What family does propecia belong to?”

The blank piece of paper I use for ideas will start looking something like this:

Propecia belongs to a family of drugs that treat hair loss – what are the others – Minoxidil/Rogaine/ScalpMed/finasterides

Propecia is FDA registered – what others are? – Minoxidil/Laser Comb nb. this is not a drug

Propecia is prescription only medication – what else is – Minoxidil

“How is X different from A, B, C or Z?”

How is propecia different from Minoxidil – P is a tablet, M is a solution – P outsells M commercially – P is suitable for women M application is restricted with women nb. pregnancy warning/side effects

P is prescription only – lasercomb/rogaine/scalpmed are not

P has the largest number of clinical studies of any hair loss treatment in the world – clinical evidence points to P as the best

“What is X made of?”

P is product of 1950’s drug research into blood pressure and testosterone induced male conditions such as prostrate and bladder problems – P is a vascular drug – known as an androgenic inhibitor/regulator

Now I’m going to stop my brainstorming there, but it is simple to see that asking Definition type questions is a way of carving up a topic and generating ideas for writing about it.