The Prewriting Stage of the Writing Process

Ideas and Strategies to Help With Prewriting

pen on blank paper
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The writing process consists of a number of important stages: prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing. In many ways, prewriting is the most important of these steps. This is when the student determines the topic they are writing about, the angle they are taking, and the audience that they are targeting. It is also the time for them to create a plan that will make it easier for them to write clearly and succinctly about their topic. 

Prewriting Methods

There are a number of ways that students can tackle the prewriting stage of the writing process. Following are a few of the most common methods and strategies that students can use. 

  • Brainstorming - Brainstorming is the process of coming up with as many ideas as possible about a topic without being worried about the feasibility or whether an idea is realistic or not. 
  • Freewriting - This strategy is when your students write whatever comes into their mind about the topic at hand for a specific amount of time, like 10 or 15 minutes. Students should not worry about grammar, punctuation, or spelling as they write. Instead, they should try and come up with as many ideas as they possibly can to help them when they get to the writing process. 
  • Mind Maps - Mind maps are a visual way to outline information. There are many varieties of mind maps that can be quite useful as students work in the prewriting stage. Webbing is a great tool that has students write a word in the middle of a sheet of paper. Related words or phrases are then connected by lines to this original word in the center. They build on the idea so that, in the end, the student has a wealth of ideas that are connected to this central idea. For example, if the topic for a paper was the role of the US President, the student would write this in the center of the paper. Then as they thought of each role that the president fulfills, they could write this down in a circle connected by a line to this original idea. From these terms, the student could then add supporting details. In the end, they'd have a nice roadmap to an essay on this topic. 
  • Drawing/Doodling - Some students respond well to the idea of being able to combine words with drawings as they think about what they want to write in the prewriting stage. This can really open up creative lines of thought. 
  • Asking Questions - Students often come up with more creative ideas through the use of questioning. For example, if the student has to write about Heathcliff's role in Wuthering Heights, they might begin by asking themselves some questions about him and the causes of his hatred. They might ask how a 'normal' person might react in order to better understand the depths of Heathcliff's malevolence. The point is that these questions can help the student uncover a deeper understanding of the topic before they begin actually writing the essay.
  • Outlining - Students can employ traditional outlines to help them organize their thoughts in a logical manner. The student would start with the overall topic and then list out their ideas with supporting details. It is helpful to point out to students that the more detailed their outline is from the beginning, the easier it will be for them write their paper. 

    Most students will find that combining a couple of these strategies work well to provide them with a great basis for their final product. In fact, if a student first asks questions, then creates a web, and finally writes a detailed outline, they will find that the time put in up front will pay off with an easier paper to write that gets a higher grade in the end.