Prewriting for Composition

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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In composition, the term prewriting refers to any activity that helps a writer think about a topic, determine a purpose, analyze an audience, and prepare to write. Prewriting is closely related to the art of invention in classical rhetoric.

"The objective of prewriting," according to Roger Caswell and Brenda Mahler, "is to prepare students for writing by allowing them to discover what they know and what else they need to know. Prewriting invites exploration and promotes the motivation to write" (Strategies for Teaching Writing, 2004).

Because various kinds of writing (such as note-taking, listing, and freewriting) usually occur during this stage of the writing process, the term prewriting is somewhat misleading. A number of teachers and researchers prefer the term exploratory writing.

See Examples and Observations below. Also, see:

Types of Prewriting Activities

Examples and Observations

  • "Prewriting is the 'getting ready to write' stage. The traditional notion that writers have a topic completely thought out and ready to flow onto the page is ridiculous. Writers begin tentatively—talking, reading, brainstorming—to see what they know and in what direction they want to go." -Gail Tompkins, Rod Campbell, and David Green, Literacy for the 21st Century. Pearson Australia, 2010
  • "Prewriting involves anything you do to help yourself decide what your central idea is or what details, examples, reasons, or content you will include. Freewriting, brainstorming, and clustering . . . are types of prewriting. Thinking, talking to other people, reading related material, outlining or organizing ideas—all are forms of prewriting. Obviously, you can prewrite at any time in the writing process. Whenever you want to think up new material, simply stop what you are doing and start using one of [these] techniques..." -Stephen McDonald and William Salomone, The Writer's Response, 5th ed. Wadsworth, 2012

The Aims of Prewriting
"Usually, the prewriting activities help you find a good topic, narrow topics that are too broad, and look at purpose. You should finish the prewriting activities with at least a sentence and a list. Or you may have something as formal as a three-part thesis sentence and a fully developed outline. Either way, you'll have laid the groundwork." -Sharon Sorenson, Webster's New World Student Writing Handbook. Wiley, 2010

Prewriting as a Method of Discovery
"Jeannette Harris stresses prewriting while stating that discovery occurs throughout the composing process, even in revision, when the writer is still 'retrieving additional information, making further connections, recognizing emerging patterns' [Expressive Discourse, 15]. In prewriting as well as free-writing and keeping journals, ideas and forms are discovered by provoking memory. In addition, the personal nature of much prewriting and freewriting serve as an affirmation that the memory of the student writer has a valid place in the writing classroom." -Janine Rider, The Writer's Book of Memory: An Interdisciplinary Study for Writing Teachers. Routledge, 1995

Prewriting and Revising
"[P]rewriting plans are not carved in stone; they are simply tools for generating and organizing ideas. Writers frequently change their minds as they write, eliminating some details, adding and changing others. That's why some writers say that 'prewriting' is a misnomer; they return to their plans over and over during all stages of the writing process, often revising and adjusting the plans as they go." -Lori Jamison Rog, Marvelous Minilessons for Teaching Intermediate Writing. International Reading Association, 2011

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Prewriting for Composition." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Prewriting for Composition. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Prewriting for Composition." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).