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Predictive Search as Writing Inspiration

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey
 | Aug 07, 2015

ThinkstockPhotos-79082922_x600Your essay, blog post, or article is due. Now you just need a topic—but what? Everyone has heard “write what you know.” But every writer knows it is not that simple.

Believe it or not, there’s a powerful idea generator out there. And it’s free. And you likely have seen it every day of your online life for more than a decade.

Predictive search, that constantly changing set of possible search queries you see in search engines, is often ignored and sometimes annoying. You know those suggested results drop down from the search bar. But sometimes it provides just the word or phrase you need when you don’t know what you’re searching for, including writing inspiration. The suggestions are based on trending or popular searches.

You already know what predictive search is even if you’ve never heard the term before. For exactly this reason, predictive search technology is also a powerful idea generator. I suggest using a natural language query. Natural language queries are put to the search engine in the way you might ask a friend. As you type, the search engine tries to guess what you might want to know. Most people read far faster than they can type, so seeing a possible result may help with the search you actually want and suggest ideas that might not have occurred to you before.

Consider the search possibilities for writing for social studies with this stem in Ask.com: “When the Supreme Court…”

Predictive Search 1

Let’s say I (or my students) need to write an article, essay, or script for a YouTube video, but I’ve encountered a bit of writer’s block. I can either wait for inspiration, or I can let technology help me to find my own inspiration. Predictive search guesses what interests me as I type my query. The results might help me zero in on a topic or suggest something I hadn’t thought of yet. Because humans use questions, natural search and predictive search are a good combination to help me develop a writing topic. Start with a query stem:

What is the
What is the best/worst
Who are the most
If [insert topic] changes/continues/stops, then

If you need a bit more refinement for your topic, just hit the search icon. Of course, be sure your writing is your own and attribute any sources you use.

Effective writers will adapt the topic to the audience and purpose for writing. Because predictive search results are derived, in part, from popular or trending searches, they will need to be adapted much of the time. But when you need inspiration, you might want to start with the tool that is right in front of you—the predictive search field in most of your favorite search engines.

If you are interested in a more whimsical view of predictive search, be sure to check out the found or accidental poems at Co.Create (warning: one of the poems at the time I wrote this post may make use of a term you may not want on your work or school computer).

Thomas DeVere Wolsey, EdD, is the CEO of the Institute to Advance International Education. Contact him at http://www.iaieus.com/contact.html. This article is part of a series from ILA’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

 

1 comment

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  1. Kim Wells | Apr 15, 2016
    Indeed, an interesting method. And I've never thought google can even inspire people. But it cannot write the actual paper instead of you. You still have to do the hardest thing on your own. But still the hardest thing can vary from person to person. For some it indeed is choosing a topic. For others like me an abstract is a challenge because I have to summarize the whole paper in one paragraph and I'm a person who always writes too much. Well, I guess I tend to go overboard pretty often. And tips from <a href="http://www.dailywritingtips.com/10-steps-for-editing-your-own-writing/">http://www.dailywritingtips.com/10-steps-for-editing-your-own-writing/</a> or <a href="http://researchpaperwritings.net/how-to-write-a-good-abstract/">http://researchpaperwritings.net/how-to-write-a-good-abstract/</a> aren't of great help. I am just who I am.

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