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2.1: Introduction to Prewriting Strategies

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    The Writing Process

    Writing is considered a process because we take several steps before the final product is ready. No matter what type of writing we are engaging in, academic writing, professional writing, or personal writing, we follow a number of steps in the writing process. These steps are necessary in creating a meaningful piece of writing. Although different sources may label the steps in various ways, the stages of the writing process are essentially as follows:

    Prewriting – This is the process of generating ideas about the the topic, gathering information to support or explain what we want to say about our subject, and planning how to organize our ideas to effectively develop the topic.

    Drafting -This is the process of writing the first copy of the piece (essay, article, etc.), often called the rough draft. Ultimately, we should have multiple copies or drafts of our work.

    Revising -This is the process of reconsidering the ideas and content of the essay as well as refining the style and structure of the paper. At this point we might revise our thesis, add another body paragraph, or sharpen the focus of the essay.

    Editing/Proofreading – This is the process of correcting errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and mechanics.

    Final Draft – This is the process of sharing the final draft with others.


    Preparing to write, or prewriting, strategies are activities that help us explore a subject and generate ideas about it. Our focus at this stage is to stimulate our thinking before and during the act of writing. Whenever we generate new material throughout the writing process, we are prewriting. The most popular and effective prewriting activities are brainstorming, clustering/mapping, discussing, free writing, informal outlining, and asking reporter’s questions.

    Prewriting describes all of the thinking, planning, and generation of ideas that precedes the actual writing of a paper.

    Much careful thought needs to be given to the assignment before we start prewriting.

    • First, we must understand the writing assignment and its limits. What is the assignment’s length? A four-page paper would have a much narrower thesis than a ten-page research paper would have. If there is no page limit, we must consider the nature of the assignment to suggest its length. A summary of a chapter will be much shorter than the original chapter. An analysis of a poem may likely be longer than the poem itself.
    • Second, we must establish the assignment’s purpose. Are we expected to write an expressive, informative, or persuasive paper?
      1. Expressive writing conveys personal feelings or impressions to the audience.
      2. Informative writing enlightens the audience about something.
      3. Persuasive writing attempts to convince the audience to think or act in a certain way.
      4. Argumentative writing attempts to take a clear stand and create a solid argument.

    Other more specific purposes can include entertaining, analyzing, hypothesizing, assessing, summarizing, questioning, reporting, recommending, suggesting, evaluating, describing, recounting, requesting, and instructing.

    • Third, we must determine the assignment’s audience. An audience can be an individual or a group. An audience can be general or specialized. Once we define our audience, we must determine how much the audience already knows about the subject to know how much or little background information should be included. We should also determine how best to approach our audience in terms of language, rhetorical strategies, purposes for reading, and background knowledge.
    • Fourth, we must consider the assignment’s occasion. The occasion for which we are writing will determine the formality and scope of a writing project. An in-class writing assignment will differ from an out-of-class formal assignment such as a research paper written in the MLA format. A memo for fellow office workers will differ from a report written for the company’s president. A letter to an aunt will differ from a letter written to a bank to request a personal loan.
    • Finally, we must assess our own previous knowledge of the subject. Before writing, we need to determine what we already know about a subject, what we need to find out about the subject, and what we think about the subject. Personal essays draw upon our own experiences and observations; research essays require us to gain new knowledge through research.

    The following video by Isabelle Poore discusses the most common prewriting strategies which we will discuss in detail in the next few pages: