Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Prewriting Definition

Prewriting is the step in the writing process that precedes the actual writing of the initial draft of a piece. In response to a writing prompt or other initial trigger for an idea that anchors a piece of writing, a writer begins to gather their initial thoughts for that piece of writing. Prewriting uses a variety of methods and techniques meant to help writers generate ideas in response to a prompt. There are the more well-known practices of brainstorming and freewriting, but also the less commonly-known practices of looping, mapping, and much more.

Purpose of Prewriting

The purpose of prewriting is to help writers prepare for the writing of the initial draft of a piece. Prewriting’s meaning is, literally, “to write before writing.” Through prewriting, writers can gather a variety of thoughts and ideas in response to a prompt or other stimulus. Prewriting also helps writers interpret a writing prompt or stimulus effectively, honing in on what specifically is being asked of them when writing their future piece.

A writer will not use every item that they come up with in the prewriting stage, but by engaging in the process, the writer is better able to whittle down their thoughts in order to establish a cogent direction for the piece they are preparing to write. Instead of trying to establish that direction while writing a draft, that work is done in advance, making the writing stage itself more productive.

Prewriting Techniques

There are a variety of prewriting techniques and prewriting methods that writers use, including brainstorming, freewriting, list-making, mapping, and looping. By using one or more of these processes, writers are able to develop ideas for a piece of writing and determine which content best serves that writing and which is best left out of it.

Brainstorming as a Prewriting Technique

When brainstorming, writers begin with a core idea and jot down thoughts and ideas in response to it. Everything that comes to a writer’s mind that might be relevant to the piece that will be written gets noted down, without worrying about organization. This process may involve the creation of a web (a central idea in the middle of a page, with lines extending from it on which the writer adds associative thoughts) or other visual aids that help writers develop responses to an idea to help prepare them for draft writing.

Brainstorming is a process by which writers can generate ideas in response to a prompt, then use those ideas to focus their future drafts.


Freewriting as a Prewriting Method

Using freewriting, writers can engage in a style of writing that does not require structure or specific intent. Instead, writers can freely let ideas come, recording them in a stream-of-consciousness manner that enables them to move from one thought to another without worrying about structural expectations, such as grammar, punctuation, organization, tense, or other writing standards. Some of the writing done via this method might be transposed directly into the eventual written piece, or the ideas developed by this free-flowing period of writing might inform the future piece without being quoted specifically from the prewriting exercise.

List-Making as a Prewriting Technique

List-making is similar to brainstorming in that it urges writers to respond to a prompt, theme, or idea by jotting down thoughts that are stimulated by said prompt, theme, or idea. List-making is more traditionally structured, however, in that ideas are listed one after another in response to the original stimulus.

Mapping as a Prewriting Method

Mapping, also known as webbing, helps writers develop a series of ideas in advance of writing their first draft. Through mapping, writers can plot out the movement of the piece they intend to write from idea to idea and establish the general flow of the piece. Mapping differs from brainstorming in that brainstorming is a free-flowing, generative exercise, while mapping helps writers figure out how one point might lead logically to the next in a written piece. This helps writers stay on track when they eventually begin the drafting process because they have developed a set of guidelines to follow in order to say what they want to say, how they want to say it, and in what order they want to say it. This helps writers take organization into consideration, outlining their points in order to create the strongest possible draft.

Looping as a Prewriting Technique

Looping is an extended form of freewriting. After a writer engages in their first round of freewriting in response to the initial prompt or stimulus, they review that writing and pick out a main idea or thought from it. The writer then conducts a new round of freewriting in response to that new stimulus. This process is repeated several times, helping the writer narrow their focus in preparation for writing their first draft.

Prewriting Examples

Examples of prewriting might include:

  • a list of as many different uses of wood as a writer can think of in response to a prompt about the lumber industry
  • a map or web detailing the burial rites of Ancient Egyptians in response to a prompt about death in different historic cultures
  • a freewrite about memories from fourth grade, followed by another freewrite about a specific fourth-grade memory, followed by another freewrite about how the writer experienced that specifically remembered event in fourth grade

Why is Prewriting Important?

Prewriting is essential to the writing process. By engaging in prewriting, a writer can explore various different approaches to a topic, responses to a stimulus, or ideas related to a prompt. Via prewriting, a writer can decide what content they wish to explore further in their eventual first draft, sifting through what they know a lot about, what they are passionate about, what they need to learn more about, and what they do not find interesting. Their writing is thus stronger because of the focus and intent that result from the preparations that prewriting makes possible.

Lesson Summary

Prewriting is a preliminary stage in the writing process. It can be conducted via a variety of methods or techniques, but above all, prewriting helps writers zero in on a prompt or stimulus in order to best prepare for writing their first draft. When beginning to prewrite, it’s important to carefully read and interpret a writing prompt because doing so helps the writer focus on the key question to which they are being asked to respond.

One technique is brainstorming, which involves taking a few minutes to write down every phrase or idea that might be relevant for the essay. Mapping is an exercise that helps writers extrapolate ideas in response to a prompt and show how one point would lead logically to another point. When engaging in the method of freewriting, writers are not expected to adhere to rules of organization, but to let thoughts flow and develop organically. However, organization should be a major consideration when a writer is outlining his or her points. By engaging in prewriting, writers are able to prepare themselves for their writing and produce drafts with more focus and intent than they would have without prewriting. They are better prepared to organize their writing as they prepare an outline. Without prewriting, the writing of a draft becomes a simultaneous prewrite, asking writers to brainstorm about and narrow down ideas while writing.

Prewriting is the essential first step in the writing process.

Writing process

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