Let's start writing!
Problem: How can I get an idea that makes a great paper or project?
What do we mean when we talk about coming up with an idea for a paper or portfolio?
...It's super hard, right? Don't you wish you were just given a prompt?
Thing is, it's harder to connect with a prompt. A prompt-directed paper is not usually what sparks real interest in anyone. When you create it yourself, it is far more interesting to you and the person reading it. Think about your favorite books and classes. Did someone force the writer or teacher to work on that subject? One hopes not!
Some good first questions are:
What question, idea, or theme are you thinking about in a new way since reading a text?
Why did your thoughts change? Did the author come up against your assumptions?
What themes or topics does this question involve?
Why leave it so broad?
When you’re not assigned a topic, you should go with a problem that speaks to you while fulfilling requirements. Your first conception of the idea may not be in its “final” state to be graded on, but that’s the way real thinking works. Ideas evolve into from vague thoughts into things we want to show others. Also, if you have real thoughts and questions about an issue, you are less likely to lose interest. It also helps to have a broader focus at the beginning so that you can be flexible when you draw comparisons among texts. At the beginning no one is really sure where an initial comparison will go.
Where to start?
Keep every note you take, as a passing thought may become the centerpiece of your work. Putting citations of places in text also helps, because no one remembers a great insight they have walking home from class.
(At least, unless they stop to write it down. To that end, I once wrote an outline of a Rousseau paper on my arm. Obviously, this is the exception to the rule.)
First, find where the author talks about this constellation of ideas that interest you. In your portfolio, doing three constellations will help you find what the most interesting comparison point is for you. In your first paper, by contrast, think a bit about what constellations merge among your two ancient works.
When you have some ideas, start taking more notes, being sure to record additional questions you have when you have topics in mind. Does anything seem odd or contradictory or more complicated than you thought at first? Does the author make some points that are helpful for your inquiry—as in, does the author agree with you or open your mind to new possibilities or make some ideas clearer?