Prewriting: Invention of Specifics and Discovery

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Once you have your topic narrowed down, you are ready to begin the writing process, and the best place to start is with prewriting. This process helps identify key areas and meaning in your research or thoughts. It narrows and defines your topic.

There are several ways you can approach prewriting. The goal, however, is the same with each approach: to hone in on the specifics of your topic, and discover the structure and presentation of how you want your essay or paper to look. Prewriting gets you organized, but before employing any of the below strategies, focus mentally by clearing your mind and removing distractions.

Prewriting strategy #1: brainstorming

Give yourself anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes to write freely. Before you start this prewriting exercise, write or type one sentence that summarizes your topic. Keep any research you have already conducted in mind, and start freewriting. Write down everything that comes to mind about your topic. Ask questions, and answer them if you can. The main idea is to write for the full amount of time without worrying about grammar and word choice; just put your ideas down to pick from and organize afterword. Once you are done brainstorming, look over the information you wrote down, and look for main ideas that stand out or words or ideas that you can develop into individual aspects of your topic to develop into a working outline.

Prewriting strategy #2: focusing your freewriting

Like with brainstorming, freewriting requires you to set about 5-15 minutes for the prewriting process. Prior to beginning, summarize your topic into one sentence. Once the clock starts for your freewriting session, do not stop writing. Do not stop and examine what you write. Write freely and quickly to write down everything that comes to mind. When your allotted time is up, go back to look at your initial summary sentence for your essay topic. Change the summary based on any key ideas or thoughts that might have shifted, narrowed or defined your topic even more. Take your prewriting thoughts and put them into a working outline.

Prewriting strategy #3: making a mental map

Making a mental map as a way to engage in prewriting involves using a piece of blank paper or a chalk board. Start by writing down the most important word or phrase you associate with your topic. Draw a circle around it to which you can make connecting lines. Think of ideas that can branch off it. Draw as many connections as possible, connecting ideas with lines to create a map while also leaving plenty of white space to grow your map. Erase, and rework the map as necessary throughout this prewriting process, but avoid spending too much time thinking on any one topic.

You want to work quickly without rushing. Review your initial map by thinking about how each idea connects to the main word. Connect concepts, and organize the ideas by level of importance or where they fight fall in your essay or paper. Continue prewriting by reworking and organizing the map until you can generate a working outline from it.

Prewriting strategy #4: using listing and outlining

By creating an outline or list as a prewriting exercise, you are putting ideas that relate to your essay topic into a more organized structure. You can do this as your main prewiring strategy, or you can use what you developed in one of the other strategies. For listing, create a list of areas within your topic while using parallel structure for consistency. Create a hierarchy of what is in your list by creating levels and sublevels based on importance. Make sure to keep areas that are of equal importance listed at the same level. From the list you create, you can create a working outline on which to base your next steps.

Regardless of the prewriting strategy you use, use this process to narrow and define your topic and prepare you for writing your essay. At the end of the prewriting phase, you should be able to develop a working outline from which you create your first draft.