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Student Learning Center: Prewriting Strategies

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A way to generate topics, ideas, or points to make in your essay by listing a lot of information within a small amount of time.


❖     Be sure to write down all possibles phrases that develop from the initial topic. Do not worry about editing or erasing a ‘bad’ idea. The goal is to get as many possibilities listed.

❖     Put words, phrases, ideas, etc. in groups that make sense to you and label those groups. With the labeled groups and clustered information in that specific group, you now have potential concept development.

❖     Write a sentence about the labeled groups and this could work as a possible topic sentence or a thesis statement.

Prewriting Strategies

Prewriting Strategies


When forced with the task of writing an essay, you’re probably not all that interested in writing beyond the set requirements.


We know this.


We also understand the idea of prewriting might sound foolish, troublesome and pointless, but we’re here to tell you it’s the opposite.


So, why Prewrite?


Prewriting allows you to formulate your ideas in the simplest of ways. It encourages you to generate and clarify concepts in your terms. We’re sure you’re thinking that you could just do that by thinking about your topic, but that doesn’t work nearly as well.


First, by pre-writing, you are creating a record of your ideas to use later when you begin your first draft. We are sure you can remember these points you would like to make, but the bigger the essay, the more things you will have to remember.

Second, when you sit down, think and write out your ideas you are focusing your brain which allows for the creation of better ideas. Usually, the first things you think of aren’t all that interesting, so prewriting helps you go beyond average.


Third, having your best ideas written down helps you stay organized. It is critical to be as organized as possible when writing an essay. If you start with a large amount of organization, it will inevitably increase your chances of producing a well-organized and coherent paper.


All types of writers use prewriting. There’s also more than one way of doing it!


Here are four valuable approaches:


  • Brainstorming
  • Mind Mapping (also known as clustering)
  • Journalists' Questions
  • Freewriting 


Journalists' Questions

When given the task to investigate and write a report on a given subject, journalists must ask themselves six questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? And How? Thinking of your writing assignment in the same way, you can use this approach to explore your topic. Occasionally, some of the question words won’t apply to your assignment, so be sure to keep them flexible enough to account for specifics in your topic. These questions are a great way to gather lots of information quickly. These questions can even come in handy when you’re in the process of writing and you need help with clarifying your ideas more.


Below are some examples of questions you can ask using this prewriting strategy.


❖     Who?: Who is affected? Who are involved?

❖     What?: What is the big idea? What is the significance? What is the problem?

❖     When?: When did the issue take place? When is action necessary to address the issue?

❖     Where?: Where does this take place? Where did the issue begin? Where do you see things going from their present state?

❖     Why?: Why did this issue come about? Why is this important? Why has/hasn’t there been new findings?

❖     How?: How is this issue affecting others? How can this issue be resolved? 

Mind Mapping/Clustering

A strategy used to allow you explore the connections between ideas.




❖     Place the subject/main idea in the middle of the page.

❖     As you come up with new ideas, link the new ideas to the center with lines.

❖     As you think of ideas that correspond to the new ideas, add those to the map in the same way.


This is a prewriting process that allows you to think about the topic with no limitations by writing non-stop. Specifically, this strategy forces you to produce information so quickly that you have no time to stop and edit any of your ideas.


❖     Free-write on the topic for 5-10 minutes non-stop. Even if there is a moment where nothing specific comes to mind, you must continue to write. The free-write will include many ideas, which is great because at this point generating information is most important. Not your grammar or spelling.

❖     After you are finished free-writing, look over everything you’ve written and highlight the most important and interesting ideas. This will allow you to start the free-writing process over but with a tighter focus. By accomplishing this, you can narrow your topic and begin the development for your assignment. 

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