Prewriting

Prewriting is the first stage in the writing process. When using a prewriting strategy, you jot your initial thoughts about a topic down on paper. Prewriting has no set structure or organization; it is usually just a collection of ideas that may find themselves in your paper over time. Prewriting is also a great way to get past writer’s block -- that period of time when you find you have no ideas or don’t know how to put your thoughts together.

There is no right or wrong way to approach prewriting, but there are some strategies that can get you thinking.


Freewriting Strategy

Freewriting Strategy is the process of simply writing down any and all ideas about the topic that pop into your mind. Set a timer for yourself and write continuously for 5 or 10 minutes on your topic. If you run out of ideas, rewrite the last word or phrase on the page until another idea jumps into your thoughts. Keep writing, even if it doesn’t make sense! At this point, you are just getting your ideas down on paper without editing or judging them. If you are trying to decide between topics, it is a good idea to freewrite on all of them to see which one provides you with the best ideas.

Freewriting Strategy (Example)

Explore an example of free-writing created for the topic: What is the impact of traditional ecological knowledge on environmental management?

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Mind-mapping Strategy

Mind-mapping is very similar to freewriting, but the outcome often looks more like a list of ideas. This strategy is quite similar to brainstorming where the listed ideas may or may not be connected with arrows or lines. You should set a time limit of 5 to 10 minutes and jot down all the ideas you have about the topic. Instead of writing sentences, you are quickly jotting down ideas, perhaps showing connections and building a map of your thoughts. Here are some online tools that can help with this process:

  • Check out Inspiration Software where you can use a free trial of their software for thirty days.
  • Try XMind, a free mind mapping tool that runs on both Mac and PC computers.
  • Use Mindomo, which is a collaborative mind-mapping tool. You may use the basic tool for free or pay a minimal fee for extra features.

Mind-mapping Strategy (Example)

Explore an example of a mind-map created for the topic: What is the impact of traditional ecological knowledge on environmental management?

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Download Mind Map (.jpg)



Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Strategy

This is a basic strategy used by students at many levels that helps you jot down the basic important information about a topic.

Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Strategy (Example)

Explore the answers created for the topic: What is the impact of traditional ecological knowledge on environmental management?

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Sketching Strategy

A picture is worth a thousand words. Your first thinking is done in pictures. So, if you are a visual learner and like to sketch out your thoughts, grab a pen and paper and draw what you are thinking. This strategy is especially effective if you are trying to conceptualize an idea or clarify relationships between parts of an idea.

Sketching involves drawing out your ideas using a pen and paper.  One strategy that can be useful for planning comparison and contrast type papers is a Venn diagram. A Venn diagram is a strategy that uses two (or more) overlapping circles to show relationships between sets of ideas. The information written where two circles overlap is common to both ideas. The information written outside the overlapping area is information distinct to only one of the ideas.

Sketching Strategy (Example)

Explore the sketch of a Venn diagram created for the topic: What is the impact of traditional ecological knowledge on environmental management?

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Download (.pdf)




Whichever strategy you choose, be sure to save your prewriting work. You may want to revisit this stage of the writing process again to make sure that you captured all your thoughts in your outline or first draft.